Album reviews: Neil Young, Royksopp & Robyn, Sharon Van Etten, The Secret Sisters
Sunday 25 May 2014
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.
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.
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.
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!
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 4 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
- 5 Australian student Tommy Connolly, 23, adopts his pregnant, homeless 17-year-old cousin to give her a chance at 'a better life'
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Doctor Who film will definitely happen, leaked Sony emails reveal
Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens trailer: Luke Skywalker's bionic hand sends fans into a frenzy
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
General Election 2015: Polish prince challenges Nigel Farage to a duel over immigration question