Albums: Travis, Ward Thomas, Carla Bruni, Emmy The Great, Machinedrum
TWENTY years since they won the first of two best British group awards at the Brits, Travis return with their ninth studio album. True to its simple name, this offering comes in 10 unique parts, pairing lead singer Fran Healy’s breathy falsetto with a mixture of contemplative piano, classic rock guitar and drums. In many ways, this record has all the things that brought joy to fans of the Scottish rock band in their heyday. Ever the band’s strength, it shifts with ease from loud to soft, animated to moody – offering both a spring in your step and a moment of sobriety, in a collection which grows on you with each listen. Yearners for the Britpop years will enjoy a strong sense of nostalgia, but for those with their heads in the present, it stands up as a triumph too.
INVITATION is the fourth album from Hampshire twins Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas, whose country sound has been a big hit with Radio 2 audiences. It’s a fairly gentle listen, a pleasant album which loyal fans will enjoy, but may fail to grab new listeners. The first single, Someday, and Don’t Be A Stranger have catchy refrains, while Hold Space has melodic verses – but the chorus strays towards the repetitive. Meant To Be Me is stronger, an emotional track about how hard it is to see an ex happy with someone else, even if it was your decision to end the relationship, while My Favourite Poison is a bit darker and more dramatic. The twins’ voices sound great for Halfway with James Blunt, and Human, a cover of The Killers track with Jack Savoretti, which was recorded live at the SSE Arena in Wembley, but when someone else is livening up your album it’s not a good sign.
HISTORY teaches us to be wary of self-titled albums. Often they indicate indulgence, an artist with too much time on their hands, self-parody even. Not so with Carla Bruni, the former French first lady and model who, ever so elegantly, transformed herself into a singer-songwriter almost overnight. Since 2002, she has repeatedly topped the charts in France. This, her sixth album, is almost totally made up of original songs, bar a cover of a Spanish standard and a song Bruni wrote for Canadian singer Isabelle Boulay a few years ago. Voglio L’Amore, featuring vocals from her sister, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, is a snaking, tuneful spoken-word extravaganza that cascades pleasingly towards the ears. Rien Que L’Extase doesn’t have quite the same kick, sitting in a twilight zone where Bruni’s huskiest tones audibly struggle, before settling into an underwhelming sing-song outro. But, even there, her music is disarming and this is a record well worth your time.
Emmy The Great
AN ODE to her native Hong Kong, Emma-Lee Moss’s fourth studio album as Emmy The Great is also simply a lovely record. The influence is evident from Chinese-language opener Mid-Autumn – the English title referring to a momentous trip back to her birthplace in 2017 – and continues throughout, with Chang-E taking its title from the Chinese goddess of the Moon. Musically the palette is broadly folk, embellished with brushes of percussion and hypnotic chanted sections. Unconventional similes – “Staring in my face, like a tennis game, like a wedding day” on second track Writer – and talk of hallucinations and fortune tellers give an otherworldliness but grounded in a beautiful musical simplicity which will appeal to fans of Jenny Lewis or Neko Case, with the euphoric A Window/O’Keeffe a stand-out moment.
A View Of U
MACHINEDRUM never stands still for long, and his ninth solo album – along with numerous collaborations and remixes over two decades – burnishes his reputation as one of electronic music’s most innovative talents. The prolific LA producer, aka Travis Stewart, fuses IDM, UK rave and bass culture with US regional hip-hop and club music styles in 11 tracks. The Relic starts with skittering beats before Rochelle Jordan’s vocals kick in, while Kane Train steps up the tempo, sampling the 1970s soul classic Ujimma by The Lightmen Plus One, with Freddie Gibbs rapping. Sleepy Pietro is another change of pace, a collaboration with acclaimed Armenian jazz pianist Tigran Hamasayan, while Star is a spacey R&B ballad featuring Tanerelle & Mono/Poly. The diverse set of styles is held together by the concept of having an out-of-body experience, with Stewart known to be a keen advocate of meditation. If you want to know where electronic music is going next, Machinedrum shows the way.