Albums: New music from John Grant, Modest Mouse, Gaspar Auge and Griff
JOHN GRANT – BOY FROM MICHIGAN
JOHN Grant goes back to his roots with Boy From Michigan, his lyrics mining his troubled childhood in 1980s small-town Middle America.
Grant, who was born in Buchanan, Michigan, before his family moved to Parker, Colorado, evokes endless summer nights at the fairground on the title track and the gorgeous County Fair.
But he also tackles the darker side of the American Dream in tracks like The Rusty Bull, singing "and 40 years later I'm still trying to run". The Only Baby, at almost 10 minutes, is a bitter history of the US from European invasion through slavery to Donald Trump's presidency, with a bitter reference to "that thing in the White House" and fadeout into unsettling cacophony. Other songs tackle being a gay man in small-town America.
A couple of tracks on the second half of the album, Rhetorical Figure, and the innuendo-heavy Your Portfolio, are pure electronica, and come across as whimsical and throwaway, though with dark intent.
MODEST MOUSE – THE GOLDEN CASKET
APPROACHING the 30th anniversary of their formation but releasing only the seventh studio album of their career, the Portland collective have never been a band in a hurry.
If that seems at odds with modern technology and its effect on attention spans, singer Isaac Brock is all too well aware and the album mentions "cellular gadgets", "hashtagging, photo bragging" and "smart device computers" among various other scattered references.
That theme centres on Transmitting Receiving, a scattergun critique of consumer culture, while Brock also addresses the subjects of fatherhood (Lace Your Shoes), drugs (on the unprintably-titled opening track) and, more generally, his and our place in the wide world.
An evolving sonic palette finds room for Modest Mouse's established lo-fi indie-rock and plenty besides, from the jingly intro to The Sun Hasn't Left to We Are Between, whose listed instruments range from synth to "paper bags filled with wood".
GASPARD AUGE – ESCAPADES
DAFT Punk's decision to go their separate ways this year left Justice – Gaspard Auge and Xavier de Rosnay – as the sole heirs to France's dance-pop throne.
The last full Justice album, Woman, was released in 2016, so the arrival of Auge's debut solo effort, titled Escapades, will delight fans craving more of the group's well-crafted endorphin hits.
While these 12 tracks don't stray far from the Justice template, Auge does indulge his love of atmospheric film soundtracks, cheesy 80s guitars and Pink Floyd.
Welcome, which opens the album, suggests listeners will be treated to the usual Justice fare (no bad thing necessarily).
But tracks like Pentacle and Captain prove Auge is comfortable exploring looser, more esoteric ideas.
Now in his 40s, Auge's self-stated goal is simply to ignore the definitions of "good taste or bad taste" and make music because it is fun.
On the fittingly titled Escapades, he has surely done that.
GRIFF – ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER
ONE Foot in Front of the Other is an apt name for Griff's first proper collection of music.
The singer-songwriter, real name Sarah Griffiths, has gone from budding artist penning songs in her Hertfordshire bedroom to Brit Award winner and industry darling in less than a year.
Staying calm and collected amongst the madness must be a challenge.
Written and recorded during lockdown, this is an album in all but name: seven songs running from big room pop bangers (Black Hole) to reflective ballads (Earl Grey Tea) and shuffling R&B sidesteps (Heart of Gold).
The quality is high – Griff manages to capture the symbiotic pain and pleasure of young love with ease and has found a bubbling kind of synth-heavy pop that complements her agile voice.
However, you can't help but feel she is holding back her best material for the album proper.
Let's hope it's worth the wait.