Sharon O'Connell presents four standout albums to listen to this month - including an ambitious multi-instrumental offering from experimental artist Circuit des Yeux, a burst of technicolour synth-pop from UK singer-songwriter Hayden Thorpe, plus new releases from Tori Amos and Xenia RubinosTags: Music,
The tremulous, richly romantic voice of Hayden Thorpe – one that brings to mind both ANOHNI and Erasure’s Andy Bell – has always been an anomaly on the UK indie-rock landscape, making his former band Wild Beasts something of a love-'em-or-hate-'em proposition. This follow-up to his 2019 debut solo album cements his reputation as a songwriter of imaginative skill as well as a distinctive singer.
With Nathan Jenkins (aka Bullion) on production duty alongside repeat collaborator Richard Formby, Thorpe has created a softly technicolor, synth-pop micro universe full of sensuality and wonderment, that evokes Mark Hollis and Kate Bush reared on cosmic disco.
Thorpe has said that the songs grew out of his interest in "the meeting point between science and religion, the grand struggle for reality that shapes so much of our time", which titles like 'The Universe Is Always Right', 'Parallel Kingdom' and 'Spherical Time II' certainly bear out. The latter two tracks are highlights: the first has a forlorn darkness at its heart, around which swirl ghostly but insistent synths; the other is driven by pulses that recall slowed heartbeats as much as the sounds of a lost satellite arcing across the galaxy. Throughout the set, the tenderness of a soul’s yearning and the drive of elegant grooves work their magic.
Out now. Label: Domino
Through her work under two aliases, singer and composer Haley Fohr has established herself as a significant figure on Chicago’s experimental music scene. As Jackie Lynn, she’s explored mutant country, lo-fi electronics and dancefloor pop, while Circuit des Yeux is a more avant-garde project with weightier thematic content.
-io is Circuit des Yeux album number six. Written on piano and organ, rather than Fohr’s usual guitar, it was born out of the death of a close friend. Its ten songs are as ambitious as they are instantly arresting, scored for a 23-piece orchestra (though Covid-19 restrictions meant a much smaller number of players) and with Fohr's muscular, thrillingly sonorous four-octave voice their anchor and liberating force.
There are echoes of Diamanda Galas’s dark, operatic drama in 'Vanishing', the chilliness of Nico in the majestic 'Walking Toward Winter' and Nina Simone’s haunted soul in 'Stranger'(recorded live in one take). In succession, they make for a sombre and intense listen, though 'Neutron Star' is lent a vintage movie feel via a gathering storm of strings and brass punctuation. The closing track, 'Oracle Song', is very different again: acoustic guitar, piano and quivering strings combine in a more conventional way for an almost folky tale of loss of innocence that admits the possibility of rebirth.
Out now. Label: Matador
It’s fair to say the likes of Lorde, St Vincent, Taylor Swift and even Billie Eilish might never have made it, had it not been for Tori Amos. She is the ne plus ultra of stirring and expressive art-pop, equalled only by Kate Bush as a singular auteur who’s also enjoyed massive chart success. Now, she’s releasing her 16th studio album.
After scrapping all the songs she’d previously written for her follow-up to 2017’s Native Invader, as they didn't acknowledge how deeply dispirited she was feeling, Amos wrote an entirely new set. The results are some of the most introspective songs in her 30-year career, addressing the anguish of no longer being able to play live music (in the full-blooded 'Speaking With Trees'), the ghost of a trauma from her past (the dub-inflected '29 Years') and the need to go with the flow ('Metal Water Wood', with its hushed, multi-tracked vocals and burnished braids of melody).
'Flowers Burn To Gold' is a standout, Amos’s characteristically velvet-rich yet haunting voice accompanied only by piano, on which she plays a melancholic coda. “It has been a brutal year,” she remarks on 'Metal Water Wood' – true enough, but Ocean To Ocean is a cleanser, of a kind.
Released 29 October. Label: Decca
It's been a long time since US singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rubinos stepped away from the formalism of her Berklee jazz education. Her first two albums drew on punk, soul, noise, hip hop and R&B. Now, the synths and electronics she tried out on 2019 single 'Diosa vs. Bugeisha' are paramount, shaping her most powerful and fully realised hybrid-pop set yet.
Rubinos' initial inspiration was the title track, originally by late Puerto Rican composer José Enrique Pedreira and remembered from her childhood. Elsewhere, there are echoes of classical bolero and rumba.
For the first time, Rubinos is explicitly connecting to the music of her Puerto Rican-Cuban heritage, yet this is far from a traditional or nostalgic set. Rather, it’s dramatic (as with the EDM-edged 'Sacude'), seemingly instinctive (see the start of 'Don’t Put Me In Red', where the singer kicks back against ethnic typecasting) and committed to recontextualisation ('Una Rosa' is updated with gushing synths and a clave’s percussive tap).
'Working All The Time' recalls Rihanna circa Rated R, while the punchy 'Cógelo Suave' suggests Neneh Cherry fronting Kid Creole And The Coconuts. However, Rubinos creates in nobody’s shadow, and Una Rosa represents the full flowering of her distinctive expression.
Out now. Label: Anti-