Albums of the week: The Ramona Flowers to Seth Lakeman
Folkster Seth Lakeman unveils Ballad Of The Broken Few, Bristol rockers The Ramona Flowers share Part Time Spies and composer Vangelis returns with Rosetta, an album inspired by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission. Ella Walker rounds up the best of this week’s releases.
FLOCK OF DIMES — IF YOU SEE ME, SAY YES
Flock of Dimes, stage name of singer-songwriter Jenn Wasner, has put together a debut that is quiet, calm and intoxicating. A breezy mix of folk, electro and pop, it worms its way in. Jenn’s voice is amazing, ranging from warm to frail to powerful (imagine something akin to Carole King) and there’s a real beauty to her music. While it’s not all successful — Flight is a bit wishy washy, and at times the dreamy vibe slightly grates — overall it’s breathtaking. Semaphore is a track Fleetwood Mac would be proud of and ...To Have No Answer induces three minutes and 50 seconds of goosebumps. Highly recommended.
THE HANDSOME FAMILY — UNSEEN
Best known for the theme tune to the first series of True Detective (2014), The Handsome Family have actually been around since 1993. Their 11th album, Unseen, is another collection of southern gothic folk tales, bringing country and bluegrass together with a healthy shot of wistful melancholy. Back In My Day recalls the days when life was simpler and we were more connected with the natural world, while Gold sounds like a country love song until you listen carefully to the lyrics and a dark undercurrent surfaces. Unseen is a bit one-note at times, but The Handsome Family are incredibly good at what they do; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
MERCHANDISE — A CORPSE WIRED FOR SOUND
A bolshy live act, Merchandise have been fairly prolific on the record front since forming in 2008 — mainly careering around in the space between Eighties slacker rock and post-punk. They continue in that vein on A Corpse Wired For Sound, with their most complete effort to date. The album’s title refers to a JG Ballard short tale, and its air of eerie detachment is more than a little reflective of that. Now a trio, Merchandise sound like a band less anxiously energetic and more comfortable within themselves — with singer Carson Cox evoking Echo And The Bunnymen with his rich, distant vibrato. Nowhere is all of this more evident on the highlight: burning stomper Flower Of Sex, which gathers up Nineties shoegaze guitars and echoes of The Smiths on the way to its heady end.
SETH LAKEMAN — BALLADS OF THE BROKEN FEW
Devonshire folk singer Seth Lakeman first burst onto the scene back in 2004 with his brilliant album Kitty Jay, which was deservedly nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. Ballads Of The Broken Few, his eighth studio album, treads a similar path, with Lakeman’s perceptive songwriting and excellent playing making for another satisfying listen. His vocals are supplemented by female vocal trio Wildwood Kin, who flesh out the tracks impressively, while Ethan Johns is roped in on production duties. The songs, as to be expected, are folk-tinged, but Lakeman’s knack of writing and choosing his material carefully means the likes of Willow Tree, Stranger and Innocent Child truly soar.
VANGELIS — ROSETTA
Arguably most famous for his movie soundtracks — Blade Runner, of course, and perhaps more relevant in this Olympic year, Chariots Of Fire — the ambient electronica composer, remains one of Greece’s most successful exports. It’s not hard to see why: his records enjoy near-universal appeal, thanks to their easy-going nature. His greatest asset though is his ability to create epic and filmic scores, entirely instrumental, without even an accompanying movie. Rosetta is one such LP, encompassing such a range of emotions from the upbeat (the title track, and Mission Accomplie) to the eerie and foreboding (Perihelion springs to mind) that there seems to be a clear narrative. Yet, as with all of Vangelis’ work, it does tend to slip into the background unless one makes a conscious effort to pay attention. Such is the curse of the background music composer...