Album reviews: James Blake, Adia Victoria, Thomas Cohen, Anohni
Soulful electronic, fiery Gothic folk, tragedy and triumph among the new releases
The Colour in Anything
He may have swapped his London bedroom for the sunnier climes of southern California, but from the opening track of James Blake’s third album, The Colour in Anything, the melancholic surges of synth perfectly capture the feeling of gazing out of the window as the rain lashes down upon it. The achingly beautiful Radio Silence – with Blake pleading “I can’t believe that you don’t want to see me / I’m sorry I don’t know how you feel” over a solemn piano and sparse icy beat – certainly sounds more drabbly “English” than warmly positive “Malibu”, where much of the album was mixed at co-producer Rick Rubin’s studio. The 17 tracks on The Colour in Anything may be documenting a happier period in his life, but it sets the introspective late-night tone for the following 70-plus minutes. The forlorn spokesman of post dubstep, however, isn’t about to get the dance floor jumping with the woozy R&B of Points, or the heart-wrenching Love Me in Whatever Way, but with electronic music this soulful, that’s just perfectly fine.
Beyond the Bloodhounds
Raised in South Carolina as a Seventh-Day Adventist, the Nashville-based Adia Victoria describes herself as a “back-porch-blues-swamp-cat-lady-howlin’-at-the-moon”, and judging by her beautifully eerie debut, Beyond the Bloodhounds, that’s pretty spot on. “I wrote this album as a memorial to my 20s,” says the 29-year-old singer songwriter. “Those are tender years for a lot of women. It hurts. You get busted up in love and life.” Victoria takes her cues from classic literature, southern blues and thumping garage rock, and the most surprising thing about these 12 tracks is that bluesmen-du-jour Dan Auerbach and Jack White have nothing to do with them. Victoria’s fiery Gothic folk, even down to her red and white striped socks, is seemingly the perfect fit for White’s Third Man Records. Both Howlin’ Shame and the brooding Stuck in the South bask in barrel-aged Delta blues, but it’s the dirty garage groove of rollicking lead single Dead Eyes, and the harrowing tenderness of And Then You Die that highlight Victoria’s wonderfully earthy voice and intense spooky poetry.
As the frontman of much-feted London art-rockers S.C.U.M, Thomas Cohen made more headlines for his celebrity marriage than for his band’s highly accomplished 2011 debut, Again Into Eyes. After the band split in 2012, Cohen began writing as a solo artist only for his life to take an unthinkable direction when his wife, Peaches Geldof, died of a heroin overdose in 2014. Refusing to become some “grief-stricken single father”, Cohen later relocated to Iceland to complete his debut Bloom Forever, finding some kind of solace in the writing process. Being the celebrity vultures that we are, we’ll desperately dig in search of the emotional pain hidden within Cohen’s lyrics, but while the explicitly honest sadness chronicles the events between 2012 to 2015, the album refuses to be defined simply by the tragic death of his wife. Keeping the album remarkably upbeat are the charmingly poppy New Morning Comes and the centrepiece track Country Home, on which Cohen laments “You couldn’t make it through” over a maudlin acoustic rhythm, an obvious tenderness to the 25-year-old’s melancholic delivery.
Formerly known as Antony Hegarty, English-born American singer Anohni won the Mercury Prize in 2005 for the stunning Antony and the Johnsons album, I Am a Bird Now, a set of songs built around her remarkable vocal talents. Co-produced by Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, her fifth album, Hopelessness, is the first to be released under her new moniker Anohni, but the powerful vibrato is still instantly enchanting. From the song titles (Execution, Crisis, Why Did You Separate Me From the Earth) to the opening lines of the powerful lead track (“Love, drone bomb me/ Blow me from the mountains/ And into the sea”), it’s immediately evident that this is a record of protest, apology and empowerment. From 4 Degrees, the chilling war-like anthem on climate change to Drone Like Me, an intensely heartbreaking song told from the perspective of young Afghani girl who lost her family to a drone attack, the eerie production and Anohni’s soaring voice makes the future seem filled with anything but hopelessness.