MUSIC | RECORDS ALBUM OF THE ISSUE
JAZZ / FUNK THUNDERCAT It Is What It Is (Brainfeeder) ●●●●● At its worst, jazz fusion revels in vulgar onanism and mannered slickness. But at its best, it’s a genre of dazzling ambition and freewheeling experimentation. That spirit of adventure has rubbed off on Thundercat and his close collaborator Flying Lotus, who gleefully join
the dots between jazz fusion, funk, hip hop and bass music.
INDIE SAVAGE MANSION Weird Country (Lost Map) ●●●●●
Savage Mansion’s Craig Angus describes ‘Karaoke’, the opening track on his band’s second album Weird Country, as ‘an homage to Glasgow, a . . . complex, troubled, fucked-up place,’ and it’s a feeling which permeates the record. ‘When that train hits Central / you’ll sing all my favourite songs,’ he pines, as slide guitar rings in the background alongside buoyant piano, soundtracking his evocation of a perfect night out in the city. ‘I might stick to this town now, forever / forever.’
As country – of the alt variety, in particular – goes, this follow-up to last year’s Revision Ballads isn’t all that weird, but different sides of Glasgow’s musical influences are illustrated on the record; particularly those with a transatlantic view, especially quirkily melodic, Pavement-style alternative rock and a dose of the classic country-rock sound of the American west coast of 50 years gone by. The influence of Teenage Fanclub (and in turn, of their influences) is strong here, amid the squalling indie-rock of ‘Monument’ and the slowed-down groove and yearning harmonies of ‘Screaming Speed Machine’.
Thundercat, aka Stephen Bruner, came to the attention of many With members of Catholic Action and Martha Ffion’s band playing alongside
through his virtuosic bass eruptions on Kamasi Washington’s spiritual jazz opus The Epic. His own music is full of liquid runs and low-end squelch, but it’s primarily characterised by his sweet voice and airy melodies. That’s why the appearance of yacht rock superstars Kenny Loggins and Michael MacDonald on 2017’s Drunk made perfect sense: that combination of musical sophistication and lyrical honesty is what he aspires to. It Is What It Is retains the goofy humour of its predecessor, but it’s more reflective. On ‘Fair Chance’, Thundercat addresses the death of his friend, rapper Mac Miller. A wistful R&B number, the song is a moving exploration of grief. Elsewhere, Thundercat deftly combines velvety smoothness with formal complexity and outlandish funkadelia. ‘Lost In Space/Great Scott’ finds him at his most vulnerable, as strange jazz harmonies float under his vocal melody. ‘I Love Louis’ places galloping 8/8 drums under a bright Scritti Politti-like melody and hazy organ, while ‘Interstellar Love’ features Kamasi Washington blowing lush tenor sax. Pick of the bunch is ‘Black Qualls’, co-written with Steve Arrington of funk legends Slave, where the pair trade verses with The Internet’s Steve Lacy and Childish Gambino to outrageously funky effect. (Stewart Smith) ■ Out Fri 3 Apr.
him, as well as Lost Map talisman Romeo Taylor, Angus’ songs are marked not just by his enjoyable adherence to one version of a classic indie sound, but by the presence of his own personality and humour as a songwriter and lyricist. ‘My search engine’s Chrome / look at all of my tabs,’ he announces with a silly flourish on ‘Taking the Four’; and on the title track, a travelogue of the city populated by
characters like ‘Mount Florida’s Neil Young’, the double-meaning of that title is made clear.
With songs about Italian immigration into Scotland (‘Old Country’) and the Spanish Civil War (‘The International’), the record’s themes of cultural openness, internationalism and self-critique aren’t far from the surface, yet they’re delivered in such glowing, self-possessed fashion as to be only available to those who wish to pick them out. The music is for all. (David Pollock) ■ Out Fri 3 Apr.
INDIE FOLK M WARD Migration Stories (ANTI) ●●●●● ELECTRONIC LITTLE DRAGON New Me, Same Us (Ninja Tune) ●●●●●
M Ward’s tenth solo album ostensibly does what it says on the tin by offering ten songs on the theme of human migration, all inspired by real-life tales gleaned from the media, friends and family (Ward is a grandson of Mexican immigrants).
Inevitably, the album feels timely, but it is also timeless. Migration – or, more pointedly, immigration – is a perpetual hot topic but Ward moves to take the heat out of the debate with his terminally laid-back odysseys, offering more an impressionistic, metaphysical vision of ‘a maybe-era when movement is free again’.
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Little Dragon. Legend has it that the band’s name was an adoption of the nickname given to singer Yukimi Nagano for her fiery temper. Artistic disagreement has at times threatened the productivity of this self-described ‘four strong wills who find it really frustrating to compromise’. After decades of making music together, New Me, Same Us represents a turning point for the band, and a renewed sense of kinship has come from a focus on shedding ego and seeing themselves as part of a bigger picture.
The results are as restful as the hoped-for respite at the end of a long journey, Throughout their 20-year run together, Little Dragon have enjoyed a good
although the languid jazz-tinged ‘Migration of Souls’ is also touched with a melancholy which suggests that the narrator is not so certain that ‘I’ll get back to you’. The easy listening country blues ‘Coyote Mary’s Traveling Show’ is also coloured with the mild ache in his delivery, but ‘Heaven’s Nail and Hammer’ is a supremely chilled lo-fi ballad, with Ward kicking back over a gentle shuffle rhythm, picking with relaxed resonance over the additional balm of soothing backing vocals.
‘Independent Man’ goes with the slightly grittier palette of juddering rhythm, burnished guitar and space age siren vocal effects, while the rapturous indie pop ramble ‘Unreal City’ quickens the pace to what passes for an upbeat number, capturing the nervous excitement in encountering brave new environments.
The album features one cover – the contented cowboy ballad ‘Along the Santa Fe Trail’ – and one instrumental, the 90-second ‘Rio Drone’ which conjures forward momentum in a most unhurried fashion. Migration Stories is not strictly a solo effort, as this serial collaborator hunkered down in wintry Montreal with members of Arcade Fire and producer Craig Silvey to produce a comfort blanket of an album. (Fiona Shepherd) ■ Out Fri 3 Apr.
86 THE LIST 1 Apr–31 May 2020
share of success, receiving Grammy nominations and much polite critical applause. They've also done their fair share of collaborations over the years, with the likes of SBTRKT and DJ Shadow. This light simmer has never quite come to the boil, but they continue to churn out their escapist alt-pop, and their fifth full-length release washes over you in a wave of just what you’d expect. Lead single ‘Hold On’ lays down a funky, bass-heavy groove, with a
smattering of cowbell sparkling on top. Nagano’s vocal is as soulful and arresting as ever, but by the time the singalong chorus arrives, things are already falling a bit flat. ‘Rush’ is a refreshing breeze of beachy guitar and a light cumbia/reggaeton-esque groove, but again it lacks a good catchy hook. There are plenty of playful timbral moments – the East Asian piano sounds on ‘Kids’, the whimsical choir of synths on ‘Stay Right Here’ – but these are all quickly lost in layers of sonic stodge.
New Me, Same Us is a pleasant listen. Whack it on in the background during a bright spring morning and it would probably go down a treat. Perhaps it’s down to their new- found collective harmony, but Little Dragon’s newest release is just missing a little bit of spark that would make it more memorable. (Kate Walker) ■ Out now.