Alicia Keys – ALICIA
IN A year of social unrest in America, Alicia Keys' seventh album is both a soothing balm and a rousing call to arms. According to Keys, these 15 songs are her most personal to date. This is some claim, coming from the artist who named her 2003 album The Diary Of Alicia Keys.
Across a dizzying array of genres, we see an artist in full flight, shackled by nothing apart from her imagination. Time Machine offers a deep, introspective groove beset by swirling atmospherics, as Keys sings about her angst and regrets. Underdog is a more straightforward ballad – a paean to the "hustlers trading at the bus stop, single mothers waited on a cheque" backed by exquisite guitar and piano.
The mood is overwhelmingly contemplative, sometimes even sombre, but always buoyed by an uplifting message.
Idles – Ultra Mono
DESCRIBED by the band as "the sound of Idles heading into battle, battering ram in hand," the album gets off to a frantic and heavy start with War and, honestly, doesn't really slow down much from then on.
Big beats and powerful riffs drive almost every song, contrasted with the classic tongue in cheek, darkly comedic lyrics that fans are well accustomed to. There is also a joyous positivity and self-belief to the album which comes through on songs like Mr Motivator, previously released as a single, and in the recurring phrase "I am I" which serves as a "lyrical and spiritual mantra" throughout.
But Idles are keen to show they're not all just about battering your eardrums with anti-Tory vitriol, as A Hymn aptly demonstrates, with tender introspective vocals from frontman Joe Talbot overlaying a more reverent soundscape.
In a crowded field of bangers, stand-outs include Grounds, Model Village and Kill Them With Kindness.
Roisin Murphy – Roisin Machine
BEHOLD the year's most appropriate album title. An irresistible force transmitting via a disembodied electronic voice, Ireland's disco queen inhabits every definition of the phrase.
This fifth studio album, recorded in collaboration with Sheffield-based DJ Parrot, is actually bookended with tracks previously released as stand-alone singles, opening with the pair's 2012 team-up Simulation and concluding with 2015's Jealousy, but in between are eight fresh slices of disco goodness.
Something More, the single Murphy's Law and Narcissus give a taste of this unabashedly over-the-top collection – "I live my life with no regret", she proudly sings on the former – while on Shellfish Mademoiselle (yes, really) she demands: "How dare you sentence me to a lifetime without dancing?"
There is no danger of that, and We Got Together provides perhaps the album's most nightclub-ready moment – even if coronavirus restrictions may leave fans gyrating around their own kitchens instead.
Diana Krall – This Dream of You
AT THE best of times, jazz is an acquired taste, and the newest album from Canadian jazz pianist Diana Krall is no exception. This Dream Of You features soft, intimate vocals alongside bouncier, refreshing tracks that allow Krall's talent to shine on this sophisticated record.
At its best, these songs are emotional and a testament to the jazz ensemble, with Krall's voice a fitting compliment. Almost Like Being In Love is a delightful, upbeat tune, and the album opens and finishes on high notes.
However, while the album is a respectable 12 tracks, it feels much longer than needs and starts to drag. More Than You Know in particular takes the slow, contemplative nature of the album into the glacial and dirge-like.
This Dream Of You is sweet and poetic but encapsulates the overarching flaw of the album – clocking in at seven minutes long, it manages to feel much longer.