Fire (Ninja Tune)
Another week, another album about the ongoing global pandemic. By the way, I hope you like concept albums about global pandemics (or concept albums about thinly veiled analogies for global pandemics) because this is going to be the new normal we’ve heard so much about, at least for the foreseeable.
Hartnoll and Young’s recent Virus Diaries was a wry take on the absurdities of lockdown. By contrast, Fire, the first album by Kevin Martin as The Bug in seven years, tacks hard to a darkly paranoid vision of the events of the last 18 months. Lead weight basslines, harsh, buzzing synths like mutant insects, and echoing dub production conjure a vision of a twilit demimonde.
It’s heavy going in places but the numerous guest vocalists and the sleek, modern production add up to an album that creates its own internally consistent world; a dub hellscape where it’s good to know that you’re just a tourist.
words DAVID GRIFFITHS
The Mutt’s Nuts (Partisan)
Instinctively political, working-class London punk quintet Chubby & The Gang tell stories of an unjust Britain and classic tales of love alike in their lyrics. Second album The Mutt’s Nuts comprises 15 distinctive tracks covering a vast spectrum of pop and punk, instantly immersing you into fast tempos, distorted riffs and shouted vocals. Coming Up Tough, equal parts upbeat and harsh, is a standout number among this tangled web of chaos and unapologetic attitudes.
Very well produced by Jonah Falco, a London-based member of Canadian punks Fucked Up, as each lyrical vignette expresses frontman Chubby Charles’ rage, his backing band collectively supplies the well-timed momentum. Highly recommended for anyone interested in contemporary punk; likewise, grabbing a ticket for Chubby & The Gang’s extensive November/December tour, which includes a date in Cardiff’s Clwb Ifor Bach on Sun 12 Dec.
words LAURA FEDELI
Lost Futures (Thrill Jockey)
Lost Futures is one of many albums that falls under 2021’s ubiquitous ‘wouldn’t have been made if it wasn’t for Covid’ category. Fellow guitarists Marisa Anderson and William Tyler may never have found time for this debut collaboration if all their live work hadn’t suddenly dried up.
The result is an experiment that largely works. Both are stylish players capable of great expression, though it’s hard to pick out who is who, where one guitar ends and the other begins. If that’s the intention behind Lost Futures, then – success! But in an album of instrumental duets, more distinct personalities can draw the listener in.
The more Americana-like tracks are by far the most effective, and Hurricane Light is a standout, with Anderson’s acoustic, melodic playing sitting pretty atop Tyler’s electric accompaniment. A good use of downtime that would be even more pleasurable seen on a stage where these instrumentalists’ idiosyncrasies would surely show.
words JOHN-PAUL DAVIES
In this “space-inspired concept album”, world-renowned vocal ensemble Voces8 set out to take the listener on a meditative journey beyond our planetary existences, transcending genre boundaries with arrangements of tracks by electronic artists Jon Hopkins and A Winged Victory For The Sullen, alongside world premieres by a number of classical, video game and film composers.
The ensemble’s attention to detail with tone and blend, and their indulgence in exquisite overtones, might cause a listener unfamiliar with Voces8’s sound to suspect the use of high levels of studio manipulation. But, as anyone who’s heard them live can attest to, it is certainly possible to sound this incredible simply with the power of the voice. In some places, though, we do hear esoteric instruments join in, ranging from bowed vibraphones to a sample of the Sputnik satellite.
Voces8 will often include luscious arrangements of pop songs – easy crowd-pleasers – in their albums. Infinity doesn’t do that: instead, we are treated to a choral concept album, a distinctly non-scifi, ethereal meditation on the mystery of space.
words ISABEL THOMAS
After rerecording 25 of his favourite tracks for the mammoth retrospective Portrait, Yann Tiersen puts a period of introspection behind him and is now keeping step with contemporaries like Olafur Arnalds and Max Richter by adding an electronic edge to seven new compositions. Titled after a chapel on Ushant, off the coast of Tiersen’s home Brittany, each track on Kerber also references a nearby Breton placename.
Ker Yegu is the best example here, its gorgeous meditative piano swathed in fizzing and shimmering electronics. On Ker Al Loch, a typically lyrical piano motif changes chord and tempo, triggering waves of arpeggiating synths and beats, which engulf the piano before subsiding – like a marriage between Terry Riley’s In C and The Who’s Baba O’Riley, with Brian Eno as the vicar.
The title track warps and refracts, in similar fashion to Ethan Rose’s Ceiling Songs, alternating with soaring piano over a stunning 10 minute piece. Poull Bojer is a haunting waltz, while Ar Maner Kozh has spectral piano and wheezing, burbling effects like a moth trapped in a jar.
words CHRIS SEAL
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