Our latest pick of standout albums includes new music from ANOHNI, High Pulp, Oxbow and Bethany Cosentino.Tags: Music,
ANOHNI And The Johnsons
My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross
The title of ANOHNI’s fifth album is in part an homage to the late trans activist and Stonewall veteran Marsha P. Johnson, whose portrait adorns the cover. Though Johnson isn’t directly referenced, their spirit permeates this deeply soulful set, which articulates the need for a new world order where tolerance, understanding, compassion and unity rule.
The album lands 13 years after Swanlights, where ANOHNI’s singular, winnowing voice provided the centrepiece for songs combining chamber pop, pastoral folk, musical theatre and baroque soul. She has since worked with a variety of artists including Björk, Matmos and Laurie Anderson. This latest offering is both a welcome reacquaintance, and an unexpected shift.
The album was created in collaboration with producer/songwriter Jimmy Hogarth, who has worked with Amy Winehouse, Sia, James Blunt and the 1975, as well as Tina Turner. Its songs feel lean and warmly intimate: guitarists Hogarth and Leo Abrahams do most of the heavy lifting, dipping into Southern country soul (on the urgent ‘Can’t’), modern classical (the R&B-edged ‘Scapegoat’) and moody soul jazz (‘Why Am I Alive Now?’). Nina Simone, Jimmy Scott and Marvin Gaye are the record’s spirit guides, but My Back Was A Bridge… feels distinctively, sublimely ANOHNI.
Label: Rough Trade
Days In The Desert
Like so many others, experimental octet High Pulp was forced to change course when the Coronavirus pandemic struck. The group was touring the US at the time, and ensuing lockdowns led them to adopt a new writing method (with file sharing replacing in-person jams), and reassess their approach.
Much of the work created during that period ended up on the group’s previous Pursuit Of Ends album. The rest was set aside, then resurrected and completely reshaped for Days in the Desert.
It’s a(nother) classy, cool and eloquent 10-track set that fuses jazz, hip hop and electronica to alluringly expansive effect, without ever lapsing into soundtrack-for-an-invisible-movie cliché. Stellar guest talents – including guitarist Jeff Parker, sax player James Brandon Lewis and harpist Brandee Younger – step up on heady, free-flowing compositions that are built more around group interplay than individual solos, (though there are thrills there, too, notably Younger’s filigree on the sweetly ecstatic ‘Solanin’ and JBL’s staccato flights on
‘Dirtmouth’). Echoes of Tortoise, Resavoir, Jaga Jazzist and Arthur Verocai can be heard, but this is a confident reset and reaffirmation from a band full of inspiration.
After 35 years, it’s easy to see why Oxbow singer Eugene S. Robinson feels “chagrined” that the group’s songs have never been recognised as love songs. In fairness, their darkly intense experimental/noise rock sound, coupled with lyrics that could be read as despairing or even nihilistic, has done little signalling to that effect.
The title of their first album in six years suggests a period where love has taken extended leave. Yet this is not the case at all: during the writing process, guitarist Niko Wenner lost his father and had two children. These events have clearly had an impact, but it’s subtle: compositions are less oppressively dense and guest vocalists along with a 15-piece choir provide extra tenderness.
They’re nothing like love songs in the conventional sense, though there are moments (on ‘All Gone’ for example) when Robinson’s rich, heaving voice recalls Nick Cave. Overall, however, they’re more akin to the work of Merzbow and The Jesus Lizard, with Slint underpinnings. The heavily pitching, power chord-driven ‘Gunwale’ stands out; so too does the slow-mo ‘Lovely Murk’, which features Lingua Ignota’s sweet vocal swelling like a prayer offered to the heavens.
“I am evolved, you’ve stayed the same/I am evolved but I play the game,” runs the chorus of ‘It’s Fine’, from Bethany Cosentino’s solo debut. It’s tempting to interpret this as her feelings about Best Coast, the successful duo she formed in 2009 and has since put on indefinite pause. “My identity as a human being and as an artist has been so wrapped up in Best Coast for over a decade,” she recently explained.
After four albums, it’s understandable that the singer/songwriter and guitarist felt the need to stretch out: tied to that identity is a distinctive, if not wholly original sound – surf-splashed pop, heavily reverbed and with a ’60s bent.
Natural Disaster puts clear water between this and Cosentino’s solo incarnation. These are avowedly modern, country-pop songs, cleanly produced and with the dynamics punched up (most dramatically on rock belters ‘Outta Time’ and ‘My Own City’). Her robust, clear-voiced centrality underscores her matter-of-fact lyrical honesty, whether addressing climate change (on the title track) or her experiences of anxiety and depression (‘It’s A Journey’). Figuratively, it’s a shift from LA to Nashville – and it suits Cosentino just fine.