St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION
Annie Clark a.k.a St. Vincent changes tack from the fuzzy, cerebral electro-pop of her last self-titled LP, instead pitching her penchant for the guitar driven mini-epics with a sombre earnesty. With the exception of ‘New York’, the standout tracks ‘Los Ageless’ and ‘Masseduction’ which, while inescapably familiar, are richer and more refined than their noisier predecessors. From techno to art-rock, Clark broadens her scope and thus dials (slightly) down her radical edge. Though veering towards trite, the softer ballads are bound up in an ethereal haze of lush strings and sparkling synths. Even if the album’s overall tone feels puzzled and unfinished, MASSEDUCTION showcases St Vincent’s emboldened range and strength beneath those taut, jagged melodies– though her treasured digital-punk mystique doesn’t blend so seamlessly with the more minimal, tender moments.
Bibio – Phantom Brickworks
You might be taken aback by Bibio’s new album, which is less of a follow up than a detour perhaps. Gone are the signature endearing medleys of humble acoustics, sweet vocals and ghostlike textures – we have instead a vast and sparse family of atmospherics that feel decisively more like Eno & Bowie than Bibio’s folky electronics. While it may be hard for Phantom Brickworks to escape the dreaded ‘background music’ category, there is still much to be admired here. While its formula that steadily repeats a minimal melody ad infinitum is hard to deny, this does little to detract from the album’s intense yet delicate ambience. Bibio here broadens his pallette, incorporating Eastern instruments along with shimmering piano to conjure a spellbinding, oceanic peacefulness.
The Smiths – The Queen is Dead [Deluxe Edition]
Long overdue a decent remaster (even severe Smiths fans will admit the dull and mousey quality of The Queen is Dead compared to rest of the Smith’s catalogue), the new reissue of the Smiths’ magnum opus comes replete with a juicy collection of bonuses, including remastered demos, B-sides and rare live tracks. There is plenty here to satiate die-hard fans; most spectacularly of all will be the mere presence of unfinished Smiths tracks. Yet though these are charming enough and bloody good too, it only reinforces the (justified) image of the precision in Morrissey and Marr’s craft. The remaster gives extra muscle to solemn anthems ‘Cemetery Gates’ and ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’, and most emphatically the album’s soaring highlight ‘There is a Light’ gains a revitalised pulse. The Queen is Dead is arguably the best way in for those unacquainted with The Smiths, and if you can overcome the marmite moroseness of Morrissey’s lyrical style and demeanour, Johnny Marr’s stirring and hypnotic mastery of the guitar alone will be enough to persuade you why such a fuss is still made over the band. As it is, this is a timely gift (and a reminder) for those like me who consider The Smith’s last truly great album an exemplar in the marriage of Morrissey’s literary wit, as romantic as it is bitter and melancholy, with Marr’s towering wizardry.