Our selection of the best new music across a range of genres from the week ending 25 September 2020.
The Ascension, the eighth studio album from Sufjan Stevens, is out now in digital format on Asthmatic Kitty Records via Inertia Music (physical on 2 October). The long-awaited follow-up to Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell, the album features singles “America,” “Video Game”, and “Sugar.” Stevens says the foundations of the album are “a call for personal transformation and a refusal to play along with the systems around us.” “My objective for this album was simple: Interrogate the world around you. Question anything that doesn’t hold water. Exterminate all bullshit. Be part of the solution or get out of the way. Keep it real. Keep it true. Keep it simple. Keep it moving.” The result is a “lush, editorial pop album” — as the artist describes it — that finds us all at a “terrifying crossroad”.
Motivational Speakeasy was written pre-COVID, when Jordan Tice was spending much of his time touring the US and Europe. Quarantine has brought everyone back home again, but Tice has been using the time to explore ideas of songwriting. He looks towards examples like John Prine or Bob Dylan who were able to “surround an idea from a million different angles and create a universe out of almost anything.” Tice infuses his songs with his own eccentric perspective, maintaining a fine line between playful humor and sardonic nostalgia. The recording is stripped back, almost “scrappy” at times, but Tice’s idea throughout was to focus more on conveying the world contained in each song, rather than polishing every performance to a dull shine. His music beats with a rolling river of rhythm and follows its own path.
Trio Wanderer tackle Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G minor op.57, and his Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok on their new release from Harmonia Mundi. When Shostakovich wrote his Piano Quintet in 1940, most of his chamber music had yet to be composed. Combining formal purity and freedom of tone, the quintet was hailed as a masterly creation and has remained his most successful chamber work. In the last years of a long and productive life, he composed a cycle of songs with piano trio, innovative in both form and structure, a hymn to art, friendship and nature possessing extraordinary evocative power. To tackle these major works of the twentieth century, the Trio Wanderer has chosen partners of the calibre of Catherine Montier (violin), Christophe Gaugué (viola), and an expert in Russian vocal music, Ekaterina Semenchuk (mezzo-soprano).
SaD are Daphne Camf of NO ZU on vocals and synth with Simona Castricum on guitar and programming. Together, the two pay romantic homage through dark and minimal waves of crooning lamentations and danceable vulnerability. Their long-awaited debut album Saturn Rules The Material World is out now via Trans Brunswick Express. Saturn Rules The Material World is a dreamy collection of call-and-response arrangements; Camf’s lyrics and vocal delivery paint a landscape of heartache, despair, and longing for self-redemption, offset by moments of resigned acceptance and a sense of surrender to an inescapably painful life path. Castricum’s chorus/reverb drenched guitar leads and pumping big-beat and bass rhythms ground the record as an instant dance anthem.
Christian McBride solidifies his role as the champion of the past, present and future of jazz with his GRAMMY Award-winning Big Band’s new album in tribute to Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery and Oliver Nelson. Featuring special guests Joey DeFrancesco and Mark Whitfield, For Jimmy, Wes and Oliver honours the historical legacy of the jazz legends who shaped the soul of music for generations to come. The album is out now on digital, CD and vinyl via Mack Avenue Records.
Featuring Debbie Googe of My Bloody Valentine on bass and backing vocals and his erstwhile Sonic Youth bandmate Steve Shelley doing some of the drum parts, By The Fire is alternative rock icon Thurston Moore’s seventh solo album. Completed in the short gap between his band’s tour of Europe and the coronavirus lockdown, it’s one of his most focused solo efforts yet.
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television