Albums of the week: Gold Panda, Lizzie Emah, Ariana Grande, Oscar, Martha High
Pint-sized pop princess Ariana Grande vamps up on new record, Dangerous Woman, electronic music producer Gold Panda presents Good Luck And Do Your Best, while James Brown vocalist Martha High gets soulful on Singing For The Good Times. Here we round up the best of this week’s CD releases
Gold Panda — Good Luck And Do Your Best
Six years and three albums into his recording career, there is still something wonderfully oblique about Gold Panda.
It’s electronica, but not the sort you dance to. It’s mood music, but too effervescent for elevators and too demanding for dinner parties. It’s virtually wordless, but endlessly expressive. There’s an engineer’s eye at work in the slow-build soundscape of Metal Bird or Chiba Nights and a living, beating human heart behind the elegiac — but contrarily named — I Am.
Lizzie Emah — My Baboo EP
For a hit of summery beats, soulful jazz artist Lizzie Emah is one to watch. British jazz legend Courtney Pine is even a fan. Her latest EP, My Baboo comprises a spare three tracks on which she sings of love, race and disability.
White Lies jangles sweetly, forcing your feet to tap in time; Waiting has a mesmeric piano backdrop, while Reminiscing has a beat that thrums in your chest, Emah’s voice treacly over the top. A mainstay of the disability music scene — which seriously lacks an outlet commercially and when it comes to radio airplay — Emah breaks out in her music, and she deserves your time and attention.
Ariana Grande — Dangerous Woman
For a ‘dangerous woman’, there’s not much bite to Ariana Grande’s third album.
Opener Moonlight is an insipid way to start — it’s the kind of song you’d get in a romcom where the lovesick girl sings into her hairbrush — although, the title track follows up with a punchier hit of pop.
The best offerings in fact are those she’s roped in collaborators for.
Side To Side is a slush of generic R&B until Nicki Minaj starts rapping expertly over Caribbean beats, Everyday featuring Future has scope to be a proper floor filler, but the real stand-out is Leave Me Lonely starring the always magnificent Macy Gray.
Her raspy, soulful vocals provide a moment of elevation on an otherwise overly sweet, frothy record.
Oscar — Cut And Paste
Love him or hate him (and, it seems, many people do when it comes to the latter), north London miserablist Oscar Scheller is forging onwards with this, his debut album.
It’s been a couple of years of work but, with songwriting of this quality, it was worth the wait. Cut And Paste starts with the excellent Sometimes, three-and-a-half minutes of perfect guitar pop, with that Morrissey-style vocal morosely reeling you in.
While it peaks right there, overall it’s good enough for you to find yourself humming track two, Be Good, or three, Feel It Too, many hours or days later. Other songs fans will know, including the cracking Breaking My Phone, Daffodil Days and Beautiful Words. Oscar’s baritone voice works well and is lifted when counterpointed with a female backing vocal — and that is used to good effect, giving catchy choruses a real breakout feel. Get it for the summer.
Martha High — Singing For The Good Times
When it comes to soul and funk, Martha High has been there, done that, and got the t-shirt.
She was a long-time backing singer for the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown, which makes it clear she has serious musical chops and her howl and scream-style vocals fit the material on Singing For The Good Times just perfectly. Admittedly, this album cuts no new ground in a genre packed with top-notch singers and musicians, but bang this record on at any soul all-nighter and the dance floor will be full in no time.
Opener, Always Worth The Pain, sets the tone, as over a funky groove she wails and hollers about the travails of a relationship, one minute sweet, the next sour.
I Am A Woman is another corker, Martha showing that the passing of the years has done little to diminish the power and range of her voice as the crack band of session musicians whips up a frenzy. Fire Shut In My Bones and the aptly-named For The Good Times also do what they are designed to do, namely to showcase Martha’s vocals and get you grooving. So, ground-breaking no, top-notch soul funk? Most definitely yes.