Benjamin Dean Wilson

Small Talk

(Tapete Records)

★★★

With a background in film and theatre, it’s hardly surprising that visual artist Benjamin Dean Wilson’s debut album unfolds like acts of a play, and showcases the Oklahoma native’s gift for poetic storytelling. “I’ve been heroes, sure… I’ve been villains more / But I mostly be in-betweens,” he sings on the sprightly and sprawling lead single Sadie and the Fat Man, the wordy troubadour building colourful, twisting narratives around offbeat characters, like a folk mongrel spawned by Jonathan Richman and Elvis Costello humping Dylan’s leg. Recorded in a bedroom studio and laced throughout with dry wit (including the jazz-folk-inspired album cover... at least I hope it’s intended to be playfully ironic), Small Talk is very much a one-man show, with Wilson handling production duties and playing all of the instruments across the six lengthy tracks. There’s nothing lo-fi about this debut though – it’s a warmly confident and accomplished album that concludes with the 14-minute Rick, I Tick Tock, and suggests there’ll be plenty more charming tales to come.

Eagulls

Ullages

(Partisan Records)

★★★★

Two years on from Eagull’s acclaimed self-titled debut of murky post-punk loveliness, Ullages finds the Yorkshire quintet building on their next-best-thing-since-the-last-next-best-thing hype, with a sophomore album stuffed with grand aspirations. Recorded in a converted church (like all gloomy and gothy music should be) and mixed by Craig Silvey (Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails), the more expansive and, dare I say it, mature sound is quite a contrast to the intense searing urgency of their debut, the music now shimmering with a mournfully melodic edge and a seemingly newfound optimism. While Ullages continues to mine the best bits of angsty synth pop, this time around the influences are drawn more from the 1980s, guitars chiming where they once buzzed. It’s easy to pick out snippets of Marr, Morrissey and The Disintegration-era Cure, vocalist George Mitchell sounding even more like the mopey Robert Smith before he became the slightly chubby middle-aged goth father, but it never sounds derivative. Rarely do young bands spread their wings so valiantly. Eagulls, though, are soaring.

The Duke Spirit

Kin

(Ex Voto Records)

★★★★

For some unjust reason, dreamy indie rockers The Duke Spirit never quite achieved the acclaim and adoration they so rightly deserved. Perhaps victims of major label overexpectations or simply being in the wrong place at slightly the wrong time, the underrated London-based five-piece, led by the powerful and sultry tones of frontwoman Liela Moss, dropped off the radar in 2011. Although they never split, Moss says the band all “took responsibility for quite intense personal experiences for a few years”, but are now ready to “fit things back together again” with their fourth – and what promises to be their most personal – album, Kin. Headswimming opener Blue and Yellow Light, featuring the gruff guest backing vocals of Mark Lanegan (who also appears on the gorgeous and minimalist Wounded Wing) and the album’s haunting highlight, Here Comes The Vapour, certainly bring a more ethereal vibe to the shoegaze rock, while the driving beat of Side by Side and the swooping chorus of Hands show The Duke Spirit haven’t lost a step in the past five years.

Gregory Porter

Take Me To The Alley

(Blue Note)

★★★

There’s no denying that Gregory Porter has a bloody great voice, as magnificent as his smile is beaming. It’s a majestic ocean liner of a voice, so huge and booming it could clear safe passage through the busiest of harbours. It’s a beautiful baritone that has earned the 44-year-old a Grammy (for 2014’s best jazz vocal album) and the accolade of “America’s next great jazz singer”, but while the jazz world fell head over heels long ago for Porter’s soulful tones, it was last year’s thumping Disclosure single, Holding On, that drew the attention of the pop kids. On Take Me To The Alley, Porter’s highly anticipated follow-up to his million-selling, Grammy-winning Blue Note debut, Liquid Spirit, the Californian singer-songwriter has recorded his own version of Holding On, a stripped-back piano ballad that claws at the heart strings. The rest of the album follows in the same leisurely vibe as Porter sticks to his mellow jazz roots and showcases, once again, his mastery of soul with that wonderful voice.