ROCK & POP
Six new releases of varying quality.
Recorded earlier this year in a mountain villa in Mexico, the first solo release by Conor Oberst since 1995 doesn't stray a million miles from last year's Bright Eyes album, Cassadaga, albeit without the supplementary bells and whistles.
The argument against highly prolific artists such as Oberst is that quality control can often be an afterthought to the frequent creative bursts. The Nebraska native and his musician friends, The Mystic Valley Band, may have had a great old time making this record, but at best they've produced a mixture of thoughtful folk cuts ( Cape Canaveralis the highlight) with some throwaway country plod-alongs to fill out the spaces. Even lyrically, Oberst is less incisive than usual. The talented 28-year-old has been getting ever closer to writing a classic, but this album isn't it.
Download tracks: Cape Canaveral, Souled Out!!, Milk Thistle
Man Like I
This 24-year-old Londoner is being touted as "the future of UK reggae", which is a desperately unfair description, not least because there's a lot more to his sound than reggae rhythms.
Natty previously worked as a sound engineer for some of the biggest bands in the business and he knows how to expertly vary the mood and tone of an album. The single Julyis a big and bouncy reggae affair about the vagaries of the English weather system, and the upbeat mood continues with the infectious Cold Town, which sounds like the sort of song that Finlay Quaye forgot to record.
But it is in his excursions into contemporary soul and gentle acoustic laments that he really impresses - particularly on the moving closing song, Say Bye Bye(a really beautiful affair).
Natty delivers on this debut, but one suspects that he has yet to really find his stride.
Download tracks: Cold Town, Say Bye Bye
The ney, a Turkish wind instrument, heralds the start of something entirely different on Australian singer/songwriter Paul Kelly's first solo album in four years.
This writer of such classics as Leaps And Boundsand Carelesstackles some topical subjects here: from sectarian terrorism ( God Told Me To) to the biblical The Lion And The Lamb- and refreshingly, the love that's impervious to botox and Cosmopolitanrelationship critiques, You're 39, You're Beautiful And You're Mine.
Kelly runs the gamut of big vista and garden-shed arrangements here, and his regular coalition of playing partners are able inheritors of a mantle passed by Kelly's seminal late 1980s band, The Messengers. Most notable among them is his nephew, Dan Kelly, on guitar, banjo, piano and harmonies. A bonus 14-track live CD makes the memories all the sweeter.
Download tracks: Feelings of Grief, Sweetest Thing
If you were told that there were shades of both Radiohead and Sting on an album's tracks, you could be forgiven for thinking that the artist was an alternative rock group that had lost its way among the genres, rather than a young Dublin woman with super-soft delivery, reminiscent of Suzanne Vega's deceptive vulnerability.
Alyanya's lyrics such as "if we weave a little peace, that peace we will receive" point towards new-age mysticism, but it's also a pretty brave stance to take in the current climate of female artists playing up to the vapid, hyper-sexualised image that PR departments require in order to get third-rate music on to the public's music systems.
Alyanya's debut displays a surprising maturity with lovely uncluttered arrangements perfectly suited to her voice, enhanced by the positive ambience of the converted church in which the album was recorded.
Download tracks: One Day Soon, Today, Let It All Be
Columbia recording artist Jakob Dylan has placed his band The Wallflowers on the back burner, hooked up with producer Rick Rubin - the man who regenerated the careers of Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond - and come up with a batch of material that one hates to compare to even one song of his father's.
And yet, if 38-year-old Dylan jnr is going to come over all singer-songwriter on our collective ass, why ever not? Rubin does a fine job is keeping sonic matters downhome, subtle and simple, and he is diligently joined in this approach by Dylan, but enthusiasm and comittment don't amount to much when the finished results are as dreary and dull as the majority of tracks on Seeing Things. Time to dig up The Wallflowers again, perhaps?
Download track: Will it Grow
KITTY, DAISY & LEWIS
Kitty, Daisy & Lewis
The most delightful album of the summer comes from three London teenage girls playing a bunch of rockabilly and blues covers. No, really, it does. It's an album which shouldn't really work on any level, but the Durham sisters pull it off with life-affirming aplomb.
The classic rock'n'roll that the Durhams are in thrall to is too often viewed as the pink wafer in pop's biscuit tin, nothing more than a once-a-year treat. Yet the trio invest these tunes with a kind of verve, attitude and commitment that have long stopped being common currency in contemporary pop circles.
There's a swagger to how they approach Going Up The Countryand I Got My Mojo Workingthat does the heart good, while their own pair of tunes sound every jot as mean, weathered and snarly as the Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Johnny Horton tunes they've borrowed for the occasion.
Download tracks: Going Up The Country, Swinging Hawaii
LATE OF THE PIER
Fantasy Black Channel
British four-piece LOTP's debut is relentless. Numbers such as Space and the Woodssound like a geometric-patterned Gary Numan flashback, while Fockeris depraved enough to soundtrack any Skins shocker sequence.
Tracks here are a kaleidoscope of thrash, glam, electro, dance and punk . . . simultaneously. This works a treat when distilled into bursts of coherent hedonism ( The Bears Are Coming), but the album is bruised when fuzzy guitars and Gameboy blips lose the run of themselves, producing a cacophony that would make babies weep.
Fantasy Black Channelinvokes the Klaxons' nu-rave ethos: it's the devil on your shoulder encouraging you to party hardcore until you've woken in a fountain, somewhere in Europe, days later. It's an occasionally artful racket, campaigning for shockingly good times.
Download Tracks: The Bears Are Coming, Random Firl, Heartbeat