Album reviews round-up: Biffy Clyro, Roisin Murphy, William Bell and more
Biffy Clyro, Ellipsis
Download: Wolves Of Winter; Animal Style; Friends And Enemies
A far more compact and satisfying set than 2013’s sprawling Opposites double-album, Ellipsis finds Biffy Clyro reverting for the most part to the core blend of melody and heaviness that draws comparisons with Muse. “Wolves Of Winter” opens the album on a juggernaut riff that rather belies its theme of animal stealth and self-sufficiency, a motif taken up in “Animal Style” in similarly aggressive manner: “My head’s a fucking carnival … I’m just a fucking animal”. They’re more restrained for the gentle country-rock of “Small Wishes” and the reflective “Re-Arrange” and “Medicine”, though it’s clear they feel more at home punching out the drum-driven, staccato damped guitar riff of “Friends And Enemies”; and more aligned with its attitude, too: “With friends like you, who needs enemies?”.
Woodkid, Nils Frahm, Robert De Niro, Ellis
Download: Winter Morning I; Winter Morning II
Set on former immigrant entrypoint Ellis Island, Ellis is an installation and film by artist JR about immigration to the US. This two-part score by Woodkid and Nils Frahm comprises, in the first section, gentle repeated piano motifs in the manner of Philip Glass or Ludovico Einaudi, unobtrusive but wielding subtle emotional power, pregnant with expectation from strings rising in the background. Opening with a low drone, the second part’s desolate harmonium progression furnishes a sombre backdrop for Robert De Niro’s narration of a young boy’s tale of escaping European turmoil – “My mother put a note in my suitcase telling me to do something to make her proud” – only to be refused entry to America, and the ensuing consequences. Quietly absorbing, it’s like a miniature version of a Robert Ashley opera.
William Bell, This Is Where I Live
Download: The Three Of Me; The House Always Wins; Poison In The Well; Born Under A Bad Sign; Mississippi-Arkansas Bridge
William Bell has always eschewed routine romantic cliches, bringing a unique viewpoint to soul classics such as “You Don’t Miss Your Water” and “Private Number”, his 1968 hit duet with Judy Clay. This excellent new album, his first in a decade, continues in like manner with songs like “The House Always Wins” (love as a risky gamble), “Poison In The Well” (love as a poisoned chalice), and the thoughtful “The Three Of Me” (“the man I was, the man I am, and the man I want to be”). Elsewhere, there’s a suitably chastened version of his classic “Born Under A Bad Sign”, while “Mississippi-Arkansas Bridge” brings an “Ode To Billie Joe” mood to the tale of an inter-state tryst. It’s all delivered with welcoming warmth and humility, over impeccably buttoned-down soul-funk grooves.
Róisín Murphy, Take Her Up To Monto
Download: Mastermind; Pretty Gardens; Lip Service
Recorded at the same sessions that produced the acclaimed Hairless Toys album, Take Her Up To Monto finds Róisín Murphy and long-term musical collaborator Eddie Stevens pushing the synth-pop envelope in diverse new directions, whether it’s the switchback alternations between chattering, percussive techno figures and resonant, fusion-style electric piano in “Mastermind”, the jazz samba of “Lip Service”, or the pizzicato synth, xylophone and glockenspiel so rudely sundered by doomy electronic interjections in “Pretty Gardens”. Aptly, the latter concerns the deceptive nature of appearances and the appeal of the imperfect, Murphy apologising for letting “my pretty garden grow wild”. Her debt to Grace Jones is evident in the elegant melodrama of “Ten Miles High”, but her application ranges much further on an album of intriguing strategies.
Download: High Pressure Front; Learn Something; Silence In Between
Throws is the latest project from Mike Lindsay and Sam Genders, both previously of innovative folktronica band Tunng, and now here reunited in Lindsay’s Reykjavik studio. The 10 songs of this debut album are all about character, change and companionship, from various angles: over scuttling percussion and enigmatic piano, “Punch Drunk Sober” concerns the corrosive effect of a combative relationship, while the folksy guitar and violin of “Silence In Between” surveys the shortcomings that threaten such an alliance, Lindsay acknowledging, “I’m still a fool, but now I know it”. Elsewhere, both “High Pressure Front” and “Knife” are resolute assertions of self-belief, an idiosyncratic character reflected in the album’s blend of grunting synthesiser, cascading African-style guitars, bustling percussion and the strings of Icelandic quartet Amiina.
Various Artists, Beyond Addis Vol 2
Download: Kingdom Of D’mt; Musicawi Silt; Anbessa; Safari Strut
This compilation explores the legacy of Ethiopian jazz pioneer Mulatu Astatke, through modern examples demonstrating how his rumbling camel-gait “chik chikka” and “montuno” beats and questing horn riffs have infected contemporary jazz-dance grooves. Sometimes are covers of authentic Ethio-jazz classics, like “Musicawi Silt”, in a flute and horn-heavy funk version by Daptone boss Gabe Roth’s combo The Daktaris. Elsewhere, artists from as far afield as Amsterdam and Copenhagen, Berlin and Beirut offer their individual crossover blends of funk, jazz and Ethiopian rhythms, spiced with unexpected elements, such as the waspish fuzz guitar and marimba of The Whitefield Brothers’ “Safari Strut”, or the high, wheedling synth line of Karl Hector & The Malcouns’ “Kingdom Of D’mt”.