Albums: The Strokes, Cadet, The Dream Syndicate and Pokey LaFarge
The New Abnormal
AFTER such a long break from recording, have The Strokes gone in a new direction or have they managed to regroup after 2006's First Impressions of Earth – an album that didn't land well.
The fact is, Julian Casablancas and co are still remembered with such fondness purely because of the impressive tracks on their first two albums, This Is It and Room On Fire.
The New Abnormal doesn't break new ground. And to be honest, with everything that is going on in the world right now, I don't think that we need new and groundbreaking. This is The Strokes returning to their famous sound, the tempo, the drawl, the voice cracks and rhythm – it's all there.
Bad Decisions has the same riff as in Casablancas solo track I Wish It Was Christmas Today.
Eternal Summer is light and breezy – almost pop-like with falsetto in there for good measure.
It's a nice change of pace and it's not wrong: life is a funny journey. It's nice to have The Strokes back.
The Rated Legend
SOUTH London rapper Cadet, real name Blaine Cameron Johnson, was killed in a car crash while on his way to a gig in Staffordshire last February. He was 28.
His cousin, Casyo 'Krept' Johnson of grime originals Krept And Konan, has spoken of how he feels "determined and driven" to keep Cadet's name alive.
The Rated Legend is just that: a portrait of an artist cut down before his time, dredged up from the prolific musician's hard drives and augmented by a roster of stars working free of charge.
Wretch 32, Chip and D-Block Europe's Young Adz line up to pay tribute on a collection of tracks that feels surprisingly cohesive. It would be fruitless to speculate whether The Rated Legend sounds anything like the debut album Cadet would have inevitably released, but thankfully Cadet's passion and personality shine through.
His trademark searing, introverted honesty binds The Rated Legend together. The quality on show only begs the question: 'What could have been?'
The Universe Inside
THE Paisley Underground scene shone brightly but briefly in the 1980s, meshing late-60s psychedelic sounds with punk energy, loved by too few people who shared the impeccable taste of its noted advocate, Prince.
Leading lights The Dream Syndicate split in 1989, and The Universe Inside is their third and most radical album since reforming in 2012. The 20-minute-plus opener/single The Regulator sets the scene, with gruff one-take vocals by Steve Wynn and saxophone and electric sitar improvisations taking it towards free jazz territory.
That's the first of just five tracks, the shortest seven minutes and 37 seconds, with The Longing a late-night blues stroll and Apropos Of Nothing rooted in Chris Cavacas' swirling keyboards, while closer The Slowest Rendition has echoes of early Roxy Music.
This long, strange trip is probably not for those addicted to verse-bridge-chorus songs, or wanting tunes to whistle, but if there was ever a time to explore something more complex, these are the strange days and this is the album.
Rock Bottom Rhapsody
ROCK Bottom Rhapsody features a melting pot of American sounds; country, blues, jazz, rockabilly, bluegrass and obscurities like barrelhouse and Appalachian folk. The 36-year-old's extensive back catalogue would read like a history book if it wasn't for the conviction with which he plays.
As its title suggests, Rock Bottom Rhapsody did not emerge from a happy period. Following the release of his Manic Revelations album in 2017, LaFarge, born Andrew Heissler, moved to Los Angeles and suffered what he has described as a "fall from grace".
"I was letting evil spirits and demons rule me," he explains.
Much of the album was written just prior to LaFarge hitting "rock bottom", and it shows. There's a keening joy on Just The Same but it masks an intangible sorrow, while the rollicking Storm A Coming offers a fitting allegory.
Thankfully, LaFarge found God and promptly settled down to record this album – a pleasing reminder that looking back can take you forward.