★★ Close Your Eyes WILD COMBINATIONS. CD/DL/LP
Kiwi singer-songwriter invites the world round to play some records. Along with her bird-like voice, praise heaped upon Bic Runga over nearly 20 years has mostly concentrated on her songwriting. So it’s surprising that 10 of the 12 tracks on her fifth album are covers. Her record collection is, mercifully, one of depth and breadth, from Nick Drake and The Blue Nile to Kanye West. Produced, played and arranged by Runga and hubby Kody Nielson – once of angular “troublegum pop” Kiwi band The Mint Chicks – it veers from straightforward covers of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and Love’s Andmoreagain to a sunshine slant on Drake’s Things Behind The Sun and an anodyne wine bar keyboard duo version of Only Love Can Break Your Heart. As curious as some song choices are, however, it’s hard to fathom why such a talented songwriter needs to indulge her inner karaoke quite so far. Andy Fyfe
★★★★ Garden Of Ashes HEAVENLY. CD/DL/LP
Elemental bluesman gets in touch with his anger.
Camille Walsh, David Goldman
Following the dreamier reveries of 2015’s Heavy Love, which saw the Mark Lanegan collaborator reach his widest audiences yet, Duke Garwood’s seventh solo album is, he says, a darker, angrier experience. It’s a subtle rage, though: these songs are quiet storms, breaking like thunder – elemental and heavy, but beautiful too. With a rumbling murmur like JJ Cale down a well, Garwood prowls his songs like a bear with a bad head; the title track’s Beefheartian brooding, the
sinister, possessed, spectral Days Gone Old. But while he stirs an existential bleakness, these tunes soothe and charm. Garwood’s interlacing guitar lines threading together enveloping cocoons, with his spare, masterful arrangements of atmospheric ambience, subterranean growl, karmic guitar and simple percussion. Rueful, ruminative and ultimately hypnotic, Garden Of Ashes sings a welcome blues for the coming apocalypse. Stevie Chick
★★★★ Crystal Fairy IPECAC. CD/DL/LP
Killer stoner-punk and sludge-prog from Melvins/ Mars Volta supergroup Despite releasing some electrifying records fronting Le Butcherettes and as singer with Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s post-Mars Volta project Bosnian Rainbows, Teri T Gender Bender has yet to snare the kind of audience her firebreathing stage presence begs. Perhaps Crystal Fairy – pairing Teri and Omar with Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover of Melvins – will change that. It’s a brawny, twisted set, Gender Bender etching the band’s heavy stoner-punk riffage and gonzo prog twists with gothic incantations and wild howls. Omar and Buzz make a fine partnership, strafing Melvins’ proprietary blend of sludge with Iommiesque double-tracked leads, swinging between Snowblindera Sabbath slogs (the necksnapping Moth Tongue) and tempo-juggling proggy pelts (Bent Teeth) that make like a leaner, nastier Mars Volta. The most satisfying Melvinsrelated release since Nude With Boots in 2008, Crystal Fairyy also makes for a fine entry-point into Teri T Gender
Crystal Fairy: AKA Omar, Ms Gender Bender and a pair of Melvins.
Bender’s dark, gnarly and theatrical oeuvre. Stevie Chick
★★★★ Sports ONE LITTLE INDIAN. CD/DL/LP
Icelandic trio build on floorfilling post-punk blueprint. On their second fulllength release Fufanu shine a light into the bleak, midwinter darkness. Once a DJ team “bringing techno back to Reykjavik”, core songwriters Kaktus Einarsson and Gulli Einarsson betray their roots on the dancefloor-ready title track, threnodial synths merging with two basses, one seemingly manned by Movement-era Peter Hook. Given a consistent crispness by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner, its fizzing guitars, glacial electronics, metronomic beats, haunted melodies and Kaktus’s impenetrable wordplay reinvigorate templates first sketched by Joy Division, Comsat Angels or even prefame Simple Minds. If 2015’s invulnerable Few More Days To Go had a stealthy greatest hits feel to it, Sports is more circumspect and subtle. Yet when the hooks of White Pebbles, Bad Rockets or Syncing In slyly take hold, the effect is indelible. Andy Cowan
★★★★ Unfold IDEOLOGIC ORGAN. DL/LP
Long-running Australian jazz trio hit another career peak. WITH THEIR first LP for Stephen O’Malley’s label, Chris Abrahams, Lloyd Swanton and Tony Buck pay possibly conscious homage to one of the Sunn O))) man’s heroes with a work for piano, organ, shaker bells, wind chimes and acoustic bass that possesses the same deep mood of spiritual transcendence found inside the albums of Alice Coltrane. Rather than the usual Necks practice of one single 60-minute CD track, Unfold d is designed as a double LP, with four unnumbered side-long tracks of around 15 minutes each. In the past, shorter Necks tracks have felt like afterthoughts to the main extended work. Here they’re the perfect length, Swanton’s mantric bass, Abraham’s trippy organ drone and harp-bright keyboard glissandos, and Buck’s shimmering rattle-bag of Asian percussion instruments creating deep immersive dream landscapes of calm and uncertainty that seem to push at the boundaries of space and time.
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★★★★ Yesterday’s Gone VIRGIN EMI. CD/DL/LP
Homely London rapper’s erudite and insightful debut. Loyle Carner’s charisma is infectious. A proud mother’s boy who overcame ADHD, dyslexia and bullying before finding his voice, family life is at the core of his unfiltered, confessional style. Carner groans and coughs before easing into his agreeably adenoidal flow across the pitched-up gospel sample of The Isle Of Arran, its almost funereal wordplay contrasting with the dapper organic sound conjured by long-term production foil Rebel Kleff. That marriage of laidback jazz, block party boom-bap and pure pop hooks is stripped to the marrow on funky standout No CDs, a song that will resonate loudly with any nerdily obsessed music fans. Carner’s resonant voice quivers on non-mawkish homage Mrs C while his mum hymns her “proper Mowgli” on homely closer Suns Of Jean – listeners will warm to both on this disarming, relatable debut. Andy Cowan
Laurence Crane & Asamisimasa
Sound Of Horse
A threnody “against the immediate threat of abhorrent possible futures”, the Australian composer, plus avant-jazz-noise stars Mats Gustafsson, Mary Rapp, Tony Buck and Chris Abrahams transform the heavenly melodic decay of the Australian Voices national choir into a vast swirling dystopia of euphoric white noise.
The sound of Northern Europe in winter, Norwegian ensemble Asamisimasa breathe frosty life into the elemental compositions of English composer Crane; melodic drones of spare, hibernal beauty alongside surreal text pieces of softly-sung melancholy; the words lifted from a February 7, 1997 edition of The Guardian.
★★★ neoN AURORA. CD/DL
Following a 2013 collaboration with Susanna Wallumrød, for their debut album proper this 12-piece Oslo ensemble perform slow hazy, pieces by Alvin Lucier and Oren Ambarchi & James Rushford, alongside three new compositions by group members, which clatter, gabble, dance, sing and soar with a surreal bewitchment.
★★★ Omonia VELV L ET MODE. DL/LP
With repeated listens, this 28-minute waltz for piano, bare vocals and occasional chamber accompaniment from Copenhagen violinist and singer Line Gøttsche Dyrholm – late of duo Belle Ville – becomes gradually more peculiar. On this solo debut, Björkian pop elements fall away to reveal looking-glass narratives of solitary heartache, and melodies of oblique beguiling sorcery. AM