MUSIC | RECORDS ALBUM OF THE ISSUE
ELECTRONIC CARIBOU Suddenly (City Slang) ●●●●●
Suddenly is Caribou through and through: vivid, psychedelic, plenty of eclectic sampling and unshakeably catchy melodic chunks. Dan Snaith is a prolific musical experimenter, and the project was constructed from over 900 musical scraps gathered over five years, forming a kaleidoscopic patchwork quilt of an album. This vibrancy is quite dazzling at first, but the patchwork quilt soon unfolds, becoming more three-dimensional.
Each sonic colour – from the chugging house-y piano line on ‘Never Come Back’ to the disco guitar riff that precedes the ritualistic chanting on ‘Lime’ – has been selected and crafted with exacting detail. Lead single ‘You and I’ epitomises the music’s unpredictable, playful shape-shifting, as well as its emotional depth. Snaith’s tender falsetto sings of the wide-rippling reverberations that can come from unexpected changes in life, over a steady four- on-the-floor beat that abruptly breaks down into a cascading trap bridge. The whole Suddenly concept is explored musically, as well as thematically.
The first couple of moments of opener ‘Sister’ feature a very
brief sample of a tape recording Snaith’s mother sent home to his grandparents when he was a child, a highly personal vocal snippet buried among the patterns and swirls that surround it, making it indecipherable. Rather than working within any sonic convention or genre, Snaith plays endlessly with the limits of Caribou’s sound, reaching new emotional depth while retaining buoyancy and groove. (Kate Walker) ■ Out Fri 28 Feb.
INDIE / FOLK PICTISH TRAIL Thumb World (Fire Records) ●●●●●
Johnny Lynch’s eighth album as Pictish Trail begins amid gently scything synthesiser waves and a chorus of his own soft, multi-tracked vocals on ‘Repeat Neverending’. The song sounds like a kind of car boot Pink Floyd, or James in one of their most reflective moments, reinforcing the impression that Lynch is hard to categorise as an artist, yet a far more serious artist than his playfully stand-up, dress-up live shows suggest. He's still the Eigg-based commander-in-chief and party coordinator of the Lost
Map label, but his association with Fire Records – this is his second album with them, after 2016’s gorgeous Future Echoes – has been good for both parties. In the absence of any other easy genre description, we might call Thumb World folktronica, yet that doesn’t really sum up the distinctive aesthetic here; as the title suggests, this record conjures a very contemporary sense of geographic island isolation amid a decade when the whole world is no more than a thumbscroll away.
As ever, the only distant cousins to what Lynch is doing were the Beta Band. ‘Double Sided’ is a piece of softly driving Krautrock motorik, the combination of its insistent groove and Lynch’s warm vocal lending the feel of Kraftwerk on a sunny day; ‘Pig Nice’ and ‘Slow Memories’ are breezy pieces of electroacoustica with a sonorous tone, bearing traces of Radiohead circa two decades ago; and the playful overuse of effects while constructing something epic with ‘Lead Balloon’ and ‘Fear Anchor’ reminds of Super Furry Animals.
Such comparisons are filtered through Lynch’s own lo-fi approach, which gives his songs a singular charm, whether straying into the anxious, Graham Coxon- esque thrash of ‘Bad Algebra’, the weird, Kanye-like trap groove of ‘Hard Eyes’, or ‘Turning Back’s icy house rhythm. His ambition to conjure many of these key influences may exceed his ability, but that ambition appears limitless, and the reality of what he’s created makes for an eclectic and well- formed collection. (David Pollock) ■ Out Fri 28 Feb.
ALTERNATIVE POP MALKA I’m Not Your Soldier (Tantrum Records) ●●●●● FOLK ALEX REX Andromeda (Tin Angel) ●●●●●
God knows we all need some sunshine at this time of year. Fortunately, supplementary vitamin D is now obtainable through both store-bought tablets and the music of Scottish songwriter MALKA, aka former 6 Day Riot frontwoman Tamara Schlesinger. Returning with her first album since 2017’s politically-charged Ratatatat,
MALKA’s latest LP I’m Not Your Soldier finds the singer in contemplative mood. ‘There’s a lyric on “Get Up” about two worlds aligning,’ she explains in the press notes, ‘and that’s about the mum “me” and the musician “me” trying to balance my life again.’ Indeed, there’s a self-care vibe running through the record’s spirit from start to finish, with each twinkling verse succumbing to a radiant chorus. Sometimes less is more, however, and the phrase ‘bells and whistles’ seems
to have been taken literally on occasion. The joyous handclaps and tropical overtones of the aforementioned ‘Get Up’ are delightful, while ‘Taking it Back’ wouldn’t sound out of place on a Tove Lo record. But by the time ‘Moving Together’ arrives, the syrupy choruses have taken on a decidedly saccharine taste, leaving the listener craving something a little more substantial. Similarly, while inspirational messages running through I’m Not Your Soldier
are entirely commendable, the lyrical content occasionally feels disappointingly generic. ‘I didn’t light the fire,’ MALKA sings on first single ‘Tiny Fires,’
continuing, ‘and now it’s burning higher.’ Aside from rivalling Billy Joel in the great pantheon of pop star arson-deniers, it’s all a little underwhelming. Nonetheless, when she gets it right, as on the indie-pop stomp of ‘Don’t Believe It’, everything does feel a little brighter in the world for a minute or two. Much like the blister-pack variety, I recommend taking just one or two doses from I’m Not Your Solider, and then marching on with the rest of your day. (Matthew Neale) ■ Out Fri 28 Feb.
84 THE LIST 1 Feb–31 Mar 2020
Ominously billed as ‘the product of two years spent in therapy, the gym and on Tinder’, any suggestion that this third album by Alex ‘Rex’ Neilson will be heavy going is dispelled by the soft, comforting words of his revered collaborator, Shirley Collins. Her speaking voice infuses the opening ‘Song of Self Doubt’, a mesmerising mantra of birdsong and wind chimes, soothing and unsettling all at once with its uncanny metaphors: ‘I waited for you all day amongst the ruins in the abandoned castle of my body’.
Neilson (founder of Trembling Bells) is a distinctly personal songwriter – last year’s second album, Otterburn, was written about the sudden death of his younger brother – and while any true-to-life backstory to this record has been omitted from its narrative, it certainly works as a break-up album, even if it isn’t intended as such. ‘I Am Happy’ surges against the hypnotic funeral march of a repeated electric guitar riff, with Neilson apparently yearning to convince himself of the title’s statement. He sings his own eulogy and bemoans ‘the hazards of feeling good’ on ‘Funeral Music for Alex Rex’, and tells of heartbreak and loss amid ‘Coward’s Song’, with afternotes of Leonard Cohen or Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, who has already recorded his own version of this song.
There’s a conventional country-rock feel to ‘Rottweilers’ and ‘Alibi Blues’,
and a soft, devotional reflection on grief amid ‘The Uses of Trauma’, with visceral, angular pain being aurally exorcised on ‘I’m Not Hurting No More’. The closing ‘Pass the Mask’ (about, we are told, ‘the anxiety of childbearing by someone who has never borne a child’) is a slow-burn epic, and a raw, beautiful coda to an album whose keenly felt emotions are eloquently shared throughout. ‘Nothing can heal or destroy you better than time’, sings Neilson, and we feel gravity press on our shoulders as on his. (David Pollock) ■ Out Fri 7 Feb.