Album of the week: Nick Jonas, Fantastic Negrito, Max Jury, Evans The Death and Papier Tigre
American heart-throb and pop singer Nick Jonas returns with new record Last Year Was Complicated; rising star Max Jury makes his eponymous debut, and Fantastic Negrito gives blues a twist on The Last Days Of Oakland. We round up the best of this week’s CD releases.
NICK JONAS — LAST YEAR WAS COMPLICATED
If you’re a fan of tinny, generic pop with saccharine sub-plots, romantic angst and the gloss of celebrity, Nick Jonas ticks all the boxes.
Last Year Was Complicated is his third solo effort without backing from his brothers, and the Disney Channel graduate and actor has produced a glut of songs that shows while he doesn’t need them, he needs some kind of push musically.
Comfortable is perhaps the most interestingly arranged track, mixing Usher-like soul with James Blake-esque electronica and Unhinged shows he can still do swoonful.
While Chainsaw attempts it fairly convincingly, nothing reaches the catchy heights of Jonas’ 2014 hit Jealous, which at the time seemed to suggest he was going after Justin Timberlake’s “I can dance and hit those keening high notes” crown.
He just couldn’t follow it up, however complicated his last year was.
FANTASTIC NEGRITO — THE LAST DAYS OF OAKLAND
Back in the mid-Nineties, Xavier Dphrepaulez seemed to be on the cusp of mega stardom. Yet, despite sharing a manager with Prince and securing a record deal with Interscope, he never quite made it.
Instead, a life-threatening car crash and a series of not entirely savoury career moves sent the songwriter back to his native Oakland, where he has slowly developed a new alter-ego, Fantastic Negrito, and a soulful, urban sound that is finally gaining him some deserved recognition.
The Last Days Of Oakland is scattered with troubling vox pops about robberies, shootings and gang warfare, and with titles like Rant Rushmore, The Worst, and Working Poor, paints a stark picture of his home town.
The tunes, however, which range through genres, including the soulful About A Bird, the funky Scary Woman and a blistering revamp of Blues standard, In The Pines, are never less than sweet. At last it seems his time has come.
MAX JURY — MAX JURY
Max Jury’s a well-travelled man for his years. A native of Des Moines, Iowa, the 24-year-old has also spent a great deal of time living in Boston, New York and London.
His varied background can be heard clearly in the music: whilst dipping his toe in country, folk, gospel and Seventies Americana, he manages to never plunge himself in to one style at the expense of the other.
Jury claims he recorded the album in his friend’s parent’s living room, but you’d never guess the DIY nature of the record when listening to it. The range of styles and sounds he encompasses makes it sound like he used at least three different backing bands.
From the opener Numb, onwards, Jury sings candidly about hardships, love and homesickness, and even though you’ve heard the topics before, he manages to bring a freshness that will keep you wanting more.
EVANS THE DEATH — VANILLA
Album number three from the London five-piece is a real grower.
At first an impenetrable wall of madness and distortion, the layers begin to peel away to reveal songs full of quirky inventiveness.
Disjointed, mismatched male/female duets somehow work, despite the lack of cohesion or even harmony. Whirling guitars feedback and a saxophone wails over them, as vocalist Katherine Whitaker screams low down in the mix. Vanilla, though, sounding disorganised throughout, changes tempo and rhythm at a turn and you never know what to expect as the album lurches across its 37 minutes.
It has wow factor moments, and shed loads of them — the spliced wrap on Hey! Buddy is simple, surprising, brilliant, while the band have thrown everything they’ve got, including a brass section, at the ballad Cable St Blues (or is it a ballad? I don’t know) and the closing track, European Bison, is breathtaking.
PAPIER TIGRE — THE SCREW
There’s a peculiar genre of indie music that falls between the chart-friendly and the noisily inscrutable.
Papier Tigre, a self-consciously minimalist and experimental trio, prove themselves to be masters of the form on their fourth album, which is authentically punk-rock yet not so self-regarding as to eschew recognisable tunes altogether.
And There Were Some Lonely Hands and Pajamas capture the spirit of The Residents, while Heebie Jeebies sounds like the Pixies at their most atonal. As if to counter accusations of being too accessible, however, things get incredibly avant-garde on the album’s centre-piece, A Matter Of Minutes, which is little more than a patience-testing 10 minutes of chunking guitar chords.
Overall, however, The Screw is an ideal introduction to the more obscure corners of the indie universe.