Album reviews: Coldplay, Kate Tempest, Conor Oberst, Avery Sunshine, Rodrigo Amarante, Brigitte Demeyer


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The Independent Online

Coldplay Ghost Stories (Parlophone)

If you thought that “conscious uncoupling” was a precious way of describing Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow’s split, wait until you hear Coldplay’s sixth album. Ghost Stories is, it can’t be denied, a break-up – sorry, “uncoupling” – album. But there’s no blood, or much evidence of fresh feeling or thought, on its over-produced tracks: just electronically glossed laments that pack all the impact of ambient cotton wool.

What it does have, should you want it, is variations on a trick Coldplay tried on 2008’s Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends: namely, numerous attempts to insinuate itself among the greats via diminished echoes of classic forebears.

After the Brian Eno-ish ambience of the opener, “Always in My Head”, “True Love” bids for greatness-by-association by paraphrasing Leonard Cohen and “Magic” milks The xx. The spectral vocals of “Midnight” offer a watered-down take on Bon Iver’s celestial break-up blues, while the avian metaphors of “O” recall Neil Young’s “Birds”.

None of which would matter much if Coldplay brought anything new to the table, besides throwaway lines such as “All I know is that I love you so, so much it hurts”, the kind of lyric that might explain why Martin’s voice sounds so disengaged by feelings supposedly raw to him.

When the climax of “A Sky Full of Stars” flickers with U2-ish arpeggios, the picture of a band cosseting tender emotions in a stadium-ready comfort blanket is completed.

That, then, is Ghost Stories. Call it an uncoupling, conscious or not: from any hint of a distinct personality, or from any feelings that might snag the attention.


Kevin Harley

Kate Tempest Everybody Down (Big Dada)

Poet/rapper Kate Tempest pioneers the “novel rhyme”: 12 chapter-tracks that form a satisfying narrative whole. Her story – a love triangle, and a look at ambition in the face of hard times and shit jobs – is delivered in brilliant slick rhymes. She deals with deep emotions, and with the quotidian: fags out of cab windows, the loneliness of a half-pint of milk. Producer Dan Carey provides an evocative musical backdrop.

Some of the “be true to yourself” lines flirt with trite, but Tempest’s delivery is so bracing it carries. Everybody Down confirms her as our finest chronicler of recession Britain: bold in making forms bend to her vision, she tells tales that are simultaneously universal and convincingly grounded in London’s streets.


Holly Williams

Conor Oberst Upside Down Mountain (Nonesuch)

It used to feel as if it was the anger that was propping him up. These days, emo-folkie Oberst seems to have settled into a groove. Which is not to say that Upside Down Mountain displays the West Coast vibe of its producer Jonathan Wilson. It doesn’t. But by Oberst’s standards, this is a mellow record which, though still full or portentous poetry, never unleashes that familair rage.

The backing vocals from First Aid Kit do much to round those sharp edges, and at times their soft “woo oos” feel almost incrongruous against lyrics such as “I hope I am forgotten when I die”.

Has Oberst, now 34, come to terms with his angst? Is he as riveting a performer without it? The answers are “maybe” and “maybe not”.


Jocasta Jones

Avery Sunshine The Sun Room (Dome)

Atlanta-based singer and pianist Avery Sunshine has a great set of pipes, co-writes all her own material (with producer Dana Johnson), and specialises in classic-sounding soul with contemporary touches, a very attractive niche. When the song and production work, as on the opening, Hi Records-styled “Love”, or the quiet storm of “Nothing to Something”, she sounds like a star.

But this second album – recorded in Atlanta and Washington DC – has a touch of Stars in Their Eyes karaoke, with Sunshine trying to ventriloquise too many styles: Anita Baker (who she does supremely well), Millie Jackson-type sass, even Diana Ross, on “Time to Shine”.

The beauty of Baker’s Rapture, you realise, is that it all sounded like her.


Phil Johnson

Rodrigo Amarante Cavalo (Mais Um Discos)

The press release informs us that this Brazilian-born singer-songwriter played for Devandra Banhart. However, Amarante is a far more interesting artist than that mannered Bolanesque Venezuelan.

This debut release manages to exude both an endearing homemade cosiness and an inventive sonic sophistication. It’s all about the spaces, as in both the sense of a room’s acoustics and a scarcity of actual instrumentation. The piano sounds as if it was recorded in an empty church hall, rhythm tracks are as unobtrusive as ticking clocks, and sparse interjections of sax are superseded by cheesy squirts of 1980s keyboard.

The resulting indie-pop bossa novas make one think of pastel sketches rather than finished oils. Lovely.


Howard Male

Brigitte Demeyer Savannah Road (Brigitte Demeyer Music)

Is there a law of diminishing returns which applies to Americana? Or is that the point – you only get diminishing returns if you don’t do it well…?

DeMeyer does it well. There is not a mote of originality on this, her sixth album, which (yawnsville) is an attempt to “connect with herself” through the agency of travel in the Deep South. Yet it sustains its atmosphere of quiet, bluesy, canonical observation.

Arrangements are muted and primarily acoustic, drawing on the full generic palette (blues, folk, bluegrass, jazz) and never overstating the case, if the case can be made with a whisper and a soulful moan. It lacks the scope, depth and reach of Patty Griffin’s American Kid, but if you loved that, you’ll find something to admire in this.


Nick Coleman