Jenny Lewis - On The Line
It has has been five years since Jenny Lewis’s last album, The Voyager, earned praise for its soul-baring realism. A tumultuous time for the former Rilo Kiley frontwoman, it dealt with everything from the break-up of her band to struggles with depression; it also explored her fractured relationship with her father — and his subsequent death.
Life hasn’t been much kinder to Lewis in the ensuing years; she’s lost her mother to cancer, split with her partner of 12 years and has spoken out in support of the alleged victims of Ryan Adams, whose production work appears on this album. Typically, Lewis has chosen once again to channel personal pain into art on her subjective fourth record — yet this is no melancholic musical affair.
In fact, it’s the opposite: breezy Californian tones shimmer over classic alt-rock Americana on songs backed with soaring orchestration provided courtesy of Ringo Starr, Beck and Benmont Tench (a founding member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers).
The opener, Heads Gonna Roll, sets the tone well. Classic country-rock strings and a vintage Hammond organ are layered over a John Lennon-like piano melody. Lewis’s evocative lyricism delivers a message of keen defiance throughout: “I’m gonna keep on dancing till I hear that ringing bell,” she sings.
Lewis is unflinching elsewhere, be it on the candid break-up ballad Dogwood or when recalling her mother’s heroin addiction on Little White Dove: few topics are off limits.
Throughout, Lewis shows immense strength in the face of adversity and even in her darkest songs, hope can always be found. It is her most assured album to date.
by Elizabeth Aubrey
Lucy Rose - No Words Left
Having dallied briefly with major-label folk pop in the past, Warwickshire singer-songwriter Lucy Parton has turned firmly inwards on her fourth album. With her face hidden by hair on the black-and-white cover, she uses her voice as a lyric-free instrument on the emotional title track and sounds very sad indeed. Drums are banished, with the mournful songs mostly characterised by soft piano or acoustic guitar and vocals that sound mature and world-weary.
It’s raw but not simplistic, with musical surprises in the corners, such as the slowly rising sax part in Solo(w) and the tense strings on Save Me From Your Kindness. “Song after song after song all about me and my misery,” she sings on Song After Song. Turns out that’s a more appealing sound than it sounds.
by David Smyth
These New Puritans - Inside the Rose
Most modern English bands sound like each other. These New Puritans sound like waking up after a sickness just as dusk creeps over a seaside room.
Now stripped back to a duo, brothers Jack and George Barnett have gone “primitive” for their fourth album. Gone are the quasi-classical arrangements of Field of Reeds (2013). It’s more song-based than we’re used to, brutal and brittle, songs built on rusty chimes, humming electronics, ethereal organs and Jack Barnett’s voice taut like knuckle skin.
Anti-Gravity and A-R-P have the bleak grace of Tori Amos’s Bells for Her or Nico’s Abschied; elsewhere are traces of Aphex Twin, peak Depeche Mode and Kate Bush. In Where the Trees Are on Fire, there’s an English despair that feels as if it’s come from somewhere else. It’s wonderful.
by Richard Godwin
Nilüfer Yanya - Miss Universe
While the battle for biggest debut album of 2019 looks likely to be contested by Tom Walker and Lewis Capaldi, it should be Nilüfer Yanya, right, who ends up with the prizes and critical acclaim.
The widely tipped solo artist from Ladbroke Grove has come up with a curious concept: songs are segued with soothing yet slightly creepy automated messages from a mysterious private health company. The tunes themselves are rooted in a choppy indie guitar sound, though Yanya’s reference points range widely from New Order and King Krule to The xx and Sade.
Lyrically rich and rhythmically robust, Miss Universe is an ambitious debut from a rising star who is never going to play it safe.
by Andre Paine
Snarky Puppy - Immigrance
Snarky Puppy is a thrice Grammy-winning juggernaut given to hypnotic grooves, swaggering jazz-funk and kinetic, ideas-laden jams. While the group’s musicianship is probably best witnessed live — they are touring the UK in November — they’ve bottled their dynamism on recordings such as 2016’s acclaimed Culcha Vulcha.
Immigrance, featuring 19 players on everything from horns and drums to Turkish oud, is less successful, with lengthy instrumentals such as Michael League’s Chonks failing to gain lift-off. For the most part, this is vintage Snarky Puppy — rawer, more nuanced but still as outward-looking as ever. Highlights include keyboardist Justin Stanton’s Bad Kids to the Back and Bigly Strictness, a sax-driven ode to Eighties pop.
by Jane Cornwell
Fisherman’s Friends - Keep Hauling
(Mighty Village Recordings)
Released last week, the film Fisherman’s Friends tells the largely true story of the a cappella group from Port Isaac in Cornwall. Against all the odds, they made the Top 10 in 2010 and have played the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury and the Royal Albert Hall. For those who haven’t heard their music, this soundtrack album fills out the extracts of songs that feature in the film.
Recorded in their local church of St Kew, there’s a full-bloodied earthiness to Nelson’s Blood and a Cornish patriotism to The Trelawny National Anthem. The contrast between shallow Londoners and the genuine residents of Port Isaac and the problems they face is a strong ingredient in the film’s humour.
by Simon Broughton