Albums of the week: From Neil Young to Tori Amos
From the gentle genius of Neil Young’s Hitchhiker to the female angst of LA Witch, and Tori Amos with new release Native Invader.
NEIL YOUNG — HITCHHIKER
The extent of Neil Young’s golden run in the Seventies is such that only he could have hidden away an LP of such simple beauty and not thought to release it for 40 years.
Hitchhiker was recorded live in a single session in 1976, in between Zuma and American Stars And Bars, and contains tracks that would subsequently feature on some of his later hit records.
There’s certainly a voyeuristic thrill in getting a glimpse of Rust Never Sleeps classics Powderfinger and Ride My Llama in raw, embryonic form, but the real gems are some of the previously unreleased tracks.
Young’s voice is unspeakably beautiful throughout, and particularly so on the wistful Give Me Strength and Campaigner, the latter of which contains the magnificent lyric: “Our secret’s safe and still well kept/Where even Richard Nixon has got soul”.
Folk fans, rejoice: Hitchhiker is a joyful snapshot of a musical demigod in full creative flow, right at the peak of his powers.
NOTHING BUT THIEVES — BROKEN MACHINE
Broken Machine is the second album from Southend alt-rockers Nothing But Thieves. Their first album, out in 2015, was a solid debut but it felt like everything could be just that little bit deeper and richer, and we’d get a few more gems like the especially catchy pop rock tune Itch.
That instinct was correct, and this sought-after quality has started to appear on Broken Machine.
There’s a pleasing amount of variety and versatility on offer between tracks like Amsterdam and Live Like Animals, with a good mix of rock, folk, and softer ballads to offer something for everyone. Conor Mason’s soaring vocals are reminiscent of Thom Yorke, Matt Bellamy, and even at times Freddie Mercury — a testament to his abilities.
This isn’t a game-changing album but it is a good one, and proof that a very good band — who are a very good live act — are just going to keep getting better. Keep an eye out for these boys.
LA WITCH — LA WITCH
All-female garage-punk trio LA Witch hark back to the gloomy and reverb-drenched sound of the Sixties US underground: every track on their self-titled debut borrows shamelessly from the Stooges and the Velvets, but they produce a glorious racket.
It’s pretty much impossible to make out the lyrics underneath all that echo and feedback, but song titles like Kill My Baby Tonight, You Love Nothing and Get Lost suggest an authentically decadent and rebellious attitude which is refreshing in the modern, clean-cut Taylor Swift-dominated pop landscape.
Plus, hidden beneath all that echo and feedback are some very sweet melodies. They deserve to become cult favourites amongst the coolest kids.
TORI AMOS — NATIVE INVADER
Tori Amos has spent much of the last 20 years living in Cornwall, its landscapes, coastlines and mythology feeding the creativity of an artist on to her 15th solo album.
Now 54, Amos experienced major success in the mid to late Nineties, scoring UK top 10 singles with Cornflake Girl, Pretty Good Year and Professional Widow.
She never went away, despite the hits drying up. The American, poised at her piano, has toured theatres the world over.
She applies a cryptic coating to her words, but this is a political record, and Amos has spoken of wanting to help listeners “survive the storms that we are currently in”. For “we”, read the United States under President Trump.
It begins with a call to Mother Nature in the spiritual sprawl of Reindeer King, before Broken Arrows questions, “Are we emancipators or oppressors of Lady Liberty?” Mary’s Eyes is just as stark but more personal, addressing the stroke that rendered her mother Maryellen unable to speak. When it hits the mark, Native Invader makes a profound impact.
ZOLA JESUS — OKOVI
Zola Jesus, stage name of experimental singer-songerwriter Nika Rosa Danilova, is no stranger to drama. But Okovi, a Slavic word for “shackles” and the title of Danilova’s fifth album, is the sound of someone living through intense personal trauma.
After a battle with depression, Danilova returned to her native Wisconsin only to find the people around her falling apart themselves. These months, in which death haunted Danilova’s self-built cabin in the woods, are soaked into the soul of Okovi.
The familiar palette of skittering and thunderous percussion, cello, engineered soundscapes and Danilova’s own opera-trained alto paint the scenes of the album into rich, dark meditations on mortality. At times experimentally electronic, through gothic-industrial and moving, classical arias, Okovi sounds like it was recorded in a vast warehouse, with moonlight reflecting off the pipework and broken glass, rather than the wood shack in which they were composed.
Zola Jesus will be touring the UK at the end of October in what is sure to be a collection of deeply personal performances.