Sufjan Stevens - The Ascension - Album Review

Five years ago, Sufjan Stevens peaked. In the spring of 2015, he released Carrie & Lowell, an elegy to his long-estranged, recently deceased mother and his patient stepfather, drawing on poetically misremembered childhood stories and posthumous confessions to create a perfect record, a sort of exquisite diorama brimming with poise and quiet hope. Perhaps what made Carrie & Lowell the highpoint of an already fairly impressive discography, however, was not just the album itself; it also represente

Various Artists – Kraut Jazz Futurism – Album review

Titles are important, particularly with compilation albums, and there are several ways you can do them. There’s the scene-setter, like Warp’s classic Artificial Intelligence series, which frames the album’s contents; there’s the title-as-advert, where the voice of the enthusiastic compiler is present when you encounter the record, shouting Now That’s What I Call Music at you, or, in the case of last year’s excellent London jazz comp, We Out Here; and then there’s the Ronseal format – Numero Grou

Bill Callahan - Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest - Album review

In the six years since Bill Callahan released his last album – his longest time away in a 30-year recording career – he has fallen in love, got married, had a son, and watched his mother die of cancer. On the one hand, it’s perhaps unsurprising that these major events form the backbone of much of his 16th/17th/18th record (depending on how you count); on the other, however, for a musician as notably inscrutable as Callahan, the candour with which he discusses how his own life has altered – and t

Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride - Album review

“I don’t wanna live like this/ but I don’t wanna die,” sang Ezra Koenig midway through Vampire Weekend’s last album, during a song that referenced forbidden love while raising an ironic eyebrow at New York City’s affluent suburbs. Around it sat eleven other songs full of archly self-aware, rather elliptical observations about class, religion and millennial identity, written and performed with the kind of studied, non-narrative precision that had become the band’s calling card. That line stood ou

Hen Ogledd - Mogic - Album review

Sometimes, reviewing albums is relatively straightforward – listen to the thing a few times, frame the music with some observations, make a couple of comparisons, slap on a mark out of ten and send it to your editor. Other times, it’s not so simple. Other times, a 40-minute-long piece of music can prompt the kind of questions whose answers lurk only in the deep recesses of Wikipedia wells or within the algorithmic sorcery of Google’s cache, and before you know it, it’s dark outside and you still

Jack White - Boarding House Reach - Album review

In 2016, Jack White was responsible for the first (and, at time of writing, the last) vinyl record played in space when his label Third Man launched a zero-gravity turntable spinning their edition of Carl Sagan’s ‘A Glorious Dawn’ into the upper atmosphere. The official reason for the stunt was to celebrate Third Man having pressed three million discs since their inception but, much like Elon Musk launching his own sports car into orbit last month, there was an accompanying whiff of onanism to t

Björk - Utopia - Album review

Ever since Björk began her journey away from the Top 40’s orbit twenty years ago with ‘Homogenic’, part of her appeal has lain in one never quite knowing her next move, the past two decades providing a monolithic a cappella record (‘Medúlla’), a series of techno-naturalist statements rendered as an interactive app (‘Biophilia’) and a VR-augmented heartbreak album (‘Vulnicura’) to variously devour, investigate and wade through. But throughout the wild inventiveness, her personality—sparky, though

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Luciferian Towers - Review

One could be forgiven for fearing a sort of inevitability about a new Godspeed You! Black Emperor album. Despite (or maybe because of) the two LPs they’ve put out since reforming in 2010, both of them reliably magnificent albeit in a procedural kind of way, there’s a sense after 20 years and seven releases that a full card on Godspeed Adjective Bingo (“apocalyptic” – check; “doomy” – check…) seems satisfyingly certain once again. Couple that dependable spirit with the unique socio-geopolitical

Arcade Fire - Everything Now - Album review

The lead single and title track of ‘Everything Now’ – the one that sounds like ABBA, is all over the Radio 2 daytime playlist and just earned Arcade Fire their first number one on a US Billboard chart – is, beneath its gleaming strings and insistent four-square kick-drum thud, nothing more than the same 13-second melody repeated 24 times in a row. In a way, it’s a shame it’s only 24 times: if Arcade Fire’s fifth LP was simply this 13-second melody ad infinitum, their pledge to make a statement a

Lorde - Melodrama - Album review

“I’m 19 and I’m on fire!” sings Lorde on ‘Perfect Places’, ‘Melodrama’’s finale, summarising succinctly the preceding 40 minutes of glee and insecurity, passion and paranoia: on her second album, she seeks to articulate the unbearable emotional heaviness of being on the brink of adulthood, and of all the yearning, identity crises and self-examination that that entails. That she manages it with sincerity despite her status as an established global pop star success story, with triumphalism despite

The XX - I See You - Album review

While The xx’s second album, 2012’s ‘Coexist’, may not have aged as gracefully as the band’s debut, its finest moments promised much: on the handful of tracks that melded Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim’s existing knack for intimacy with Jamie Smith’s rapidly expanding production skills, there was a sense of a template being sculpted that would precipitate The xx’s full blossoming on album three from charmingly coy indie misfits to confidently confessional pop stars. And with that path in mind

Lambchop - Flotus - Album review

Over the 22 years that Lambchop have been making records, the only consistent presence in an ever-shifting line-up has been Kurt Wagner, whose richly rumbling, molasses-thick baritone has become his band’s most instantly identifiable component, and the rock around which personnel, instrumentation and even genres have come and gone. It therefore initially feels like wilful self-sabotage that Lambchop’s twelfth studio album eschews that rock almost entirely, instead slathering Wagner’s vocals in

Bon Iver - 22, A Million - Album review

On the face of it, ‘22, A Million’ appears precision engineered to alienate all the couples who became Bon Iver fans when their wedding photographer picked ‘Holocene’ to soundtrack the Facebook video montage of their happy day. The unpronounceable track listing and cut’n’paste lyrics, the densely autotuned vocals and fractured production: it all contributes to a tableau of “piss off” – of deliberate difficulty and distancing, a bloody-minded way for Justin Vernon to process the anxiety and panic

LA experimental rap trio Clipping’s third album is a dystopian hip-hop space opera

LA experimental rap trio Clipping’s third album is a dystopian hip-hop space opera played out between the lone survivor of a slave revolt on an intergalactic cargo ship, the onboard computer that falls for him and, via multiple hisses, whistles and the clanking of industrial machinery, the ship itself. But don’t let the ripe whiff of concept album put you off: ‘Splendor & Misery’ is no prog indulgence, and doesn’t come with A Message, a shoehorned “plot” or a shred of ponderous pomposity. Instea
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