wears the trousers magazine


kría brekkan: uterus water (2010)
January 11, 2010, 8:59 am
Filed under: EP, review | Tags: , ,

Kría Brekkan
Uterus Water •••
Paw Tracks

As she told Wears The Trousers in an interview last year, Kría Brekkan’s only goals as far as her ‘solo’ career is concerned are simple: “Just to practise more things and educate myself.” Three releases in, totalling just fifteen tracks and barely an hour of music, her self-education is certainly proving to be an intriguing one. Her latest 7″, limited to only 100 copies in Europe, finds the Icelander as wildly experimental, clashing and sometimes frustrating as ever. Standing outside of Brekkan’s own little bubble, it can be difficult to appreciate her work given its extreme insularity. But mere self-indulgence can be transcended into art if it can be mastered, and Uterus Water proves, as the hairs prickle up on the back of your neck, that Brekkan is approaching a kind of auteurship.

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free music friday: kría brekkan
July 3, 2009, 3:22 pm
Filed under: free music friday, mp3, review | Tags: , , , , ,

wie_kriabrekkan_01Kría Brekkan
‘Bee Xlaura’

Premiered on the Gorilla Vs. Bear music blog last week, ‘Bee Xlaura’ is the first taste of a series of double A-side 7″ singles that Kría Brekkan intends to release later in the year, and a hint of what’s to come in the next part of the “journey”, as she described it in our recent interview [here]. Recorded in early 2007 with Múm collaborator and member of Icelandic band Slowblow, Orri Jónsson, ‘Bee Xlaura’ is a beautiful stripped-down piano track that’s (dare we say it) accessible in a way that none of Kría’s previous releases have been. The first listen was three minutes of bated breath waiting for the seemingly inevitable moment that schizophrenic daggers of electronic distortion would engulf her, but that moment never came. What we’re left with is perhaps the purest essence of what makes Kría Brekkan so utterly captivating that we’ve heard to date. We can’t wait to hear the rest. MP3 after the jump.

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kría brekkan: “I don’t think I’m a very easily definable person!”

A slightly abridged version of this article appeared in Wears The Trousers issue seven. Order a print copy here.

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words in edgeways with kría brekkan

According to one episode of ‘Star Trek: Voyager’, the concepts of time and space can be folded with the aid of the right technology, theoretically allowing us to travel vast distances and cover huge periods of time in the blink of the eye. I doubt that Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir has managed to invent or discover this kind of technology just yet, but she does seem to have a knack for travelling far and letting time fly right past her.

It’s taken the best part of two months and two international time zones to finally track her down for an interview. Firstly she was in New York – her current base – where for a month either I was late calling her or she was impossible to contact. Then she was in Iceland where either I was too early to catch her or she simply wasn’t around. When I finally get hold of her at her mother’s place, her apology is huge but is swiftly followed by yet another blow: “I’m actually at a dinner right now and we are about to eat. Can we rearrange to talk again for Friday perhaps?” 

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UPDATED: inside issue seven!

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Issue seven available NOW

We know you were all hoping for an exclusive interview with the illustrious Susan Boyle. Sorry to disappoint. Instead we chat with the following:

Ane Brun • Marissa Nadler • Emilíana Torrini • Amanda Palmer • Camera Obscura • Tara Jane O’Neil • Alessi’s Ark • Soap&Skin • First Aid Kit • Leila Arab • Kría Brekkan • Tift Merritt • Carina Round • Karima Francis • Ana Silvera • plus reviews of the new albums from Tori Amos, Peaches, St Vincent and more.

Free promotional copies are limited to 3000 – get yours now and pay only postage and packing. Details below.

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sounding off: march 2009 (II)

The second batch of March mini-reviews: five more…

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Madeline
White Flag ••••
Orange Twin

Folky songstress Madeline Adams has collected multifarious comparisons to other musicians online, and even after the shortest of listens it isn’t hard to see why. There seems to be some Regina in there, a bit of Joanna, and definitely more than a touch of Joni. There’s even a hint of ’90s country pop on the titular ‘White Flag’. Fortunately, Madeline’s own personality isn’t lost beneath the tumult.

