Album reviews: Dizzee Rascal - Raskit, Chris Robinson Brotherhood - Barefoot In The Head, Cornelius - Mellow Waves

Also: Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott, Avey Tare, Dan Croll

Andy Gill
Thursday 20 July 2017 12:45
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Dizzee Rascal, Raskit

★★★★☆

Download: Wot U Gonna Do; I Ain’t Even Gonna Lie; Ghost; Everything Must Go; Sick A Dis

Four years is a long time in the volatile world of UK rap, with new, assertive voices flooding in to fill the vacuum since Dizzee Rascal’s 2013 offering The Fifth. So it’s no surprise to find the former boy fighting his corner on Raskit, battling to win back territory temporarily ceded to grime rivals with diss-heavy blasts like “The Other Side”, which confirms that the lash of his tongue still smarts, and the more laconic “I Ain’t Even Gonna Lie” (“Why should I? I’m the guy!”).

The latter includes a cheeky dig at autotuned vocalists, so when an autotuned refrain features later on “She Knows What She Wants”, its clearly ironic character tilts what starts out as an apparent admiration for an assertive, elegant woman into an amusingly self-deprecating brush-off: “She wants a fancy feller that’ll properly pursue,” he concedes, “But my name is Dizzee Rascal, and I’m just passing through.”

Along with his obvious verbal skills – which have never been better – it’s this kind of easy charm and humour that sets Dizzee apart from his rivals. Which of them would dare attempt something like “Wot U Gonna Do” (“...when it ain’t all about you?”), a warning about the prospect of radio and retail famine precipitated by the shifting cycles of celebrity, which sounds like just another diss, until you realise it’s about Dizzee himself. The backing track’s spooky X-Files-style high twinkly synth is just one of several sinister atmospheres scattered throughout Raskit, with the combination of flute sample and booming sub-bass synth particularly effective in animating “Ghost”.

Ironically, despite the phalanxes of American producers involved in the album, it actually sounds less desperately transatlantic than The Fifth, possibly due to Dizzee’s enjoyment in using parochial British expletives like “bloody” and “knackers”, the latter cheekily rhymed with “chakras”. Again, it’s indicative of the humour which buoys his raps – though it would be wrong to characterise him as just some joker. There’s an accusatory account of the Ayia Napa knife attack that left Dizzee hospitalised back in 2003, his lyric expanding to deride the general gun culture staining grime; and soundbites from Thatcher and Boris Johnson illustrate the anger driving “Everything Must Go”, a blast at the forces widening the gap between the rich and the rest of us.

And with “Sick A Dis”, he returns to the annoyance expressed in older tracks like “Can’t Tek No More”, blunderbussing his all-round irritation with the government, hangers-on, selfies, call-waiting, and just about every aspect of modern life: “I’m sick of forced banter, sick of being nice when I think you’re a complete wanker”. The secret is, though, that he manages to make you smile even when he’s spraying splenetic bile: a tricky thing to pull off this deftly.

Cornelius, Mellow Waves

★★★☆☆

Download: If You’re Here; Sometime/Someplace; Crepuscule

Japanese soundscaper Keigo “Cornelius” Oyamada has been relatively quiet since his kaleidoscopic Point album early this millennium: save for the Japan-only Sensuous, he’s restricted himself largely to collaborative work with similarly outre outfits like Plastic Ono Band and Penguin Cafe. His eclectic instincts are brandished here in “Sometime/Someplace”, a genre-smashing amalgam of psych-folk guitar, bossa nova charm, buzzy synths and complex drum-rolls yoked to a ridiculous time-signature; though his ingenuity is equally evident in the solo guitar piece “Crepuscule”, where faltering picking creates an enigmatic mood of constant surprise yet comforting familiarity.

Elsewhere, “Surfing On Mind Wave” and “Helix/Spiral” are contrasting synth exercises, respectively shimmering and cyclical, while Cornelius’s fascination with water sustains through “The Rain Song”. But it’s the overall cool/warm Tropicalismo tone that’s most engaging about Mellow Waves, established through the light accretion of sparse piano, percussion, synth and guitar parts supporting his soft vocal on opener “If You’re Here”.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Barefoot In The Head

★★★★☆

Download this: Behold The Seer; Blonde Light Of Morning; High Is Not The Top; Glow

The notion of being Barefoot In The Head perfectly expresses the enduring hippie instincts of Chris Robinson’s prolific band. It also conveys the laidback rustic stoner vibe of this latest album, on which keening steel guitar and country harmonies in songs like “Blonde Light Of Morning” and “If You Had A Heart To Break” locates them squarely in the Laurel Canyon lineage. But unlike most of their country-rock forefathers, Robinson’s blues-rock background gives the CRB a soulful edge evident here in the funk shuffle “Behold The Seer”, where liquid guitar licks and quacking clavinet carry his invocation to “put on your dancing shoes, we got nothing to lose, it’s only space and time”.

