Albums of the week: From Roisin Murphy to The Avalanches
Icelandic legend Bjork returns with a special edition album Vulnicura Live, while Irish singer Roisin Murphy mixes it up with Take Her To Monto. We round up the best of this week’s releases.
MICHAEL KIWANUKA — LOVE & HATE
If you like your soul music understatedly robust, warm and fizzing with feeling, Michael Kiwanuka is your man. Love & Hate is the 2012 BBC Sound Of poll winner’s follow up to Home Again, his Mercury Music Prize nominated debut — and it is blissful.
Recorded with Grammy Award-winning producer Danger Mouse, it has an ease to it and a confidence that has your hips dipping and swaying without you even realising. Kiwanuka’s yearning vocals on the languid I’ll Never Love are rich and buttery, while on Black Man In A White World he stomps and clatters powerfully.
This year, that Mercury Music Prize should undoubtedly be his.
BJORK — VULNICURA LIVE
Vulnicura is Bjork’s ninth studio album, and this special live edition features 14 songs performed by the singer on her 2015 Vulnicura tour. From the get go, with opener Stonemilker, the strings are foregrounded and lush-sounding.
They have a Bond-theme vernacular to their swooping seriousness, while it isn’t until History Of Touches that the electronics of her collaborators, Arca and The Haxan Cloak step up. The heavily manipulated vocal samples and fast-swirl of grainy synthesizer noise lend a contemporary feel which is hardly surprising given how clued into new developments Bjork is. Her collaborators are carefully selected and put their own stamps on her music whilst being fully absorbed in her artistic vision.
This record documents her break-up from former husband, artist Matthew Barney, and it is often uncomfortable to digest lyrically.
It is a mature and rewarding piece of work, and if a visionary like Bjork feels it’s worth revisiting in the context of a full live show, who can argue?
SAMM HENSHAW — EP THE SOUND EXPERIMENT 2
Last year was a breakthrough for 22-year-old Samm Henshaw. His first EP, The Sound Experiment, produced a forgone conclusion; a new British singer/songwriter had burst onto the soul scene.
Named one of Spotify’s Best New Artists and Google Play’s One to Watch for 2016, anticipations were high for this second EP. Whilst the opener, Our Love, showcases Henshaw’s impressive vocal range, the chorus lacks punch and the repetitive country folk guitar riff is grinding.
The rest of the EP — all 14 minutes of it — is much more cool, modern and soulful, making comparisons to Frank Ocean justifiable. Night Calls epitomises Henshaw’s strength; his expressive, tuneful voice complemented beautifully by a stripped-back guitar accompaniment.
The Sound Experiment 2 will certainly add colour to a drab day. Perhaps just skip the first track.
ROISIN MURPHY — TAKE HER UP TO MONTO
Roisin Murphy is hard-wired for eclecticism — from her clothes to her vocals, and Take Her Up To Monto, the former Moloko singer’s fourth solo record, is true to form. Slices of jangly electronica and minimalist bass are spattered by bursts of off-kilter piano chords, swamps of keyboard slamming and percussion instruments you’d usually find in a reception classroom.
Opener Mastermind is sweet and spare, peppered with squeaky synthetic sounds, which on Pretty Garden sound over-arranged, too orchestrated and distracting — although it does have sass. Whatever is a skewed lullaby, while Nervous Sleep draws you in. It’s interesting and challenging, if not overly enjoyable.
Sometimes though you just want Murphy to do the truly unexpected, and make something that’s actually catchy.
THE AVALANCHES — WILDFLOWER
The Titan Arum is a special plant. It can take up to a decade of careful nurturing between blooms. Crowds gather to witness this rare event. Similarly, The Avalanches’ second album has been anticipated for quite some time.
Sixteen years after their critically-acclaimed debut, Since I Left You, comes Wildflower. Many are disappointed when Titan Arums bloom. This unique organism produces the acrid smell of a rotting corpse. Good preparation for Wildflower. Its affected vocal samples and car radio gimmicks are irritating and distracting. Wildflower reaches into music’s vintage sweetshop for some strawberry bon-bons and chocolate raisins, but comes back with handfuls of Scandinavian salted liquorish and perfumed cherry lips.
There are euphoric soul and disco samples producing great moments, but that is all they are. At 21 songs long, Wildflower needs to offer more than moments. The crowds staring at Titan Arums try desperately to enjoy the spectacle by ignoring the odour, but eventually they have to admit it’s a bit of a stinker.