Album reviews: Neil Young, Royksopp & Robyn, Sharon Van Etten, The Secret Sisters

 

Neil Young A Letter Home (Reprise)

The 35th studio album by Neil Young, A Letter Home was originally released on Jack White’s Third Man label in April, on Record Store Day and as a 12-inch slab of black vinyl. But of course it was.

Well, here it is again, digitised for CD: as releases go a perverse yet contradictorily symbolic act of submission to the nature of things, for this is music initially captured as it once was captured, on a 1940s Voice-O-Graph, the technical details of which shall not detain us here except for me to say that it is an electro-mechanical process and it entails recording in a “booth”. (With a piano? Hmm …)

The results are stark. The collection opens with Young sending an audio epistle to his late mother, to explain how he is and what’s going on. He then sings other people’s songs back to us in the same spirit, as if from the distant past, as grainy, be-crackled and seething with sonic wiggles as Blind Willie McTell.

It’s a brief, almost passing effort comprising 11 songs by such figures as Willie Nelson (“Crazy”), Tim Hardin (“Reason to Believe”), Phil Ochs (“Changes”), the Everlys (“I Wonder Why I Care as Much”), Bert Jansch (“Needle of Death”), Dylan (“Girl From the North Country”) and Springsteen (“My Hometown”) – an invocation of a particularly stubborn strain of American sensibility, encoded as ever in a solitary voice, a solitary guitar, a solitary piano and a wheezing, lonesome harmonica. Frayed-collar rather than blue-collar.

You’re not listening to songs so much as attempting to pull up the past as if it were an old pair of trousers, and then rope it into place with lengths of digital cable. It is both ridiculous and oddly moving.

***

Nick Coleman

Royksopp & Robyn Do It Again (Dog Triumph/Wall Of Sound)

This five-track “mini-album” (isn’t that an EP?) is a proper collaboration between the Norwegian duo and the Swedish singer. It’s a varied beast: there are flickering electronic textures and ambient-as-2001 flute flutters on opener “Monument”, but then “Sayit” is a dirty dance-pop monster (with the creepiest robot-voiced declarations of desire since Boards of Canada).

“Do it Again” is certain to soundtrack a heap of parties, festivals and bad behaviour this summer: Robyn’s appealing, shiveringly sweet vocals lead a surging, ecstatic (in every sense) rave-up belter: “I don’t want to stop/ I know I should/ But let’s do it again”. Then “Inside the Idle Hour Club” is the comedown: woozy, wavy, lush, long. Not exactly cohesive then, but hey – it’s a trip.

****

Holly Williams

Sharon Van Etten Are We There (Jagjaguwar)

Sharon van Etten survived crippling shyness and an abusive lover before her breakthrough with 2012’s Tramp.

Her self-produced fourth album executes another dramatic confidence leap. Unflinching before love’s stormy weather, she demands fearless devotion on “Afraid of Nothing”, then laces the dreamy lilt of  “Our Love” with stinging lyrics.

Her stately, circling melodies insinuate slowly but the stress on stealth suits her: it gives her voice time to linger and throws her atypically direct entries into sharp, piercing relief. When she aims straight, on the romantic vivisection of “Your Love is Killing Me” or the drunkenly defiant “Every Time the Sun Comes Up”, she sounds like a singer taking total command of her heart-stopping voice.

*****

Kevin Harley

The Secret Sisters Put Your Needle Down (Decca/Republic)

Still in their twenties, still a pair of god-fearing, unassuming (and occasionally bickering) sisters from Alabamee, Laura and Lydia Rogers have come a long way. How far? Let’s put it this way: when Bob Dylan heard they were recording their second album, his people sent some unfinished songs over to the studio for the sisters to complete. The result of that “collaboration” is “Dirty Lie”, and the beautiful truth is that that’s not the best song here by any stretch.

Sure, Put Your Needle Down is as old-fashioned as a handwritten letter. But there is more to it than that. Because with T Bone Burnett at the helm, this is no lazy exercise in nostalgia. These songs bounce, buzz and bubble along with timeless life. And jeez louise, those harmonies!

*****

Simmy Richman

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen