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

In our final New Music selection of 2021, Sharon O'Connell reviews standout releases from Neil Young, Tom Morello, Athenian artist Sissi Rada, and guitarist and composer Jeff Parker

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Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Barn

This brotherhood has been a significant feature on the US country-rock landscape for over half a century now. Theirs is quite a heritage and as you might expect given their ages (Young is 76), the passage of time looms large on these new songs.

Recorded at full moon, as is Young’s custom, in an old log barn in the Rocky Mountains, they’re of three kinds – simple autobiographical snapshots, gentle ruminations on his past, and expressions of anger/despair on matters philosophical and ecological.

There are flashes of fire, along with poignancy, as is evidenced by the agreeably gnarly 'Heading West', with its bar-room piano trim and 'Human Race', a dirty, foot-on-the-pedalboard chug where Young demands, "Who’s gonna tell the children of destiny that we didn't try to save the world for them?".

In contrast are 'They Might Be Lost', more a sketch than a song and the sweet, almost naive 'Tumblin’ Thru The Years'. It’s with the epic 'Welcome Back', though, that Young – in hushed and delicate voice – and the Horse really click into gear, as if oiling an ancient and heavy, yet ineffably soulful machine.

Out now. Label: Reprise

Sissi Rada - Nanodiamond

Sissi Makropoulou is an Athenian artist based in Berlin: a singer who plays the classical harp, but also works in experimental electronics.

As Sissi Rada, she makes extraordinarily captivating avant pop and her third album deserves to deliver her much wider exposure.

It’s easy to understand why Brian Eno might have been moved to produce one track here, and Andi Toma, of German electronic duo Mouse On Mars, two others.

Rada’s mastery of her chosen instrument is obvious, and shows in her conjuring of moodsfrom capricious to stately, ominous to sumptuous and dreamy, but it's her skills in composition and (especially) inventive sound design that mark Nanodiamond out.

There’s a guest vocal turn from Greek synth pioneer and pianist Lena Platonos on the Toma-produced 'Maps', which is one of several standouts. Others are 'Pyrametron', which suggests St Vincent teaming up with Matmos, and 'F', where a rich, rippling melody is paired with unsettling electronic skittering and an operatic vocal.

Out now. Label: Kryptox

Jeff Parker - Forfolks

Guitarist and composer Jeff Parker boasts an illustrious jazz and experimental CV: he was a founding member of both Isotope 217 and the Chicago Underground Trio, and in 1998, replaced Dave Pajo in pre-eminent post-rock exponents Tortoise.

In all those bands, Parker’s sprightly, often twangily rhythmic yet elegantly versatile style has been a defining feature, making use of improv as well as deftly tracking compositions. He’s also a prolific solo artist and Forfolks is his seventh album.

It features four brand new pieces, interpretations of Thelonious Monk’s 'Ugly Beauty' and the standard 'My Ideal', plus a reworking of a tune he recorded in the 1990s with both Isotope 217 and Tortoise. The entire set was (home)recorded in just two days, and though the interpretations intrigue, the real interest lies in its new material.

'Flour Of Fur' and 'Excess Success' are the standouts: the former opens with a motif of stuttering strings, then blooms into an electronic drone passage with a silken ebb and flow, to which Parker adds dextrous, John Schofield-styled picking. The latter is a loop-based epic that sits on a languid groove, topped by melodic crosscurrents that demonstrate his blues chops. Both are effortlessly detailed and highlight Parker’s characteristically subtle blurring of genre boundaries.

Out now. Label: International Anthem / Nonesuch

Tom Morello - The Atlas Underground Flood

The former Rage Against The Machine guitarist's latest album is the third in a series, which began in 2018 with The Atlas Underground, followed by this year's The Atlas Underground Fire.

Morello has described ...Fire and ...Flood as "my London Calling", in the sense that he wanted to make an LP on which "artistic intent supersedes genre". His set spans several genres – heavy rock, EDM, soul-pop, rap-rock, punk and psychedelic rock – suggesting he is more interested in the idea of a music community than stylistic cohesion.

The album boasts some impressive guest appearances, including turns from Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, Idles, Rodrigo y Gabriela and Ben Harper. Morello's guitar solos abound, but it’s a generous-spirited record – since they also co-wrote the songs, featured artists bring their own style to the table. That’s strikingly evident in 'Parallels', a hypnotic, psych-soul number that stars Jim James from My Morning Jacket, and 'Warrior Spirit' the flamenco-rock finale featuring Rodrigo y Gabriela.

Out now. Label: Mom + Pop

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