★ ★ ★
Jenny Lee Lindberg has long been the best-known member of Warpaint – she’s the subject of adoring ‘fuckyeahjennyleelindberg’ Tumblr pages and idolised by indie boys such as Birmingham band Swim Deep, who once sang, “I wanna pretend Jenny Lee Lindberg is my girlfriend”. Musically, though, she has kept a low profile, contributing hypnotic bass grooves and occasional vocals to Warpaint songs but, by her own admission, lacking the confidence to find her own voice.
With her debut solo album right on!, that has finally changed. The record sounds much as you might expect a solo album by Warpaint's bassist to sound like, especially once you discover that she grew up on post-punk acts such as Joy Division, The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees. While much of Warpaint's appeal is based on multi-part harmonies and intricately intertwining guitars, right on! strips everything back with a minimal, somnolent sound that places the emphasis squarely on bass and drums – mainly provided by Warpaint's excellent drummer Stella Mozgawa.
The hazy, dreamlike mood is augmented by Lindberg's voice, which only rarely rises above a breathy moan, but which serves these spare, intriguing songs well. Chief among them is boom boom, a sinister come-on that rides on a nagging, blank-eyed groove – "Can you feel me shake by body from left to right?" Lindberg teases. That's followed by never – the loveliest moment on the album – featuring chiming guitars and a rhythm section straight from the New Order playbook.
Best of all, there's genuine menace on white devil, where Lindberg is joined by her close friend Kris Byerly for a tense – ultimately explosive – male- female exchange. white devil echoes one of Warpaint's great strengths – the way in which their songs morph and develop in unexpected and exciting ways. An unassuming little album, right on! could maybe do with a little more of that approach. But in keeping things deliberately minimal and compact, Lindberg has staked out an addictive patch of sound – and found her voice.
Like Water Through Sand
★ ★ ★ ★
When you look at the span of this French pianist and composer’s back pages, the rich wash of sounds on her excellent debut album makes total sense. Prior to joining Fat Cat’s post-classical 130701 ship, Levienaise-Farrouch worked on film scores, sound design projects and classical pieces, all of which shine through here.
What's striking is the ease with which she elegantly weaves various nuances and textures, from classical to electronica, through the material. Tulsi is a beautifully tended array of sounds extrapolating the drama in the song, while the spacey, moody pitch of Strelka catches her deft ability with cinematic sweeps of sound. Levienaise-Farrouch rarely relies on frills and tassels, leaving the bare reality of the notes to make a compelling case for her work.
★ ★ ★
Every so often, a new Tommy Guerrero album rolls by, and it’s a reason to be cheerful. The latest release from this one-time bad-ass pro skateboarder follows similar lines to earlier albums such as A Little Bit Of Somethin’ and Loose Grooves & Bastard Blues in terms of his penchant for laid-back, casual, downbeat pop grooves. Such slow-motion spells make for tracks that fizz and jangle with loose, down-home shades of funk, jazz, hip-hop and soul.
There's little of a groundbreaking nature here – this, after all, is terrain Guerrero has surfed many times before – but there's a quiet comfort in watching graceful, occasionally beguiling guitar jams work out their kinks and find their own space on the spectrum. It's hard to imagine Guerrero trying out any other sonics for size at this stage of the game, though it's strangely admirable how he returns to the same patch of ground every time out in search of new skin.
★ ★ ★
Beyonce’s self-titled 2013 album was a surprise in many ways, not least because of the presence on most of the tracks of a then unknown producer called Boots. After that starry intro, Jordan “Boots” Asher attracted work from FKA Twigs and Run the Jewels, though he was obviously also angling to get work out under his own name too.Aquaria is a dark, sinister, twitchy affair, an album where Asher’s enigmatic way with melody creates sometimes alluring tension when it rubs up against more clamorous and dense atmospherics.
It's electronic pop without the mainstream bells and whistles, though it's worth noting that there's little of real adventure or risk-taking here either. It's as if Asher is hedging his bets, not quite sure if he should continue to explore the menacing alienation of Earthquake or return to mining the melodies which served him well when he worked with Beyonce. On this outing, he's a producer very much in need of a producer's touch.
The Quality Holiday Revue
★ ★ ★
This is essentially a live version of Nick Lowe’s outstanding seasonal album of 2013, Quality Street – A Seasonal Selection For All The Family. There are few who can rival Lowe’s command and understanding of irony in vintage pop nor his affection for the genre. The Londoner balances the serious and the surreal with a consistently sure touch.
His take on Christmas is steeped in 1960s British culture but his tongue is never far from his cheek. This 13-track selection, recorded with the lively Straitjackets – witness their echo-laden interpretation of Lowe's I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass – is a toe-tapping, bottle-swigging exercise in subversive entertainment that mixes the novelty (North Pole Express) with the seasoned (I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day) with mostly unerring charm.
Falling into Now
★ ★ ★ ★
Treading a thin line between credibility and disappointment, the history of living opera singers throwing caution to the wind and stepping into the alternative rock/pop area is awash with mistakes. There are successes such as Renée Fleming, whose 2010 album Dark Hope was graced with robust versions of songs from the likes of Band of Horses, Muse, Jefferson Airplane, Arcade Fire and Mars Volta.
And then you have Constance Hauman, one of America's most versatile lyric coloratura sopranos, who has with Falling into Now written a cycle of personal songs that take us from despair to some level of enlightenment. Songs such as Dark Angel, Sorry Eyes, Broken Pear, Burn the House Down, Safety, Angels and Autumn Leaves trace a narrative line that is strengthened by music that effortlessly takes its cues from both Cocteau Twins and Michael Nyman.
Rough Trade Counter Culture 15
★ ★ ★ ★
For casual music fans and musos alike, December usually brings with it a sweeping sense of panic: what have I missed? Should I have listened to that album more? How on earth did that pass me by? Here, then, is a fine solution to rounding up the best of the year’s indie music, from John Grant to Tobias Jesso Jr, Father John Misty to Sleaford Mods and Sufjan Stevens to Floating Points.
Amidst the two eclectic discs, you may find a previously unmined gem – such as Jenny Hval's hypnotic That Battle is Over or the wonderful retro soul skitter of That's Love by Washington DC hip-hop artist Oddisee. As end-of-year compilations go, it does exactly what is says on the tin.
★ ★ ★
It’s a strange time of year to release the score to a horror movie, but the festive season can be gruesome in its own way, after all. This one, written by South Dakotan noise-folker Erika M Anderson for the Tara Subkoff-directed, Chloe Sevigny-starring film, is a mixed affair. Anderson’s inexperience with scoring is audible on the half-finished wisps of ideas that float around in a gurgle of throbbing basslines and menacing synths, giving an impression of style over substance.
Heavily influenced by 1980s horror soundtracks, the breathy flutter of vocals on Amnesia Haze works well, while the eerie antiquated pop of Harshmellow World is strangely transfixing. True, it may not inspire you to watch the film, but EMA's three studio albums – the most recent released in 2014 – are worth a listen instead.