Album reviews - Lush, Graham Nash, Sturgill Simpson and Hauschka

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The Independent Culture

Lush, Blind Spot - ***

Back in the Eighties, when Lush’s first recordings appeared, it was still unusual for a band to feature more than a lone female presence, so they were trailblazers of a sort - if “trailblazing” is an apt term to apply to their shoegazing style. Oddly, their ingenue charm works more effectively in this mature reunion mode than in the gamine original: “Out Of Control” is a natural extension of that style, with Miki Berenyi’s murmurous vocals and Emma Anderson’s droning guitars creating rolling dream-pop waves, and “Lost Boy” showcasing their trademark chorus-effect guitar jangle. Romance remains their core theme, although “Rosebud” strikes out for the harsher terrain of thoughtless cruelty: “They’re just having some fun/How is it wrong, if you’re wearing a smile?”. A welcome return. 

Download this: Out Of Control; Lost Boy; Rosebud

Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop, Love Letter For Fire - ****

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This pairing of Iron And Wine’s Sam Beam with Jesca Hoop is indie music’s most intriguingly fruitful alliance since Isobel Campbell got in touch with Mark Lanegan. Here, however, Beam and Hoop not only sing but write together, their muses combining to create songs that crackle with unusual idioms and observations, such as “We don’t look for failure, but it’s teaching us the world” and the gnomic “Hear your own bones say heal yourself”, the latter line from “Know The Wild That Wants You” couched in a limping pizzicato lope, an uplifting union of theme and treatment. There’s a curious congruence to the duo’s harmonies that brings their songs to unique life, nowhere more so than when their voices take perfectly divergent paths over the melodic lilt of “The Lamb You Lost”. 

Download this: One Way To Pray; The Lamb You Lost; We Two Are A Moon; Know The Wild That Wants You

Graham Nash, This Path Tonight - ***

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Splitting with your long-time partner in your Seventies will prompt a few reflections on your past and future, and that’s certainly the case with Graham Nash’s first solo album in 14 years. Songs like “Myself At Last” and “This Path Tonight” find him in midnight turmoil, caught between anticipation and trepidation, while in “Beneath The Waves” he wonders “how to help and why to care” as both his marriage and the world in general head for the dumper. Elsewhere, “Golden Days” aches with nostalgia for the optimism of his days with The Hollies and CSN, and “Another Broken Heart” employs the album’s prettiest melody to dig over his crumbling relationship. But whatever his anxieties, it’s never less than gently engaging. 

Download this: This Path Tonight; Beneath The Waves; Another Broken Heart

Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide To Earth- ****

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On Sturgill Simpson’s third album, the singer-songwriter takes a sharp left turn away from his usual alt.country style in the direction of funky soul grooves and ballads to which the Dap-Tone Horns add an authentic veneer of punchy Memphis brass. A concept album of reflective advice for his newborn son, couched in terms and images drawn from his own time in the US Navy, A Sailor’s Guide To Earth ranges over issues of love, depression and identity with hard-won wisdom. A skilled interpreter, Simpson’s bruised baritone murmur morphs to fit the contours of each song, most notably when covering Nirvana’s “In Bloom” as a country-soul ballad, where it intensifies to scorch the line “but he don’t know what it means to love someone”. 

Download this: Welcome To Earth (Pollywog); Keep It Between The Lines; In Bloom; Call To Arms

Cate Le Bon, Crab Day​- **

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“It doesn’t pay to sing your songs,” coos Cate Le Bon on the title-track of this latest offering, and she may well have a point. There’s something hard to love about a song like “Love Is Not Love”, in which she delivers streams of non sequiturs with steady solemnity over a tangle of astringent guitars. Occasionally she comes up with an arresting image, like the couplet in “I’m A Dirty Attic” where she requests you “Paint me in a picture with a new face/I’m a body of dreams for you”, but most of the album’s appeal lies in the minor-league Magic Band scramble of angular guitar, xylophone and squawking sax best effected on “Wonderful”. But she lacks rhythmic ingenuity: most tracks just stump along in unaccented 4/4, the spiky riffs cycling dully over and over. 

Download this: Wonderful; I’m A Dirty Attic

Hauschka, Room To Expand- ***

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Aptly expanded from 12 to 18 tracks, this reissue of Volker “Hauschka” Bertelmann’s 2007 debut highlights both the advantages and drawbacks of his prepared-piano technique, in which wood, rubber and metal objects are inserted into the strings to produce new sounds and harmonics. Augmented by touches of strings, horns or woodwind, the looped piano figures of tracks like “La Dilettante” and “Paddington” interlace pleasingly in ways that bring to mind the Penguin Cafe, while “Chicago Morning” recalls Ludovico Einaudi’s graceful piano progressions; but in too many cases, their gentle beauty is spoilt by the irritatingly intrusive percussive ticking, which only serves to underline the schematic, repetitive industry of the minimalist rhythms. 

Download this: La Dilettante; Chicago Morning; Old Man Playing Boules

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