Having recently returned to London after uprooting her family to California for two years, folktronica queen Beth Orton embraces a period of “radical creative change” on her seventh album, Kidsticks. Ever since the breakout success of her 1996 album, Trailer Park, Orton has mastered the introspective folk-rock ditty, pairing her fragile and dreamy vocals with warm acoustic melodies and a knack for a pop hook. She has proved captivating for two decades now, but it was difficult to ever see Orton deviating from this well-trodden path. Enter co-producer Andrew Hung of synth duo F*** Buttons, a regular visitor to Hong Kong. Hung, who met Orton after remixing one of the tracks off her previous album, Sugaring Season, encouraged the singer to ditch the guitar for the keyboard, and the results are invigorating. The bass-driven funk of Moon takes Orton back to the days of her Chemical Brothers collaboration, but here her vocals confidently command the groove, as they do on Wave and the infectious synth-pop of 1973, Orton sounding remarkably confident and carefree without her trusty six-string sidekick.
I doubt if an article has been written about Marissa Nadler, the Boston-based singer-songwriter with the intoxicating soprano, that hasn’t focussed on the haunting and gothic vibe of her music and poetic imagery. That’s certainly not about to change with her seventh album, the darkly mesmerising Strangers, but when you sit somewhere elegantly in between Kate Bush and Lana Del Rey, cohesion isn’t such a bad thing, especially as each release has steadily blossomed with complexity. Two years on from her acclaimed and somewhat autobiographical July, Nadler once again turns to producer Randall Dunn, best known for his work with drone metallers Earth and Sunn O))), to broaden the singer’s eerie folk with an edgier intensity. Less personal and more narrative driven, Nadler sings of characters inhabiting a “surreal, apocalyptic dreamscape”, her hypnotic vocals still ghostly laments of sorrow, as swirls of rich synth mix with orchestral strings and squalls of guitar. But despite the layers of percussion, it’s the stark acoustic and piano led numbers that makes Strangers Nadler’s most entrancing album yet.
Play It Again Sam
Living up to their name, the debut album from Minor Victories exists, if nothing else, to avoid the sense of anticlimax that comes with most “supergroup” collaborations. Featuring Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai, Editors guitarist Justin Lockey and Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell, Minor Victories was always destined to carry a hefty amount of musical baggage, but instead of sounding like a humdrum version of each band (hello Audioslave), the 10 tracks sound both predictably familiar and intriguingly fresh. Joined by Justin’s filmmaker brother James, Minor Victories mixes almost equal parts of shoegaze, brooding indie rock riffs and layers of cinematic post-rock guitars, to create sweeping soundscapes that integrate each musician’s influences seamlessly, as if they had been writing songs together for years. Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek makes a typical stream-of-conciousness appearance on For You Always, while on the blissful Scattered Ashes (Song for Richard), Goswell is joined by James Graham of The Twilight Sad, both songs adding a surprise element that leads Minor Victories into more exciting territory.
With all the recent fuss surrounding the return of Madchester’s baggy heroes, The Stone Roses, and their first new song in more than two decades (just don’t mention its laughably childlike mantra), it would be all too easy to miss the return of another Britrock icon, Richard Ashcroft. These People, the fifth solo album from the ex-Verve frontman, arrives nearly six years on from United Nations of Sound, an album which far from set the world alight, with Ashcroft supposedly staking claim, with typical bravado, to become “the biggest solo artist in the country”. Reunited with Verve co-producer Chris Potter and Will Malone, who helped on the lush orchestral arrangements on Urban Hymns, both Black Lines and the plodding lead single This Is How it Feels reveal Ashcroft grasping for some long-lost magic rather than striding confidently forward. Inspired by events of war and oppression, the singer’s familiar themes of redemptive light are mainly put aside for social commentaries, but the semi-revolutionary message falls awfully flat, even Ashcroft’s inimitable voice failing to raise the troops.