Albums round up: Love + War by Kwabs; Beauty Behind the Madness by The Weeknd; Boy From the North by Monica Heldal; Contrepoint by Nicolas Godin

Love + War by Kwabs

Love + War by Kwabs

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South Londoner Kwabena ‘Kwabs’ Adjepong seems to have been on the verge of stardom for a while now.

His youthful vocal talent earned him the role of lead singer with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra; he later studied jazz at the Royal Academy of Music. Via the TV show Goldie’s Band: By Royal Appointment he came to sing for Prince Harry at Buckingham Palace.

Signing to Atlantic, he released a string of low-key digital EPs and the track Walk became a hit in Belgium, Germany and Switzerland after being featured in the video game FIFA 15.

His debut album builds on its template of catchy, shiny, gospel-influenced modern R&B with songs such as the title track, Look Over Your Shoulder and Father Figure showcasing his soulful vocals and and confessional mode of songwriting.

If the ballad Perfect Ruin is a little on the soppy side, the rootsy outpouring of Cheating On Me (“Why did I fall asleep on a love so deep?”) is considerably more effective.

Since emerging in 2011 with three mixtapes – later released as a compilation album Trilogy – The Weeknd, aka Abel Tesfaye, has become a standard bearer for a darker, edgier form of R&B that takes inspiration from R Kelly and Michael Jackson and adds elements of hip-hop, alternative rock and distorted electronica.

The tempo is usually slow and ominous with Tesfaye’s tremulous falsetto sometimes verging on the point of hysteria as he recounts tales of doomed love, nihilistic partying and social alienation.

It’s a heady cocktail that reaches its apex in Can’t Feel My Face, a worldwide hit this summer, in which Tesfaye’s lovestruck protagonist compares the ecstasy of the early stages of a relationship to the effects of a narcotic high. The creepy, distorted vision of The Hills is also impressive.

More wearying is the posturing and sexism of songs such as Acquainted and Often, and while Lana Del Ray makes a welcome appearance in Prisoner, a duet with the ubiquitous Ed Sheeran in Dark Times suggests an element of commercial compromise, no matter how cleverly it is produced.

Scandianvian singer songwriter Monica Heldal prefers a less decorous approach than Kwabs or The Weeknd. Her debut album – originally released in Norway in 2013 – is decidedly old school in its use of acoustic guitars, double bass and fiddle – although there is the occasional background wash of synthesiser.

The songs are a delicate fusion of bluegrass and American and Irish folk – betraying her fondness for Emmylou Harris, Nick Drake and the gentler side of Led Zeppelin.

Uncluttered production and Heldal’s intimate, fireside vocals make this perfect listening for dark autumn evenings.

Air’s fondness for late Sixties/early Seventies progressive rock may be long established, but who would have thought Nicolas Godin, one half of the Paris electronic pop duo, also held a candle for Jacques Loussier’s jazzy interpretations of the work of Johann Sebastian Bach?

The undulating keyboards on Club Nine, the third track on Contrepoint, his first solo album, certainly suggests Godin is familiar with the now 80-year-old pianist and composer whose music is best known in this country from a long-running cigar commercial.

All of the tracks on this album are said to take Bach as an inspiration, yet Widerstehe doch der Sunde also nods towards Serge Gainsbourg and German cabaret while Clara appears to be a homage to the dreamy bossa nova of Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Glenn salutes Canadian classical maverick Glenn Gould, another renowned interpreter of Bach, and Bach Off features lighthearted harpsichord trills and Lalo Schifrin-style strings and percussion.

Musically Contrepoint may be all over the place but it’s not without wit or charm.

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