Album of the week: New CDs from Garbage to Neil Young
Alt-rockers Garbage return with Strange Little Birds; Neil Young and his band, Promise Of The Real, present Earth, and French electro-poppers Air share Twentyears. We round up the best of this week’s CD releases.
GARBAGE — STRANGE LITTLE BIRDS
It has been a while since we heard from Shirley Manson and co, but this distant follow-up to 2012’s Not Your Kind Of People finds them close to top form.
The electronic elements of Garbage’s traditional sound are generally to the fore, though the straight-up rock clatter of lead single Empty is among the album’s highlights and We Never Tell follows a similar tack.
Stalwart band member Butch Vig is the key to everything, with his drumming powering those rockier numbers and his synthesizer stamp all over much of the band’s best work here.
Manson feeds off him superbly, with her detached vocal style perfectly capturing the darkness of stand-outs Sometimes and Night Drive Loneliness — the latter particularly in keeping with what Vig has described as the “cinematic and atmospheric” feel of a fine sixth studio album.
SARAH JAROSZ —
Texan singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz may only be 25, but this is her fourth album.
She’s already been nominated for Grammy Awards and deservedly so.
Jarosz’s albums are things of quiet beauty, mainly acoustic, with her breathy yet clear vocals making her tender and evocative songs resonate with an immediacy not always apparent in Americana.
Undercurrent is undoubtedly her best album so far, the songwriting top-notch and the tracks of a uniformly high quality, making this an album to treasure.
Opener Early Morning Light with Jarosz accompanied by little more than an acoustic guitar, is beautiful, as is the equally captivating Green Lights.
But the quality doesn’t falter. Comin’ Undone, Take Another Turn and Jacqueline may not change much in tempo, but more than make up for that in terms of underlining Jarosz’s great gift for lyric writing, melody and delivery.
NEIL YOUNG — EARTH
Neil Young certainly doesn’t do things by halves. His work, spanning the best part of half a century, has yielded some of the greatest songs in the history of rock and also, it has to be said, some of the worst.
Having cut his teeth with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, he has forged an erratic solo career, with his early to mid-Seventies albums considered by most to be his musical zenith.
Earth is a live album of sorts, largely devoid of his best known songs, which — Young being Young — hardly comes as a surprise.
What does come as a surprise, however, is his decision to intersperse both songs and audience applause with animal sounds, presumably to underline his commitment to environmental concerns. The band, augmented by Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah, does of course rock, but the sounds of crows, frogs, roosters and cows added to the mix is at best distracting, and at worst annoying.
That’s not to say there aren’t gems to enjoy. The Monsanto Years, the title track from his most recent album, is great, as is the excellent Vampire Blues, while a 28-minute version of Love And Only Love is as captivating as ever, even in such expanded form. Plenty to enjoy then, but as an experiment, it is only partially successful.
AIR — TWENTYEARS
Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel of French electronic pop duo Air mark their 20th anniversary with this double CD collection.
The first disc sticks to the hits and shows how far and wide they’ve strayed within the electronica genre.
There’s the electropop of Sexy Boy and Kelly Watch The Stars, the comedown folk of All I Need, the creepy voyeurism of the string-swept lounge ballad Playground Love, the prog-epic Don’t Be Light and the space rock silliness of Alpha Beta Gaga.
The second disc will be of more interest to Air completists with its collection of rarities and there are some gems here.
Jarvis Cocker and Charlotte Gainsbourg make counting sexy in the Duelist, Francoise Hardy adds her honeyed vocals to the beautiful Au Fond Du Reve Dore and Sixties composer David Whitaker brings an orchestral sweep to the pining of Remember.
There’s also a reminder of what an exciting live act they are, as the duo, along with many of Beck’s touring musicians, blast through Seventies wig-out Trente Millions D’amis. A collection as essential as the Air you breathe.
KING HARVEST & THE WEIGHT — MAPS
Hailing from Halifax in West Yorkshire, King Harvest & The Weight have only been together for a shade over six months.
Yet this, their debut album, showcases a band making rapid strides, even if the music on Maps is invigorating rather than ground-breaking.
Their influences are clear — namely late Sixties and early Seventies rock, with Thin Lizzy and Led Zeppelin top picks. Comprising Ben Adey on vocals and bass, Justin Edley on drums and Oliver Smith (guitar and vocals), the album gets off to a strange start with Howl (a spoken intro narrated by Mike Watt) before going into full-on guitar assault mode on the following two tracks, When It Stops and Dream.
Things become more mellow on the impressive Diana, while Hurricanes and New York Is Dangerous are radio-friendly anthems. Retro, certainly, but rousing nonetheless.