Review

Reaction music corner: Crack up

BY Hudson Roe   /  17 June 2017

Fleet Foxes | Crack Up (Nonesuch) | Rated: 8

Album opener “”I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar” (really!), begins with Pecknold in a lower register, lazily singing “I am all that I need, And I’ll be till I’m through”. It’s an off-putting open to the album and, when hearing for the first time, you worry that the whole record will continue like that. Fears are quickly allayed though as the album bursts to life, acoustic guitar, harmonies and the familiar vibrancy of a Fleet Foxes track emerges, with some beautiful strings to boot.

Following a five year hiatus, singer and lyricist Robin Pecknold has enrolled at Columbia University and scored an off-Broadway play. He’s clearly older, and perhaps feels a little wiser. There’s plenty to guess at with the lyrics, for example Cassius, one of the leading conspirators against Julius Caesar; is Pecknold Caesar? Who is Cassius? The lyrics are impenetrable at times. But it all sounds so beautiful, but bleak as well.

“If You Need To, Keep Time On Me” is one of the prettier tracks on the album. Where Pecknold’s lyrics are simple, and the music delicate the album excels. “Fools Errand” is more typical Fleet Foxes and is a neat reminder of why people fell in love with their blend of folk and indie-rock nearly ten years ago.

Featured Track: “If You Need To, Keep Time On Me”

Spoek Mathambo | Mzansi Beat Code (Nthato Mokgata) | Rated: 9

Three albums in, South African producer Spoek Mathambo has created a diverse, multi-layered sound, known as ‘township tech’. Mzansi Beat Code is an ambitious album which simultaneously offers a neat entry-point to South African electronic music (via rap, techno and other African schools), with over 20 guest spots on the album, mainly by fellow South Africans.

At points it feels bewildering but, almost like Kanye West’s Yeezus, you quickly become taken in and what starts as sounding alien becomes familiar. An exciting, compelling record.

Featured Track: Volcan

Joe Goddard | Electric Lines (Domino) | Rated: 7.5

Displaying a fluency in a host of different forms of electronic music. Goddard, known for his Hot Chip work and Two Bears side-project, has form in creating sounds which are comfortable to listen to, eminently danceable and respected critically.

The album features a collaboration with Alexis Taylor, his Hot Chip bandmate, which highlights that when they work together it is perhaps better than they work apart. Their track features the line “I don’t know a real ale from a fake one”. Plenty here to enjoy.

Featured Track: Electric Lines

Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly & James McAlister | Planetarium (4AD) | Rated: 6

Everyone knows Holst’s The Planets. 101 years later, a respected group of musicians have come together to deliver a different interpretation of space (thanking Holst in the liner notes, and, bizarrely, Barack Obama). Guitarist and composer Bryce Dessner (of The National), the singer Sufjan Stevens, the composer Nico Muhly, and regular Stevens contributor and percussionist James Mcalister. A concept album, by a supergroup of sorts, is a risky proposition. It relies on musicians coming together to successfully coalesce around an idea.

In this case, whilst acoustically the album is coherent, lyrically the record is focussed on humanity via Stevens’ introspection (with the occasional mention of planets). The scale of space is, however, projected by the instrumentation. There is majesty in “Jupiter” and “Earth”. Where Holst’s orchestral piece, naturally, relies on instruments to give a vision of our solar system, Planetarium is an, at times, a confusing listen with Stevens’ lyrics having little to link us to the planets. Despite this, like much of Stevens’ work, the record is interesting and listenable, with repeat listens uncovering new detail each time.

Featured Track: Saturn

New Tracks

War On Drugs – Holding On – The band’s second track from upcoming record “A Deeper Understanding”. An uptempo, five minute long track held together by a gorgeous guitar line.
Grizzly Bear – Mourning Sound – A more traditional rock song by the New York four-piece. As ever, it sounds pristine, with the drums notable.
The National – The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness – Strong return from the US with a strong guitar solo halfway through.
Micah P. Hinson – Lover’s Lane – Delicate americana from the Tennessee native, who releases his self-described “modern folk opera” in September.

And here’s the full pick of the week playlist from Reaction

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