Our latest pick of standout albums includes new releases from The Handsome Family, Jonathan Wilson, Tirzah and Modern Nature.Tags: Music,
The Handsome Family
Over 30 years, married duo Brett and Rennie Sparks have made their name as standard bearers of gothic country/noir-ish Americana, marked out by their interest in ghosts, murderous folklore and madness, and a macabre sense of humour.
This is their first set of new material since 2016 and it shows them on compellingly dark narrative form. It’s a slight departure from previous albums in that Rennie Sparks’ vivid lyrics now address, among other things, the disconnection between the natural and man-made worlds and its impact on our lives, while her husband, who boasts a sonorous baritone, introduces the odd electronic element to their guitar, banjo and piano-driven mix of country and old-time parlour music. Standouts include ‘Two Black Shoes’, whose cinematic shimmer cloaks real unsettlement (“Swallow all your sleeping pills/Shop away the gloom/Scrub the kitchen counters/Lock the door to every room”), ‘Mothballs’, with its hymn-like vocal yearning (“let the moths eat all our lovely coats”) and, at the other end of the mood spectrum, the plaintive ‘Strawberry Moon’, which suggests Damon Albarn reared on Gene Clark. Hollow by name, but deep and rich in nature.
Label: Loose Music
Eat The Worm
“It’s got to be kind of strange,” Jonathan Wilson has said of his basic music requirement. Though oddness is in play here, no one could accuse the LA-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer of performative eccentricity. His artistic vision, arranging smarts and aptitude for melodic richness have served the likes of Angel Olsen, Father John Misty and Margo Price well – but on his own records, he likes to let rip.
Eat The Worm sees Wilson easing off a little on Laurel Canyon folk and 70s soft rock in favour of striking genre contrasts, psychedelic flights of fancy and textured noise, while leaning heavily on strings. These songs address everything from his own time in NYC (on the dreamy, piano-driven opener ‘Marzipan’) to neighbourhoods gutted by gentrification (a ferociously urgent ‘The Village Is Dead’) and creative integrity (the forlorn, Moody Blues-ish ‘B.F.F.’). Wilson’s voice has a natural warmth that complements even the most unlikely musical juxtapositions, as on ‘Hollywood Vape’ (a haunted Glen Campbell fronts King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard) and ‘Wim Hof’ (Cass McCombs does bossa lounge). Well-judged self-indulgence may sound like a contradiction in terms, but that’s the trick Wilson has pulled off with his intriguing fifth album.
For her third album, Tirzah Mastin has again teamed up with experimental producer (and co-songwriter) Mica Levi. The pair’s 20-year friendship is reflected in the unshowiness and in-ear intimacy of this set, which blends alternative R&B, bliss-pop soundscaping and post-millennial trip hop.
Behind the keyboard-bothering title is a record with an enveloping emotional power, built from a single beat (impressively unnoticeable as such), piano loops and hushed vocal toplines. Tirzah’s voice is a thing of bruised beauty, set low in the mix and with a soulful pull that bids the listener to lean closer. On opener ‘F22’, it swirls around a haunted piano refrain and head-nodding rhythm, singing from the heart about connection: “In my world, in my world/I can’t see, I can’t see/In your world I’m your world/I want to see, I want to see”. ‘U All The Time’, ‘6 Phrazes’ and ‘2 D I C U V’ are highlights: in the first two tracks, the piano sounds warped and adrift, as if recorded underwater; on the third, woozy magic is made by double-tracking the vocals and adding fuzzed-out guitar. Elegance and restraint rule throughout.
No Fixed Point In Space
Jack Cooper has moved some distance from his work in Mazes and Ultimate Painting, bands known respectively for their scrappy, Americanised take on post punk and subtle readings of classic 60s pop. Since 2018 the composer, singer and guitarist has been edging deeper into less structured songcraft with Modern Nature, using a palette that owes more to jazz, experimental rock and pastoral folk, and looking to his environment for inspiration – whether that’s urban, rural or the territory between.
For the band’s third album, alongside his regular saxophonist and drummer Cooper has brought in pianist Chris Abrahams of The Necks, improv musicians on double bass and clarinet, and three string players, while jazzy avant-pop grandee Julie Driscoll contributes vocals on two songs. All seven tracks have fine bones and an abundance of space in which to breathe; pellucid single notes or beats often land like pebbles in a still pool, causing other instruments to ripple and bloom, creating new melodic forms. There’s a kinship with Talk Talk and Bark Psychosis, with hints of Ryley Walker, too. Titles such as ‘Murmuration’, ‘Cascade’ and ‘Sun’ speak to those songs’ bearing, the bucolic and faintly eerie second especially notable.
Out 29 September.
Label: Bella Union