THIS WEEK’S NEW ALBUMS REVIEWED | FEATURE
Songs From Isolation (Bella Union)
A.A. Williams’ recent online cover versions are now collected on Songs From Isolation. It is refreshing that this London singer and multi-instrumentalist has ducked the trend of turning post-punk or gritty alternative pop classics into jolly after-dinner background muzak ditties – though this was unlikely to happen on the strength of Williams’ own songs. Last year’s Forever Blue album had a subtle kind of Angelo Badalamenti-meets-Bad Seeds refined darkness, with Williams’ voice the jewel in the crown.
Songs From Isolation contains remarkably effective, stripped-back versions of Everyday Is Exactly The Same by Nine Inch Nails, Nick Cave’s Into My Arms, Smashing Pumpkins’ Porcelina Of The Vast Oceans and the Pixies’ Where Is My Mind. The cuckoo in the nest here appears to be Radiohead’s Creep, but Williams’ interpretations of Gordon Lightfoot, Deftones and The Cure are all equally spellbinding as what she has done with NIN and Cave.
words DAVID NOBAKHT
Try Harder (Partisan)
In an era when we’ve got alt-country-folk like The Weather Station and Laura Marling continuing to grow as artists and surpass their work, the bar is set dang high for music of this ilk. Aerial East [pictured top] adds a respectable entry to the canon without pulling up trees, through this drumless set of languid countrified music.
Both Blue and the title track are a tad Lana Del Rey without the NYC streetwise attitude and F-bombs; the cherry pie of Julee Cruise on Angry Man is minus the darkness of Laura Palmer’s Bob. The Things We Build is a slow cowgirl lope through the Texas plains, echoing the outsider status Aerial felt as a juvie in suburbia there; dashes of pedal steel and fiddle a little bit like the Cowboy Junkies smiling through a heavy dose of Citalopram.
With many of the tracks at three minutes or under, these can feel a little like insubstantial vignettes. Doin Somethin gently builds with garbled background noise, Rhodes keyboard, chirping Cicadas and unselfconscious singing, but doesn’t quite imprint on the temporal lobe. There’s a certain naivete in calling a song I Love Dick, especially with the saccharine instrumentation that The Mummers (remember them?) once employed before their banishment to the Music Magpie bargain bin. The over-earnest sweetness can feel a little like being tickled around the face with a feather – nice to start with, but liable to become an annoyance. With side two pursuing more interesting sonic avenues in Ryan and Jonas Said, though, let’s succumb to it, as we could all do with a little kindness and innocence in these times.
words CHRIS SEAL
Glowing In The Dark (Because)
On album number four, Django Django are back sounding like Django Django, and that’s just fine, that’s great. They’re back with 13 tracks of synthy indie primed for the B-list on 6 Music, for Football Focus idents, and for early evening festival slots. And that’s just fine, that’s great.
Glowing In The Dark does deviate a little from previous albums, with a softer, folkier, more pastoral element coming through on Charlotte Gainsbourg feature Waking Up, as well as Headrush and The World Will Turn. Yet we also get awesome opener Spirals with its Peter Hook-y bassline and arpeggiated synths, and the driving, swerving, dare-I-say-pumping titular track, which is more their usual schtick.
Now, while there is no great leap forward in sound here, it’s nice to have something approaching normality in this godforsaken year on this godforsaken island. And if that’s a new Django Django album sounding like a Django Django album, then that’s just fine, that’s great.
words SAM EASTERBROOK
The New Museum Of Shit (self-released)
Now, the hyperlink in Plague Songs’ name above takes you to their Bandcamp page, in a vague effort to endorse the concept of paying for music, but – awkwardly – I’d actually recommend checking out The New Museum Of Shit on YouTube. This is because it includes visuals from Martin Rowson, half of the core Plague Songs duo and one of a tiny band of ‘political cartoonists’ who shouldn’t be thrown into a volcano. He’s also chief lyricist for this Corona-era satirical project, with Laugharne-based playwright Jon Tregenna handling music and production; of the 18 tracks on this, the third Plague Songs album, 17 are blessed by guest vocalists with Rowson giving a mock-patriotic reading on the closing Bust.
An eclectic crop musically, with Tregenna ranging from arch string-section pop-rock to earnest folk to abstract electronica (titled, less abstractly, The Hard Faced Men Who Did Well Out Of The Pandemic), the pair make good use of their shared Filofax and secure speaking/singing parts from a variety of actors, comedians and musicians. Jack Klaff, who was something in the first Star Wars movie, opens proceedings in scatological fashion with the title track; Matt Armstrong inserts a Derek & Clive reference into the suitably vulgar Count Your Blessings (You Are Not Tory Scum). Other turns are more vicar-friendly, but invariably righteous in their targets, upholding Rowson’s stated commitment when speaking to Buzz last year to never “attack people less powerful than me”.
words NOEL GARDNER
Death By Rock And Roll (Century Media)
Following the tragic deaths of two friends in 2017 and ‘18 – recent tour partner Chris Cornell and band producer Kato Khandwala – NYC’s The Pretty Reckless hid away, spiralling into what lead guitarist Ben Phillips describes as “a world of depression and substance abuse. At that point, we had to try to figure out how to continue making music. It was either death or go forward.” So they went on and created Death By Rock And Roll, their fourth album.
Opening with the title track, both emblematic of timeless r’n’r attitude and a marker for the rest of the album, And So It Went is lit up by an epic guitar solo from Rage Against The Machine’s legendary Tom Morello – moreover, this song really highlights frontwoman Taylor Momsen’s vocal diversity. 25, whose lyrical conceit sees Momsen counting to that number, building towards an epic chorus, emulates a Bond theme with its military drums and slow, sultry guitars.
Death By Rock And Roll is full of classic rock influences, from AC/DC to Soundgarden, yet The Pretty Reckless have perfected their own unique sound.
words SARAH BOWDIDGE