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kría brekkan: apotropaíosong armor (2008)
December 31, 2008, 2:22 am
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , , ,

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Kría Brekkan
Apotropaíosong Armor ••
Self-released

There are some artists that you continue to love and remain loyal to no matter what. You have followed them through numerous incarnations and found yourself bewitched every step of the way. Their work becomes almost like a back catalogue of lovers. Each project of theirs has a significance to your past in the same way an ex does, and you feel guilty if you follow them when they venture into territory you’d ordinarily be less than thrilled with. Even still, you find their occasional critical failures eventually becoming your favourites, and that seems to strengthen your loyalty toward them (see: Kate Bush’s The Dreaming). Like that seedy affair you shouldn’t have had, but are secretly quite glad of. But alas, there does actually come a time in some fans’ relationship with their icons when they simply have to draw the line and say, “No really, what are you doing!?”. It is uncertain whether Kría Brekkan (aka: Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir, former lead singer with Icelandic folktronica hermits Múm) has reached that point just yet, but she is pretty close for sure and is not exactly making it very easy for any potential listeners who may be following her post-Múm recordings to continue to carry their torch.

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EPs of the year: readers poll results (part II of V)

EPs of the year: #20–16

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Kría Brekkan
Wildering EP
After Hours 

With Wildering, Kría Brekkan (ex-Múm) has hit upon the sound of a child recorded plucking their first guitar from the next room, pressed onto vinyl, then left to age in a dusty attic for 20 years, only to then be played on a turntable with a duff stylus by a person who’s slightly deaf in one ear. You can’t help but think that only half of that description was the effect she was actually aiming for while recording these songs. Stranger still is that despite how easy it is to pick Wildering apart and criticise, there is still something strong here that quietly seduces with a shy charm. [full review]

FREE MP3: ‘Wildering‘ [download from Raven Sings The Blues]

Not available on iTunes

 

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An Horse
Not Really Scared EP
Phantom Sound & Vision 

Originally the solo project of Iron On’s Kate Cooper, An Horse soon grew to include Damon Cox of Intercooler. Voted for almost exclusively by Tegan & Sara fans (probably), the duo made quite an impression as the support act for the twins’ European tour earlier this year, and rightly so. Not Really Scared, the band’s debut outing, is relatively gentle compared with Iron On’s wall of furious sound. That’s not to say it isn’t noisy, it is, it’s just somewhat moderated by a nakedly emotional punch. A full length, Rearrange Beds, followed in October but no one seems to have noticed.

Not available on iTunes

 

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The Lovely Eggs
Have You Ever Heard The Lovely Eggs? EP
Cherryade

The Lovely Eggs are more than lovely; they are wonderful. Pressed on yolk-yellow vinyl, this 7″ EP is a tea-party feast of imaginative, Technicolor ditties. Fitting snugly between kooky kitsch and borderline avant-garde, Have You Ever Heard The Lovely Eggs? is a noisy little slice of heaven, injected with comic book adventures, riot grrl fire, punk-infected folk and a gentle, dancing psychedelia. [full review]

iTunes £3.16

 

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Maria Taylor with Andy LeMaster
Savannah Drive EP
Nettwerk

For her first release outside of the Saddle Creek stable, Maria Taylor partners with her former Now It’s Overhead bandmate and Saddle Creek stalwart Andy LeMaster for this lovely acoustic stopgap release. Four inventive transformations of Taylor’s old material lie serenely with new tracks ‘Ladyluck’ and ‘Tell Me’ and one of LeMaster’s own compositions. Replacing urgency with honesty, Savannah Drive is luxuriantly basic. An oxymoron, but true.

iTunes £5.53


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Nicole Atkins
The Way It Is EP
Columbia

Released in the US with the far superior title of Nicole Atkins Digs Other People’s Songs (also with far superior artwork!), the UK version of this deservingly applauded EP tacks on album track ‘The Way It Is’ to covers of The Doors, The Church, Nada Surf and ‘Mama’ Cass Elliot. Best of all is ‘Crystal Ship’, which takes Jim Morrison’s hazy, LSD-drenched ‘Light My Fire’ B-side and packs it full of emotional wallop. Even the normally untouchable ‘Dream A Little Dream Of Me’ succeeds as Atkins diets off the rock muscle she shows elsewhere for a sweet and simple, whistle-happy reading. Lovely.

