Albums of the week: From Ed Harcourt to David Brent
English singer Ed Harcourt presents new album Furnaces, Benjamin Francis Leftwich returns with After The Rain, and comedy legend David Brent releases his debut, Life On The Road. We catch up with the week’s CD releases.
ED HARCOURT — FURNACES
Gonzo artist Ralph Steadman’s cover art is an indicator of a dark, dirty seventh studio album, influenced by the chaotic state of the world, and brilliantly realised with production from Nine Inch Nails collaborator Flood. “I hadn’t made a record before that has this kind of danger to it,” Ed Harcourt says, and he’s not wrong. Here Be Monsters, Harcourt warned on his Mercury-nominated 2001 debut, a theme he runs with on Furnaces. Loup Garou, named for the French legend of the werewolf, is one of the album’s many stand-out tracks that explores male desire and excess. The self-explanatory Nothing But A Bad Trip pairs well with Last Of Your Kind, which paints a satirical nightmare scene depicting the destruction of London. Percussionist Michael Blair, noted for his work with Tom Waits, helps capture some of the latter’s twinkle-eyed menace — with the Donald Trump-baiting video for the environmentally-conscious title track which also recalls some of Waits’ darker work. Superb.
CRYSTAL CASTLES — AMNESTY (I)
The original Crystal Castles duo underwent a messy musical “divorce” in 2014, and after vocalist Alice Glass left, this is musical supremo Ethan Kath’s first album with new frontwoman Edith Frances. Like many second marriages, there is lots that’s still familiar to those who knew the previous incarnation, despite Kath clearly keen to show he is just fine without Glass. Amnesty (I), the Canadian outfit’s fourth album and first since 2012, carries the electropunk outriders’ trademark tight yet screamingly energetic sound with tracks like Concrete, Enth and Fleece exploding into your ears. But they are counterbalanced by some more laid-back blissful electronica, to produce an album you can listen to again and again and again. Perfect for the party playlist, the gym or that long, late commute home.
BENJAMIN FRANCIS LEFTWICH — AFTER THE RAIN
Five years after his first album, Benjamin Francis Leftwich is back with his sophomore effort — After The Rain. Comparisons with the likes of Bon Iver, Ben Howard and James Vincent McMorrow (10 points if you can remember which is which) are inevitable, but this is no bad thing if you like your guitar music mellow. This is a quiet, gentle record, but there is an intensity to the songs belying their gentle guitar strums — and if you like breathy singing, Leftwich is up there with the best, exhaling Tilikum and Groves with a lack of power that only serves to increase the intimacy. Kicking Roses is the album’s standout song, possessing the closest you can find to a catchy chorus. Occasionally Leftwich veers into over sentimentality, such as on Just Breathe, but otherwise it is the perfect album for lounging around on lazy summer evenings.
LIFE ON THE ROAD — DAVID BRENT & FOREGONE CONCLUSION
The reviews of Ricky Gervais’ new film, Life On The Road, have so far been conflicted. Has former office manager-turned-on the road salesman and aspiring chart topper David Brent lost his uncomfortable charm and awkward bluster? Has Gervais gone too far? Okay, releasing Brent’s 15-track album and performing songs off it at the film premiere might be too far, but Brent has always brilliantly occupied that gap where taste, tact and self-awareness falter. And Life On The Road is funny. Comedian Doc Brown reprises his role as rapper Dom Johnson from Gervais’ comic relief special, Equality Street (don’t worry, it’s on here), and is particularly impressive on Lonely Cowboy (“But I’m the lonely cowboy/She’s just a lonely cow”). Emotional ballad Slough deserves to be picked up by the local council for its next promotional run (“You know where you’re heading/It’s equidistant between London and Reading”), while Spacemen could easily make it as a nursery rhyme. Life On The Road is silly, yet earnest and you’ll be humming the country-twanging Freelove Freeway non-stop, whether you want to or not.
TOBACCO — SWEATBOX DYNASTY
Electronica veteran Thomas Fec’s fourth album arrives. His music consists of twisted analogue synths, mixed with tape spools and giddy hip-hop beats. Vocals are androgynous and heavily distorted, but the effort put into production is staggering in today’s climate of smart phone apps doing a lot of the work. Tracks on Sweatbox Dynasty are no exception; they start with chainsaw intensity, but whenever a melody appears, the song changes gear, always keeping the listener on the back foot. There’s an undercurrent of sleaze to the transcendental themes, exemplified in lead track Gods In Heat. It contains a riff that sounds like Don’t Fear The Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult, but put through a mangle and electrified. Memory Girl evokes the jangling bells of Memphis Bells by the Prodigy, and the melody of Tobacco’s earlier works has been excised in favour of off-kilter innovation. Sweatbox Dynasty may be uncompromising, but it is exciting.