Category Archives: Album reviews

Imelda May: It’s a sin what we’ve done to love

Imelda May | Life. Love. Flesh. Blood

Imelda May isn’t the first. From ‘Blood On The Tracks’ reflecting Bob Dylan’s crumbling marriage to the death of Sting’s parents casting a shadow over ‘The Soul Cages’, real life has a way of working its way into a musician’s work. But never before has it brought about as striking a transformation as on ‘Life. Love. Flesh. Blood’.

Gone is a marriage of 18 years. Gone is that hair. And, most importantly, gone is that big-band-swing rockabilly sound, replaced by something far more intimate, restrained – and powerful.  

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The Black Angels: Death Song

The Black Angels | Death Song

“How can I stay with no hope, with no chance/ As I’m travelling upside down into a world of the unknown?” laments Alex Maas on ‘Life Song’, the astral-travelling finale of The Black Angels’ bleakest album yet.

Largely written and recorded during the most divisive, brutal, and ugly US election campaign in recent memory, these are meditations on survival, violence, love, greed, hate, devotion, anxiety, and capitalism. Desperate songs for desperate times.

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Rainbreakers: Rise Up

Rainbreakers | Rise Up

(Photo credit: Mark Lloyd)

Rainbreakers are full of surprises. There’s only so much four men can do across five songs with just guitar, bass, drums, and vocals, but every time you think you’ve got the band all figured out, their music takes an unexpected turn.

It all begins with a psychedelic guitar riff embellishing the vintage blues rock of opener ‘On My Own’. And as Ben Edwards sings about the realisation that no relationship is better than a destructive one, the song settles into a comfortable groove – until lead guitarist Charlie Richards throws down a hot-blooded solo that transforms the song into something all the more urgent.

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K. Flay: Every Where Is Some Where

K. Flay|Every Where Is Some Where

“My music,” says K. Flay’s Facebook bio, “is a version of indie hip hop, mixed with electronics, mixed with me headbanging. But I’m still figuring it out.”

Turns out, that’s not entirely true. Listen to the the LA-based singer-songwriter’s second album, and it’s clear she’s already got it all figured out. Her follow-up to 2014’s ‘Life As A Dog’ is lyrically powerful and musically ambitious. Against a backdrop that confidently fuses the alternative rock of Garbage and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the industrial pop of AWOLNATION and latter day Depeche Mode, and the hip-hop swagger of Dizzee Rascal and Wiley, she tackles self-acceptance, personal insecurities, the reality TV star now in the White House, and issues of empowerment.

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Mastodon: The end is not the end, you see

Mastodon | Emperor of Sand

Mastodon are no strangers to concept albums. ‘Leviathan’, their breakthrough, is a thunderous, metal retelling of ‘Moby Dick’. ‘Blood Mountain’, its follow-up, recounts the quest for a crystal skull punctuated by encounters with tree-men and a psychic one-eyed sasquatch. Their crowning glory, 2009’s ‘Crack The Skye’, deals with an astral-travelling paraplegic who reaches outer space, flies too close to the sun, burns off the golden umbilical cord attached to his solar plexus, is sucked through a wormhole into the spirit world, possesses Rasputin and usurps the Russian czar before escaping through the crack in the sky and running into the devil.

Mastodon are no (longer) strangers to brevity and focus. In the ensuing years, working with producers like Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Deftones, The Hold Steady) and the guy who did Ed Sheeran’s ‘Galway Girl’ has taught them that songs can be so much more than a series of technical riffs, incomprehensible time changes, and blistering solos all performed with absolute precision. Need proof? ‘Curl Of The Burl’ and ‘High Road’ are two of the decade’s finest hard rock singles.

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Craig Finn: We All Want The Same Things

Craig Finn | We All Want The Same Things

Craig Finn gets it. Solo projects are meant for adventure. Going it alone, only to hire a bunch of new guys to approximate what you do in your day job, is pointless. And so, picking up where 2015’s ‘Faith In The Future’ left off, The Hold Steady frontman’s third LP continues his exploration of new sounds and storytelling styles.

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Ed Sheeran: Divide and conquer

Ed Sheeran | ÷

Blame Michael Jackson. With ‘Thriller’ he created the ultimate crossover album, its something-for-everyone approach – the R&B of ‘PYT’, the rock of ‘Beat It’, the adult contemporary schmaltz of ‘The Girl Is Mine’ – helping seven of the nine tracks reach the US Top 10.

Over 30 years later, in an increasingly fractured music scene, pop stars are finding the approach more essential than ever. Why else would Beyonce put a country song on ‘Lemonade’? Or Ed Sheeran shift from hip-hop folk (‘Eraser’) to rousing AOR singalong (‘Castle On The Hill’) to blue-eyed soul (‘Dive’) to gyrating club anthem (‘Shape Of You’) to smooth piano-and-acoustic-guitar ballad (‘Perfect’) to Irish jig (‘Galway Girl’) to classic ‘70s singer-songwriter confessional complete with gospel backing vocals (‘Happier’) on ‘÷’?

It’s certainly paid off. Nine songs from the LP entered the UK Top 10 simultaneously; all 16 landed in the Top 20. But such success can’t just be down to umpteen board meetings, consumer surveys, and compilation by committee. Sheeran and his collaborators – Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid, Perry/Bieber/Rihanna hitmaker Benny Blanco, One Republic’s Ryan Tedder, Foy Vance, et al – know how to create irresistible melodies and instantly memorable lyrics, no matter the genre. Listen to any of the tracks just once and it’s guaranteed to be lodged in your head – at least until the next one ends. It’s the Rag’n’Bone Man ‘Human’ effect, but Sheeran’s no one-hit wonder – he repeats the feat over and over and over again.

The effect’s so intoxicating that you’ll think nothing of listening to a fiddle solo – repeatedly. You’ll probably even catch yourself humming along.

  • Ed Sheeran plays The O2 on 1 & 2 May and 22 June 2017.