Album reviews: Hymns, The Waiting Room, Pond Scum and Not to Disappear
Latest releases from Bloc Party, Tindersticks, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Daughter
With the departure of two of its founding members, Matt Tong and Gordon Moakes, along with the burgeoning electronic solo career of frontman Kele Okereke, the odds of a follow up to Bloc Party’s 2012 album Four were looking pretty slim. So when the British indie rockers returned from their lengthy hiatus with news of a fifth album, Hymns, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to hear they were seeking a new direction.
Sounding “like nothing we’ve done before”, frequency-shifting lead single The Love Within certainly bears hallmarks of Okereke’s recent dancey direction. The driving beat of The Good News, with its choir-like chorus and slide guitar, has touches of Depeche Mode, showing that Okereke and guitarist Russell Lissack, now joined by drummer Louise Bartle and bassist Justin Harris, of Portland duo Menomena, still know how to rip an incessantly catchy melody. The fragile Exes and the spiky Virtue hark back a little to the post punk tunes that brought them fame on their debut Silent Alarm, but as Okereke states “It’s a new day for Bloc Party”.
The Waiting Room
Opening with a cover version of Follow Me, Bronislaw Kaper’s theme from the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty, the 10th studio album and follow up to 2012’s rather excellent The Something Rain, sees the British indie rock group Tindersticks at their creative peak. More than two decades after their self-titled debut, The Waiting Room is an ambitious collaborative project of music and film, each of the 12 tracks accompanied by a short visual interpretation by a different filmmaker, but it’s the dark and brooding music that really does the talking.
Still drawing heavily from Nick Cave, with added brass arrangements by Julien Siegel, lead single We Are Dreamers! throbs with a scorched desolate beauty and features the piercing vocals of Savages’ Jehnny Beth. Folk singer Lhasa de Sela makes a posthumous appearance on the beautiful plinking lullaby Hey Lucinda, a stripped-down duet recorded in 2010, and built around de Sela’s huskiness and the baritone of singer Stuart A. Staples. A haunting masterpiece.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy
While the famous BBC Peel Sessions ended with the death of the legendary radio DJ John Peel in 2004, the long-running tradition of live studio recordings started by the broadcaster in 1967 left an extensive catalogue of music to devour. Out of the thousands of sessions, six were recorded over an eight-year period by indie-folk maestro William Oldham (under his guise of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy), three of which appear together in Pond Scum.
Accompanied by Arbouretum’s David Heumann on the first four tracks, the remaining eight are raw solo performances by Oldham, highlighted by the previously unreleased original Beezle, and a cover of Prince’s The Cross. Armed only with an acoustic guitar the folk Prince transforms the funk Prince’s classic from Sign O’ The Times into a ramshackle two-minute campfire ditty, “Black day, stormy night / No love, no hope in sight” sounding profoundly reflective when stripped of the original’s gospel soul.
Not To Disappear
Following up their intimate and acclaimed debut If You Leave, the second album from Daughter opens with an intense and sweeping track entitled New Ways, but it’s very much hypnotic business as usual for the London based alt-rock trio. Creating magnetic dream pop atmospheres Swiss-born guitarist Igor Haefeli and French drummer Remi Aguilella provide the perfect lavish layers for Elena Tonra’s haunting poetry of numbness and loneliness. The singer/guitarist may have improvised many of the lyrics during the recording process, but Tonra’s angelic hushed tones only add weight to the sadness that runs throughout the album.
Lead single Doing the Right Thing is written from the perspective of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s, “I’ll lose my mind, then I’ll lose my children, then I’ll lose my love” she sings over ethereal textures. It’s a frank and deeply emotional song, but as the vocalist says, “I think with this album, there’s less hiding”. The tone is lightened a little on Alone/With You, Tonra admitting wryly, “I hate living with you / I should get a dog or something” but overall it’s a work of heavenly beauty.