FREE MP3: Nicole Atkins, ‘Under The Milky Way‘ [thanks to Stereogum]

iTunes £3.95



kría brekkan duets with antony for christmas single

Festive 7″ kicks off new Paw Tracks singles division

Former Múm vocalist Kría Brekkan follows her unsettling solo EP Wildering (review) with an unlikely duet with Antony Hegarty, and I mean unlikely both in the sense that I never imagined Kría’s tiny, beautiful voice mingling with Antony’s soaring vibrato, and in the brilliant twist that it’s a Christmas single. Just one listen is enough to dispel any concerns: this is gorgeous, classic stuff once the brief, abrasive white noise subsides.

The gentle ‘Be Good To Earth This Season’ is actually credited to Reverend Green (aka Animal Collective tour manager Brad Truax) who wrote, recorded and produced the track with Barry London, and, a bit like Björk and Thom Yorke’s ‘Náttúra’ (review), is an inspirational track expressing the importance of environmental awareness.

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kría brekkan: wildering ep (2008)
September 28, 2008, 11:38 am
Filed under: EP, review, video | Tags: , , , , ,

Kría Brekkan
Wildering EP •••
After Hours

Iceland’s ability for churning out ‘shy’ female popstars with voices and personalities so powerful they could virtually smash concrete was finally turned on its head when Múm first appeared, two beautiful young raven-haired twin sisters and their handsome male friends throwing caution politely to the wind and cooking up minimalist, domestic electronica with lashings of lovely, warm instrumental folk and mutterings of distant childlike vocals. Their debut album Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today Is OK gave Iceland’s equivalent of shy a new meaning, as well as electronica fans around the world something genuinely warm and quintessentially Icelandic to love. Over the course of subsequent releases, the girls’ confidence in their voices certainly grew and became the central focus, without losing any of their painfully innocent, crystal finish.

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2007 reviews dump: t

The following reviews were published on our old MySpace blog in 2007.

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June Tabor
Apples ••••
Topic

An artist who can never be accused of prettifying the darker aspects of folk music is June Tabor. Like Eddi Reader, Tabor has profitably mined the rich seams of traditional and contemporary song over the years, and has recorded her fair share of Burns material; indeed, her new album Apples includes one Burns song, ‘Speak Easy’, in Tabor’s words “an eloquent plea for tolerance and understanding”. But, despite such similarities, the differences in Reader’s and Tabor’s styles are marked: while Reader embroiders her sound with generic folk accoutrements – acoustic guitars, fiddles, pipes – and some smooth poppy filigrees, Tabor has developed a minimalist ‘chamber-folk’ approach – piano, viola, accordion, double bass – which sounds quite unlike that of any other contemporary folk artist and seems to draw from a deeper well. While Apples sees some (very) minor shifts in line-up – with violin/viola virtuoso Mark Emerson replacing Huw Warren on tremulous piano and Andy Cutting’s fabulous accordion playing getting greater prominence – it continues the Tabor tradition of combining an excellent selection of material with exquisite musicianship that provides the perfect setting for her remarkable vocals.

Channelling both ‘Midnight On The Water’ and Richard Thompson’s ‘Waltzing For Dreamers’ – and supplemented by a gorgeous Cutting tune titled ‘Miss Lindsay Barker’ – Andy Shanks and Jim Russell’s ‘The Dancing’ makes for a stunning opener, a deeply evocative portrait of a Saturday night dance and the respite it offers after a hard week’s work at the factory or mill. The Vaughan Williams-collected ‘The Old Garden Gate’ mixes gentle pastoral with startling images of emotional torment, while Lester Simpson’s ‘Standing In Line’ builds a poignant World War I narrative from the image of a “half-empty washing line”. Both ‘I Love My Love’ and the celestial ‘The Rigs Of Rye’ play out tricky tensions between familial duty and romantic opportunity.

Two excellent French-language tracks – ‘Au Logis De Mon Pére’ and ‘Ce Fu En Mai’ – are good value, as is ‘Soldier’s Three’, on which Tabor, accompanied by Cutting’s biting accordion, sounds positively murderous. But people are inclined to forget how much fun Tabor can be, and for proof witness her gleeful delivery on ‘The Auld Beggarman’. Still, there’s no denying that love-gone-wrong remains her favourite theme, as a devastating interpretation of Patrick Galvin’s ‘My Love Came To Dublin’ attests. Christopher Somerville’s haunting ‘Send Us A Quiet Night’ – a sailor’s plea for gentle weather – brings the album to a graceful close.

