Album reviews round-up: Let's Eat Grandma, DJ Shadow, Mumford & Sons, Public Service Broadcasting and more

Andy Gill reviews the week's new releases

Andy Gill
Thursday 23 June 2016 10:52
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The colourful album sleeve for I, Gemini by Let's Eat Grandma
The colourful album sleeve for I, Gemini by Let's Eat Grandma

Let’s Eat Grandma, I, Gemini, Transgressive/P.I.A.S

★★★★☆

Download this: Deep Six Textbook; Eat Shiitake Mushrooms; Rapunzel; Sleep Song; Welcome To The Treehouse Pts I & II

The product of the hyperactive imaginations of two 17-year-old girls from Norfolk, I, Gemini is one of the most extraordinary records I’ve heard all year, and a heartening confirmation of boundless British creativity. Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingsworth first bonded, as infants, over a shared fascination with treehouses, and it’s that sensibility – hidden away, in a world of their own making – which courses through the ten songs on this debut album. Initially plunking along to R&B radio hits on ukelele and guitar, they were soon drawn to create what they felt they weren’t hearing on the radio, which is always the best way to proceed.

And in their case, it’s paid huge dividends. Working with a lo-fi palette of mostly acoustic instruments, they’ve conjured a weird wonderland in which Angela Carter meets Bjork round at Robert Wyatt’s, with fairytales like “Rapunzel” re-told from the viewpoint of an unwilling victim - “My cat is dead/My father hit me/I ran away” - over brooding backdrops of synth drones, and fanciful musings about cake and mushrooms set to beetling bricolages of recorder, glockenspiel and organ. Theirs is a world of uncertain emancipation, forever poised on the cusp of adulthood: the duo’s childlike voices have a haunting, Midwich Cuckoos naivete which, combined with the dark portents of the arrangements, creates an arresting suspension between innocent and sinister, most effectively on the opening “Deep Six Textbook”. Elsewhere, waltzing organ and woozy harmonica colour the somnambulist’s bemusement in “Sleep Song”, presaging its concluding shriek: the line “I wonder where I’m wandering?” could stand as the motto for the album as a whole.

The album climaxes in the two-part “Welcome To The Treehouse”, which pits the repeated mantra “I keep thinking about death” against a cluttered percussive backdrop akin to one of Can’s Ethnological Forgeries. But there’s a sense of joy and wonder, too, in a track like “Sax In The City”, with its galumphing drums and flatulent, honking saxophone underscoring their demand to “tell me something interesting”. Which on this showing is hardly a pressing concern: clearly, they have interesting things aplenty of their own.

DJ Shadow, The Mountain Will Fall, Mass Appeal

★★☆☆☆

Download this: Nobody Speak; The Sideshow; Suicide Pact

There’s a dispiriting aridity about The Mountain Will Fall, which lacks the joyous eclecticism of DJ Shadow’s earlier albums. Instead, his sample-collaging seems reduced to laborious rhythm programming, with precious little melodic interest: even with Nils Frahm collaborating, the melodic resolution of “Bergschrund” only arrives three-quarters of the way through, and the only truly satisfying – as in emotionally affecting – melody comes on the closing “Suicide Pact”. Elsewhere, skittish electronica and droning synth pads are joined by occasional distorted guitar chords (“Depth Charge”) or trumpet and wave noises (“Ashes To Oceans”) to little effect, with the most natural tracks being those like “The Sideshow” and “Nobody Speak”, featuring old-skool hip-hop scratching and raps by Ernie Fresh and (an oddly genial) Run The Jewels.

