Sharon O'Connell selects four standout new album releases from Spencer Cullum, Everything But The Girl, Dave Okumu & The 7 Generations and Braids.Tags: Music,
Spencer Cullum’s Coin Collection 2
Full Time Hobby
Pedal-steel guitar might seem like an odd obsession for someone raised in Romford, but after learning under UK don BJ Cole, this singer-songwriter followed his love to Nashville and made the city his home. Not that the instrument’s use is confined to country/Americana, as his solo debut of 2020 made clear: Cullum came to pedal steel via ’60s UK pop and rock and channels the sound through English folk, which gives his songs a distinctive melodic charm that pitches up somewhere between The Kinks, Fairport Convention and Kurt Wagner/Lambchop.
On his second “collection”, which features a full band and sees Caitlin Rose and Erin Rae repping for Nashville on guest vocals, Cullum shifts the focus from pedal steel (he also plays acoustic guitar and mellotron) so that it’s more an occasional mood enhancer. These songs are rich in atmosphere and lyrical meaning, though they wear both lightly, their compositions imaginative yet never fussy, Cullum’s Robert Wyatt-like voice their glue. It’s a listen-through set but “Kingdom Weather”, with its woodwind and easy-rolling beat pattern, the rippling, sweetly reflective “Green Trees” and twangling pastoral folk of “Betwixt And Between” are standouts.
Everything But The Girl
As you’d expect of any act that’s always tapped into the temper of its times, EBTG have shifted shape across nearly four decades in the game. Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt launched as an elegantly artful pop duo, then cycled through high-gloss, orchestral indie-soul, deep house, trip-hop and drum’n’bass, fusing facets of beats-based styles to their sound rather than swallowing them whole and scoring a huge (surprise) hit in 1994 with Todd Terry’s remix of “Missing”.
Despite the fact that it’s almost 24 years since their last album together, this 10-song set arrives in the current electronic-pop landscape with a graceful and well-judged glide, insinuating elements of dubstep (on yearning ’90s rewind “Nothing Left To Lose”) trap (“Time And Time Again”) and sad-banger maximalism (the darkly dramatic “Forever”) without torching their identity as an act with a knack for examining the melancholic aspects of modern adult life. Thorn’s voice – soulful and slightly bruised – has deepened splendidly with age, especially affecting on the forlorn, Pet Shop Boys-like “Run A Red Light” and “No One Knows We’re Dancing”, which builds slowly to euphoria via a warm, flickering synth pulse.
Dave Okumu & The 7 Generations
I Came From Love
This London-based singer/songwriter, producer and guitarist of cosmically groovy distinction is a keen collaborator who’s worked with the diverse likes of Tony Allen and Jessie Ware. He also led his trio The Invisible through three LPs, including their joyously soulful Mercury Prize-nominated debut of 2009. The latter quality is present in spades on Okumu’s second solo record, though it’s (measured) hope that runs through these songs, rather than joy. Here are explorations of ancestral and modern Black history that channel Martinican poet Aimé Césaire’s “Notebook Of A Return To The Native Land” and a quote from a South Carolina slave owner into statements on enforced deportation and the tragedy of the 1981 New Cross fire.
The set is thoughtful and poignant in nature, so necessarily moody in sound. Dub, trip-hop soul and jazz fusion dominate, but punky electro-rock is also in the mix, while guests including Kwabs, Anthony Joseph and Grace Jones add their own piquancy. “Streets” is a swirling, Tricky-ish interplay of strings, electronics and woodwind, while “Prison” hitches blues to a groovy, gospel-soul chassis and “The Struggle” (“to articulate what we’re going through”) is a loose jam wound around that repeated phrase.
Braids Musique Inc
Bringing in strings is often the last refuge of desperate bands clean out of ideas and looking to reinvent themselves, but this Montreal-based trio is not one of them. Experimentation has been part of Braids’ DNA since inception (as a quartet), their Native Speaker debut showcasing their skilled use of loops, drone and pastoral guitar to make music full of playfulness and drama.
Euphoric Recall is their fifth album and a(nother) bewitching set of art-pop songs that mix the electronic with the organic and are as seductive as they are emotionally varied. This time around, though, they’ve gone all out on strings, not least of all on “Apple”, which singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston has described as “the purest song we’ve ever written”. Her voice is terrific, recalling Björk on eight-minute opener “Supernova”, affecting a clubby soulfulness on the softly urgent “Evolution” and the rich otherworldliness of Weyes Blood on “Left/Right”. There’s a myriad of moods, textures and colours throughout, though the closing title track triumphs as a mesh of synthesised organ loops with a churchly feel, over which RS-P’s multi-tracked vocals soar and dip to truly rapturous effect.