Approaching her 60th year, Tabor just gets more powerful; there’s not a moment on Apples when you feel that she’s skating over the meaning of a lyric or is less than fully committed to communicating the emotion of a song. The mixture of cool detachment and burning passion that defines her style is extraordinarily compelling. It’s a genuine shame that her wonderful music has been somewhat overlooked in the rush to excavate the work of obscure 1970s folk singers with just a couple of albums between them. Apples is not a smooth or easy record, but it’s a starkly beautiful, endlessly rewarding one that grows richer with each listen.

Alex Ramon

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Avey Tare & Kría Brekkan
Pullhair Rubeye •••
Paw Tracks

Love may be the inspiration behind more music than can ever be measured, but records made by married couples have something of a chequered history. For every Birkin and Gainsbourg there’s a Lennon and Ono, proving somehow that the intensity of feeling that binds two people together isn’t the same as that which makes for 45 minutes of listenable music. So, given that Avey Tare and Kría Brekkan (otherwise known as Dave Portner of Animal Collective and Kristín Anna Valtýsdottír formerly of Múm) dreamed up Pullhair Rubeye shortly after their nuptials, is the outcome a ‘Je T’Aime (Moi Non Plus)’ or something rather less lovable? The answer is probably a bit of both.

Much of the publicity surrounding the album has centred on the couple’s bizarre last minute decision to reverse the original songs and speed a few of them up, apparently inspired by David Lynch’s ‘Inland Empire’. Those who don’t approve of such whimsy look away now because Pullhair Rubeye is very much the product of two musicians speaking a private, lovers’ language. This is a sonically dense and inward-looking record that eschews anything so conventional as hooks and the foot-stomping psychedelia that marks out Animal Collective’s back catalogue in favour of a sense of twisted domesticity. Throughout these eight tracks recorded in their practice space in Brooklyn, Tare’s skittering guitar converses with Brekkan’s more hesitant piano as sometimes whispered, occasionally squeaky vocals bubble over the top.

The result, when it’s right, is compelling. Tare’s plaintive voice and Brekkan’s simple arpeggios make ‘Opís Helpus’ and ‘Was Ónaíp’ hypnotic and affecting. Elsewhere, ‘Who Wellses In My Hoff’, in which guitar and piano and husband and wife indulge in a kind of musical pillow talk, succeeds in being simple and intricate at the same time. It’s a shame the same couldn’t be said of ‘Palenka’ and ‘Sasong’, which can only be described as a questionable attempt at crossing New Weird America with Alvin & The Chipmunks.

The reversal of the original songs notwithstanding, Pullhair Rubeye teeters on the wacky side of odd. Yet it also showcases the talents of two musicians who, when they apply enough self-discipline, make arresting work, particularly if you re-reverse the tracks (a tactic Tare himself has openly approved of; indeed, four of the re-reversed songs are currently streaming from the duo’s MySpace). With this record, Tare and Brekkan make a valiant stab at becoming the psych revival’s equivalent of Sonny and Cher. It’s good, not great, but nonetheless holds the promise of better things to come.

Chris McCrudden

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Ruth Theodore
Worm Food ••••
River Rat

Ruth Theodore is confused, and a bit angry. People are “packaging and labelling and branding” everything in sight, mobile phones are constantly ringing in her ears, the world is on the fast track to “a new form of Hell” and meanwhile she’s developing a rather nasty allergy. Petite and elfish, Theodore comes across like a righteous woodland spirit writing love songs to trees and railing against the modern mayhem. Her debut album Worm Food is in part a polemic against our miserable capitalist lifestyles, and part a celebration of old school romanticism. Often it’s difficult to tell where one part ends and the other begins.

