Beth Orton brings beauty to middle age, Jake Blount is a revelation – best album of the week

Beth Orton brings beauty to middle age, Jake Blount is a revelation – best album of the week

Rich Territory: Beth Orton Digs Into Her Personal Memories

Rich Territory: Beth Orton Digs Into Her Personal Memories

Beth Orton, Weather Alive ★★★★☆

Rave culture’s chill-out rooms would have felt empty without Beth Orton, who has been an exciting flavor in British music since the early 1990s. Her distinctive, fragile voice provided lyrical motifs (sometimes spoken, sometimes half-sung) on ​​tracks by ambient techno pioneer William Orbit, big beat powerhouse The Chemical Brothers and acid jazz trio Red Snapper.

This developed into an acclaimed solo career as a singer-songwriter, whose Mercury Prize-nominated 1996 debut Trailer Park and 1999 Brit Award-winning follow-up Central Reservation mixed acoustic flavors with synths, beats and modern sonic effects. Called “folktronica,” it’s a style that has arguably evolved into a mainstream digital pop format that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Taylor Swift or Billie Eilish record.

However, Orton has pushed in other directions. She was last heard on 2016’s Kidsticks, a sonic misfire that largely removed the folk side of the equation, obscuring her talent for poetic lyrics and gentle melodies in glitchy electronica.

Six years later, the beautiful and strange Weather Alive would restore Orton’s reputation as the queen of the comedown, but instead of recreating familiar sounds, it pushes her into richer territory befitting her age and experience. “I’ve made an art out of believing in magic,” Orton sings on Fractals, a loose, dreamy mantra with booming bass, shuffling drums and amorphous sax and synth, swimming around her delicate piano and vocal lines. Self-producing for the first time, Orton demonstrates that the apprentice has become his own studio master, shaping the tangled tendrils of his career into a pleasingly free-form tumble of sound and emotion.

She is aided by a fantastic ensemble of crossover jazz musicians, notably a nimble rhythm section consisting of drummer Tom Skinner, of the Mercury-nominated collective Sons of Kemet (and Radiohead side project The Smile) and bassist Tom Herbert of The Invisible. I’d be tempted to call it “folk fusion” if that didn’t make it sound even more clumsily unappealing than folktronica, or undercut the emotional heart.

At 51, something has happened to Orton’s voice, which sounds battered and weathered. But she uses it so well – a tonal instrument that adapts to ever-changing soundscapes – that her jagged edges become sensuous. A mention of Proust’s madeleines among the clicking Americana tracks of Friday Night opens a window into the album’s core concerns. “Go back in time, go back in time,” Orton wails in despair amid the swirling melancholy of Forever Young.

A bittersweet recollection of the easy love of youth seeps through Arms Around a Memory, while the sadness of memory’s ultimate erasure underpins the album’s closing track Unwritten. Throughout Weather Alive, Orton’s past keeps coming closer before suddenly receding. “When the sea comes in it’s hard to believe/It’ll ever go out again,” she sings on Friday night, in memory of a youthful drinking buddy who later lost to alcoholism and death.

At times, Weather Alive evokes the psychedelic rush of The War On Drugs with a battered Lucinda Williams on shotgun. In other moments, you hear the twilight of The Blue Nile, the eerie jazz gospel of Alice Coltrane, the mysterious longing of early Van Morrison and the spatial distortion of Thom Yorke. It’s some company to keep, but Orton digs so deep into her own personal spaces and reminds that what she finds there is unique. Middle-aged discontent has rarely sounded so delicious. Neil McCormick

Jake Blount, The New Faith, ★★★★★

Take Me To The Water, the opening track of 27-year-old Jake Blount’s sophomore album, invites listeners in through the ambient sounds of chirping birds and rolling waves. A sense of calm in a stolen moment, just like dawn.

“Take me to the water, take me to the water, take me to the water to be baa-aptized,” shouts Rhode Island, Providence-based Blount, his baritone full of longing and determination. And then we are introduced to this conceptual landscape he has created in The New Faith.

Throughout, the songwriter, singer, banjo and fiddle player, scholar and self-described Afrofuturist has woven spirituals, black Southern folk songs, gospel harmonies, old-time bluegrass, percussive loops and hip-hop poetry (nurturing the North Carolina rapper and banjo player). Demeanor) to a lively and adventurous meander through the deepest roots of black history through a fantasy futuristic lens.

Blount began with the question, “What would black music sound like after climate change makes most of the world uninhabitable?”

His quest drew him back through generations into the suffering, longing and faith of African Americans under the violence of slavery and the communal, resilient power of music to unite in times of desperation and celebrate one another.

The Downward Road introduces a base of sizzling banjo, hand clapping percussion and the crisp, soaring fiddle under melodic hip-hop verses. Two percussive gospel heartthrobs pay tribute to major female talent: Didn’t It Rain (made famous by Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mahalia Jackson) hearkens back to the biblical Noah and the Flood, and Once There Was No Sun (by American folk singer Bessie Jones) prays us to respect this fragile world.

Blount traverses similar musical, thematic territory to both Fantastic Negrito, who released the rootsy-blues-funk masterpiece White Jesus Black Problems earlier this year, and Ben Harper’s searing, searching blues-soul album Bloodline Maintenance.

