Albums round up: Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future by Underworld; Luneworks by Mmoths; Post Pop Depression by Iggy Pop; Hitch by The Joy Formidable; Eternal box set by Skeletal Family; Deep Control by Department M; Distance Inbetween by The Coral

Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future by Underworld
Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future by Underworld
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Karl Hyde and Rick Smith don’t tend to rush albums these days – Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future is the first recording they’ve released since the music for the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games, and their first album in six years.

But their lengthy creative regime – which entailed the pair working up 30 ideas in one-off writing sessions then Smith taking them away to ‘explore further’ with co-producer Lincoln Barrett, aka High Contrast, seems to have been time well spent.

Hyde Brummie beat poetry sounds more vital than at any time since Underworld’s 90s classic Second Toughest in the Infants while Smith’s house and techno grooves are expansive and playful.

There might not be anything as radio-friendly here as Born Slippy (Nuuxx) – though Low Burn is blissfully mesmerising – but Barbara Barbara is the sound of band entering its fourth decade with its faculties fully engaged.

Dublin-based musician and producer Jack Colleran, the brains behind Mmoths, announced his brand of low-key ambient electronica with a pair of EPs in 2012 and 2013.

Luneworks, his debut album, is bathed in a fuzzy glow of synthesised distortion on top of which Colleran layers loops, delicate melodies and occasionally indecipherable vocals.

It’s not a million miles from the work of Christian Fennesz or even Aphex Twin at his most becalmed – and is certainly a worthy addition to the genre.

Much brouhaha greeted the announcement that punk rock survivor Iggy Pop was working on an album with Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age. The thought of a genuine legend, reponsible for the likes of Raw Power, Lust For Life and I Wanna Be Your Dog, collaborating with his modern heir apparent seemed a match made in heaven.

That Post Pop Depression slightly underwhelms is perhaps more down to unrealistic expectations than anything else.

Certainly songs such as the eerie American Valhalla, at the end of which Pop intones dryly “I’ve nothing but my name”, and the tumbling riffola and nod to his Berlin era that is German Days, are stylishly cut but until the closing track Paraguay there’s nothing here that suggests the filthy rock’n’roll record that some might have been dreaming of. Only then does Pop really let loose in the way of old but the song itself doesn’t have the brio of say No Fun or Some Weird Sin.

Mold rock group The Joy Formidable drafted in Nirvana, Run DMC and Jeff Buckley engineer Andy Wallace to mix their last major label album Wolf’s Law. Now on their own C’mon Let’s Drift imprint, with a more modest budget, the trio have fashioned a third studio album that’s more stripped down but is arguably their best work to date.

Lead single The Last Thing On My Mind finds singer Ritzy Bryan musing on sexual liberation “from the perspective of a heterosexual female gaze”; The Brook has a Celtic lilt; It’s Started combines pounding drums with an electrifying guitar riff.

But they have their quiet moments too, in the meditative The Gift and the sweet acoustic ballad Underneath the Petal.

Hitch is the album where The Joy Formidable truly come into their own.

Skeletal Family’s roots go back to the post-punk scene but their classic line-up finally coalesced in Keighley in 1983 around guitarist Stan Greenwood, bassist Roger ‘Trotwood’ Nowell, singer Anne-Marie Hurst and drummer Martin Henderson.

Together they made two albums of wiry goth rock, bedded on powerful tribal rhythms, that won favour with the late BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel. They supported Sisters of Mercy on their First and Last and Always tour and went to Number 1 in the indie charts with their debut album Burning Oil.

The band splintered in 1985, with Hurst forming Ghost Dance with Gary Marx from the Sisters while Henderson teamed up with March Violets vocalist Simon Denbigh in the Batfish Boys. They were replaced by Katrina Phillips from The Colourfield and sticksman Kevin Hunter for two singles on the Chrysalis label before Skeletal Family ground to a halt after a gig at the 100 Club in London in 1986.

The impressive Eternal five-disc box set from Cherry Red gathers Burning Oil with its more heavily produced follow-up Futile Combat plus BBC radio sessions, demos and live sets including a live rendition of Knocking on Heaven’s Door that features Andrew Eldritch and Wayne Hussey.

Tracks such as She Cries Alone, Just a Friend, Trees and Promised Land are still thrilling examples of the 80s goth genre, distinctive and fiercely energetic.

Now reformed by Hurst, Greenwoood and Trotwood, their next chapter waits to be written. Four new demos, recorded at Paul Weller’s Black Barn Studios, hint at a promising future.

“It’s not too late to fall under my deep control,” sighs Owen Brinley, former singer and guitarist with highly rated Leeds band Grammatics. Deep Control is his and co-conspirator Tommy Davidson’s paen to 80s synth pop – in particular the fragile melodies and clanking industrial beats of Depeche Mode circa Black Celebration and Violator.

Bad Formulae and Stress Class have an icy beauty; Air Exchange introduces reassuring female vocals; Surreal Life has a touch of the treated voice experiments of Kate Bush in her song suite The Ninth Wave.

Deep Control could perhaps do with more light as well as shade but it’s still a record of real quality.

After five years apart, during which individual members pursued solo projects, Wirral band The Coral have reconvened to make their eighth studio album. Distance Inbetween accentuates their psychedelic side, with chugging Krautrock influences also apparent.

Nick Power’s whooshing keyboards are prominent in White Bird while Chasing the Tail of a Dream rides in on rumbling drums and frazzled bass and guitar. Million Eyes is the album’s clincher, with its spooky harmonies and rattling tambourine. Miss Fortune has a stately air reminiscent of Echo and the Bunnymen, and comes complete with backwards guitars.

The Coral are certainly back with a vengeance.

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