Albums of the week: From Gordi to The War on Drugs
Newcomer Gordi has proved herself to be a serious contender in this week’s album reviews, behind returning singer Nadine Shah. Also making waves is the new effort from Queens Of The Stone Age
NADINE SHAH — HOLIDAY DESTINATION
“The bad guys are winning” declares Nadine Shah on the title track of her third album. The Tyneside-born singer pulls no punches with this rousing, energetic record which covers the refugee crisis, Donald Trump, nationalism, mental health and the Syrian civil war. A call for arms leads the way on Holiday Destination while Yes Men gives Shah’s vocals the chance to explore their depth as she offers a blunt take of the mainstream media.
Shah thinks globally throughout but stops to reflect on a personal milestone in 2016 as she turned 30 against a backdrop of President Trump and Brexit. The emotionally-charged Mother Fighter zooms in on a Syrian woman, Ragda, to whom Shah reached out after watching her in the documentary A Syrian Love Story. PJ Harvey, Anohni and Warpaint are a few artists who come to mind but comparisons should take a back seat when a record sounds this good.
GORDI — RESERVOIR
Sophie Payten, whose Gordi alter ego is a childhood nickname, has spent the last six years studying medicine in Sydney. Reservoir, the 24-year-old Australian’s major-league debut, would have appeared sooner were it not for many long days spent in scrubs. Reservoir arrives instead days ahead of her final exams, signalling a life turning point where for the foreseeable Gordi intends to comfort primarily through the balm of her music.
Gordi signed 18 months ago to Jagjaguwar, home to the likes of Bon Iver and Angel Olsen, and the artist described in 2013 by Australia’s Daily Telegraph as “set to become Sydney’s very own singing surgeon” looks set for success in the vein of her big-name label-mates. For fans of those artists but also St Vincent and Julia Holter, file cautiously under folktronica but prepare for soaring ambition. Highlights include All The Light, a spark of self-assurance that becomes a fireball, the glam stomp of On My Side, and the stunning, sparse closer Something Like This.
QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE — VILLAINS
Queens Of The Stone Age may have lost a bit of their earthy authenticity since the days of Nick Oliveri and that golden run from Rated R on but there’s absolutely no doubt that Josh Homme still knows how to hook you in. Indeed, Villains, the band’s seventh LP, is very much the Homme show — unlike 2013’s Like Clockwork ... there are no special guest cameos and the album really revolves around the frontman’s riffery and beguiling melodies.
At times that exposure lays bare a few flaws. This band more than many others have a knack of writing a song that suddenly makes perfect sense on the third or fourth listen, but alas that blow never comes on lead single The Way You Used to Do, which feels surprisingly one-dimensional for a Queens Of The Stone Age comeback track. And there are some awkward lyrical moments too — not least on Domestic Animals, which despite its fantastic middle eight also contains the horribly cliched line: “Get back up, sit right down/ Dizzy, dizzy, dizzy, we all fall down”.
Though glossier and more lightweight than many of its predecessors, Villains does feature some vintage QOTSA moments and should have enough to keep returning fans satisfied. Record closer Villains Of Circumstance is a slow-building reminder of Homme’s ability to add real depth to a gritty rock ‘n’ roll album. Meanwhile second single The Evil Has Landed recaptures some of that stomach-flipping excitement familiar to anyone who has flailed around sweatily to the likes of Monster In Your Parasol, No One Knows and Little Sister.
SUSANNE SUNDFOR — MUSIC FOR PEOPLE IN TROUBLE
Fans are about to see a deeper side to Susanne Sundfor in her latest and hotly-anticipated record. Inspired by a recent trip around the globe, she shares a poignant collection of melancholy tunes with thoughtful and occasionally almost hopeful lyrics. It’s a masterpiece of poetry, but fans of her earlier dramatic electro-operas may be disappointed.
She kicks off the show with her beautifully melodic and aptly-named Mantra, a gentle overture that puts you in mind of the opening to a classic musical, but the pace doesn’t pick up much from there. Even if it fails to find a spot on your gym playlist, Music For People In Trouble is definitely a perfect chill-out soundtrack and a treat for fans who want to explore what Sundfor’s lyrical muscles are really capable of.
THE WAR ON DRUGS — A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING
The epic rockers have made light work of following up 2014’s breakthrough Lost In The Dream, honing their anthemic Americana into something somehow even bigger.
The familiar signposts are there — ultra-widescreen production, motorik rhythms and Adam Granduciel’s gruff and engaging voice delivering lyrics of hope and resilience amid dark times. As always, the songs meander like the best Springsteen, but the sharpness of the melodies pull you in to the point where you are singing along to some on first listen.
New elements muscle their way in to the highly textured soundscape — pulsing beats add a welcome wooziness halfway through opener Up All Night, while Holding On’s glockenspiel chimes leave you in no doubt of the band’s pop intentions, and there is much to reward repeated listens. The mastery lies in creating such a complex record that appears to be a guaranteed hit. It could propel them to the festival headliner slot their massive sound deserves.
Belfast Telegraph Digital