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

Music critic Sharon O'Connell selects some of her favourite albums released this month - including new offerings from Charli XCX, New York punk outfit Bodega, and New Zealand singer-songwriter Aldous Harding

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Aldous Harding - Warm Chris

Singer-songwriter Hannah Topp (aka Aldous Harding) shifts ground with every record, and the results are always compelling. Having made her debut in 2014 with a sombre alt-folk set, the New Zealander switched to a kind of jazz-edged cabaret-pop for her 2017 studio album Party. On follow-up Designer, she set her inscrutable lyrics to some disarmingly lovely melodies and dialled down the divisively mannered vocals.

With her latest offering Warm Chris, she seems to have fully relaxed into her own artistry. This isn't to say that these songs are cosy or familiar - rather, they are
more immediate and melodically warming. Harding is using different voices, too, as required. John Parish returns to the producer’s chair, while there are contributions from Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson (in radically different vocal mode), jazz drummer Seb Rochford and mutant-pop practitioner Huw Evans (aka H. Hawkline).

While her lyrics remain hard to decode, Harding's songs, as ever, invite the long, pleasurable plunge: especially strong are 'Fever', with its tumbling piano motif and plaintive horns and 'She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain', whose widescreen sadness suggests Joanna Newsom fronting an acoustic Mercury Rev. Elsewhere, there are echoes of The Velvet Underground and Nico, Cate Le Bon and Vashti Bunyan, but Warm Chris underlines Harding’s status as a singular auteur.

Out now. Label: 4AD

Bodega - Broken Equipment

NYC art-punk five piece Bodega made their debut with 2018’s Endless Scroll - an album which explored both our complicated relationship with technology, and a wider sense of post-millennial angst.

While their follow-up is no less anxiously engaged, its focus is more ideological, zooming in on capitalist productivity and their city’s galloping gentrification, among other things.

If that makes Broken Equipment sound worthy and hectoring, it’s anything but: instead, it offers a collection of smart, witty and groovily clamorous tunes that meld Sleater-Kinney’s righteous, helter-skelter passion with the dance-punk drive (and similarly satirical lyrics) of LCD Soundsystem.

The set surges forward with controlled momentum but individually, there’s ample breathing space: particularly well paced are 'Doers', with its uber-elastic bass line and 'No Blade Of Grass', whose punchy metre owes something to hip hop. Very different is the Blondie-meets-Television style of 'Seneca The Stoic'. For a record borne out of a book club that discussed the works of philosophers, Broken Equipment has quite the attitude.

Out now. Label: What's Your Rupture?

Charli XCX - Crash

No one could accuse Charlotte Aitchison of dragging her heels: this is her third album in four years. It’s also further proof of her versatility, experimental drive and knack for frank self-examination, all of which first marked her out from the commercial pop pack on 2016’s 'Vroom Vroom' EP.

Her fifth full-length album sees her move away from the colour-saturated, almost migrainous hyperpop that characterised her two previous records, and channels the spirits of Janet Jackson, Madonna circa 'Express Yourself' and house music - though producers including AG Cook, Lotus IV and George Daniel (of The 1975) keep things on a high-impact pop course.

The singer sets out her emotional stall on the opening title track; "I’m high voltage, self-destructive, end it all so lеgendary," runs the chorus (a candid declaration of the toll the pandemic has taken on her mental health), against a kaleidoscopic, synth-pop backdrop that features an ’80s funk-rock guitar solo. Whatever her internal weather, XCX doesn’t really do sombre.

Christine And The Queens and Caroline Polachek join her for the terrific 'New Shapes', while there’s a cheeky nod to Britney on 'Lightning', and standout 'Baby' suggests Propaganda covering 'Rhythm Nation'. There are no crashes here - just smartly choreographed collisions.

Out now. Label: Asylum

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