A rising star of London’s acoustic singer-songwriter scene, Theodore is abundantly talented and, seen live, utterly astounding. She picks away at her six-string at an unbelievable speed, never missing a note, and manages some pretty amazing feats with her voice at the same time. Her lyrics are funny and charming; her music stylistically varied and often surprising. I’ve got a little EP of hers somewhere, but I never thought it captured the brilliance of her live performance and lost it somewhere in my disappointment. Worm Food does much better justice to Theodore’s talent. The recording quality is miles ahead of those homemade demos; you can pick every note out of the gentle but persistent flow. The album’s all-acoustic nature is a fine reflection of her obvious dissatisfaction with the modern world. The styles she experiments with are diverse: some are fun, like ‘Overexpanding’s Spanish-style guitars and the accordion-punctuated, sailor song-like parts of ‘Grounded’ and ‘CO2′. Rash is surprising by the sheer fury and dirtiness Theodore is able to whip up without the help of effects pedals and lashings of distortion. Other tracks are quiet and gentle affairs, perfectly sweet and beautiful songs about love.

Theodore’s voice is distinctive, a very English sounding voice, that sits somewhere between song and speech. It is soft and quite low, but also makes a casual display of hitting all the high notes of ‘Grounded’. Indeed the entire album seems almost effortless. She makes it sound as if making music of this quality is the easiest thing in the world. Perhaps for her it is. The lyrics, though peculiarly phrased, match those familiar thoughts that we have every day, thoughts about love and life and how shit things can be. Her themes, as I said before, cross over in unexpected places. ‘Rash’ and ‘Overexpanding’ are clearly songs of protest, but ‘Grounded’, which initially sounds like a love song, seems to be asking why people can’t just get along with each other. The title track and ‘Home’ might be about either, take your pick.

If this album has a flaw it would not be with the music but the content. One might consider the overarching theme of ‘look at what a mess our world is in’ to be a bit preachy – we don’t need our faces rubbed in it all of the time. But maybe that’s exactly the problem that Theodore is singing about – the ease with which we turn a blind and irritable eye away from the problems we are faced with. Personally, I’m just pleased to finally have a recording that does this wonderful songwriter justice. Worm Food is an essential collection for anyone with a social conscience, all the while enchanting and amusing and causing the listener to fall head over heels for its fey creator.

Hugh Armitage

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Priya Thomas
You & Me Against The World Baby ••••
Irl

You & Me Against The World Baby may be the first domestic release from Canadian noisenik Priya Thomas, but it’s actually her fourth album in 10 years back home. Things get off to a rocky start, in both senses of the word, with opener ‘Anything I Want I Can Get Me Some’, a track so generic that you’ll likely be convinced that you’ve heard it before. As loud and raucous as it is formulaic, it may well prove to be something of a live favourite, but here it is fairly forgettable. Fortunately you can do just that if you so desire as the rest of the album reveals a great deal more imagination and talent. That much is clear from just the opening refrains of the deranged and brilliant ‘Motherfucking West’, which, radio-unfriendly title aside, makes for the perfect choice for her first UK single.

Though she rarely strays far from the realms of rock, Thomas demonstrates a far greater range than that particular pigeonhole might at first imply. Her songs are full of enough hooks, melodies and crashing guitar riffs to keep other acts going for several albums. Moving through the trashy sleaze of ‘She Said (Why Were We Born)’ to the pretty pop rock ballad of the title track, Thomas makes damned sure we know what she can do. Perhaps that’s what that first track is all about, almost as if she were saying “sure, I can do this rock-by-numbers stuff if that’s what you want, but wouldn’t you rather have this?”

Wears The Trousers, for one, most certainly would, and with a follow-up album touted for release in the autumn, we won’t have to wait long to see where she’s headed.

Scott Millar

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Linda Thompson
Versatile Heart ••••
Universal Classics

Despite the persistence of the vocal problems which have made both studio recording and live performance a recurrent challenge over the years (and that throughout the ‘90s seemed to have curtailed her career altogether), Linda Thompson has kept herself remarkably busy since the release of her long-awaited and well-received comeback album, Fashionably Late. Guest spots on records by son Teddy Thompson and Rufus Wainwright and appearances at live shows, including the Leonard Cohen ‘Came So Far For Beauty’ tribute concerts and her own evenings of homage to the Music Hall tradition, have allowed Thompson to build on the momentum created by Fashionably Late and to forge a solo identity distinct from her work with ex-husband Richard on the classic albums they made together in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. The excellent Versatile Heart continues her heartening creative renaissance.

