THIS WEEK’S NEW ALBUMS REVIEWED | FEATURE
“I tend to be ridiculously optimistic,” Gary Numan claimed recently. You’d not guess it from Intruder, his second successive album fixated on the horrors of environmental apocalypse and mankind’s appetite for destruction. This one, perhaps inevitably, is fuelled by humans-are-the-real-virus rhetoric: “Sometimes we are what we fear,” he intones on The End Of Dragons.
While, at 63, Numan is far from creatively bankrupt, it’s fair to say that the electronic trailblazer is now following in the footsteps of some of those he inspired, most notably Trent Reznor. Not that the comparison is necessarily unfavourable. And It Breaks Me Again and The Gift stand shoulder to shoulder with some of Nine Inch Nails’ best songs, and the chilly dry-ice pulse of Now And Forever is exceptional, “You’ll be in my heart forever” sounding as much a threat of eternal entrapment than a declaration of everlasting love.
Elsewhere, I Am Screaming is glacial synthpop with a colossal chorus, Black Sun is a sombre elegy for a dying planet and The Chosen, bristling with menace, comes across like Blanck Mass remixing nu-metal. Intruder is a bold, bleak black hole of a record that’ll suck you in whether you like it or not.
words BEN WOOLHEAD
Seeking New Gods (Rough Trade)
The seventh solo album from sometime Super Furry Animal finds Gruff Rhys inspired by, of all things, a volcanic mountain on the border between China and North Korea. Recorded mainly in California, on Seeking New Gods Rhys is influenced as ever by West Coast melodies from Wales and the States. Opener Mausoleum Of My Former Self sets the tone, a melancholy vocal over a soft rock piano riff that itself surfs over mariachi trumpets and 70s synths.
Loan Your Loneliness sounds like a Todd Rundgren rocker from 1973; Hiking In Lightning is Bowie’s Heroes stripped of its grandeur and made to do PE in its pants. Holiest Of The Holymen recalls Sunflower-era Beach Boys, but album closer Distant Snowy Peaks is a peak of its own: one of the most beautiful moments of Gruff Rhys’ career, all glacial piano and Grandaddy-style bleeps, singing mournfully away about “looking for truth and wisdom in the snow”.
Thirty years into one of the most interesting careers in pop, one of the original mountain people shows he can still scale new heights.
words PAUL JENKINS
Formed in 2010 and a product of Finland’s fertile metal scene, Jess And The Ancient Ones’ [pictured, top] music is however evocative of an older, more occult setting. An ancient call rose throughout Vertigo, their fourth album, as the first track latched itself to me, and its otherness sat with me long after I had finished listening. Led by a strong, sumptuous vocal – by Jess herself, no less – it demands repeat plays.
There’s a really intimate feel to this group’s blend of magical, strange basslines, haunting synth parts and slightly more contemporary rock riffs. Jess has me thinking of Björk and Blondie’s Debbie Harry at times, even if the band behind her are rather different. Equally, you can envisage parts of this album soundtracking movies destined for cult status. Either way, it’s got me listening back to Jess And The Ancient Ones’ past releases, watching their journey backwards.
words BILLIE INGRAM SOFOKLEOUS
Afrique Victime (Matador)
If you’ve ever marvelled at footage of Prince’s guitar pyrotechnics on My Guitar Gently Weeps, you’ll once again need to return your slack jaw back into position after hearing the sounds that Mdou Moctar coaxes from his instrument, as this is Tuareg desert blues turned all the way up to 11, led by a man who once starred in a remake of Purple Rain.
Chismiten is a blistering opener, as electrifying as Hendrix in its ferocity, Mdou breaking out into a fiery solo before deftly returning to a quickfingered riff, with the rocksteady rhythm section set into hypnotic groove. Psychedelic guitars swirl to heady effect on Asditke Akal and Taliat, with strident singing of heartbreak and an incredibly expressive guitar solo climax. Layla is mesmirising, with white noise bursts above the circular Saharan blues in a tribute to one of Mdou’s heroes.
The title track emphasises how colonialism has corrupted and oppressed West Africa, with an African pop feel before picking up the pace, the righteous anger spilling forth in white-hot guitar lightning and thundercracks of synthetic drums. Tala Tannam is the calm at the centre of the storm – a tender love song about your tears – with acoustic guitars and hand percussion, although the closing Bismilahi Atagah is a beautiful ending to the journey: a song of religious devotion, and essential music in any language.
words CHRIS SEAL
Lo! Soul (A Modern Way)
Roddy Woomble’s fifth solo album away from Idlewild is the Scottish artist’s ‘lockdown album’, and that atmosphere of collective apprehension certainly pervades these 10 tracks. Recorded remotely between collaborators in Glasgow and Dundee, Lo! Soul sounds like a spiritual cousin to Grandaddy’s lo-fi, daydreamy synths underpinning cosmic – sometimes comic – musings.
This may well be the first album I’ve ever heard that references French New Wave director Eric Rohmer on multiple songs, and this allusive tendency extends beyond Woomble’s lyrics to his delivery – which is sometimes reminiscent of early Human League (As If It Did Not Happen) and other times of Aztec Camera’s Roddy Frame (the sunshine pop of Architecture In LA).
The strongest moments on the album also happen to be the quietest: songs like …It’s Late, Dead Of The Moon and Atlantic Photography offer gorgeous, midnight oil vibes and something close to respite in an otherwise stressful few years.
words ADAM JONES