By Evan Milton Perhaps it happens every half-decade, or maybe it’s always there but suddenly more noticeable at the five-year mark – art and artists dipping into the origins of their oeuvres, creating tributes and paying homage to those who inspired them, or releasing works that are a return to form. There’s a subtle zeitgeist at work when the Star Wars franchise is rolling out another instalment 38 years later; when movie screens are filled with characters like Iron Man or Black Widow that started as teenage comic books, and when top-selling new Hollywood series are adaptations of older ones, like House of Cards (originally set in Britain’s post-Thatcherite realpolitik), or Homeland (which started life as an Israeli TV show). Heck, even the Shades of Grey and Girl With the Dragon Tattoo boilerplates are churning out mid-decade iterations. Happily, the world of music can also yield gems when old seams are revisited. Take Drake, dropping a surprise retail mixtape, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, which loses the overproduced commercialism to see him freestyling like the best. Chamber rockers Muse are probably at their peak with Drones, and even electronica’s enfant terrible Aphex Twin made good with this year’s Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments after last year’s lukewarm Syro. Björk’s ninth full-length album, Vulnicura is her most lush and soul-searching yet, and even D’Angelo is back with Black Messiah, which is every bit as good as the groundbreaking Voodoo. The year’s most groundbreaking album so far, a three-hour jazz epic from Kamasi Washington, the saxophonist who hipped up Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, is studiously and intentionally a revisiting of the jazz genius John Coltrane’s idiom in a modern context. Even Flying Lotus, the much-heralded danger-man of the drum ‘n bass scene, has an album out that’s confronting the oldest of musical themes: confronting one’s own mortality.★ GIORGIO MORODER DÊJA-VU You know him from Daft Punk’s 2013 hit ‘Giorgio By Moroder’; the Scarface soundtrack, the ’80s and ’90s hits he produced for Donna Summer, David Bowie and Cher, and the cheesy love theme from Top Gun. He’s 75 and billed as the godfather of electronic dance. After the Daft Punk collab, production and remix offers flooded in. Instead, the synth-pop pioneer made an album. Vocalists include Sia, Kylie Minogue and Britney Spears doing ‘Tom’s Diner’. Stand-out tracks are the string-section driven anthem ‘Don’t Let Go’ and the dance-floor winner ‘Diamonds’, voiced by Ugandandescended house diva-ette Charli XCX. VARIOUS NINA REVISITED: A TRIBUTE TO NINA SIMONE Nina Simone, the embattled singer and civil rights activist, inspired artists as diverse as Miriam Makeba and John Legend, and put her jazzy spell on a new audience with ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’. This album accompanies a new Netflix documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? and features long-standing Simone supporter Lauryn Hill (‘Feeling Good’); rising R & B star Jazmine Sullivan (‘Baltimore’); jazz luminary Gregory Porter (‘Sinnerman’); hip-hop royalty Mary J. Blige (‘Misunderstood’); Usher (‘My Baby’); Common with Lalah Hathaway (‘YG&B’); as well as Nina’s daughter, Lisa (‘I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl’). FELIX LABAND DEAF SAFARI A decade after the Pietermaritzburg-born electronic wunderkind shot up the international charts, he’s back with another album elocuting the South African psyche. It’s brighter than some previous works, but every bit as edgy – and whimsical. How can anyone blend melancholic keyboard refrains, introspective clarinet, samples of socio-political speech-mongering and kwaito-house? Laband has inspired two generations of beatmakers and his long-anticipated return more than delivers. Even better: Laband is one of those rare studio producers who plays live sets using the original multitracks, rather than just dropping beats. See him live, or head to iTunes. Collectors will want the 2-LP vinyl set. SUFJAN STEVENS CARRIE & LOWELL Long before the hipsters adopted nu-folk, there was Sufjan Stevens. There have been experiments with electro-acoustics, orchestral suites and the transformation of his seminal album, Illinois into DJ Tor’s Illinoize. On Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan is at his most bare, sparse and personal, clothing introspection and revelation in songs of aching beauty. This isn’t Sufjan the conceptualist or mythologist, but a deeply personal work titled for the mother who left him when he was ‘three, maybe four’ and the stepfather who tried to raise him. The ghosts in the room are manifest in the ghost in his voice, and this is by far his best work. thirty-one
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