In mood, tone and the warmth of its acoustic trappings, the new album feels very much like a companion piece to the last, and continues the strongly collaborative ethos established by its predecessor. Martha Wainwright, accordionist John Kirkpatrick, and Martin and Eliza Carthy all make appearances, alongside Thompson’s daughter Kamila, and, most prominently, son Teddy, who contributes vocals and guitar work and gets co-writing credits across the album. Combining original material with songs by Tom Waits and Rufus Wainwright, and book-ended by two gentle instrumentals entitled ‘Stay Bright’ (a statement of intent if ever there was one), the album feels all of a piece: the songs are united by the palpable love and respect of the players and by Thompson’s own deliciously sepulchral tones.

The delightful title track begins with Kate Rusby-esque brass and moves into a spry acoustic strum that’s immediately inviting. “Will you write me a letter of recommendation?” Thompson inquires of an unworthy lover. “Say what you think, but please don’t stint on the praise.” The line encapsulates the disarming mixture of emotional candour and dry wit that characterises her songwriter and that of Teddy’s. Their lyrics teem with direct but delicately delivered emotional insights. “Nothing’s worth the holding if you can’t let go,” she muses on ‘The Way I Love You’, a stately ballad that pivots on the narrator’s recognition of her own neediness – “Father, brother, son’s too much for any man to do” – and benefits from Martha Wainwright’s lovely harmonies. Other originals such as ‘Blue & Gold, Give Me A Sad Song’ (penned with long-time collaborator Betsy Cook) and ‘Go Home’ are carefully crafted, boasting strong melodies and yielding more and more on each listen, while ‘Do Your Best For Rock ‘N Roll’ – which commences with the wry command “Take me to a bar and leave me there to die” – adds a pleasing dose of country twang to the proceedings. The tense ‘Nice Cars’, written by Kamila (who also contributes fine harmonies), finds the narrator trapped in a broken down vehicle that may or may not stand for a stalled relationship. “Ladies shouldn’t drive nice cars,” Thompson intones. “They’re only gonna break our hearts.”

Two particularly memorable tracks demonstrate Thompson’s special skills of interpretation. Plaintive strings usher in the elegant, Rufus-penned ‘Beauty’, a bespoke composition that offers a timely disquisition on the title concept, with Thompson wondering “Beauty, what is your face? / what has it given the human race? / all that it has given me is a longing for / pople and things I could never afford.” Halfway through the song, Antony Hegarty (who must surely have broken some record or other for the sheer number of guest appearances in the past year) shows up to add his ubiquitous quavering contribution, one that, unfortunately, is already in danger of beginning to sound somewhat phoned-in. It doesn’t help that his cameo occurs on what is arguably the song’s weakest lyrical moment, as Wainwright’s writing breaks the mood of reflection with some jarring references to Oscar Wilde and Michael Jackson. Nonetheless, the song remains one of the most immediately striking tracks on the album. Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan’s ‘Day After Tomorrow’ also gets an arresting reading; the song is a heart-wrenching letter home from an American soldier fighting in an unspecified foreign war and beautifully juxtaposes the protagonist’s loss of faith in the conflict with nostalgic memories of hometown routine, and his anticipation of homecoming. Thompson’s spare interpretation gives the song the quality of an ancient prayer.

Despite the formidable art-rock credentials of much of the company she’s keeping here, Thompson is certainly unafraid of showing her folk roots, as evidenced by the “fiddle-da-day” flourishes on her biting rendition of the traditional ‘Katie Cruel’ and especially by the original number ‘Whisky, Bob Copper & Me’, a beautiful homage to English folk traditions that namechecks not only the Brit-folk patriarch of the title but also revival luminaries Shirley Collins and Davey Graham. Here (unlike on ‘Beauty’) the name-dropping sounds easy and natural, and as the unmistakable voice of Eliza Carthy swoops in on one of the verses, a host of English traditions seem to come full circle. It’s a sublimely warm and moving moment, one of many on a very fine record. Ultimately, though, it’s the sound of Thompson’s own voice, with its lovely, sincere, grave quality and subtle expressive power, that makes Versatile Heart such a compelling and enjoyable album.

Alex Ramon

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Tracey Thorn
Out Of The Woods •••½
Virgin

Change is as good as a rest, right? Hold that thought.

