Albums of the week: Frank Ocean, Will Young, Glass Animals, Lewis & Leigh and Scott Walker
Rapper Frank Ocean drops his second record, avant-garde musician Scott Walker shares The Childhood Of A Leader and Will Young has got that summer feeling . We round up the best of this week’s CD releases.
FRANK OCEAN — BLONDE
With Blonde, Frank Ocean’s second studio album, the 28-year-old has taken the playfulness and vulnerability of his debut, Channel Orange, and run with it. The album’s opener Nikes teases the listener, giving the first glimpse of Ocean after four years through auto-tune as he pokes fun at over-consumption and pays tribute to Trayvon Martin, before the mist clears and his soulful sonics take centre stage as the song closes. Beyonce is relegated to background noise — but brilliant background noise at that — on Pink + White, while on this more stripped-back album, Frank’s songwriting ability is given a greater stage than drum and bass, which are absent on most of the album’s 17 tracks. Instead we’re blessed with a hedonistic, paradoxical and extremely vivid look into the artist’s mind, playing back heartbreak (Solo, Ivy) and lessons learned from years gone by. Blonde was constructed completely on Ocean’s terms; with often unusual arrangements and no obvious radio singles, this won’t be to everyone’s tastes. An, at times, erotic ode to teenage years spent well and an adulthood adjusting to fame, Blonde is an album full of songs that Frank Ocean loves — and he’s lucky that what he loves, everyone else wants to hear.
Kameron Virk: 9/10
WILL YOUNG — SUMMER COVERS
It’s hard to not be fond of Will Young — and he’s got previous when it comes to doing intriguing, flattering, yet distinctly different covers. Remember his emotional re-rendering of OutKast’s Hey Ya? Summer Covers brings together some of his other favourite covers and has been recorded completely live with the jazz band Young played with during a residency at the 606 club in London. It’s that slick, you wouldn’t notice if it weren’t for the fact the bluesy base notes on One World are fudgily rich, a sax velveteen over the top. He takes his time on the Buzzcocks’ Ever Fallen In Love, building it slowly, while The Beatles’ I’m Only Sleeping is shot through with jauntiness. As a whole it’s not all that summery (in fact, you’re transported to a smoky underground New York bar), but this EP is wonderfully luxuriant.
Ella Walker: 8/10
GLASS ANIMALS — HOW TO BE A HUMAN BEING
When Glass Animals’ debut Zaba hit shelves in 2014, it was a breath of fresh air — but left reviewers in a quandary as to how to actually describe it. Electro-pop? Indie rock? Psychedelic R&B? It was all these things and so much more. Follow-up How To Be A Human Being is, arguably, even more eclectic, building on their existing sound with everything from big bhangra beats one moment, to 8-bit chip-tuned riffs the next. Yet, like Zaba, it remains astonishingly accessible. Singer Dave Bayley retains his trademark, atmospherically androgynous vocals, and his lyrics remain enjoyably unpretentious (opener Life Itself, for example, features the modest refrain, “I can’t get a job/So I live with my mum”) — which is surprising, given the breadth and depth of talent the band possess. Throughout, this is a bright, breezy, feel-good romp across genres that is impossible not to enjoy.
Rob Lavender: 9/10
LEWIS & LEIGH — GHOST
The debut album from Americana singer-songwriter duo Lewis & Leigh is an impressive showcase for the two artists’ vocal talents. Consisting of Wales’ Al Lewis, and Alva Leigh, from Mississippi, the pair have already released three EPs. Harmonious album opener There Is A Light is a haunting, almost a capella track that leads us to Rubble, a song that contrasts Wales and the Southern US and hints at tragedies the two areas have suffered. It’s an interesting glimpse into history and a little frustrating that the pair never really go back to it elsewhere on the album. Ghost, with minimal backing throughout — often to great effect — loses its way somewhat, but then recovers in the final four tracks. Whiskey And Wine wraps the whole thing up tidily, with neat lyrics and dreamy vocals. A well produced slice of Americana-pop, Ghost will not lose Lewis & Leigh any fans.
Ryan Ward: 7/10
SCOTT WALKER — THE CHILDHOOD OF A LEADER (ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK)
Although it’s been 16 years since music’s most mysterious genius tried his arm at the soundtrack game, and while his efforts here fall short of his best work, it’s strange that Walker doesn’t commit more time to this genre. Despite lacking his silky baritone, these pieces are quintessential Scott Walker, from the chilling, menacing violins to the bombastic brass section, and what you’d expect from one of the poster boys of avant-garde. The aptly titled Opening sets the tone with a pacy, haunting melody, sopping with dread and despair; and it’s glorious. While this bleeds beautifully into Dream Sequence’s pulsing electronics and the more conventionally classical Village Walk, it’s the middle where things unravel. Maybe it’s the staccato nature of soundtracks and the need to add texture to specific scenes, but out of context, these shorter tracks come across like underdeveloped off-cuts. It’s the penultimate track Finale, where this album hits its peak, blasting out like the screeching offspring of the Jaws theme and Psycho’s famous shower scene. And, frankly, what’s more cinematic than that?
Steven Cookson: 7/10