Albums of the week: From Imelda May to Future Islands
Imelda May’s latest offering is a treat for the ears, while newcomers The Big Moon are hoping to impress with their debut album. We round up this week’s top music releases.
IMELDA MAY — LIFE. LOVE. FLESH. BLOOD
Irish singer-songwriter Imelda May might have dropped the leopard skin, polka-dots and rockabilly stylings of her previous albums, but Life.Love.Flesh.Blood is nevertheless an agreeably retro affair. Whether channelling the ghost of Patsy Cline on hit single Black Tears, or Bacharach-era Dusty Springfield on Should Have Been You, this is a record steeped in a lost era. Her previous incarnation can still be made out in the Tom Waits-y Sixth Sense, but from the stark album artwork to the lyrics about the economies of parenthood (Bad Habit) or growing up in Dublin (The Girl I Used To Be), there’s a genuine sense that this is May reinventing herself as she really is, completely free of artifice. What some will regard as a classical approach might strike others as an unforgivable descent into blandness. But although resolutely radio-friendly (right down to the inevitable Jools Holland collaboration When It’s My Time), May’s voice has an authenticity that puts her head and shoulders above her rivals.
THE BIG MOON — LOVE IN THE 4TH DIMENSION
With a busy live schedule and shows that have been blowing audiences away, The Big Moon recorded this, their debut album, in less than two weeks with Catherine Marks (Wolf Alice, Foals) producing. Sometimes, such a bold approach can work in favour, sometimes not. Here, with such a finely-tuned set, the London four-piece just about get away with it. As a result though, too many of the songs sound alike, and maybe tweaks to vocals and guitar sounds might have helped. But that said, there are good stand-out moments with smart arrangements breaking up the standard three-minute guitar pop song. Silent Movie Susie is my favourite here, but those stand-outs also include opening track Sucker, as well as Formidable and Bonfire.
FATHER JOHN MISTY — PURE COMEDY
Somehow, Father John Misty manages to propagate a cheery nihilistic fatalism on Pure Comedy. The Maryland-born guitarist and former Fleet Foxes drummer makes swift, damning, yet witty judgments on humanity, splicing jibes at Taylor Swift with proclamations such as, “Because there’s no place for human existence,” on the aptly named Things It Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution. Real name Josh Tillman, the singer-songwriter expounds on the bleakness of the human condition, but against a hearty background of reverberating piano and big band-style horn work (there’s something of Elton John to his vocals too). On Total Entertainment he declares baldly, “No God to rule us, no drugs to soothe us, no myths to prove stuff, no love to confuse us”, but at least he’s a straight talker.
TIMBER TIMBRE — SINCERELY, FUTURE POLLUTION
Canadian gothic-folksters Timber Timbre’s last album, 2014’s Hot Dreams, sounded like a mix of Tindersticks’ melancholy melodies and the soundtrack to a David Lynch film. Sincerely, Future Pollution sees them move on musically with synths and late Seventies/early Eighties musical stylings. Written amidst the upheavals of last year, the songs are a reaction to a world full of turmoil, imbued with anxiety and uncertainty. Gifting struts around with a Seventies bass-and-synth swagger, Moment sounds like it might be lifted from an Eighties sci-fi movie, while Sewer Blues takes us back to Lynch territory, guitar reverb combining with throbbing, ominous synths. Western Questions starts with a dramatic build-up of guitars and keyboards, before breaking into eerie easy listening. The musical palette is broad and unpredictable, but it works, cohering around Taylor Kirk’s lyrical preoccupations and brooding vocals.
FUTURE ISLANDS — THE FAR FIELD
Remember A-ha, the Norwegian pop trio whose beguiling mix of layered synths and soaring vocals bothered the UK charts more than a few times back in the Eighties? Future Islands’ new album, their fifth, recalls the Nordic heart-throbs at their height and that’s certainly no bad thing. After their breakthrough in 2014 with single Seasons, Future Islands have established a musical niche of their own, hitching retro synth-pop to indie funk grooves over which Samuel T Herring’s soulful voice brings a yearning sense of loss and longing. The 12 songs here on The Far Field are great, instant pop tunes, but also resonate with emotional intensity, none more so than recent single Cave, and Through The Roses, in which Herring declares: “It’s not easy, just being human.” Your heart goes out to him.