Ten albums you cannot miss this month – April 2012
California 37 – Train
San Francisco Pop-Rock optimists Train release another all-American driving album with California 37. With an opening track that sounds like Dire Strait’s covering REM’s End Of The World and an incessant collection of clumsily rhyming pop about being in love (in summer), don’t expect earth-shattering originality. Perhaps the most grating part of all is Train’s determination to inject Pop-culture references into their lyrics, presumably in a mislead attempt to appear quirky. Look out for lines like “my love went viral” and “Facebook joined the Internet, automobile joins the cassette” – most of which make little sense.
Trinidadian-born Hip-Hop artist Nicki Minaj hails from the coolest, sassiest borough of New York – Queens and this influence is all over her second studio album. From track one, she has really stepped it up with tunes that will soundtrack the summer from Notting Hill Carnival to Ibiza and Ayia Napa. With perfectly slick transitions between grindingly tough Rap into huge club beats, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded will propel Nicki Minaj onto the same plains of cool as M.I.A.
There should be more bands like Alabama Shakes in music today. Soulful Blues that harkens to Led Zeppelin and Otis Reading in equal measure, but sounds like nothing other than itself. True to form, Boys & Girls grasps you by the collar from the off, singer Brittany Howard’s powerfully smooth vocals wrenching with emotion on every track. This is the kind of album that you listen to. The kind of album that leaves household tasks half-done, reports half-written and train stations over-shot as you lose yourself in the true soul of the south.
Love Is A Four Letter Word – Jason Mraz
The Yanks seem to be dominating this month’s releases, and Jason Mraz from San Diego, is another one of them. The title of Mraz’s new album gives plenty of clues towards what to expect from this sensitive singer-songwriter. Basically a commercialised version of Damien Rice, excellently constructed, emotive love songs tinged with the melancholia of imminent heart-break. You Fckn Did It really stands out as a quick-witted, mischievous song with an irresistible catchy off-beat rhythm and great fast-paced harmonies and scat. Jason Mraz pulls off the cultural references that Train fail with so badly, by not taking himself too seriously.
Spiritualized is one of those bands who, in the eyes of the indie scene, can do no wrong. The NME awarded them the coveted Album of the Year in ’97 for Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space and the cosmic Rock band has gone from strength to strength since. This album is of characteristically British sound and feel. Sweet Heart, Sweet Light sounds like it has dropped through a hole in the space-time continuum and came to us from another era. The distinctive distortion, walking bass and accent-twanging vocals are a welcome throw-back. As always, expertly applied piano raises Spiritualized into an atmosphere so far above the average British Rock band. Having never broken form, Spiritualized continue to impress with this, their seventh studio release.
Dust and Dirt is a strange fusion of dub and trance. This seemingly jarring combination makes for an interesting and original album. Off-kilter call-and-response vocals and floating synth sounds are penetrated throughout by a constancy of satisfyingly muted drums and subtle bass. These are off-set by softer, afro-beat tunes that break down the album and show The Black Seeds for what they are: a talented band, with a refreshing ability to bring together apparently unconnected influences in a coherent way. Dust and Dirt will likely speak for itself this summer.
Jack White is basically the JK Rowling of Rock. Everything he has released since The White Stripes has been awaited with bated breath. Blunderbuss is typically creepy, deliciously sexy and understated in its precision and skill. Tracks such as I Am a Prayer show how far Jack White has come since the days of Fell In Love With a Girl and Seven Nation Army. Blunderbuss aches with the wisdom and weight of White’s constant maturity as a guitarist and trembles under the power of his always understated vocals.
It goes without saying that Rufus Wainwright is song-writing royalty. This album was also produced by the prince of production: Mark Ronson. The album includes an exciting host of guest musicians, from Martha Wainwright to Yeah Yeah Yeah’s eminently cool guitarist Nick Zinner. Title track (also the opening track) of Out of the Game is a jubilant return and is followed by the soft, subtle beauty of Jericho. Every track is richly textured and immaculate. Of course, we would expect nothing less from Wainwright, but this album is really something – displaying a wealth and breadth that is unparalleled in any album this month, possibly this year.
Previously conventional and undeniably commercial singer-songwriter Norah Jones seems to be taking a teetering step into rock and roll with new album Little Broken Hearts; produced by Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) who has worked previously with The Black Keys and Beck. Each emotionally charged song was written after Jones’ messy break-up with her fiction-writer boyfriend and it shows. Single Happy Pills burns with a bitterness that will be familiar to anyone who has suffered a broken heart. With Little Broken Hearts, Norah Jones seems to be grasping for some autonomy that she didn’t have in her previous, softly feminine songs. Each track, though, remains predictably marketable. Jones seems to be holding back. She’s mad – but still wants to sell some records.
As you might expect, Born Villain is basically another album for 15-year-old boys to worry their mothers with. Manson has become such an icon of Goth-Rock that, really, it would be impossible for him to divert from his signature style too far. Heavy guitars, heavy drums and angst-ridden lyrics are on offer, as usual. Manson has always been stuck within an era (mid 90s) as much as he’s stuck within a sound and an aesthetic. To put it simply: more of the same. If you’re a Manson fan, this is your album; if you’re a music fan, not so much.