Album reviews: Toumani & Sidiki, The Horrors, Chuck E. Weiss, Eno & Hyde, Lykke Li, Fujiya & Miyagi

Toumani Diabaté & Sidiki Diabaté Toumani & Sidiki (World Circuit)

Scion of generations of griots and kora players, Toumani Diabaté has since his late 1980s debut come to be acknowledged as the world’s leading exponent of that iconic African instrument,  a 21-string harp built with a resonating gourd. His son Sidiki, better known in Mali as the producer and beat-making half of the successful hip-hop duo Iba One, has inherited his father’s skill judging by this rare alliance, only the third album of kora duets ever recorded.

In keeping with the praise-singing griot tradition, its 10 tracks celebrate greatness, though the original subjects for whom the mostly old Malian and Gambian tunes were written have been supplanted by new, titular dedicatees, just as the tunes have been updated through improvisations, in a manner akin to Indian ragas. “Dr Cheikh Modibo Diarra”, for instance, is for the former interim Malian prime minister and UNESCO goodwill ambassador, and “Hamadoun Toure”  celebrates another courageous figure who helped refugees during the recent crisis. “Toguna Industries”, meanwhile, applauds an entire company for their work helping peasant farmers to enjoy a bumper harvest in 2013.

Despite the limited instrumental palette, there’s a broad variety of approaches, from the whirligig runs of “Hamadoun Toure” to the pulsing motifs which lend “Rachid Ouiguini” an almost funky syncopation. The two players’ styles combine seamlessly, though it’s possible to discern subtle differences: the youthful Sidiki favours quicksilver runs and staccato bursts, while Toumani’s lines are more lyrical and attuned to the melancholic, a characteristic most evident in the only original composition here, “Lampedusa”, a reflection on hope and tragedy offered as a tribute to the hundreds  of migrant victims of last year’s terrible shipwreck off the coast of that Italian island.

****

Download: Hamadoun Toure; Lampedusa; Rachid Ouiguini; Claudia & Salma

The Horrors Luminous (XL)

Luminous continues the upward trajectory – out of the dark, into the light – begun on 2011’s Skying, but the diminishing returns this time aren’t quite enough to compensate for the portent of Simple Minds looming behind new-wave psych-rockers such as “So Now You Know”. It opens well, with pulsing waves of keyboards driving “Chasing Shadows” into  a neo-Goth swirl and singer Faris Badwan sounding more positive than earlier in the band’s career. But following the optimistic “First Day of Spring”, the mood becomes rote and dully insistent. Fresh ideas are scarce – “I See You” reprises the “Baba O’Riley”-style sequenced-synth stratagem behind Skying’s “Moving Further Away”. It’s not bad, as such, but like Primal Scream it promises more than it delivers.

***

Download: Chasing Shadows; First Day of Spring; In and Out of Sight

Chuck E. Weiss Red Beans And Weiss (Anti-)

Bohemian legend and walking R&B encyclopaedia Chuck Weiss is on great form on this latest album, co-produced by Tom Waits and Johnny Depp. Equally at home with the Tex-Mex of “Hey Pendejo”, the cabaret croon of “Shushie”, the Cab Calloway scat of “Oo Poo Pa Do in the Rebop” and the slide-guitar stomp of “Boston Blackie”, Chuck hits the ground running with the incandescent “Tupelo Joe”, a slice of Cramps-style mutant rockabilly. The air of lyrical absurdity is briefly interrupted for “Bomb the Tracks”, a boho-jazz query as to why the Allies never bombed the railways serving the Nazi death-camps, but disorder is soon restored with Chuck’s self-proclaimed “alternative jungle music”, best exemplified by “The Hink-A-Dink”, a jungle-native dance tableau.

****

Download: Tupelo Joe; Shushie; Exile On Main Street Blues; The Hink-a-Dink

Eno • Hyde Someday World (Warp)

Brian Eno’s latest collaboration arose from his having a surfeit of beginnings to which Underworld’s Karl Hyde could provide the conclusions, or the next steps in  a back-and-forth of accretion and subtraction. Eno likens the results to the way houses adapt to hillsides, taking whatever route necessary to stay up – in the case of “When  I Built This World”, coming perilously close to techno-jazz-fusion, in “Witness” to the fizzing improv of the Velvets’ “Sister Ray”. “The Satellites” opens the album with tart trumpets over staccato guitars, “To Us All” closes it with an oceanic excursion. In between are liquid pools of guitar and chattering keyboards, and in  the lovely “Daddy’s Car”, the excitement of discovery with your dad, “way up on his shoulders  and loving the thrill of it”.

****

Download: The Satellites; Daddy’s Car; Witness; To Us All

Lykke Li I Never Learn (Atlantic)

Lykke Li’s third album is the final part of a trilogy, though it’s debatable whether this isn’t one visit too many to that particular well of heartbreak. “I Never Learn” is a gorgeous opener, its fulsome strum of acoustic guitars graced by strings and backing-vocal cooings in anthemic manner; but from there it’s emotional pain writ large, with wan piano lines supplanted by grand, melodramatic resolutions in songs like  “No Rest for the Wicked”, “Gunshot” and “Never Gonna Love Again”, whose sensitive intro, evocative of This Mortal Coil’s “Song to the Siren”, is summarily abandoned for a routine heart-wringing refrain. “Every song is a power ballad,” Li claims, but the album needs greater variety,  some sort of joy against which  to measure the pain. 

**

Download: I Never Learn; No Rest for the Wicked

Fujiya & Miyagi Artificial Sweeteners (Full Time Hobby)

Fujiya & Miyagi have reverted to something closer to the style of their landmark Transparent Things on Artificial Sweeteners, breaking out the old analogue synths and sequencers again to chatter away metronomically on tracks like the Terry Riley-esque “A Sea Ringed with Visions” and “Tetrahydrofolic Acid”, an almost brutally old-school techno exercise of pumping pulses and spiralling synth lines. Being F&M, they can’t help adding funky, syncopated twitches to break up the four-square march occasionally, as on “Little Stabs at Happiness”, but it’s a predominantly lockstep experience overall, slightly at odds with David Best’s characteristic deadpan murmur, the ghost in their machine.

***

Download: Flaws; Artificial Sweeteners; Acid to My Alkaline

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