Rag‘n’Bone Man — the Brits Critics’ Choice Award winner 2017 — unveils his debut record Human, Danish band Lowly present Heba and Lupe Fiasco shares Drogas Light. We round up the best of this week’s releases.
Rory Graham — aka Rag‘n’Bone Man — is tipped for huge success, but, at first listen, his debut album sounds a bit samey. Tracks like huge single Human, the powerful ballad Love You Any Less and bluesy Die Easy stand out immediately, while a rap livens up Ego, but some of the others need a second listen to truly appreciate them. It’s an album that really does improve with familiarity and, although the lyrics can sometimes seem a little repetitive, Graham’s distinctive, growly delivery makes listening a pleasure. Strings and gospel singers add depth to other songs and the winner of the Brits’ Critics’ Choice Award 2017 is sure to have a hit, although there is a risk he will end up turned down low as dinner party background music.
Beverly Rouse: 8/10
Hanni El Khatib claims he wanted to do “something different” on his most recent batch of EPs, now collected together and also available in a limited edition 10in vinyl boxset. Fans of the guitarist’s previous grungy output should not feel too perturbed, however. Despite detours into disco (Paralyzed) and punk (Mangos And Rice), dirty guitar work and acrid vocals still dominate this snarling and extensive collection. Garage rock has fallen out of the limelight in recent years, so you can’t blame Khatib for dipping his toe into different waters, but he still can’t resist a moody blues riff whenever the opportunity arises. The melding of styles isn’t quite as polished as fellow pop/rock crossovers The Black Keys, but his songs nevertheless make for refreshing listening.
James Robinson: 7/10
Modern politics bears a quiet influence on this impressive debut album from Danish band Lowly, who borrowed their Syrian friend’s name for its title. Heba means a gift from God, and liberation from the horror at home for a new life in Scandinavia must have felt that way. The band say her story partly colours their LP, which presents what they call “noise pop”, rather misleadingly. Instead, this is a sober and studied set of songs. Recent single Deer Eyes is a cry for romantic attention propelled by pretty synths that swerve off in avant-pop directions. Mornings reunites friends, perhaps lovers, in a one-way conversation (‘How’ve you been/I’ve been fine’) over driving percussion and a hazy, almost incongruous soundscape. Prepare The Lake is rather orthodox-preppy, with Pommerate a sub two minute sliver of a heaven-sent ballad. A quick background check shows vocalists Nanna Schannong and Soffie Viemose have previously tried their luck as solo artists, while keyboardist Kasper Staub recently put out a jazz record. Together, integral to this quintet, they have made music to which many a heart will melt.
John Skilbeck: 8/10
Lupe Fiasco’s short-lived retirement has ended with an album that combines all of the rapper’s best qualities — although lacks a common thread linking the album’s two halves together. But Drogas Light, Lupe’s sixth album, and first since leaving Atlantic Records, is still a record that will delight fans. The album starts strong, with thumping bass and catchy hooks, and even sees Lupe trying out the flow made popular by Migos that’s dominated hip hop in recent years, on Promise. The themes explored are not new ground for the artist, but lyrically Drogas Light more than competes with the strongest releases in the 34-year-old’s catalogue — while it also offers the level of storytelling we’ve come to expect from Lupe, particularly on Jump. Victoria Monet provides one of the album’s standout features on Kill, ft. Ty Dolla, while Tranquillo, probably the album’s strongest track, sees Rick Ross back at something resembling his best. If fans had hoped for a purely political album offering Lupe’s take on current conditions in America, they’ll be disappointed — but with his usual astuteness and sharp lyrical ability, as well as a penchant for picking beats not many other names in hip hop would, Lupe has delivered an album that compliments his catalogue well.
Kameron Virk: 6/10