Albums of the week - from The Vamps to Bananarama
UK hip hop star Loyle Carner's hotly-anticipated second album is out, along with new arrivals from Damien Jurado, The Vamps and Bananarama
Damien Jurado - In The Shape Of A Storm
Even by the standards of Jurado, who has made a name for himself in lo-fi music, this is a minimalist work: little more than vocals and gently strummed guitar.
In this way it recalls the earliest Bob Dylan records, with echoes too of Leonard Cohen and Elliott Smith, and it is fit to stand alongside the best works of all three.
Such stark arrangements lend the music a timeless quality. Every track is a melancholy gem that sounds like it has been ripped directly from the pages of the American folk songbook.
Loyle Carner - Not Waving, But Drowning
Saviour of non-grime-aligned UK hip hop or humble man-next-door who writes verses about beloved celebrity chefs? Brit nominee Carner is lots of things in one, starting from his genre agnosticism - between rap and spoken word, his sophomore album continues the arresting tracks, warmth and unfussy honesty of his lauded debut.
The title track, a spoken piece, concerns "the brave pretence" that makes us conceal suffering, and implicitly announces this album's quest for a non-toxic masculinity. Carner's zero-grandstanding vocal style and unpretentiousness are a refreshing mark of authenticity.
Occasional images stay with the listener for a long time - one observation on dual heritage in Looking Back speculates "My great grandfather could of owned my other one". So, while aware of social and personal history, it's never retro - amid the horn solos, poems and fantastic beats, this is soul music.
Cage The Elephant - Social Cues
For a record inspired by the unravelling of frontman Matt Shultz's marriage to French actress Juliette Buchs, Cage the Elephant's fifth album is a gloriously confident, swaggering affair.
With a title reflecting those little details that make or break a friendship, fling or marriage, Social Cues is a desperately sad yet awesomely uplifting record.
The title track - clearly inspired by Bowie's Ashes To Ashes - hides an elegy for lost love under layers of motorik drums. Moving away from their primary influences and towards a melange of louche pop and weighty glam rock gives the Kentucky natives space to stretch out. Ready To Let Go's sun-kissed bop hides lyrics written after a trip by Schulz to Pompeii on which he realised he was heading for divorce.
With a Grammy under their belt, the band are in the best form of their careers - even if their private lives are torn by strife. But stripped of their naive, punkish energy, they reveal a swaggering beast of a band, perhaps the one they were always meant to be.
The Vamps - Missing You EP
British rock-pop band The Vamps have swapped their usual annual album for something a little different with this four-track EP. Each song was entirely written and produced by the group, who have released an album every year since their debut in 2014.
Standout track Right Now is an unlikely collaboration with rap stars Krept & Konan, but the band's vocals mix well with verses from the grime duo. Its tropical beat adds to the appeal as we move into warmer months and marks an exciting change in direction.
The remainder of the EP is similar to their usual ballad style, so the new release is bound to be a hit with the band's cult following. But it could also attract new listeners as they shake off their former fresh-faced boyband sound.
Bananarama - In Stereo
It's hard to believe it's been 10 years since Bananarama's last album, and it's 38 years since the original trio first formed - Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward along with fellow founding member Siobhan Fahey.
They found fame on both sides of the Atlantic with songs such as Cruel Summer, Venus and I Heard A Rumour.
Now a duo, Dallin and Keren Woodward have ramped up the pop and have added more than a liberal application of production. This is an outright fun, pop album ready for a party. But like all other Bananarama albums, there are the slower, downtempo tunes, including the final track, On Your Own. Highlights include single Stuff Like That and I'm On Fire.
There is a familiar feel across this album. It has the promise of becoming a fan favourite.