Our selection of the best new music across a range of genres from the week ending 20 August 2021.
Recording for the first time live and as a full band, Shining Bird demonstrates their mastery of cathartic improvisation and stripped back songwriting on their new album Deadlands. This is exactly where producers Tim Whitten and Russell Webster wanted to focus – to strip away the synthesisers and studio trickery to focus purely on the beauty of the band’s lyrical content. Deadlands is certainly not a conventional album release. Following the 2013 debut Leisure Coast and the 2016 follow up Black Opal, the seven piece outfit spent time playing shows, time totally away from music and used what opportunities they could to head into the studio to record new music over the last three years. The result has seen five epic songs that clocks the album in longer than many traditional full-length releases emerge as the end result.
Brandee Younger has spent the past 15 years diversifying the output of the harp, playing as a session musician with hip-hop and R&B royalty like Common, The Roots and Lauryn Hill, as well as with jazz luminaries Pharoah Sanders and Jack DeJohnette. On her eighth LP, Somewhere Different, she maintains that genre-spanning ethos, working with legendary jazz bassist Ron Carter as well as producer Dezron Douglas to create eight compositions that run the gamut from ’70s funk and Latin jazz to spiritual balladry and an homage to the TV show Law & Order.
For her second album, pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason turns to American music for inspiration. Its name, Summertime, may be the title of one of Gershwin’s greatest songs — heard here in a joyful, virtuosic transcription by legendary pianist Earl Wild — but this collection is all about Samuel Barber’s great Piano Sonata, a mighty work that draws on 20th-century European modernism while stealing glances towards Hollywood and Broadway. It’s a work of staggering variety and its playful, sinister opening movement, doleful second and almost Shostakovich-esque finale earn it a rightful place in the pantheon of piano masterpieces. The versatile Kanneh-Mason is a masterful guide, as she is when showcasing other, lesser-known works by Amy Beach (a shamefully neglected giant of American music), Aaron Copland and 19th-century English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, whose arrangements of three spirituals provide an emotional coda.
In James McMurtry’s new effort, The Horses and the Hounds, the acclaimed songwriter backs personal narratives with effortless elegance (“Canola Fields”) and endless energy (“If It Don’t Bleed”). This first collection in seven years, out now on New West Records, spotlights a seasoned tunesmith in peak form as he turns toward reflection (“Vaquero”) and revelation ( closer “Blackberry Winter”). Familiar foundations guide the journey. “There’s a definite Los Angeles vibe to this record,” McMurtry says. “The ghost of Warren Zevon seems to be stomping around among the guitar tracks. Don’t know how he got in there. He never signed on for work for hire.”
The title of Mae Powell’s debut album Both Ways Brighter came to her during a conversation with her friend about the days getting longer as they inch toward spring. They were trying to figure out if the sun both rose earlier and set later, if the daylight lengthened in both directions. The phrase stuck with Powell, who meditated on it for a week as it began to take on broader significance — about the unknowability of life and learning how to trust in the way forward, the idea that whatever path you take, you’re going where you’re supposed to be going. Both Ways Brighter evinces a vibrant collaborative spirit, from its playfully layered instrumentation to its lyrics about caretaking and camaraderie even in cold, hostile environments.
Everything, the debut album from Chicago quartet Bnny, may as well be a field recording taken from the lone country of grief. Written in sessions that span several years by singer Jess Viscius as she processed the death of her partner, the album is a chronicle of love at its most complex and loss at its most persistent. Viscius and her bandmates—her twin sister Alexa Viscius, plus best friends Tim Makowski and Matt Pelkey—render these songs as inky noir vignettes, with Viscius’ half-whispered vocals giving them a sense of poise and power that’s cool to the touch, even as the songs find her at her most vulnerable.
Holy Holy have released their fourth studio LP, Hello My Beautiful World via the Wonderlick Recording Company. The dense and ambitious record is built upon a foundation of electronic beats and rolling synths; it combines lush string arrangements and chanted vocals that culminate in a heady and persuasive mix. Recorded in a series of modest studios and spare rooms in Tasmania and Victoria, Holy Holy’s fourth album, Hello My Beautiful World is perhaps their most fully realised. The record moves fluidly through a collection of feverish moods and atmospheres, unfolding unpredictably and building to a series of fierce and manic highs.
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television