Sharon O'Connell selects four standout new album releases from Sunny War, shame, Young Fathers & Seaming To.Tags: Music,
The Nashville native’s claim that what she really likes is “weird outsider music” is borne out on her fourth album by an unexpected cover of Ween’s “Baby Bitch”. However, her own style is a fusion of country, folk-blues, gospel and rootsy rock, delivered in her burnished soul tone.
War has been clean for 12 years, but her experiences include teenage alcohol dependency, addiction to heroin and meth and recently, a bout of depression that pushed her to the brink. Consequently, her songs are often brutally truthful. “Sometimes the end’s the only light I see/Why live a life no longer serving me?” she wonders on “I Got No Fight”, while “Test Dummy” recalls institutional degradation (“I was a human test dummy/I was an ape in a lab”). On “Earth”, though, she sounds an ecological warning: “Cry for man today/He’ll have no place to stay/’Cause Earth ain’t got no lips to say/She’s withering away”. Despite such lyrical heaviness, Anarchist Gospel is light on its feet and strikes a mellow note throughout. War shares her stories with simpático guests including guitarist David Rawlings, Jim James of My Morning Jacket and The Raconteurs’ Jack Lawrence, in distinctive songs of self-understanding and survival.
Food For Worms
They grew out of the fertile, south London scene that’s also spawned the cultish likes of Black Midi, Goat Girl and Sorry, but Shame pulled away from the pack in 2021, when their second album, Drunk Tank Pink, shot into the Top Ten. A chunk of raucous post-punk fuelled by despair, boredom and angst, it was packed with abrasive guitars and tricky time-signature changes that made for an exhilarating, if not entirely original listen.
Their follow-up, with veteran producer Flood at the helm, is a more nuanced beast. Recorded live, to reconnect the quintet with the onstage energy that originally shaped them, it defies easy categorisation, throwing interesting new shapes in “Six-Pack”, where a psychedelic, wah-wah freakout occurs around the two-thirds mark and the hurtling “The Fall Of Paul”, which suggests a union of Happy Mondays and Fugazi. There’s a new adventurousness in their writing, melodies take less of a back seat and overall, Shame are on less relentlessly panicky and dense form. Highlights are rangy indie-rocker “Yankees”, with its overtones of New Order and “Different Person”, which has a soft urgency and expansive reach.
“It’s always been very, very serious,” said Graham “G” Hastings recently, of the trio’s attitude to their music making. It’s a claim seemingly borne out by the title of their fourth album – twice as heavy as you might expect, is the warning.
In fact, it’s Young Fathers’ most joyous and exuberantly soulful record yet, a fizzy celebration of connectivity and liberation through the power of singing. The bubbling stew of pop, hip-hop, alt-rock and soul that had them touted as a Scottish TV On the Radio in their early days still holds, but now they’ve added top notes of Ghanaian folk, in which drumming and chanting figure heavily. With its massed voices and buoyant polyrhythms, opener “Rice” sets out their new stall; “I Saw” follows, taking its cue from Battles’ lurching drive before heading off down a gleeful, Afro-kosmische road. “Ululation” is as luminous and uplifting as you might expect. Though there’s sweetness here, too, a different tone is evident in “Geronimo”, with its moody, trip-hop frame and art-rock dressing, while “Holy Moly” is a rumbling, gospel-edged hymn to the urgent need for seizing the day. Serious, perhaps, but far from heavy.
If you can count 808 State’s Graham Massey and Robert Wyatt among your collaborators and mentors, it’s safe to say your talents are something in between accomplished and extraordinary. In the case of this London-born artist of Chinese heritage, it’s very much the latter. Five family members learned the piano from the age of two, but Seaming To, who enrolled in opera studies at the Royal Northern College Of Music, was drawn to the clarinet and leftfield electronic music.
Dust Gatherers is her second album (also her first in 10 years) and an enthralling listen from start to finish. It shapeshifts around avant pop, modern classical, experimental electronica, opera and jazz, ST’s compelling voice – equal parts Circuit Des Yeux and Shana Nova – the songs’ glue. As one, they cast an intoxicating spell, synths gently gushing and sighing, digital sounds clicking and whirring and choral effects amplifying the feeling of weightlessness. It’s far from a one-note record, though: with its lustrous vocals and flickering pulse, “Tousles” suggests an excerpt from some lost ’50s movie score, while the strings-assisted “Hitchhiker” has something of Joanna Newsom to it and on “Look Away”, slide guitar and retro-futurist electronics conjure a(nother) mysterious dream state. Not so much dust gatherers, as repositories of magic.