Sharon O'Connell selects four standout albums to listen to this month, including a defiantly non-conformist release from Melt Yourself Down, an intimate collection of tracks from UK group Metronomy, and the latest offering in US jazz pianist Robert Glasper's Black Radio series - plus some excellent new music from Cate Le BonTags: Music,
"A quagmire of unease" doesn’t sound like the optimal creative seedbed, but for her sixth album, Welsh singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Cate Le Bon has turned the doubts and uncertainties of the past 18 months to her advantage.
The pandemic scotched plans to record in an exotic locale, and instead saw her holed up in Cardiff, in a house she’d lived in 15 years before. There, in isolation with long-term collaborator Samur Khouja, she fashioned a mercurial and intriguingly playful, yet woozily melancholic alt-pop set, which explores existence, resignation and faith in characteristically oblique lyrics.
Echoes of John Cale, Roxy Music and Talking Heads can be heard in these nine elegantly odd songs, as well as Japan’s 'city pop' scene of the 1980s. They’re driven by prominent bass lines, but rely on saxophones and a vintage synth to convey emotion. Highlights are difficult to pick but include the languid 'French Boys', which suggests Brigitte Bardot’s 'Contact!' reinterpreted by Felt, and 'Wheel', where a piano melody with an alluringly simple, see-saw lilt is underpinned by deep-water bass. It was born out of difficulty and doubt, but Pompeii is a singular triumph.
Out now. Label: Mexican Summer
US jazz pianist Robert Glasper released Black Radio in 2012, establishing a blueprint that grew out of his earlier release Double Booked, in which he imagined he’d been scheduled to play a hip hop and a jazz show on the same night. The series has become a way for Glasper to indulge his love of hip hop and nu-soul/R&B with his band and numerous high-profile guests, which this time include Jennifer Hudson, Gregory Porter, and Ty Dolla $ign.
Recent single 'Black Superhero' features three rappers including Run The Jewels' Killer Mike in an easy-rolling, sun-dappled homage to real-life Black heroes working in "every block, every 'hood, every city, every ghetto" for their communities' benefit. Equally strong is 'Shine', with rapper D Smoke and - on the sweet, liquescent vocal hook - his cousin Tiffany Gouché.
Tears For Fears’ 'Everybody Wants To Rule The World' is the album’s midpoint cover. Here, over a lean and smoky, electronics-and-piano backdrop, Common adds his own conscious rhymes and mellow flow to Lalah Hathaway’s original lines. Glasper’s playing is not the focus of this set, and with good reason, but his role as a mover and shaker in contemporary Black music is again made plain with this latest release.
Out now. Label: Loma Vista
Anyone expecting something close to Metronomy's keys-hammered, '60s Motown-pop leaning 'The Look', or the cheeky electropop nod to Prince that was 'Salted Caramel Ice Cream' will be surprised by the group's latest release. Small World is more about reflections of the self than the mirrorball kind, with a title that speaks to the contraction of all our lives, on both micro and macro levels, in 2020.
Main man Joe Mount had much on his mind during the writing and recording – growing older, family life, the perennial youthfulness of pop music, the very real need for positivity – but although Small World is intimate, it’s far from sombre. Tracks sparkle and softly gleam, rather than crackle and flare, moving mostly to a mid tempo and playing to Mount’s wry sense of humour. "Take some pictures of me, but then forget about them," he directs, in the 10cc-ish opener 'Life And Death'.
Perky exceptions are 'Things Will Be Fine' and (another deliberate use of cliché) 'It’s Good To Be Back', while the moody slacker blues of 'Loneliness On The Run' casts it as the set’s wild card.
Out now. Label: Because Music
As the leader of Acoustic Ladyland, saxophonist Pete Wareham was among the first wave of London’s 'mutant-jazz' upsetters, but even the youthful second wave now sweeping through the capital’s scene hasn’t changed the outlier status of his Melt Yourself Down sextet. Which is why the title of this new record shouts their non-conformity from the rooftops.
"We don’t fit the archetype," Wareham has said. "Now we understand that being who we are is all we have and if that doesn’t fit, so be it." To that effect, a celebratory spirit charges through Pray For Me…, channelling early 1970s funk and jazz, primal rock, Afrobeat and punk into darkly raucous tunes with a political edge. The latter is supplied by vocalist Kushal Gaya, who in the title track sings of his personal experiences of cultural displacement as an African of Asian appearance.
It’s a record rich in tones, tempos and textures, from the staccato sax honking and agitated electronics of 'Nightsiren' to 'Balance', which employs a baritone sax put through a pedal to pound out its central, unapologetically rockist riff, and 'Boots Of Leather', which suggests a collision between early Black Sabbath and the Velvet Underground at a ceilidh. Dodging archetypes and then some.
Out now. Label: Decca