St Vincent, Strange Mercy (4AD)
St Vincent is the nom de plume of 29-year-old multi- instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Annie Clark from Dallas, Texas. Recording music in her bedroom from the age of 13, she acted as tour manager for her uncle’s group Tuck & Patti at age 17 before entering the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston. But, as she says: ‘They can teach you to be an athlete, but they can’t teach you to be an artist’, and so she quit, joining, first, The Polyphonic Spree, and then the similarly eclectic-minded Sufjan Stephens. (At present, she is also working on an album with David Byrne.) Strange Mercy is the third album made under her own steam. Compared to the exquisite, chamber-music-like preceding album Actor, here Clark is barely recognisable as the same artist. The silken and subtle strings have made way for sleazy-sounding analogue synthesisers and sharp electro beats. Among the musicians supplying the grooves are Midlake drummer McKenzie Smith and Moog master Bobby Sparks, who has often worked with Prince. What remains the same, however, is Clark’s sharp ear for finely woven melodies – one particular highlight being the glorious‚ Bowie-esque ‘Cheerleader’, also‚ ‘Northern Lights’. The contrast between Clark’s sweet voice (often producing disturbingly dark and sexual lyrics) and the incredibly dirty grooves and riffs creates a deeply intriguing and fascinating dark/ light dynamism.
Phall Fatale, Charcoal From Fire (kuenschtli.ch)
Phall Fatale is the new band of famed drummer Fredy Studer, who generally works in the outer reaches of improvised jazz and rock. Here, he has assembled an outfit that contains, among other things, three double- basses, toy piano and beer bottle – but also, crucially, the two singers Joana Aderi (who also contributes electronics) and the soulful Joy Frempong. The focus is firmly set on the song, although it is difficult to describe a style that reaches from the blues across the central European song tradition and industrial rock right through to Annette Peacock’s more daring adventures, and that builds heavily on the dynamic potential of strange sounds. This is gripping stuff.
Kill It Kid, Feet Fall Heavy (One Little Indian)
The rather off-putting name hides a young quartet from Bath with a remarkably fresh perspective on the dirty side of the blues. Singer Chris Turpin can howl a bit like Robert Plant, and sweet-voiced Stephanie Ward is the perfect foil for his raw emotionality. Influences range from Queens of the Stone Age to Woody Guthrie, and in between songs we get samples from Alan Lomax’s collection of American folk song. This is the band’s second album – an exceptionally powerful as well as beautiful work.
Brothers of Brazil, Brothers of Brazil (Side One Dummy)
Brothers of Brazil are guitarist João Suplicy and drummer Supla (he of the zebra-like drum/suit combo and the bleached spikes hairdo). Together they make quite a racket – but they are also capable of a fine bossa nova moment or two. Singing mostly in English, and produced by Mario Caldato Jr (Beastie Boys, Tone Loc) they have created a punchy fusion of rockabilly, punk, bossa nova and samba, mostly played on acoustic guitar and super-busy drums.
Bobby Valentino, Pat-a-Cake, Pat-a-Cake (Handmade Music)
Singer, violinist and guitarist Valentino began as a Fabulous Poodle before becoming a mainstay of the 1980s London pub-rock scene as a member of The Hank Wangford Band. Of late, he has rejoined old pals including pedal-steel player B. J. Cole in Los Pistoleros. Cole turns up, too, on this, Valentino’s fourth solo album. It is a typically jovial, mock-elegant and cockle- warming collection of mostly self- composed Western swing, faintly reminiscent of the great Dan Hicks, and dominated by Bobby’s irresistible swing fiddle and deep come-hither voice.