Horses And High Heels (Naive)
The first thing that can be said with certainty about this, Marianne Faithfull's 23d album, is that it won't be easily overlooked in the shops - it is wrapped in an extravagantly garish cover of rare absurdity. "Oh, isn't it brilliant?" says the singer with a twinkle in the eye. "I know it's kind of silly. We found it on the internet. I wanted something that said: "I'm not depressed". And: "I hope I hadn't lost my sense of humour either."" Faithfull, after the difficult break-up with her long-term partner and manager, withdrew into a retreat near San Francisco. Slowly, she recovered her balance, recharged her batteries and, still in the retreat, began work on the songs of this album. Once again, Hal Wilner is the producer. Together, they chose a number of songs to cover, Faithfull contributed a handful of songs of her own, including the deeply affecting, autobiographical "Why Did We Have To Part". Recording took place in New Orleans, not with Faithfull's regular band but with the cream of the local music scene. Dr John, Wayne Kramer and an unusually discreet Lou Reed make guest appearances. The selection of songs is surprising and all the better for it. It starts with the weighty, shimmering "The Stations", written by Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan, it wouldn't have been out of place in terms of style on the seminal "Broken English". Equally glorious is R.B. Morris's C&W-number "That's How Every Empire Falls". There is the rollicking Blues-Rock of Jackie Lomax's "No Reason", Leslie Duncan's soft and subtle "Love Song" and the raucous New Orleans-groove of "Gee Baby". Of Faithfull's own contributions, the atmospheric title song beautifully stakes out the themes of an album of warmth and soul.
Various, The Sound of Siam (Soundway Records)
Pop music from the Far East hasn't had it easy in the Western World, not even amongst World Music cognoscenti. Thus, even though Thailand is one of the most popular tourist destinations, modern pop music from there remains virtually unknown here. This gorgeous compilation shows what we're missing – or rather, what we were missing between 1964 and 1975. Although the stylistic variety of the 19 songs on offer is vast, what draws in the unfamiliar listener are the great grooves. Excellent liner-notes, too.
Mogwai, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (Rock Action Records)
Glasgow's Mogwai are purveyors of what is loosely termed "Post-Rock". This is generally taken to mean instrumental music of a certain density and complexity using rock instrumentation. Mogwai have been doing this for fifteen years, and with a superior grasp of melody as well as dynamics – and they sing, occasionally. This, their seventh album begins in stately tempo with a dense and beautiful instrumental, then launches itself into the intense, motoric Kraut-Beats of "Mexican Grand Prix". A fine and varied album.
The Sand Band, All Through The Night (Deltasonic)
Liverpool's Sand Band are essentially the singing and song writing partnership of David McDonnell and Scott Marmion. They intended these home recordings to be mere demos, but were persuaded to release them as their debut album. And what a gem of understated, subtle craft it is. Marmion's pedal steel guitar adds depth and flavour to songs that aren't a million miles away in tone and spirit from the great Shack.
P.J. Harvey, Let England Shake (Island)
There is one constants in Polly Harvey's remarkable path as an artist - each new album will be radically different from the last. This time round, the most obvious difference lies in the lyrics. Harvey here delivers a series of ruminations on the subject of what it means to be British today. Wrapped in music that is as innovative as ever, and yet spookily, instantly, memorable, "Let England Shake" is clearly one of the albums of the year, already.