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New Music: January 2022 - Curated by Sharon O'Connell

Sharon O'Connell selects four standout recordings to listen to this month, including a witty debut from post-punk group Yard Act, tranquil and stirring music from Algerian collective Imarhan, an evocative release from Oregonian singer-songwriter Eve Adams, and the latest offering from Elvis Costello & The Imposters...

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Imarhan - Aboogi

The music Western audiences refer to as 'desert blues' has many ambassadors: Tinariwen, Songhoy Blues, Tamikrest and Mdou Moctar have all developed their own style and are now well-known outside of Africa.

The same is true of Imarhan, a group of Tuareg musicians from southern Algeria, whose third album sees them shed the funk, soul and gnarly rock elements of their previous LP and lean more heavily into the assouf tradition.

Alongside hypnotic, see-sawing rhythms sit finger-picked guitar melodies, often with interlocking harmonies, handclaps and haunting vocals. It’s a sound as old as the Atlas mountains, but modern in its context and lyrical concerns.

On the lean, driving ‘Assossam’, Imarhan express frustration at the way their region has been ignored by central government, while ‘Adar Newlan’ addresses problems specific to the youth of their hometown. The latter track features Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys, whose softly burred voice (singing in Welsh) joins a crosscurrent of acoustic guitar melodies. Like all of Aboogi, it’s tranquil and transcendent music for universally troubled times.

Released 28 January. Label: City Slang

Yard Act - The Overload

It’s hard to pinpoint the date of the post-punk resurgence - not least because the genre never really disappeared - but there’s no denying that in recent years, there’s been a proliferation of UK bands inspired by the likes of The Fall and Gang of Four.

These new acts share some identifiable features - tracks addressing socio-political concerns, humorously scathing lyrics, a deadpan talkiness and clattering, high-tensile sonics - but their output is by no means identikit.

Youngsters Yard Act are from Leeds, and though their debut ticks all those boxes, garrulous singer James Smith displays a surprising sympathy for the human archetypes in his lyrics, as well as disdain. As The Overload’s 11 tracks demonstrate, all out hopelessness isn’t his style.

The record overshoots post-punk expectations musically as well as thematically, straying into new wave, early 80s NYC disco funk and even Kinks-ish pop, without straining at the seams. On that count, 'Dead Horse' is a standout. Lyrics referencing "The National Front's new hairdo" and "morris dancing to Sham 69" might feel as if they could be taken straight from one of Mark E. Smith’s notebooks, but the darkly queasy, lounge-rock setting is much more Mr Bungle. All in, it’s an impressive first release.

Out now. Label: Zen F.C. / Island

Elvis Costello & The Imposters - The Boy Named If

In his 45-year recording career, the ‘other Elvis’ with the distinctive voice has cycled through whip-smart new wave, country music, spiky political pop, tear-stained balladry, New Orleans-style R&B, rootsy funk, piano jazz, orchestral pieces ... there are few musical roads that his relentlessly inventive drive hasn’t taken him down.

This new record with his long-serving Imposters follows 2020’s Hey Clockface and last year’s Spanish-language remake of Costello’s 1978 release, This Year’s Model.

A kind of concept album, The Boy Named If addresses the evolution from boy to man and what’s lost and gained along the way. What’s most striking is its urgent, unfussy, almost rough-and-ready nature – perhaps not what you’d expect from an artist on their 32nd album.

Its 13 songs range from the agreeably roisterous, if unsubtle (opener ‘Farewell, OK’, and the hammering, 60s-toned ‘Mistook Me For A Friend’) to the sweet ’n’ tender (‘Paint The Red Rose Blue’, last-dance closer ‘Mr Crescent’), via ‘The Man You Love To Hate’, whose see-saw rhythm and music-hall keyboards recall Madness, and the irresistibly swaggering ‘Magnificent Hurt’. While it doesn’t offer many surprises, it’s classic Costello in full, spirited play.

Out now. Label: EMI

Eve Adams - Metal Bird

"Time it comes running at your heels in the dark/Chasing your memory like a dog with no bark," muses this Oregonian singer/songwriter on the opening track of her third album.

Adams’ latest offering gives voice – albeit obliquely and poetically – to a period of upheaval in 2018, when she moved from her home in Montreal to Los Angeles due to a family tragedy. It seems the literal distance and psychological limbo afforded by the plane journey there brought all kinds of existential questions to light, which is why these ten songs have a slightly unearthly, wyrd-folk/psychedelic ambience.

Despite their feeling of weightlessness, there’s nothing slight here, and unsettlement often lingers in the air - most notably on the crepuscular ‘Butterflies’ and the brief ‘A Walk In The Park’.

Rather different is ‘You’re Not Wrong’, a dusty Americana number that tilts at Karen Dalton, with a side of vintage Hollywood strings. Metal Bird suggests Angel Olsen and Mazzy Star as kindred spirits, but is neither wholly dramatic nor entirely dreamy – rather, it’s a mood board with its own understated power.

Released 28 January. Label: Basin Rock

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