Below (Red Bull)
Once a mere solo project for the band’s lead singer Caleb Shomo, Beartooth has exploded into a titan of the melodic hardcore genre in a matter of years thanks to a relentless tour schedule and regular album releases. Shomo’s catchy choruses remain the band’s meat and potatoes on their fourth release, Below. Glossy and layered, they punch through the accompanying instrumentation with ease, but their use is a double-edged sword. For every song that the anthemic hooks enhance, there’s another that relies on them to rescue an otherwise forgettable track.
Any edge that the band may have once had has been systematically obliterated, buffed away by over-zealous production and a more accessible direction. Consequently, poppier cuts such as Skin and I Won’t Give It Up make up the highlights of the release, but their simple fun is still dogged by an overbearing sense of formula. Heavier tracks, like Devastation, suffer the most, with buried drums and flat riffs muffling their punchiness.
Leaning further into their pop influences on Below has given Beartooth’s sound a greater sense of direction than the previous two releases, but they remain unable to recapture the simple magic of their debut release.
words ALEX PAYNE
I Be Trying (Single Lock)
You can tell the real thing when you hear it and Cedric Burnside, standard-bearer for Mississippi hill country blues, is the real thing. His vocal lines and guitar licks flow with the same expressive bends and dips of the sagging soul and the wailing voice. Burnside’s blues is deep with feeling, brimming with the same tragedy of circumstance and desperate climb toward exaltation of the traditional African-American music that birthed it.
The tight three-piece of Burnside, Zac Cockrell on bass and Reed Watson on drums lay down grooves that are somehow strikingly fresh while still fully representing the distinctly individual sound of Burnside’s blues family. The band leader earned his apprenticeship at the feet of his grandfather, the legendary RL Burnside, once the foremost exponent of hill country blues – a style of southern black music that determinedly avoids the cliches of standard blues progressions and hooks in favour of rhythmic interest and unadorned expression. In the hands of Cedric Burnside, the legacy is not just safe but growing and developing with urgency and relevance.
words JOHN-PAUL DAVIES
The Virus Diaries (self-released)
While it’s not much of a prediction to say that the next few years will see an increasingly fatiguing deluge of art, in every conceivable medium, about the ongoing Covid19 pandemic and its associated lockdowns, it’s doubtful whether many would have predicted an album like this: a minor absurdist masterpiece from a techno pioneer and a performance poet.
Musically speaking, it’s exactly what you’d expect from one half of Orbital, covering a variety of styles while constantly nodding towards the band’s late-80s to mid-90s heyday. Performance artist Murray Lachlan Young’s droll performance is what lifts the album from curio to genuinely enjoyable. Young (literally) finds poetry in the banal repetitions of life under lockdown, creating subtly deranged Groundhog Day-style narratives out of a trip to the garden centre, a visit to the barber, or attempts at self-care via meditation, while the music provides a looping parallel to the feeling of inevitability amid endlessly circular days.
words DAVID GRIFFITHS
Singer-songwriter Jack Savoretti’s seventh album was conceived in lockdown at his Oxfordshire home, so it’s not surprising that it’s all about family, love, romance – and dancing. Opening track I Remember Us is an orchestral-backed number that transports you to the days when Charles Aznavour ballads were popular, and it’s charming. Savoretti [pictured, top – credit Chris Floyd] likes to work with the big guns: this time it’s John Oates (guitar and backing vocals on When You’re Lonely) and Nile Rodgers (on the catchy little number Who’s Hurting Who). The disco beat is upped on Too Much History and, as the lyrics say, it’s like dancing in ’76.
Europiana – which is also the album’s self-coined genre, apparently – covers some personal themes, and Savoretti’s wife and children join him on some tracks. The album ends with another heartfelt ballad and you can’t fault his raspy voice even if his lyrics border on cheesy. A classic soundtrack for summer.
words LYNDA NASH
Boy From Michigan (Bella Union)
In a sprawling return to form – and that’s just the opening title track – John Grant’s fifth solo record is an affirming and richly reflective affair. Crafted far from his native Michigan in a year blurred by the pandemic and the latest Presidential campaign, with Cate Le Bon on production, Grant explores the notion of the American Dream in a turbulent year.
Boy From Michigan features the signatures of Grant’s music, each song a carefully crafted vignette composed of swirling electronics and lyrics musing on identity permeated with emotions and fine details. Midway through the record, The Cruise Room takes a haunting trip back to Grant’s late teenage years, whilst the shimmering synth-led Rhetorical Figure and its hints at The Human League’s early output are proof of the tapestry of influences that have shaped his work since he was just a boy from Michigan.
words CHLOË EDWARDS