August Reviews – Jonathan Wilson, Bombay Bicycle Club and Steve Mason & Dennis Bovell

It’s all picking up again now, after the dreaded summer lull. The beefy September releases are popping up and there’s plenty to like about August too. In addition to these, there’s the mighty fine debut from I Break Horses forthcoming on Bella Union and I can tell you now that both The Rapture and Laura Marling have fine albums on the way in September, Marling in particular having taken another massive leap between albums. Anyway, let’s do these three splendid releases, shall we?

JONATHAN WILSON – ‘Gentle Spirit’ (BELLA UNION)

Jonathon-Wilson-Gentle-Spirit

Warm, fuzzy and unashamedly long, this gloriously languid debut solo outing puffs into view seemingly all the way from the late Sixties, with little interest in breaking new ground. Wilson has learnt his craft impeccably, having previously played for Elvis Costello, Jenny Lewis and Jackson Browne amongst others, and ‘Gentle Spirit’ serves to unleash his own voice, even if it is a slightly stoned whisper. Recorded sporadically over a long period of time, and very audibly unhurried, the title and pace of the album suggest that we could all do with taking stock once in a while, hazy guitar lines lulling the listener into a state of serene bliss. ‘Can We Really Party Today?‘ aches beautifully over almost seven minutes, gently sashaying through the verses, before shifting down several gears for the sombre chorus.

While the lyrics may be a little platitudinous at times – "When it’s all said and done, we are just dust on the horizon" from ‘Natural Rhapsody’ – on occasion a little simplicity and sincerity is all we need. Recorded to analogue tape, the sound is warm and earthy, Wilson professing that he envisages it as a double album designed for vinyl. As he suggests on album closer ‘Valley Of The Silver Moon’, his music is out of step with current trends. All of which is not to say that ‘Gentle Spirit’ is diluted pastiche; everything here is gorgeously sung and this woozy, gently uplifting collection of songs is pretty close to perfect.

Think that covers it, really. I know I must seem like Bella Union actually pay me at times but it’s solely down to the fact that they keep putting out such wonderful albums. This should be appearing with a 9/10 next to it and rightly so. A glorious album to luxuriate in, ‘Gentle Spirit’ is a delight.

BOMBAY BICYCLE CLUB – ‘A Different Kind Of Fix’ (ISLAND)

bbc diff

They were indie. Then they were folk. Now they’re, er, baggy, if album opener ‘How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep?‘ is anything to go by. Not that it is, of course, although synthetic drum tracks and swooning indie vocals are very much the order of the day. Let’s hurdle over the predictable cliches about plugging in the guitars and turning on the electricity again and cut to the chase. With each album, BBC are leaping forward as songwriters and, while ‘Flaws’ had many beautiful moments, this is their strongest album to date by some distance.

The layered and looped sound on a number of these songs betrays the fact that Animal Collective collaborator Ben Allen had a part to play in what is a complex, diverse and actually quite moving soundscape. Lead single ‘Shuffle‘ is a euphoric juggernaut, neatly propelled by a thin, wonky piano sample, while ‘Take The Right One’ jangles feyly like late-Eighties indie.

But those converted by the sparsely beguiling ‘Flaws‘ needn’t be alarmed, as the quiet moments here are airily affecting. ‘Fracture’ slowly builds to a harmonic wash of sound whilst album closer ‘Still‘ is like an even less energetic James Blake. When the treated vocal suddenly appears, it’s a subtle but magical touch as part of a breathtaking finale. Occasionally the momentum wanes, but only the cold-hearted could fail to forgive the odd misstep from a band taking risks, shaping their sound and refusing to stand still.

Took a while to click, this one. Wasn’t hugely impressed at first but it really does need time. ‘Shuffle’ is a fine, fine single but there’s plenty of stuff to match it here, even if it might not seem so at first. A really cohesive listen, despite ranging across their various ‘sounds’, ‘A Different Kind Of Fix’ is an impressive next step. To think their debut seemed so utterly inconsequential!

STEVE MASON 7 DENNIS BOVELL – ‘Ghosts Outside’ (DOUBLE SIX/ DOMINO)

Mason BovellThe dub remix album is a curious beast. Change too much and you lose the fans of the original album, change too little and you’ll have people wondering why you bothered in the first place. Thankfully, dub fan Mason and dub legend Bovell make for a fine pairing, the latter atmospherically renovating the former’s excellent 2010 album ‘Boys Outside’. Bass heavy and with glorious, skanking drum patterns, the album serves to highlight the original’s wonderfully hazy instrumental arrangements.

Shame I only had such a small word count on this one, although I think I’ve said what needed saying. Be sure to seek out the vinyl pressing of this one as it sounds tremendous, heavyweight Domino release that it is. Steve Mason is rightly very chuffed indeed with this record and anyone who loved the album upon which it is based will likely feel the same.

2011OTR

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