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Singer-songwriter James Bay returns with his hotly anticipated second release Electric Light, which should certainly deserve a place on summer soundtracks.

JAMES BAY — ELECTRIC LIGHT

It’s been three years since James Bay crashed on to the music scene with his debut album Chaos and the Calm and single Hold Back The River, which seems to have been just about everywhere ever since.

The crooner for the hipster generation has now released his second studio album and has stepped away from the acoustic guitars and into a room of mellow soul and rousing gospel voices.

Wasted On Each Other opens up with a dirty guitar riff, his distinctive smooth soul sound soaring over the top.

Pink Lemonade is going to be summer radio fodder, with a light beat as 1980s-style pop rock guitars keep the track fizzing.

Wanderlust is a grower and there is more than a hint of Fleetwood Mac lurking under the melody.

If you are looking for a eclectic piece of fun this is it. It should certainly be on your soundtrack to this summer.

8/10

Rachel Howdle

RAY LAMONTAGNE — PART OF THE LIGHT

With musicality as rich and elegant as his second name, Ray LaMontagne’s seventh album Part Of The Light is an exciting wander through several genres.

From soul to folk to rock, via a few tracks that sound a little Beatles and Bowie-esque, the Grammy-winning American singer-songwriter has produced a small but mighty collection that only gets better as you tick off each track.

LaMontagne’s gravelly vocals stand up against the whining guitar riffs and seductively soul-scouring sounds of stand-out track As Black As Blood Is Blue, which conjures images of being in a sweaty, swaying gig venue.

Rousing, emotive, chunky closer Goodbye Blue Sky will have you reaching to press play and listen to it all over again, right away.

8/10

Lucy Mapstone

STEPHEN MALKMUS AND THE JICKS — SPARKLE HARD

At the age of 51, deep into his career, Stephen Malkmus is still untangling the secrets of songwriting while toying with the listener, unleashing fresh barrages of lyrical non-sequiturs and lexical contortion.

He told the New York Times recently his phraseology is the product of a brain that functions “like a broken computer”.

And on this seventh record since his old band Pavement split in 1999, the California-born Portland resident teases many a cryptic verse, bolstered by ever-catchy hooks, glam-rock detours and the intricate guitar noodling that Jimi Hendrix and Television records first drew from the young Malkmus.

Now an underground indie-rock elder, harnessed to the Jicks for over 15 years, the dissenter in Malkmus also emerges on Sparkle Hard.

Malkmus is later joined by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon for the countrified stomp of Refute, a playful meeting of incorrigibly creative minds, as this highly rewarding album nears its close.

8/10

John Skilbeck

ASH — ISLANDS

There’s often a trepidation when bands of a certain vintage announce new material, with concerns over a misguided change of direction or an unimaginative regurgitation of the tried and tested old formula.

But there is nothing to fear on Islands, the seventh studio album from Britpop dukes Ash, which grafts a healthy dose of the old on to the new.

Fans of Trailer and 1977-era Ash will have their cockles warmed by the punk-infused Buzzkill, while Confessions In The Pool offers a slice of indie disco.

There are flavours of Weezer and the Arctic Monkeys, but the overall sound is unmistakably Ash — out on their own, still making triumphant records.

8/10

Ryan Hooper

COURTNEY BARNETT — TELL ME HOW YOU REALLY FEEL

Courtney Barnett’s 2015 debut Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit was an instant slacker rock classic, so fans will be delighted to know her second solo record sings very much to the same tune.

Slow burning opener Hopefulessness is perhaps a signal of her growing ambition, taking a simple Yo La Tengo-esque hook and building it to, if not epic, then at least noticeably more dramatic proportions than we’d naturally associate her with.

But though it’s similarly docile in tempo to that first album, Barnett’s follow up does lack some of the comic cynicism of the likes of Elevator Operator or Depreston.

Nameless, Faceless is a withering riposte to those who might scoff at the #MeToo movement.

Closer Sunday Roast couldn’t really be a more apt microcosm of what you get with Barnett; perfectly capturing that lunchtime-after-the-night-before vibe she’s perfected to an art.

7/10

Stephen Jones

Belfast Telegraph

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