Album reviews: Skepta - Konnichiwa, Corinne Bailey Rae - The Heart Speaks In Whispers, Twin Peaks - Down In Heaven

Also Family Atlantica - Cosmic Unity, Foy Vance - The Wild Swan, and Olga Scheps - Satie

Andy Gill
Wednesday 11 May 2016 16:17
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Corinne Bailey Rae - The Heart Speaks In Whispers (Virgin) - 2/5

Download this: Hey, I Won’t Break Your Heart; The Skies Will Break

Sadly, following the great strides made on the grief-stricken The Sea, with The Heart Speaks In Whispers, Corinne Bailey Rae reverts to the blandly serviceable beige soul of her 2006 debut. It’s almost as if that kind of pain is too emotionally scorching to revisit, so here she’s slipped back into a comforting quilt of gentle solace (note the windy uplift of Coldplay in the wordless chorus hook to “Stop Where You Are”) and boudoir-soul, mostly delivered over a languid jazz-funk that fails to engage. Musically, the most interesting arrangement is the delicate meniscus of acoustic guitar, piano and cello devised for “Hey, I Won’t Break Your Heart”; but elsewhere the glistening languor of electric piano and loping basslines leaves the likes of “Green Aphrodisiac” and “Horse Print Dress” distinctly lacking erotic potency.

Foy Vance - The Wild Swan (Gingerbread Man) - 3/5

Download this: Noam Chomsky Is A Soft Revolution; Upbeat Feelgood; Burden; Be Like You Belong

Newly signed to his chum Ed Sheeran’s Gingerbread Man label, Northern Irish troubadour Foy Vance here offers a brand of Caledonian Soul tinged with flavours from both his homeland and the American deep south. In particular, the accordion lends a louche Louisiana feel to songs like “Upbeat Feelgood” and “Casanova”, while the slower, testifying tone of “Bangor Town” (“Our minds are tame, but our hearts are wild in Bangor town”) recalls Van Morrison. But it’s Vance’s sepia growl of a voice that grips most on The Wild Swan, bringing raw conviction especially to the opener “Noam Chomsky Is A Soft Revolution”, where his namechecking of his favourite philosophers, bluesmen and boxers rides a limber, rolling roots-rock groove punctuated by neat guitar details and gently honking horns.

Family Atlantica - Cosmic Unity (Soundway) - 4/5

Download this: Okoroba; Enjera; La Humanidad; Cosmic Unity

This album from London-based crossover outfit Family Atlantica positively seethes with joyous life, right from the moment the balafon and skittish percussion herald the explosive, riffing horns of “Okoroba”, a mix of equal parts Fela, salsa, rumba and Santana. A collective with members drawn from as far afield as Ghana and Venezuela, there seems no limit to what Family Atlantica can do, whether it’s blending steel pans with Ethiopian jazz horns in Mulatu Astatke manner, or singing the praises of “Cacao” in kalimba, flute and percussion. “La Humanidad” is magnificent, a thunderous display of the nobility of massed horns, Sun Ra style – so it’s entirely natural that Marshall Allen, inheritor of Ra’s legacy, should sit in for the charging juggernaut-jazz of “Cosmic Unity” itself. Sure to set a few festivals afire this summer.

Olga Scheps - Satie (RCA Red Seal) - 4/5

Download this: Six Gnossiennes; Trois Gymnopédies; Trois Sarabandes

One might have thought there was a mismatch between the pianist Olga Scheps – known for her impassioned, emotive interpretations of Schubert and Chopin and the quirky, oddly dispassionate compositions of Erik Satie. But this selection, featuring the usual “Gnossiennes”, “Gymnopédies” and “Sarabandes” along with the obscure “Cinq Grimaces pour Le songe d’une nuit d’été”, written for an unstaged performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, finds Scheps in remarkably restrained mood, resisting the temptation to bring emotional weight, or to add ironic “eyebrows” to Satie’s pieces. The result is performances of cool, transparent pianism which leave the music’s singular style poised between romanticism and modernism intact and unadorned, crystalline sound-sculptures as fresh and unique now as when composed over a century ago.

Skepta - Konnichiwa (Boy Better Know) - 4/5

Download this: Crime Riddim; Numbers; Shutdown

With Konnichiwa, Skepta hoists grime to another level. It’s not just a case of his lyrical prowess, which goes some way deeper than most of his peers; it’s the way that he has fiercely retained control over his own destiny, overseeing everything from mastering to merchandise through the Boy Better Know collective. The key is his single-minded focus: “This ain’t a culture, it’s my religion,” he says in “Shutdown”, “We don’t care about your isms and schisms”. And while that religion can be exclusive as per the dismissive dig at a limpet-like older MC in “Man” there’s an engaging warmth underlying even the routine paranoia of tracks like “Konnichiwa” and “It Ain’t Safe”. Pharrell turns up to genially trade lines on “Numbers”, while notable groove innovations include the synth and metallic hook of “Crime Riddim”, and the shouty kids chanting behind “Lyrics”.

Twin Peaks - Down In Heaven (Communion) - 4/5

Download this: Walk To The One You Love; Wanted You; Cold Lips; Have You Ever?

Every now and then, the American garage-band tradition throws up another prime-time contender for mainstream success, the latest being Chicago’s exuberant Twin Peaks. This third album is a delight, riddled with hooks and energy that hark all the way back to the early 70s heyday of Big Star and The Raspberries. But the biggest influence on Down In Heaven is clearly the Stones: from the chugging raunch-rock of “Keep It Together” to the gospel-soul of “Wanted You”, there’s a keen appreciation of the Glimmer Twins’ louche darkness, with singer Cadien Lake James essaying a wonderful approximation of the Jagger snarl. Elsewhere, “Walk To The One You Love” combines the low-slung boogie charm of Marc Bolan with the squirrelly country-rock guitar of The Byrds a blend echoed in “Cold Lips”, which sounds like the Stones doing R.E.M., or vice versa.

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