Elsewhere, his terse, Dylanesque delivery cuts through the steel guitar and piano miasma of “Hark, The Herald Hermit Speaks”, while the woozy sarod of Alam Khan blends with airy mellotron flute in “Glow” to evoke Robinson’s gnomic apprehension of a “keen-eyed keeper of sights unseen”.

Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott, Crooked Calypso

★★☆☆☆

Download: He Can’t Marry Her; She Got The Garden

Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott’s third album as a duo is disappointing, with Heaton’s lack of musical intrigue leaving some of his poorest songs badly exposed. It’s bad enough that “The Lord Is A White Con”, a criticism of religion as an arm of imperial greed is crassly expressed; and when set to a lollopy rock backing of barroom piano and handclaps, the result is more pub than chapel. And the paean to Irishness “Blackwater Banks” has a shamelessly wannabe anthemic manner that’s quite embarrassing. Which doesn’t bode well when the subject matter is less agreeable, as with the cruel digs at the obese in “The Fat Man”, or the brutish male desire in “He Wants To”.

Sadly, the general tone reflects poorly on the better songs, such as “She Got The Garden”, a wry account of losing one’s selfhood to a partner, and especially “He Can’t Marry Her”, a touching depiction of the classic “girl’s best friend” who yearns to be her boyfriend instead: small oases of smartness in a simplistic desert.

Avey Tare, Eucalyptus

★★☆☆☆

Download: Roamer; In Pieces; Jackson 5

Within the group confines of Animal Collective, Avey Tare’s amorphous tendencies can be corralled into more persuasive shape. But the free rein afforded by this latest solo effort renders most of these 15 tracks unrecognisable as songs, with Tare’s heavily reverbed murmuring of cryptic lyrics (such as: “the purpose of life is to quantify the nature of the cosmos itself”) awash in meandering miasmas of woozy glissandi, thrumming rhythm guitar, wispy synth tones, detuned slide guitar, jews harp and backdrop collages of found-sounds, rippling waves, talking and, for all I know, the kitchen sink. “My hope is that it works today/Oh, but such a troublesome way” Tare mutters at one point, but his hit ratio is pretty poor on Eucalyptus. “Roamer” sounds like a lo-fi T Rex, while the jaunty electro-castanet beat of “Jackson 5” is enjoyable until it’s swamped by waves of reverbed sound. And “In Pieces” is oddly moving, though given the difficulty navigating its foggy soundstage, it’s hard to say why.

Jean-Jacques Perrey, Jean-Jacques Perrey Et Son Ondioline

★★★☆☆

Download this: Visa To The Stars; Chicken On The Rocks; Cigale; Mars Reflector

In the early postwar years, Jean-Jacques Perrey was the virtuoso demonstrator of Georges Jenny’s Ondioline, an electronic keyboard akin to the Ondes Martenot. So accomplished did he become at controlling its weird, wheedling tone that singer Charles Trenet sought him out to provide “the sound of a soul” for his new song “L’Ame Des Poetes” in 1951. That’s just one of the curiosities collected here, alongside short but engaging pieces like “Barnyard In Orbit” and “Chicken On The Rocks”, whose quirky, buzzing flourishes prefigured effects later derived from devices such as the wah-wah pedal and clavinet keyboard: in 1962, nothing else sounded quite this weirdly amusing. Perrey specialised in blending haunting mystery with wry sentimentality, notably on space-western pieces like “Visa To The Stars” (co-written with Twin Peaks composer Angelo Badalamenti), whose galloping charm so impressed the CEO of Esso (“This is the best piece of music I’ve ever heard!”) that it became one of Perrey’s many advert commissions. Oddball fun, and educational too.

Dan Croll, Emerging Adulthood

★★☆☆☆

Download this: One Of Us; Swim

Dan Croll’s follow-up to Sweet Disarray suffers from a kind of creeping anonymity: immediately after hearing it, it’s virtually impossible to recollect the salient features of any track. It’s as if, when studying at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, he was taught all the technical skills of songcraft and performance, but not the crucial part played by character. With its falsetto vocal and slinky funk-pop sheen, “January” follows the classic Swedish hitmasters formula, but lacks the sort of painstakingly adhesive melody that a Max Martin would impose; and similar shortfalls afflict virtually every song. The best are probably “Swim”, which has a Metronomy-like charm and geniality, and opener “One Of Us”, where punchy indie-pop, streaked with wisps of synth and buffeted by angular guitar lines, conceals a somewhat sinister message: “Heard you can’t beat the rush/Give in and be one of us”. Elsewhere, Croll considers matters such as mortality (“24”) and outlaw glamour (“Bad Boy”), though I can’t, for the life of me, recall exactly how.

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