Albums: New music from David Bowie, Nas, Twin Atlantic and Deerhoof
NAS – MAGIC
MANY thought Nas had reached his peak last August with King's Disease II, his most celebrated album since 2012's Life Is Good.
But just four months later, landing unexpectedly on Christmas Eve, the quality of his latest project Magic rivals his three decades of work.
While the King's Disease series felt grand, the mood is much darker on Magic.
The Queens rapper kicks off with one of the best tracks on the album, Speechless, before turning ominous on Meet Joe Black, The Truth and album closer Dedication.
There is only one collaboration on the album, with ASAP Rocky and DJ Premier on Wave Gods, which has a classic feel. Hollywood Gangsta and Wu For The Children are also tracks that invoke nostalgia, appropriate for a 48-year-old who's 15 albums deep.
In Ugly, he raps that this transitional album is to "feed the buzz", suggesting to fans that King's Disease III is on the way.
DAVID BOWIE – TOY:BOX
THIS expanded version of Bowie's 'lost' album provides yet another reminder of how far ahead of his time he was.
Recorded with his Glastonbury 2000 band, Earl Slick, Gail Ann Dorsey et al, shortly after that famous performance, it imbues songs originating in the 60s and early 70s with the same triumphant contemporary energy.
Toy:Box emerges days after Bowie's back catalogue was sold to Warners and a day before what would have been his 75th birthday.
Hole In The Ground and single You've Got A Way Of Leaving stand out but the most impressive feat may be the closing title track, which re-purposes elements of opener I Dig Everything into a completely new song to bookend a set which is a worthy entry into the Bowie canon.
The box set also includes a disc of 'alternatives and extras', which dials up the rock 'n' roll swagger, and one of 'Unplugged and Somewhat Slightly Electric' versions, as well as a terrifying cover picture.
TWIN ATLANTIC – TRANSPARENCY
NOW down to a duo, Glaswegians Twin Atlantic release the lockdown album they "made by mistake".
Very different from their familiar rock music with big pop choruses, Transparency is lo-fi with prominent synths and sampled beats. Opener Keep Your Head Up is a gentle piano ballad about male friendship during the strains of the pandemic, with final track Instigator reprising the sound.
But One Man Party and Get Famous bring something else entirely, all frantic beats and sleazy synths, with McTrusty half rapping the lyrics, the latter about influencers' desperation for clicks and likes.
Haunt is a synth ballad and then Twin Atlantic start channelling previously unheard influences ranging from Prince to 80s duo Hall & Oates, on Dance Like Your Mother, Dirty and Bang On The Gong.
This is a band tearing up their own rule book and starting afresh, making for an unexpected and invigorating start to 2022.
DEERHOOF – DEVIL KIDS
RECORDED in November, Devil Kids is Deerhoof's latest live album and captures one of their first performances together after being separated by the pandemic.
Drummer and founding member Greg Saunier describes it aptly.
"When my friends asked if playing with band again was like riding a bike, I had to say no. We changed over two years. We played looser and got along nicer."
This is a career-spanning set including songs from recent albums recorded during quarantine, such as the thrilling Actually, You Can.
Fans of the band will enjoy the intimacy of these recordings.
They were made in the "comically cramped" basement of guitarist Ed Rodriguez's house and brief snippets of laughter and conversation add pleasing colour to proceedings.
Listeners may have retreated to lighter sounds like pop and disco during the pandemic but Deerhoof have remained steadfast in their weirdness, and this is a fine document of that.