New Music: August 2021 - Curated by Sharon O'Connell

Music critic Sharon O'Connell selects four standout recordings to listen to this month - including a thrilling debut from experimental artist Desire Marea, an ethereal offering from Brookyln-based musician Steve Gunn, and a powerful reflection on heartache and healing from Martha Wainwright

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Martha Wainwright - Love Will Be Reborn

Martha Wainwright's first recorded album in five years documents the rebuilding of her life and the finding of new love following a painful divorce from a ten-year marriage. While hopefulness is tempered by experience, these 11 songs are uniformly powerful and Wainwright’s voice – always a thing of beauty – is on terrific, soulful form.

Down the years, Wainwright (a scion of the McGarrigle / Wainwright folk dynasty) has added torch song, jazz and chamber pop to a base of confessional folk. Here, she has settled on a mix of alt-country and artful adult pop that brings to mind both Lucinda Williams’ tough tenderness and the dazed richness of Kate Bush, whose voice her own often recalls.

As always, Wainwright is generous with her emotions, which makes the songs sound limitless and free even as they touch on pain and uncertainty - as in the knockout 'Getting Older', where her voice seems to scrape the sky, and the sly, wounded 'Report Card'. She sounds ready to burn it all down on 'Rainbow', while the cantering and gloriously redemptive title track evokes kd lang's gilded pop splendour. "From the ruins there will come a new moon, a new born son / We’ll drink the dew from the flower’s hands and ride on winged back to the new land," declares Wainwright, ever fearless.

Released August 20. Label: Pheromone / Cooking Vinyl

Desire Marea - Desire

Self-released in January 2020, this solo debut from the South African artist born Buyani Duma (a co-founder of Johannesburg queer art collective FAKA) has now found a home on Mute. It well deserves the exposure: thrillingly modern in its mixing of techno, maximalist avant pop, illbient, space disco and jazz, it blasts Desire Marea far beyond their beginnings in gqom, the dark, intense club music of Durban.

There’s disruption on Desire, but it’s far from chaotic: the tracks are built from layered and finely detailed fields of sound, compelling in their shape shifting and ability to conjure multiple moods and atmospheres. There’s as much lyrical beauty as there is claustrophobic dread, with Marea’s strikingly operatic voice the unifying thread. 'You Think I’m Horny' and 'Studies In Black Trauma' are polar opposites; the former a flickering, bittersweet elegy, the latter a terrifying, pitch-dark soundscape. At the midpoint is 'Tavern Kween', which celebrates Marea’s aunts who defied convention to find freedom and self-confidence in male-dominated local bars. It’s a euphoric pop album with struggle at its heart, the existential duality that is central to this impressive debut.

Out now. Label: Mute

Jungle - Loving In Stereo

There's no mistaking the work of London outfit Jungle, which is not to say it's wildly original - rather, that their updating of familiar sounds (soul, funk and Studio 54-era disco) is sleekly distinctive. As the commercial success of their first two albums proves, it's also the stuff of earworms, with tracks burrowing into the memory via big vocal hooks, laid-back grooves and warm, thick production.

Loving In Stereo doesn’t stray far from this template, but Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland have made some notable tweaks, bumping up the tempo, introducing massed vocals and bringing in some guests (Franco-American rapper Bas on 'Romeo' and fast-rising R&B-soul singer, Priya Ragu on 'Goodbye My Love'). The overall effect is more energetic and punchy, but retains a characteristic smoothness. There’s an unwise flirtation with ersatz ’90s rock on 'Truth', but that’s the only misstep here. More typical are the sweetly uplifting 'All Of The Time' and the slightly psychedelic 'Talk About It', which declares, "All I gotta do is start living in the sunshine every day". In truth, that's Jungle’s natural habitat.

Out now. Label: Caiola Records

Steve Gunn - Other You

Regarded as one of the "new American Primitive" breed of guitarists, Brooklyn-based Steve Gunn has released a truckload of albums since his 2007 debut, not all of them solo. He’s a keen collaborator who’s split records with Kurt Vile and Ryley Walker, among many others, while holding to a breezily elegant and expansive, experimental country-folk aesthetic that’s very much his own. With the release of his latest album, Other You, he’s made a subtle but significant shift.

These songs were recorded during two trips to Los Angeles, and whether it was the warmer climate or the great company he was keeping (the cultishly acclaimed Mary Lattimore, Bill MacKay and Julianna Barwick guest), a different spirit blows through them. Gunn’s songs have always had a silvery and elliptical quality, a combination of his compelling guitar work and a light, tenor voice that identifies him as an observer, rather than a confessor. That’s still true, but the vocals now often take centre stage in bigger, multi-instrumental arrangements where electric piano and synths wash around him, notably on the shimmering 'Good Wind' and 'Reflection', where a soaring synth passage shines a new, almost pop light on his voice. In contrast is the six-minute, languid groover 'Protection'. All reveal fresh facets of Gunn's authorship, in a(nother) gem of modern American songcraft.

Released August 27. Label: Matador

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