Our latest pick of standout albums includes new releases from Vanishing Twin, Nitin Sawhney, Gotts Street Park & VV Brown.Tags: Music,
“I’m half-baked as soft cake and half-blind from the sun/And my brain, in its ways, full of holes like a sponge,” sings singer and guitarist Cathy Lucas on ‘Lazy Garden’, sounding woozy as a nectar-drunk bumblebee. That dreamy warmth seeps into several tracks on Vanishing Twin’s captivating fourth album, but it’s not the defining mood. The avant-pop trio traverse myriad paths on Afternoon X, switching tone, pacing and texture, and varying instrumentation and effects as well as the use of space, to change the ambience.
Kosmische, minimalism, psychedelia and Japanese environmental music all play an artfully eccentric part, summoning the ghost of Can while also suggesting Silver Apples, Cate Le Bon and Rozi Plain as kindred spirits.
The loose-limbed grooviness that drives Afternoon X is in step with the band’s new process. The group recorded marathon sessions (often improv) in various playing configurations, then developed the most promising material into elegantly structured pieces such as the album’s title track and ‘Lotus Eater’.
The former uses a head-nodding beat pattern as foil for some sweet synth/vibraphone interplay, while the latter conjures a Balinese paradise via harp trills and a softly booming bass line, adding what sounds like a strimmer sample to close.
Out now. Label: Fire Records
As its title suggests, this new album from multi-instrumentalist, composer, singer and producer Nitin Sawhney packs a powerful thematic punch. At a time when the volume on discriminatory rhetoric is being turned up, further widening social divisiveness, Identity lands both as an investigation into selfhood and a declaration of the right to exist.
It’s far from an arduous listen. Over 17 tracks, Sawhney melds hip-hop, drum’n’bass, spoken word and electronica with Indian and Western classical music, symphonic soul/R&B and shaabi, to winning effect. The guest cast includes Jazzi Sirius (who appears on the smoky ‘What’s It All About’), I Am Roze (on the understatedly defiant ‘Definition Of Happy’) and Lady Blackbird (‘Room With A View’, with its faint Bollywood air), as well as the more surprising Joss Stone (in gospel-style belter ‘We’re Not Alone’) and Gary Lineker (who features on ‘Illegal’, a spoken-word address with piano).
There’s much food for thought, though some lyrics hit harder than others: ”When you’re bottom of the pile and they hate what you are/And they hate your bloody ethnicity/It’s bloody hard in the city when you have three kids still working through your identity,” raps Hak Baker on the groovy ‘Ancestral’. Uncomfortable truths, fortifying music.
Out now. Label: East/West
Gotts Street Park
On The Inside
Much has been said about London’s role in the UK’s robust and newly youthful jazz scene, but Leeds is becoming an increasingly significant player. Ancient Infinity Orchestra, Project Hilts, Necktr, Têtes de Pois and Mamilah all started out in the Yorkshire city - their only similarities being an individuality of expression and a drive for consummate musicianship.
The four members of Gotts Street Park embedded themselves in Leeds’ leftfield jazz community after meeting at different music colleges, but vintage soul and jazzy hip hop are their true shared loves. Their working methods are equally old-school – they write as a group in the same room and record with analogue equipment, which gives the tracks on their debut album an alluringly saturated, classic 1970s sound.
Half are instrumentals, half feature a vocalist with deep soul chops; of these, the stylishly lean and over-easy ‘Tell Me Why’ (with Olive Jones) and darkly spangled ‘Are You Still A Friend’ (with Flikka) stand out. So too do the vocal-free, trippy last dance that is ‘Strawberry Dream’, ‘Portofino’, a lovely, flute-flecked exercise in pastoral folk-jazz and ‘Walk Away’, the set’s sweetly forlorn, country-tinged closer.
Out now. Label: Blue Flowers
Am I British Yet?
VV (Vanessa) Brown debuted in 2008 with the effervescent ‘Crying Blood’, announcing herself as a boldly original singer/songwriter. Across a handful of albums since, she’s cycled through soul, electro, R&B, synth pop, UK bass and dark electronica. Though this constant reinvention has been impressive, it’s also been rather confusing. Now, Brown has found her authentic sweet spot, by ignoring trends and examining what it means to be Black and British with a Jamaican heritage.
“Are you ready to listen?” she challenges, in the opener of a set of 17 songs that shift between defiance, hope, anger, pride and frustration in a lean combination of R&B, hip hop, cosmic soul, funk and gospel, with a strong spoken-word element. On ‘Let Us Remember’, poet Veronica Ebanks reminds us against a lilting ska backdrop that “Partiality and discrimination is certainly not fear”.
In the dub-inflected title track, meanwhile, Liam Bailey voices both sides of conversations built on racial stereotypes. Brown powerfully tracks her journey to selfhood with ‘Inhale’, on a soundbed of broken beats and electronic blurts. “I rip the mask off that has been suffocating me,” she says, then gasps. “As I inhale for the first time, I can finally breathe and see.”
Out Now. Label: YOY