Brian Eno, Small Craft on a Milk Sea (Warp)
In the unpredictable course of his career, Brian Eno as a producer guided Talking Heads, David Bowie, U2 and Coldplay out of the artistic culs-de-sac they had manoeuvred themselves into. Eno’s ideas were all the more powerful because he hadn’t received any kind of musical education and was therefore much less susceptible to the lure of conventional thought patterns. The albums he releases under his own name usually fall into two categories: albums with songs, and ‘ambient’ albums. The very genre, Ambient was another Eno invention, music that wasn’t meant to be easy listening, but rather ‘sublime listening’ – music not designed to be listened to with intent but to spin quietly in the background, to set a mood. After a collaborative album with David Byrne and a song album, here Eno returns to instrumental music in the ambient mode. As always, it creates a strong mood that gives the casual listener a sense of space and openness (I’ve always found Eno’s ambient records excellent music to work to). However, instead of generating the sounds mostly with software, this time they are created organically by multi- instrumentalists Leo Abrahams and Jon Hopkins (both well known in the free-music scene, but Abrahams also leads a busy life as a pop producer). Eno fed their studio improvisations through his various machines. Sometimes he threw them a creative curveball with instructions from his own Oblique Strategies card system. Stylistically, the resulting album is remarkably diverse for an ambient Eno album, and even turns up the noise volume at times. It is an album for listening to, as well as letting it wash over you.
Duffy, Endlessly (Universal)
As much as Duffy resents comparisons to Dusty Springfield and other singers of eras past, her strange, trembling voice will always instantly evoke a 1960s pop feel as soon as she opens her mouth. For her second album, she has teamed up with Albert Hammond (papa of Strokes singer AH junior), writer of evergreens like – ha! – Leapy Lee’s ‘Little Arrows’ and ‘The Air That I Breathe’. This brings a poppier shine to proceedings than on her smoky debut, as well as a frequent sense of ‘déjà heard’. Add to that contributions by The Roots, and the results are a well-crafted pop album without, alas, a new ‘Mercy’ on display.
The Young Gods, Everybody Knows (Two Gentlemen)
The Young Gods’ pioneering sample-based but real-drums- driven industrial rock once influenced Nine Inch Nails, David Bowie and even U2’s guitarist The Edge. Since those heady days a quarter of a century ago, the Swiss band around vocalist and songwriter Franz Treichler has vastly expanded its vocabulary to embrace ambient moodiness as well as a more contemplative way with melody and pace. Acoustic guitars, welded to subtle and dynamic beats, set the tone of proceedings on this, their often quietly powerful and continuously innovative seventh album.
Chocolate Genius Inc., Swansongs (One Little Indian)
Chocolate Genius is the nom-de-plume of New York- based singer-songwriter Marc Anthony Thompson. Only once, so far, has his voice reached a wider public – when he was a member of Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions band. His own work, especially the towering 1998 Black Music album, has always had a strong connection to the avant garde around Marc Ribot, and to the New York theatre world. This is another thoughtful and beautiful album grazing a terrain somewhere between Tom Waits and Joe Henry, but entirely Thompson’s own.
Yael Naim and David Donatien, She was a Boy
(Tot Ou Tard/VF Musiques)
Yael Naim is a Paris-born singer-songwriter and multi- instrumentalist (including ukulele, marimba and Indian harmonium) of Tunisian-Sephardic descent. Her song ‘New Soul’ was picked for an Apple advert a couple of years ago and brought her a top-ten hit in the US. This, her third album, features multi-instrumentalist Donatien as well as a gaggle of extra string, woodwind and brass players. Hers is a beguiling, sophisticated and charmingly jaunty mixture of Central European folk, chanson and jazz- tinged Middle Eastern touches. Wonderful.