Those of us not afraid to admit to being of a certain generation have been subject to a glut of nostalgia-pricking TV over the last couple of years; think day-glo clad lads messing about on boats in glossy videos, Casio keyboards and message t-shirts. Where the goggle-box goes, the rest of the world usually follows, so welcome back into the musical fold our Tracey, 50% of Everything But The Girl and the voice that lit up a thousand college bedsits with her solo debut A Distant Shore in 1982. Sterling work with Mr Watt, guest spots with Massive Attack and Deep Dish and three children later, and we have…well, we have a follow-up that could have been written in 1983.

Granted, the production values are better and the stories imbued with the additional spice of experience, but bless her, Ms Thorn has taken her own baton seamlessly and provided us with a 44-minute wallow in yesterday. On first listen I scribbled down the following: “Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, Pet Shop Boys, Eurythmics, Alison Moyet (when she was Alf), sunrise chords from Ibiza circa ’84” – a heady mix and a roll call anyone would be justly proud of. Make no mistake, the sound is derivative for those of us who were ‘there’, but we wouldn’t have it any other way because the music is excellent, the lyrics playful and poignant, and a voice that sounds like coming home to familiar faces after an extended business trip.

Name-dropping Siouxsie Sioux and Edwin Starr, laced with quintessentially English melancholy and pulsating dance beats, Out Of The Woods gets better as it progresses through the attics of Thorn’s mind. The single ‘It’s All True’ is fleeting, all tinny synth (Trevor) horns and a clever, Kraftwerk-lite dance video that drives the simple message home. ‘Hands Up To The Ceiling’ is a beautiful shout out to the music of her youth. The opening piano run on ‘Easy’, reminiscent of Ultravox, blurs swiftly into a couplet Thorn delivers with such restrained anguish you want to make her cocoa: “I love the way you breathe / I hate the day you leave / it’s easy to forget / we haven’t even started yet”.

The highlights are kept almost ’til last in ‘Grand Canyon’ and ‘By Piccadilly Station I Sat Down & Wept’. The former will have you attempting to throw shapes on the living room floor to the stomping beat and mantra “…everybody loves you here”; the latter, all the more delicious for its song title (surely a contender for best of 2007), is 2:27 of break-up song that’s both knowing and innocent at the same time. Finally, on closer ‘Raise The Roof’, when Thorn sings “all of those years I wasted / sitting on my own,” I’m not sure who she thinks she’s fooling; she’s been busy alright, and the results are an early contender for the soundtrack to the summer.

Paul Woodgate

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Holly Throsby
Under The Town •••½
Woo Me!

Sydney-based singer-songwriter Holly Throsby’s second album Under The Town is very much a companion piece to her debut, last year’s spare and beguiling On Night. Produced, like its predecessor, by Tony Dupe, the record once again places Throsby’s hushed, breathy, intimate vocals in a sympathetic acoustic setting, with guitar, dashes of piano, fiddles and a few jazzy touches fleshing out the sound. Even so, Under The Town is a somewhat more consistent and confident album and one that should see Throsby’s star continue to rise on the alt-folk circuit.

Throsby’s songs remain suggestive, delicate and fragmentary; sketches rather than portraits, they allow the listener to fill in the gaps. As with On Night, the tracks are conjured from a palette of recurrent images, allusions and word-sounds. There are lots of cups, lots of animals (dogs and birds are back, joined by rabbits, horses and deer this time), lots of references to youth and winter, as well as quite a bit of driving. But where On Night‘s songs tended to blur into one another, these tracks develop distinctive personalities more rapidly and linger longer in the mind. The title track continues where The Be Good Tanyas left off with a song about dead dogs, opening with the image of an “old hound sleep[ing] in the ground”.

‘Making A Fire’ transports the listener to a wintery location where “the wind and the woods are warring” but companionship offers respite: “I’m here and you’re here / We’re here!”. Indeed, relationships remain the principal thematic focus and Throsby’s songs find reasons for both hope and despair in the interactions between lovers, family and friends. The piano-led ‘On Longing’ is an emotionally complex apology to a lover, while ‘Come Visit’ entertains speculations about the possible outcomes of an invitation before recognising that “maybe you won’t come visit at all”. Elsewhere, ‘Swing On’ accepts both the universality of romantic disappointment and the ability to overcome it, while ‘The Shoulders & Bends’ equates a relationship with the danger, uncertainty and excitement of driving at night. These songs feel slight at times but retain a hypnotic quality and grow in stature with each play.