The New Faith is a hymnal, rich in song and layered, organic instrumentation. It is deep and spiritually moving, alive and festive. Revealing, even. Cat Woods

Roofers: Sports teams

Roofers: Sports teams

Sports team, GULP! ★★★☆☆

Second albums are a notoriously difficult business. For acts whose debuts are a triumph, there is an almost unattainable expectation surrounding the follow-up. Just ask U2, The Stone Roses, Razorlight and Primal Scream.

So it was always going to be difficult for the Cambridge University-formed six-man sports team to produce a sophomore to rival their Mercury Prize-nominated Deep Down Happy, which sold more copies than any other debut from a British band in four years when it was released in 2020, narrowly missing out on the No. 1 spot to Lady Gaga.

Filled with soaring riffs, self-deprecating lyrics and humorously cynical observations about small-town Britain, the indie rock record earned frontman Alex Rice and his bandmates a reputation as a bunch of mischievous roof-raisers. Gulp!, out today, is 10 tracks of their same lively, scrappy Britpop, moving away from the mundanity of commuter belt towns, instead questioning the discomforts of modern existence. As Rice puts it: “If you’re young and living in Britain, what do you attach meaning to?”

Unfortunately, this time around, the lyrics tend to be too opaque to pack quite the same punch. On R Entertainment, a musing on social media and the overwhelming array of narratives pressing for our attention, Rice calls out “Oh, a blending light, Oh, the seraphim’s here.” On Kool Aid, about conspiracy theories like QAnon, he sings “rumors…like sauce on an overflowing plate”. It’s all pretty hard to follow.

That said, there are plenty of songs sure to please die-hard Sports Team fans, from the Bryan Ferry-inspired anthemic opener The Drop, to the slower tempo Cool It Kid, which is about when the band all lived together in a Camberwell -hus- share (“living with you makes me sick”).

Ultimately, Sports Team are best known for being brilliant live, having sold out 5,000-cap arenas right at the start of their career. While these ferocious songs may not excite the critics, they are sure to keep the young crowds coming. Kathleen Johnston

Busy Mind: Oscar Jerome - Alexandra Waespi

Busy Mind: Oscar Jerome – Alexandra Waespi

Oscar Jerome, the spoon ★★★☆☆

Oscar Jerome’s second album The Spoon begins with the sound of turning off. An overdubbed guitar looms over the weight of its own weight, too tired to strike. Climbing percussion stops and starts with a sleepy frenzy, like a patient on an operating table trying to fight off the anesthesia. It’s a very neat setup for an album that sounds like a busy mind trying to escape its own body.

For the past half-decade, Oscar Jerome has been singled out as a forerunner of London’s nu-jazz movement: a coterie responsible for turning one of music’s most intense genres into something playable at barbecues without pricking the ears. Jerome simplifies and adds pop to the shape, without turning it into bouldering. Barbecue music, to be sure, but high-end barbecue music.

The Spoon wear their West African influences on their sleeve (Jerome is also part of the London Afrobeat collective Kokoroko): from the Wassalou folk of Aya & Bartholomew to the Malian groove of Path to Someone. Nevertheless, they are rendered with a distinct London sheen. On The Spoon, Jerome ends up sounding less like Fela Kuti and more like one of his London-based contemporaries, like Westerman or Nilüfer Yanya.

Jerome’s vocals meet somewhere between the sexy assertion of Tricky and the searching emotional cadence of Oliver Sims (of the xx), but the more buried in the mix, the better they sound. On Feet Down South, one of the only songs on the album where his vocals are central to the mix, he ends up sounding like a cockney Jamiroquai. The glib and on-the-nose lyrics don’t help either. “Knock Knock. Who is it? The fear is at the door.” Perhaps these songs would work better as instrumentals. Emma Madden

Maya Hawke, Moss, ★★★★☆

Stranger Things star (and daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman) Maya Hawke has grown bolder since her folk-pop debut Blush, which was a thoughtful look at being a young adult today. Hawke’s star continues to rise as her acting and music careers rise in parallel: her second album Moss arrives a week after her high-school comedy Do Revenge hits Netflix, and she’ll soon star alongside her mother in the thriller The Kill Room.

For Hawke—whose talent is evident, regardless of her family privilege—writing songs came from a love of writing poetry. Moss, titled after Hawke’s desire to shake off life’s excesses and look at what lurks beneath, poignantly and daringly explores themes such as heartache, family and loss.

On Driver, Hawke turns voyeuristic on her parents as she sings, “I picture my mom and dad / loose-necked in the back of a cab / I’d give everything I’d ever have to see them happy / Kissing just like that”. She even longs to be “the pervert driver”, before mentioning her mother again on the song Sweet Tooth, wanting to protect her: “Told my mother I loved her / And I’d lie to the accountant / If she want” . The joyful track features upbeat, twinkling guitars as she sings beautifully about love and gratitude.

Hawke is a skilled storyteller, and on Luna Moth she sings about an art teacher who once told her about how stepping on a Luna Moth (a rare, giant silk moth) can bring bad luck. On Hiatus, Hawke brings together her acting and musical worlds with the lyrics: “I kissed my co-star / in repetition anyway”. With soulful vocals, delicate stories and vulnerable lyrics, Moss makes for a delightful listen. Narzra Ahmed

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