Albums of the week: From Blood Orange to Candi Staton
Singer-songwriter and producer Devonte Hynes, known as Blood Orange, delights this week with his new record, while music veteran Candi Staton releases politically-tinged record Unstoppable.
Blood Orange — Negro Swan
A man never short of ideas, Devonte Hynes here marshals his inspirations into an “honest look at the corners of black existence”. The multiplicity of genres and switches of pace are initially dizzying — soul, acid R&B, verdant, Prince-like arrangements — but on later listens Negro Swan sounds like an album rather than a mixtape.
Charcoal Baby references the album title, saying “No one wants to be the odd one out at times” and elsewhere there is exploration of queer anxieties. But this and the album’s sonic dissonances are matched by celebratory peaks: “Your skin’s a flag that shines for us all”, as Saint sings, and the record’s strong opening third features Wurlitzers, flutes, Puff Daddy duelling with TeiShi, and the lovely, multifaceted Jewelry.
Truly, Hynes’ vision and vulnerability make him a rare bird.
Interpol — Marauder
The New Yorkers’ sixth studio album may arrive in the wake of a 15th anniversary tour for their debut, Turn Out The Bright Lights, but their vitality remains intact.
The classic Interpol sound is augmented by ambitious production from Dave Fridmann — Mercury Rev’s founding bassist and a regular producer also noted for his work with the Flaming Lips — on an album driven by a title character who singer Paul Banks admits is inspired by escapades from his past.
The ‘Marauder’ is to the fore on lead-out single The Rover and Stay In Touch, with the latter showcasing the guitar work of Daniel Kessler at its best.
Lucie Silvas — E.G.O.
Lucie Silvas, who had a few memorable hits in the mid-noughties (including top 10 singles Breathe In and What You’re Made Of), has been somewhat under the radar for the past decade or so. She released an album in 2015 after a long break, and she’s now back with her fourth record E.G.O.
The British singer-songwriter is now based in Nashville, and its presence is felt throughout the album. It’s hard to remember she’s from this side of the pond when listening to her sing-song country/roots-fused effort. The record is comprised of easy, toe-tapping melodies, twangy guitars and sometimes sassy lyrics, reminiscent of the swathe of gutsy female singer-songwriters that filled the charts in the late 1990s.
Where Silvas really flourishes is on the gritty, rock-ish First Rate Heartbreak, followed by the bluesy Everything Looks Beautiful. However, the album feels a tad cookie-cutter, the tried and tested formula quite apparent.
Candi Staton— Unstoppable
Fifty years into her career, Candi Staton adopts the role of soul stateswoman on her aptly-titled 30th album.
This politically charged collection, including a reworking of Patti Smith’s People Have The Power, appears to be Staton’s What’s Going On? moment. Unstoppable strikes the right balance of social commentary, with irresistible hooks and funky rhythms that recall the late 1960s era of funk and soul, during which Staton first rose to stardom.
Confidence is a barnstorming opener, with its sassy brass and Staton’s age-defying vocal acrobatics. It’s a family affair too with Staton’s sons on bass and drums.
The centrepiece is a stirring appeal for unity, Revolution of Change. Over wah-soaked guitar and a low-tempo beat, Staton calls for an end to racist police brutality and gun law reform for the sake of future generations.
White Denim — Performance
Two years ago, around the release of White Denim’s last album, frontman James Petralli questioned why his band were not playing arenas, given the boilerplate acts that regularly pack out giant halls. But, furthermore, he asked whether that was even their destiny. Performance suggests Petralli remains on an uncompromising path, wherever that may lead.
It begins with the crackle of a shifting radio dial, a giveaway that White Denim remain tuned into their particular vintage FM aesthetic. Petralli says his band exist “just to make interesting, up-tempo rock and roll”, but he’s selling them short, given the funk, jazz and myriad adroit elements cooked up by the quartet.
The trailer single, Magazin, is a slice of brass-bolstered glam rock, Fine Slime is built on brooding bass foundations and It Might Get Dark gets it on in a T. Rex style. Influences abound; tick them off. That radio dial is set less to a particular station than to an era. In an alternate reality, the year is 1976 and White Denim are filling Madison Square Garden. And this is a Performance to bring the house down.