Throsby can be precious, and, at worst, there’s a somewhat random quality to her imagery, as well as a notable self-consciousness. At her best, though, she can write songs that resemble little journeys with unforeseen twists and turns in the road. Her music has a deceptive gentleness, lulling you into a reverie before pulling you up sharply with a surprising image: when she describes “a new love” as being “as warm as a gun / or a knife that I fell on” (on the excellent ‘What Becomes Of Us’) you realise just how powerful she can be. Such moments make Under The Town an album worthy of attention, particularly for fans of her debut.

Alex Ramon 

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KT Tunstall
Drastic Fantastic •••
Relentless

‘Star’ is the word that springs to mind when first clocking the cover to KT Tunstall’s new album Drastic Fantastic. Framed like a classical interpretation of a constellation, with her face in profile, Tunstall brandishes a mirrored guitar with the same purpose a warrior might hold a sword. For an artist with four million sales under her belt (not to mention a Grammy nomination and a Brits nod in triplicate) such posturing can be forgiven. But does the follow-up to the leviathan Eye To The Telescope justify this confidence? Anyone seeking songs that live up to the anthemic bliss of her Patti Smith tribute ‘Suddenly I See’ won’t find them in the album’s rockier tracks, although lead single ‘Hold On’ comes closest to this buoyant joy. The most memorable moments on Drastic Fantastic are provided by the ballads and the straight-up pop songs.

In the enviable position of enjoying both critical and commercial success, Tunstall is best known for a pop-rock hybrid that recalls Sheryl Crow, and this is never more apparent than on ‘Little Favour’, which kicks off the album with strident guitars and a snarling vocal pertaining to a feral love. The pace is slackened only slightly for ‘If Only’, a break-up song from the point of view of an empowered victim on which the excellent backing band, particularly the backing vocals, and an inspired and obtuse melody disguise the slightly lacklustre lyrics: “If only you could see me now / if only you could hear me now / if only it was only me now”.

Given her involvement with the Fence collective alongside artists such as King Creosote, James Yorkston and Lone Pigeon, and the decidedly folkish lyric of ‘Black Horse & The Cherry Tree’, the breakthrough single from her debut, it’s a surprise that ‘White Bird’ is the only folk-tinged number on this album. Despite being fairly pleasantly delivered, it smacks a little of contractual fulfilment to satisfy those punters who might stick with her simply because of her folk connections and credentials. A particularly affecting inclusion is ‘Funnyman’, a touching, amusing and poignant song written about her friend Gordon Anderson (Lone Pigeon, The Aliens) and his fight with mental illness/demonic possession. This truly heartfelt song is one of the signs that Tunstall has more to her than other mega-selling artists of recent years, balancing perfectly her black humour and concern.

Elsewhere, the songs stick very closely to the credible pop standard, with ‘Saving Face’s “I’m all out of luck / I’m all out of faith… / losing my memory, saving my face” in particular bringing to mind Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn. Then there’s ‘I Don’t Want You Now’, which could easily be a poor Pretenders number, while ‘Someday Soon’ sounds for all the world like a dusted-off Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians track. The meandering ‘Beauty Of Sound’ recalls the chart-friendly end of Tori Amos or recent PJ Harvey, but once again sounds like a calculated attempt to satisfy yet another subgroup of her potential audience. The standout tracks are those where Tunstall find her own voice, as she does on ‘Hold On’. ‘Hopeless’ is a jaunty pop number pitched somewhere between Aimee Mann and Chrissie Hynde, which is no bad place to be (although not quite as good as that sounds), while the closer ‘Paper Aeroplane’, is perhaps the best track of the album: a radio-friendly, idiosyncratic and touching ballad.

Tunstall continues to stand astride the Radio 1 and 2 playlists – the pillars of UK music output – like a Scottish colossus, and in the US these tracks should provide the perfect accompaniment to teen break-ups in California and tough medical decisions in Seattle. Gargantuan sales for Drastic Fantastic seem guaranteed. However, for all its accomplishment and polished pop-rock, the album sits too comfortably among the mainstream, occasionally slipping into trite pop conventions and anodyne lyrical construction. Someone with Tunstall’s background, knowledge and charm can surely do better. Perhaps next time she will not play it so safe.

Peter Hayward