watoday– This year our experiences have taken place largely within the confines of glowing rectangles, containing all the world that has been taken away in real life. This idea lies at the centre of the fourth record from Scottish synth-pop band Chvrches: a collection of 10 sparkling songs that often musically belie the dark subject-matter of disillusionment, anxiety and fear.
Much of it can be summed up by the chorus of the glittering He Said She Said, as singer Lauren Mayberry repeats, “I feel like I’m losing my mind”. The jewel in the crown is How Not to Drown, a collaboration with Robert Smith that takes obvious influence from his band, the Cure, and other post-punk groups of the ’80s. The result is a breathtaking masterstroke of gothic storytelling, awash with pop-perfect textures and Mayberry and Smith’s vocals playing nicely off one another.
Heavy production and autotune litter the record, but some of the more touching moments are simple, with closer Better If You Don’t dropping the bells and whistles for an earnest, downbeat song ruminating on heartbreak. With both joyful pop bangers and more contemplative numbers, this is a fine record that documents the times. GISELLE AU-NHIEN NGUYEN
Tropical F— Storm, DEEP STATES (TFS) ★★★★
Tropical F— Storm, the shambolic quartet founded in 2017 by Drones bandmates Fiona Kitschin and Gareth Liddiard, operates on a principle of perversity. In the studio they assiduously avoid predictable moves, while torturing Liddiard’s gear collection and cultivating strange, Cubist melodies. Effects pedals are tweaked to a pitch that, as Liddiard enthused in a 2018 interview, will “really make you feel sick”. The results are enervating and utterly disconcerting, with queasy rhythms, spidery riffs and splattered electronics seething like a shaken can of soft drink.
Here the band’s usual blend of chaotic art-punk and paranoid science fiction gets a COVID-era update, conjuring the kind of lunatic exhaustion that comes with months of mandatory confinement. In typically logorrheic style, the singers (there are three, like the B-52s) rail about conspiracy theorists, con artists and cult leaders, throwing in a good dose of aliens to boot.
Evan Parker Quartet, ALL KNAVERY AND COLLUSION (Cadillac), ★★★★½
Who knows why and how the UK came to spawn so many significant saxophonists in the past 50 years. It might be luck, the weather or the beer. But among a list that includes John Surman, Trevor Watts and Mike Osbourne, Evan Parker occupies a special place for so vigorously and creatively pushing the tenor and soprano’s boundaries in John Coltrane’s wake.
His 1980s performance at the old Basement in Sydney was so energised it seemed to create a heat haze in the room. If his compositional and improvisational concerns have taken him away from jazz in recent decades, this album sees him nodding amiably to that idiom once more. Together with pianist Alexander Hawkins, bassist John Edwards and drummer Paul Lytton, Parker shows how dense ensemble weaves and pointillistic decorations of silence can be not just narratively compelling and wildly imaginative, but also big-hearted.
Amid several more fragmentary improvisations, the centrepiece is the 24-minute The Weather Set in Hot, containing a solo tenor section of staggering invention, before that instrument boils and roils and hurls itself against the gusts of piano, drums and bass, and we can fully relish Parker’s majestic breadth of sound. JOHN SHAND
RHYTHM AND BLUES
GA-20, DOES HOUND DOG TAYLOR: TRY IT… YOU MIGHT LIKE IT! (Colemine) ★★★★
In the early 1970s, in places such as Ma Bea’s and Florence’s Lounge on Chicago’s south side, the blues simmered, cookin’ with a visceral intent. Players like Sunnyland Slim, Lonnie Brooks and Hound Dog Taylor made these places, this time, these sounds, their own. Hound Dog – six fingers on each hand plus a colourful past – with his band, the Houserockers, was especially pivotal in pumping the scene full of an inexorable energy: a boogie and flow that has endeared them to generations of blues lovers since, with Boston trio GA-20 a case in point.
On this latest release they proudly wear their love of Taylor on their sonic sleeve, with Try It … You Might Like It being a tribute to a player, who, in his own words, “couldn’t play shit, but he sure made it sound good”. In the hands of GA-20, these tracks are reborn, the three-piece having a rock-solid understanding of how this era of the blues worked and why. They tear new meat off old bones, whether it be via the urgent bounce of the instrumentals Let’s Get Funky and Phillips Goes Bananas, or the sly shuffle of It’s Alright and Sadie. Just like Hound Dog’s records, this one is a party, executed with scruffy aplomb. SAMUEL J. FELL