Albums of the week - from Howard Jones to Mac DeMarco
Electronica pioneer Howard Jones is back with Transform, his first record in more than a decade, and there are also new releases from Mac DeMarco and Tanika Charles
Howard Jones - Transform
There is definitely something in the air at the moment; a flux of my 80s heroes have returned to the forefront musically. Howard Jones, however, wasn't up there for me back in the day - I was more of a Bananarama and Haircut 100 girl. Looking back I'm ashamed that I missed out on this voice.
Now I get the chance to relive the 80s again, but now with a souped-up to almost surround sound. Lyrically Jones is as life-affirming as he was 35 years ago and it has to be said now is the time for us to hear these morals again.
Get a feel for the 1980s, when we never gave up, courtesy of Howard Jones.
Mac DeMarco - Here Comes The Cowboy
A classic Mac DeMarco love song always feels like it's being delivered with a sly wink. But if anybody still thought the Canadian was just a slacker with a boyish sense of humour they'll be put right with his fourth LP.
Take K: a simple, Dylanesque folk ballad that lays bare DeMarco's skill as documenter of the lovelorn. Meanwhile, next track Heart to Heart is as slow-burning and addictive as anything he's produced before. But there are also new influences: the playful Choo Choo toys with George Clinton-esque funk while kind-hearted closer Baby Bye Bye brings to mind RAM-era McCartney.
For those who've loved him up to now that might feel like a perfect description of the Mac ethos, but these songs feel like they've been given far more care and attention than that. Yes, they are often simple, and yes, the production remains low key, but as he approaches 30, DeMarco's chops as a producer and songwriter are continually being burnished.
Tanika Charles - The Gumption
What a great word gumption is. A decision that is imaginative, driven and determined, The Gumption is the perfect title for Tanika Charles' punchy second album. Toronto based, the singer credits herself for marrying classic soul with modern production styles, something she continues to achieve in this 12-track release.
Vocally, Charles hits somewhere between Motown and early 90s R&B. Soulful and slick, Charles' latest release was definitely made with, well, gumption.
Holly Herndon - Proto
Few artists push the boundaries like Holly Herndon. While others write concept albums about the future, Herndon is living it - collaborating with artificial intelligence on a project exploring an unknown, technologist future.
For her third record, Herndon, a doctoral student at Stanford University studying composition, created an AI programme called Spawn - her "baby". Housed inside a home-made, souped-up gaming computer, Spawn created much of the alien vocals on the album.
It's certainly ambitious. Herndon's use of found sounds and choirs made her previous albums extraordinarily rich. They were textured worlds to explore.
It's often impossible to differentiate between woman and machine. Voices sound like machinery while electronics are elevated to heavenly choirs. Maybe that's the beauty of it.
Lydia Ainsworth - Phantom Forest
With a voice that could easily be compared to Kate Bush and a style best described as 'late-Noughties Lady Gaga meets retro 1980s video game soundtrack', Canada's Lydia Ainsworth is an intriguing musical proposition.
The singer, composer and producer has created a collection of music that is meant to entice the listener into her dream world, which she says is "Mother Nature's vanishing home".
Leaning towards the more experimental side of electro-pop, Ainsworth has created an interesting album that certainly won't be everybody's cup of tea, but is unique and stylish and Edenic enough to appeal to those who enjoy the craftsmanship she offers.
She describes the album as being more like a film score, a continual journey that blends old and new. From funky opener Diamonds Cutting Diamonds to smoother, more ethereal tracks that highlight her piercing vocal, such as Kiss The Future, The Time and Give It Back To You (arguably the standout), Ainsworth's third album is definitely worth giving a go.