The Kills, Blood Pressures (Domino)
The Kills – aka Floridian singer Alison Mosshart (freshly returned from her excursion with Jack White, Dead Weather) and British multi-instrumentalist Jamie Hince – have been around for over a decade, following their own peculiar musical instincts with scant regard for the dictates of the trend police. At times, their refusal to fit into any easily recognisable box has seemed to border on the suicidal, especially as their abrasive take on minimalist pop made no attempt anyway to flirt with the demands of modern daytime radio programming. However, things might yet change with this, the sumptuous fourth album, their most rounded by far. Not that The Kills have made any new concessions. They still populate a box of one. But they have continued with their experiments with subtler sound textures begun on the last album, Midnight Boom.
A newly acquired mellotron, for instance, is part of a bigger and much warmer sound that sometimes feels positively and joyously autumnal. The guitars, meanwhile, are as dirty as ever. Hince says he drew a lot of inspiration from his rediscovery of the first Roxy Music album, and it shows. Songs like ‘Future Starts Slow’, ‘Nail In My Coffin’ or the deeply dirty-sounding ‘Damned If She Do’ come with a definite touch of glam. Other highlights are the thunderous post-reggae of ‘Satellite’ and the beautifully chansonesque ‘The Last Goodbye’. Oh, and there are gorgeous melodies all over the place.
Emily Barker and The Red Clay Halo,
Almanac (Everyone Sang Records)
Singer-songwriter Barker is an Australian expatriate in London with a fine understanding of the dynamics of English folk traditions. ‘Nostalgia’, a track from her last album, was the theme tune of the BBC series Wallander. This is her third album, and it is every bit as rich in tone and satisfying in content as the previous one. Barker’s and her band’s speciality are intricate arrangements with instruments as diverse as banjo and pipe organ, thumb piano, cello and musical saw. Wonderful.
Juliette Commagère, The Procession (Manimal)
Small-print readers may have come across this LA-based singer- songwriter on the last few Ry Cooder albums: Commagère is married to Cooder’s son Joachim, and performs in his band. The Procession is her second album. Hers is a sophisticated and intoxicating brand of pop song. She demonstrates a commendable willingness to experiment with unusual and often ‘big’ instrumental arrangements. Synthesisers form the basis of the sound, the odd violin and trumpet and husband Cooder’s drums are the organic seasoning. Commagère’s velvet voice, meanwhile, glides across the music with rare grace.
Ron Sexsmith, Long Player Late Bloomer
Canadian singer-songwriter Sexsmith arrived on the scene at a time when this profession was widely derided as a particularly dull legacy of the me-obsessed 1960s. Sexsmith ran against the flow, and thus became one of the leaders in the renaissance of guitar-led troubadourdom that shows no signs of abatement at present. Neither does Sexsmith’s instinct for a melody that’s deceptively easy on the ear, but holds many a fine morsel of lyrical insight. It is made all the more smoothly drinkable this time round by a prime Bob Rock production.
The Naked and Famous,
Passive Me, Aggressive You (Universal)
The Naked and Famous are a fresh-faced young quintet of music students from Auckland, New Zealand. They may have taken their name from a Tricky lyric and claim Nine Inch Nails as a major influence. Their music, however, is not remotely as interested in taking risks, or indeed as dark. Led by singers Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers, they sound like a younger and bouncier MGMT, utterly untroubled by any sorrows of the world and raised on a diet of irresistibly sunny hooks.