Albums: Sons Of Kemet, Kate Nash, Bettye Lavette, Cabbage, The Vaccines
Sons Of Kemet
Your Queen Is A Reptile
Mercury-nominated saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings and his band Sons Of Kemet are used to acclaim, and while their latest record may be their first on a major label, make no mistake: there's no compromise here. This is bristling, unapologetic jazz with a punk attitude, drawing in dub, reggae, Dixieland, Afropunk and spoken word. And like the legends of the impulse! imprint in years past (Coltrane, Rollins and Mingus), the four-piece manages to be both radical and uncompromising, yet perfectly in step with its time. Every track on Your Queen Is A Reptile rejects Britain's monarch and celebrates an alternative queen drawn from black history – figures as diverse in time and place as Harriet Tubman, Yaa Asantewaa and Baroness Lawrence, but all who, in Hutchings' words, "led by action, by example" and "made bright futures out of cruel and unfair pasts". With a record this thrillingly vital, Sons Of Kemet look to have pushed themselves to the crest of that new wave.
Yesterday Was Forever
While now starring in Netflix's Glow, Kate Nash has fortunately found herself unable to leave music behind – and this carbonated collection of 90s nostalgia is as bright and pugnacious as that show, and smarter. Framed around the revisiting of teenage diaries, Yesterday Was Forever doesn't mourn lost youth: it reconnects to the appetites and loyalties of late adolescence, with the joyous screams and musical moodswings that might imply. The Buffy references and Elastica riffs – both in Take Away – are a delight, and there's no lack of melody. Its chorus recurs too often, but as the record zips from Alanis Morissette-esque gales to the synthed-out breeze of Karaoke Kiss, boredom isn't really an option. Twisted Up seems to be two songs: one a volume-peaking Bikini Kill buzzfest, the other a horny Lily Allen cover. Fortunately Nash's commitment to her concept allows for wild stylistic reach, and singles like Life In Pink speak for themselves.
Things Have Changed
Cult soul-singer Bettye LaVette continues on her idiosyncratic path with a collection of Bob Dylan covers that eschews most of his best-known works for deep cuts and obscurities. Although a couple of his classics are represented, LaVette makes them her own: It Ain't Me Babe is transformed into a smooth soul groove that turns the song's original break-up theme on its head, while The Times They Are A-Changing is half-rapped over a slow-funk bass-line. Among the other tracks, relative obscurity Mama You Been on My Mind is delivered in spoken word over an appealingly hokey country music backing, while album highlight Ain't Talking is given a sinister overhaul with bluegrass fiddles. Like her inspiration's later records, Things Have Changed is let down by excessively slick production that makes for a slightly bland listen, but LaVette's husky vocals are never less than arresting.
Nihilistic Glamour Shots
Goodwill abounds for any Manchester guitar band who profess devotion to GG Allin, Genesis P-Orridge and Butthole Surfers above Morrissey, Gallagher and Squire, so Cabbage score early points for refusing to regurgitate parochial inspiration. The blurb to this record that practically boasts of the five-piece being "at the centre of two media storms" in their short career does the band few favours as they grapple for recognition on musical merit, and Nihilistic Glamour Shots is not without such merit. Fermenting with anger and hostility, like a British take on US band Black Lips' helter-skelter garage rock, the record has a touch of the ridiculous to it too, not least within its song titles. Arms of Pleonexia, Post-Modernist Caligula, Molotov Alcopop and Obligatory Castration are typically caustic anthems from this group of outliers. There are moments where former tour-mates Kasabian spring to mind as musical kinsmen, but Cabbage present themselves as a whimsical, cockeyed shock-rock alternative to the mainstream, and in the most part they succeed.
Back in 2011 The Vaccines swept the indie rock scene with a fistful of fun, upbeat indie pop bangers. Their songs were simple, effective and endearing. Seven years later, Justin Young and his band have released a collection of tracks that maintain the simplicity but lack the charm. The missing ingredient is their sense of fun. Without it, as is the case in Combat Sports, there are only hook-driven tunes that feel a little uncomfortable in their own skin. While Someone To Love starts out crisp and strong, it soon devolves into a repeating refrain that packs a pat not a punch. Similarly the lead single, I Can't Quit, falls short of its potential. Starting off with exciting vocal rhythms and promising lyrical content, it soon crumbles under "whoah-oos" of the early 2010s, long since replaced by the millennial whoop. It is an attempt to shift in a new direction, but unfortunately for The Vaccines, their recipe is less effective without their characteristic thrum of excitement, leaving a slightly turgid collection of pop-rock misfires.