The Mystery Lights, The Mystery Lights, Wick

★★★☆☆

Download this: Follow Me Home; Flowers In My Hair, Demons In My Head; 21 & Counting; Melt

As the first signing to retro-soul revivalist label Daptone’s rock outlet Wick, the California-created, Brooklyn-based Mystery Lights offer a splendid reaffirmation of the eternal verities of lo-fi psych-rock. The brittle garage-punk of this debut positively seethes with trebly guitars, reedy organs, waspish fuzzboxes and urgent drums, with singer Mike Brandon exploring the ramifications of titles like “What Happens When You Turn The Devil Down” and “Flowers In My Hair, Demons In My Head” in tortuous, passionate manner. Several songs echo noble antecedents, notably Sky Saxon & The Seeds - “21 & Counting” is a dead ringer for “Pushin’ Too Hard” - although the intervening years have wrought unexpected changes in attitudes, as witness Brandon’s angry blast in “Melt” about being “so sick of being high”.

Fantastic Negrito, The Last Days Of Oakland, Blackball Universe

★★★☆☆

Download this: Working Poor; Scary Woman; Lost In A Crowd; Nothing Without You

Xavier Dphrepaulezz spent a quarter-century engaged in various musical endeavours before recording this accomplished debut as Fantastic Negrito. “The seeds were planted long ago, let’s watch the tree grow,” he says – and his tree has certainly flourished, its roots deep within black American music, from the updated country-blues twang of “Scary Woman” scuttling nimbly with a century’s worth of R&B energy, to the way that “Lost In A Crowd” blends chain-gang prison moans with blues piano, soul organ and rock thump. Interspersed with vox-pop musings on matters like police shootings, The Last Days Of Oakland is a state-of-the-nation address akin to Sky Stone’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On, nowhere more effective than on the gritty, muscular funk of opener “Working Poor”.

Mumford & Sons with Baaba Maal, The Very Best & Beatenberg, Johannesburg, Island

★★★☆☆

Download this: There Will Be Time; Si Tu Veux; Wona

It’s always good to hear an established act explore outside their comfort zone, and especially so in this collaboration of the Mumfords with Senegalese legend Baaba Maal and South African bands The Very Best and Beatenberg. Its five songs distil the various elements to greatest potency, with Maal most striking against the dramatic drums and rising strings of “Si Tu Veux”, his voice ululating into the aether atop the Mumfords’ backing vocals. “Wona” follows a nimble, popping soukous style groove, its energised glint akin to Graceland, while “There Will Be Time” builds over a gentle drone pad and cascading plucked strings to the Mumfords’ familiar trademark feverish thrumming. An enjoyable diversion.

Public Service Broadcasting, The Race For Space/Remixes, Test Card

★★★☆☆

Download this: E.V.A.; Tomorrow; Sputnik; Valentina

It speaks volumes about the essential airworthiness of the songs that Public Service Broadcasting’s The Race For Space should be so diversely adaptable to the remix attentions of such as Dutch Uncles, Robert Babicz and Field Music. The latter pair, for instance, take different approaches to the album’s tribute to Russian space programme director “Korolev”, Babicz favouring bustling electro tones while Field Music add brutal beat guitar riff and noodly organ and guitar parts in a more prog-rock manner. Elsewhere, Vessels’ remix of “E.V.A.” and Copy Paste Soul’s “Tomorrow” both temper brisk, scuttling pulses with tender string textures, while Petar Dundov’s take on “Sputnik” builds from spartan beginnings to an epiphanic, widescreen electro synthscape.

Kris Kristofferson, The Complete Monument & Columbia Albums Collection, Sony Legacy

★★★★☆

Download this: Me And Bobby McGee; Help Me Make It Through The Night; For The Good Times; Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down

Rhodes scholar, helicopter pilot, singer, songwriter, actor – in the ‘70s there seemed no limit to what Kris Kristofferson could achieve, a protean spirit which, through time, slimmed down to his most obviously potent ability, with the series of albums which make up this box set confirming his status as a singer-songwriter blessed with a gift for resonant observation and natural idiom. Those gifts arrived fully-formed on his debut album Kristofferson, featuring his most popular songs “For The Good Times”, “Help Me Make It Through The Night” and “Me And Bobby McGee”, though it was not until Janis Joplin’s posthumous success with the latter that his career really took off. Oddly, although augmented with five CDs of outtakes and live shows, only one of Kristofferson’s three duet albums with partner Rita Coolidge makes the cut for this set.

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