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
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee