A sense of being lost at sea while shuttling between Dublin and London in the throes of a new relationship pervades At Swim, the third album by Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan.
It brings a melancholy hue to her writing that’s further aided by the sparing, empathetic production of Aaron Dessner, guitarist with The National who’s previously helmed records by Sharon Van Etten and Local Natives.
In Lo Hannigan’s voice recalls the delicate fluttering tones of Elizabeth Fraser or Alison Goldfrapp. Ora drifts beatifically on a gentle current of piano and strings. Funeral Suit has a stately air and a gorgeous, heartfelt vocal.
Better still is Prayer For The Dying, a country-folk lament so tender you expect it to melt at any point. Outstanding stuff. For more on Lisa Hannigan CLICK HERE
Having Been confined to self-funded low-key releases and writing and producing for others since the end of his deal with Heavenly, Ed Harcourt has finally got the backing of a major label, a bigger budget and a hand-picked band that includes Stella Mozgawa of Warpaint and regular Tom Waits collaborator Michael Blair. The result is the 39-year-old singer-songwriter’s best work.
An angry state of the nation address, Furnaces is accurately summed up by Ralph Steadman’s accompanying artwork that combines Harcourt’s requested “tsunami of fire” with “something that looked like someone had coughed up all the blood that was in their body onto the page”.
In the title track, The World is On Fire!, Loup Garou and Dionysus Harcourt observes the end-of-days nihilism in a lot of contemporary culture but beneath the sturm und drang are glimmers of hope, as evidenced in You Give Me More Than Love and There Is A Light Below.
In the euphoric rush of Last Of Your Kind Harcourt finds a beauty in defiance (“Just when I thought there was nothing worth living for/There you stood in the eye of the storm”).
For too long one of Britain’s most under-rated songwriters, Harcourt fully deserves the greater recognition that Furnaces will hopefully bring. For more on Ed Harcourt CLICK HERE
Scott Walker’s first orchestral soundtrack since his score for Leos Carax’s film Pola X in 1999 continues his obsession of the last 20 years with dense, discomforting music.
Written to accompany Brady Corbet’s debut feature film The Childhood of a Leader, a psychological drama tracing the formative years of a future Fascist leader, and set against the backdrop of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference that led to the Treaty of Versailles, it taps into Walker’s familiar preoccupations with totalitarianism and puffed-up egos (Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini and Nicolae Ceaucescu have all figured in previous subject of Walker songs).
Utilising the full power of a 46-piece string section and 16 brass, the mood is ominous from the start, with long, heavy drones punctuated by Bernard Herrmann-like slashes of violin. As the record gathers pace, horns and pulsating percussion signify a brewing storm.
The concluding New Dawn might offer pastoral relief but it’s fleeting. Scott Walker’s modern day work remains unnerving and unique. For more on Scott Walker CLICK HERE
Ricky Gervais transformed British sitcoms in the early 00s with the spoof documentary The Office, whose ‘star’ was the hapless manager David Brent.
More than a decade after the series finale, he has revived the character as a travelling tampon salesman in the big screen outing Life On The Road, with an accompanying album of faux naif ditties that aren’t strictly speaking comedy songs but contain ridiculous lyrics such as “Soar like an eagle/Sit like a pelican” (Native American) or “She lay me down on a bed of heather/She said, ‘Please be careful this is what I sell’” (Lady Gypsy).
Backed by a band that includes Andy Burrows, once of Razorlight, the old Office favourite Freelove Freeway is transformed into a roots rocker while Spaceman also makes a reappearance as an 80s-style synth-rock pastiche.
Elsewhere Brent makes well intentioned but ultimately toe-curling attempts at social commentary in Please Don’t Make Fun of the Disableds and the cod reggae Equality Street.
This album frequently raises a smile but how often you’d want to listen to it, as with many comedy records, is a moot point. For more on David Brent CLICK HERE
Penned in his home city of York while mourning the passing of his father, Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s song Tilikum is a breathy search for optimism in a time of deep isolation. “Be my rose growing in the cold/Be my light in the window at home” he softly sighs over finger picked acoustic guitar and washes of ambient electronica.
It’s the most touching and personal moment from a second album that otherwise seems to aim for the same plodding universality of Coldplay and Keane.
Leftwich is an accomplished tunesmith – as the catchy She Will Sing and the atmospheric, Bon Iver-like Kicking Roses attest – but after a while you can’t help wishing he’d push the boundaries more sonically and lyrically.
After The Rain really could do with a few more rough edges. For more on Benjamin Francis Leftwich CLICK HERE
Chingford band The Rifles have long been favoured by Paul Weller, with the Modfather perhaps recognising some of his younger self in the youthful vim of their hook-laden guitar pop.
Their fifth album in 12 years is a generously upholstered double LP that never outstays its welcome thanks to their unerring belief in keeping their songs short, sharp and brightly melodic.
Highlights include the chiming Radio Nowhere, the rhythmically punchy Turtle Dove, the Ash-like Caught in the Summer Rain and the exuberant chorus of Big Big Life.
An unpretentious pick me up. For more on The Rifles CLICK HERE