Album reviews: An amazing release from Bjork
When it was released to widespread acclaim earlier this year, Bjork's Vulnicura proved that even as she approaches 50, the Icelandic singer is still one of the most important and experimental musicians the average person has actually heard of.
As an accompaniment to that masterwork, Vulnicura Strings strips the songs to their bare bones, leaving only melancholic strings and her haunting voice, in a move that seems avant-garde in approach but, given the poignant nature of the songs, makes complete sense.
This is the Bjork equivalent of an acoustic album and, as such, allows the listener to focus more on the words, easily her most moving and personal to date. The pulsing beats of the original Vulnicura still gives it the edge, but you can't deny the power and passion that's gone into this amazing release.
Steve Martin and Edie Brickell
Banjo playing was often part of comedian Steve Martin's "wild and crazy guy" stage persona, but, aged 70, it seems he wants to be taken seriously on the instrument. He got together with singer Edie Brickell, who had a string of hits in the late 80s with the New Bohemians, through Paul Simon, Martin's longtime friend and Brickell's husband of 20 years.
The first results, 2013's Love Has Come To You, earned the pair a Grammy, and So Familiar is another likeable slice of bluegrass pop. Martin and Brickell complement each other well, with her wistful delivery sharing the skipping lightness of touch of his five-string plucking.
He may have left the comedy behind, but Martin still puts a smile on your face with this perky, summery collaboration.
A Year of Songs
The funnyman and Pointless presenter returns to his first love as he releases his debut album, A Year Of Songs, after showing off some impressive vocals on Pointless Celebrities, the VE Day concert and during a spoof of Britain's Got Talent star Susan Boyle on quiz show, Your Face Sounds Familiar.
Armstrong, one half of Bafta-winning comic duo Armstrong and Miller, has some serious musical credentials: a former choirboy with a classical baritone voice, he won choral scholarships, including to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was a principal bass soloist. He also plays the piano, cello and oboe, and was going to study singing at the Royal College of Music before he carved out his comedy career.
His first full-length record features songs with a personal significance, including Londonderry Air, which has a link to Armstrong's family history.
Starlet Ellie Goulding announced her third album would be something new, and while Delirium sounds quite different from her 2010 debut Lights, there are not a lot of surprises.
The Herefordshire singer has left her indie-folktronica beginnings to fully embrace pure pop with big-name producers: 16 tracks of catchy hooks, prominent basslines and simple lyrics. It's also full of sex appeal – Intro is nearly two minutes of animalistic wailing, signalling the loss of the innocent delivery that made Your Song such a hit.
Goulding's airy voice has turned sultry, appropriate as Love Me Like You Do appeared on the 50 Shades Of Grey soundtrack, and lounges over club-styled Codes and Holding On For Life. There are a couple of slower tracks thrown in for good measure, but overall, Delirium aims for the charts – no light and shade required.
The sophomore effort from Bristol-based indie-rockers Trust Fund mixes twee vocals with music that exerts raw power. A strange mix, then, but a welcome one that always keeps you guessing.
Songs like 4th August and the title track stick with you long after the record has finished, although the shorter tracks such as Michal's Plan and Mother's Day are forgotten quickly, feeling unfinished and misplaced on an otherwise solid album.
The debut record by the band, fronted by Ellis Jones (it seems this is a one-man effort really, supported by good and talented friends), was met with rave reviews. The follow-up suggests the band will continue to produce records that are entirely – in the very best sense – crowd-pleasing.
The Stockholm-based duo first came to public attention in 2012 with the EP Northern Lights and now, three years later, Kate Akhurst and Markus Dextegen release their self-produced debut album.
The opening track Midnight Sun is a promising start with a punchy bass and strong synth lines. Lion For Real rides along on a tribal beat and Human Engine has Australian singer Akhurst sounding like Marina And The Diamonds surrounded by synths.
But such a strong start casts a shadow over the rest of the album – their sound doesn't change pace or direction and as a consequence, songs are lost.