THIS WEEK’S NEW ALBUMS REVIEWED | FEATURE
In Ferneaux (Sacred Bones)
In Ferneaux is very much Blanck Mass’ ‘quarantine album’. Utilising a decade’s worth of field recordings, Benjamin John Power has fused these fragments of a pre-COVID world with his visceral brand of electronica to craft an engrossing and often poignant release, one defined by the stasis that Covid-19 has imposed on our regular ways of life.
The structure of In Ferneaux’s two tracks, both around 20 minutes long, can be read as a reclamation of the full spectrum of existence that the pandemic has taken away from us. From the exhilarating opening of Phase I to the Vangelis-esque melancholy present later in the track, through to the disorientating screams and drums midway into Phase II, it ebbs and flows through its myriad emotions, recalling the transience and unpredictability of pre-COVID life.
This compelling emotional core is further elucidated by the interruptions of voices and organic effects that pepper the album. An eccentric street preacher, a lively arcade, the tranquility of a possibly exotic locale: all nestle amidst the music and serve as a devastating reminder of the vibrant and complicated world we have temporarily lost.
words TOM MORGAN
Little Oblivions (Matador)
As one third of deceptively named female supergroup Boygenius, I was expecting to hear something on a par with bandmates Phoebe Bridgers or Lucy Dacus, but I’m sad to say that I’ve found no trace of ingenuity here. In a year when we’ve seen Taylor Swift trade in her spunky pop for an Authentic Indie sound, here Julien Baker [pictured, top – credit Alysse Gafkjen] plants her flag squarely in bland emo-pop territory.
I’m striving to find some positives in this, but billing Little Oblivions as a sonically adventurous album is risking the wrath of the Trade Descriptions Act, or a lawsuit by the likes of Evanescense, who appear to be the inspiration for every overbaked tune on this Baker’s doleful dozen. I’ve seen a fair few gushing reviews for this album elsewhere, so either it’s a case of overhype or that my ears really do need syringing this time around.
Playing all the instruments yourself, while impressive, has resulted in by-the-numbers piano, sub-baggy muted drums where I can picture an over-earnest studio drummer plodding away on the kit during a Graham Norton performance, uninspired strumming, and Baker’s woe-is-me tones and lyrics, although I struggled to listen for long enough to note the nuances. On the flipside, my nine-year-old daughter said she liked it, but then she is a big fan of Dance Monkey and is on the verge of adolescence, so maybe I’m just too old for this shit.
words CHRIS SEAL
In Quiet Moments (Bella Union)
Since the Cocteau Twins split in 1997, bassist and keyboard player Simon Raymonde has been primarily busy running his record label Bella Union. Not only was 2017 a time of celebration for Raymonde, as Bella Union celebrated 20 years of releasing eclectic and emotive music, it was also the year that he hooked up with Jesus & Mary Chain drummer Richie Thomas to make music again as Lost Horizons. The duo’s debut album Ojala was released at the end of 2017, and In Quiet Moments is the followup.
Having multiple guest singers on an album might be a recipe for disaster, quality- and quantity-wise, but Raymonde and Thomas have chosen their guests carefully. In Quiet Moments has 16 songs reflecting on loss, grief and rebirth that all sit nicely together like scenes in a stirring Wim Wenders celluloid beauty. There is the mighty eponymous title track with soul singer Ural Thomas; John Grant sings on Cordelia; Porridge Radio feature on One For Regret and Karen Peris on This Is The Weather. And that is just a small selection of what is on offer in this stew of timeless cinematic soul, Americana and dreamy alternative pop. In Quiet Moments is a truly remarkable album.
words DAVID NOBAKHT
Nature Always Wins (Prolifica Inc)
“You better have low expectations,” sings Paul Smith on the opening track of Maximo Park’s seventh LP, “it’s partly of my making.” I do, and it is. The band’s sixth, 2017’s Risk To Exist, was a serious misstep, a painfully self-conscious attempt to be both “political” and funky. But if they were playing the long game, then it’s worked a treat: Nature Always Wins is barely a minute old and I’m already chalking it up as light years better. How galling for former keyboard player Lukas Wooller, whose exit seems to have left the band not bereft but reinvigorated.
Tempting as it is to attribute this creative renaissance to the transatlantic collaboration with Ben Allen, whose production credits include a trio of Deerhunter albums and Animal Collective’s game-changing Merriweather Post Pavilion, it’s more likely down to the frontman becoming a dad. “Your tiny voice filters through,” Smith observes on Feelings I’m Supposed To Feel – and so it does. He’s always done disorientation well, so Baby, Sleep and I Don’t Know What I’m Doing (Larkin’s This Be The Verse set to a panicky riff) come naturally – even if fatherhood hasn’t.
Inspired evolution rather than forced revolution, Nature Always Wins is bold, bright and Maximo Park’s best record in years.
words BEN WOOLHEAD
Interstellar Energy (Youth Sounds)
If you want to chill out then this is a great album, but if you’re expecting heavy basslines and weird lyrics then this will disappoint. Knowing Nik Turner’s musical history makes it’s hard not to compare his solo work to Hawkwind, and I wished he’d subverted the space rock genre and taken flight elsewhere.
There’s nothing new here but it’s still pretty cool – except when it isn’t. This album is a conundrum. The production by former Killing Joke bassist and Orb member Youth is slick enough, and it’s easy to drift away on the trance-inducing vibes of electric violin and guitar, until Turner’s saxophone jars and the spell is broken.
At 36 minutes long, Interstellar Energy doesn’t have a lot to get your teeth stuck into. With no vocals and little variation in tone, it’s like a segue into a track that never really takes off. That said, there are moments when all instruments blend and you do feel as if you’ve been transported to another realm.
words LYNDA NASH