Albums of the week: From Strand of Oaks to Amy MacDonald
Strand of Oaks present Hard Love, The Damned reissue Damned Damned Damned, and Amy MacDonald shares Under Stars. We round up the best of this week’s releases.
AMY MacDONALD — UNDER STARS
It’s been five years since Scottish singer-songwriter Amy MacDonald’s last album, Life In A Beautiful Light and this assured fourth offering of guitar-led indie-pop appears to have benefited from a long gestation. Dream On bursts straight out of the gate, perfectly suited to Amy’s smooth contralto voice, followed by radio-friendly Automatic, which is more rock than her usual folky tinge. The tempo doesn’t let up until the choir-backed ballad Down By The Water, and the overall message is to doggedly pursue your dreams: Leap Of Faith, Never Too Late and The Contender are all variations on the theme. It’s a feisty collection that promises an excellent live show, with lyrics that can easily be interpreted through the current political climate. An extra eight acoustic recordings of album tracks are a nice bonus, but fairly unnecessary.
THE DAMNED — DAMNED DAMNED DAMNED (2017 REMASTERED
It’s inevitable; music that was part of the counter-culture becomes classic rock. Tomorrow is the 62nd birthday of Damned mastermind Brian James, and the 40th of the band’s album, Damned Damned Damned. Providing vigorous tracks with a title that makes mincemeat of article word quotas, this work is a joy for critics. The music is also great for the punk neophyte, the impetuous consumers of tomorrow, and anyone who likes their music loud. The machine-gun etiquette that informs all Damned albums is here in unalloyed form. This is in the same pit as The Stooges, The Velvet Underground and The Ramones. New Rose still shines. Its influence on Millionaire by Queens Of The Stone Age is irrefutable — a masterpiece, itself from over a decade ago. If you don’t already own Damned, Damned, Damned, get hold of it in any way you can. Don’t deny it, just embrace it.
DIRTY PROJECTORS — DIRTY PROJECTORS
Dirty Projectors are a collective centred around Brooklyn vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, David Longstreth and this is their eighth album. There’s definitely something of the NYC melting pot about Longstreth’s songs. They mix up genres, not just from song to song, but within songs themselves. Soul, R’n’B, funk, gospel, jazz and hip hop all jostle for position in the blender, but there’s an overall feel to the Dirty Projectors sound that transcends all that. Death Spiral combines throbbing beats with intricate keyboards and delicate strings as it charts a relationship breakdown. Up In Hudson starts like Tom Waits doing trip hop, but then breaks into beats and bleeps. Sometimes it feels like there’s too much going on, that there’s too many jump-cuts from style to style, but there are some strong songs underneath all the studio trickery and they do shine through.
STRAND OF OAKS — HARD LOVE
Timothy Showalter has apparently poured a lot of personal heart and soul into Hard Love, which means it’s a shame that it feels so tepid. The Philadelphia singer-songwriter’s domestic troubles and the near-death of his brother are among the topics funnelled into Strand Of Oaks’ follow-up to 2014’s HEAL. He was apparently aiming for a loose “raw, impulsive nature that is the DNA of so many records I love”. However, Hard Love feels just too baggy. It seems to be searching for an anthemic feel without really achieving it and while individual songs (like Radio Kids) stand out, the album overall sounds a little indistinct.
JOHNOSSI — BLOOD JUNGLE
They might as well be American — don’t expect lilting Swedish whimsy, or minimalist, folkloric Skandi overtones from rock duo, Johnassi. Comprised of frontman and guitarist John Engelbert, and drummer Oskar ‘Ossi’ Bonde, this, the pair’s fifth record, doesn’t thrash around, there’s no yelling — in fact, for rock, it’s very mellow. Freeman is jaunty and sweeping, On A Roll is almost bluesy, layered over with simplistic lyrics that are more spoken than sung while War/Rain is languorous and melancholy. Not overly inspiring, but solid work.