Sorry about the wait. Moved house, you see. I’m typing this from the floor of the third bedroom, surrounded by boxes still full of CDs as yet unboxed. Not that you really need to know that. Anyway, here’s this month’s Clash pieces. Two amazing albums and one I suspect I’ll grow to like more.
LAURA MARLING – ‘A Creature I Don’t Know’ (VIRGIN)
With two Mercury Music Prize nominations and a BRIT award in the bag, you might expect Laura Marling to capitalise on the exposure and tweak her sound in a push for the big time. Fear not, folk folks. The jazzy whirl of opener ‘The Muse’, sounding, at times, like a more forceful and jagged ‘Poor Boy’ by Nick Drake, is a stunning statement of intent and the most relaxed start to a Marling album to date. The sense of an artist no longer feeling the need to prove herself runs throughout these ten songs, and it is clear that the transition to songwriting great begun on ‘I Speak Because I Can‘ is now complete.
Beginning delicately, ‘I Was Just A Card’ unfurls magically, with Marling shaping and pushing her voice in new directions. The vintage Joni Mitchell comparison point is, by now, utterly undeniable but it’s a source of inspiration rather than a simple sense of imitation. Lyrically, her ability to inhabit a song and deliver a story remains beautifully intact, the line “my mother, she’s the saviour of six-foot of bad behaviour”, in ‘Salinas’, curls magically around the melody. This bluesy number builds to a crescendo which then seems to abate with the quiet start to ‘The Beast’, only for it to explode into the most malevolent sounding thing Marling has ever released.
Gorgeous single ‘Sophia’ is elevated to greatness by the introduction of her band at its midpoint, while ‘Night By Night’, one of the rare solo moments on the album, is a wonderfully balanced, emotionally loaded commentary on love. A third wonderful album, then, and a sign that Marling has transcended the “nu-folk” movement and carved her own magnificent identity.
I continue to play this regularly and I do maintain it’s her best to date by some way. Avoid the ludicrous special edition box set – it’s poorly packaged, the vinyl’s a picture disc, the vinyl sounds like a picture disc and it doesn’t have a sleeve, it’s just slotted into the box. Euuuw. Anyway, the tunes remain amazing and the Marling love affair is very much still on.
BJÖRK – ‘Biophilia’ (ONE LITTLE INDIAN)
Once you strip back all of the collaborations, soundtracks and remix projects, ‘Biophilia’ is actually only Björk’s seventh solo studio album. Fresh from the throat-singing and beat-boxing of the unfairly maligned behemoth that was ‘Medulla’, and 2007’s ‘Volta’, which sounded like the building of an industrial fridge, it is a relatively straight-forward affair. Although, everything is relative when it comes to Björk, having given the album its name because she thought the word meant “feeling up nature or something.”
The glorious chiming of custom-built instrument the gameleste – a bronze take on the celesta, in which traditionally steel tune-bars are hit by various mallets – and pipe organs operated by computer programmes ensure that her habit of sounding utterly unlike anybody else remains very much intact throughout ‘Biophilia’. However, for an album so rooted in new technologies and ideas, it sounds beautifully warm and compellingly human. The processional ‘Cosmogony’, with its pitch-shifting brass mirroring lines like “heaven’s bodies whirl around me,” is a beguiling demonstration of her attempts to meld science to nature. ‘Virus’, a love song from the perspective of the “sweet adversary” itself – “I adapt, contagious, you open up, say welcome” – is quite possibly the prettiest thing I’ve heard all year, completely removed from the harsh, squashed and confrontational sounds of ‘Volta’. When the machine-gun beats do break through on ‘Mutual Core’, they’re augmented by a hymnal organ riff and a soaring, unprocessed and unleashed vocal which will leave you breathless. Her capacity for wondrous lyrics delivered in deceptively simple fashion remains: “my romantic gene is dominant and it hungers for union” she intones on ‘Thunderbolt’, as if trying out each word for size.
While much of the fuss around the album has centred on its innovative and hugely interactive app release, this music really doesn’t need any window dressing because it’s as good a collection of songs as she has put her name to in ten years. An absolutely remarkable artist, for whom the terms ‘genius’ and ‘unique’ are not journalistic hyperbole but simple fact, Björk is taking music to a place where we should all gladly follow.
Her best album in yonks. Now put back to early October, but it’s worth the wait. I imagine. Yes, she’s done all sorts of weird and wonderful things previously and, yes, this album is full all sorts of weird and wonderful experimentations but it actually sounds like a normal album. It doesn’t feel like a concept even if it is. Seriously, if you’ve ever had a space in your heart for her before, then you’ll be wanting this. Oh, and vinyl hounds should stock up on the DMM reissues of her previous albums while they’re still around. Sublime.
A WINGED VICTORY FOR THE SULLEN – ‘A Winged Victory For The Sullen’ (ERASED TAPES)
Despite possessing a name suggestive of the very lowest form of generic emo, and a bizarre choice of cover art, the actual music here is gently affecting. Adam Wiltzie, of ambient duo Stars Of The Lid, and Dustin O’Halloran, whose recent album ‘Lumiere’ trumps this outing, have conjured seven, spacious, analogue recordings based largely around subdued strings and grand pianos. It is the most delicate of drone albums and in some circumstances – gazing out at nocturnal streets drenched with rain, perhaps – can seem truly euphoric, but it runs the risk of drifting anonymously into the background. A beautiful recording but an occasional listen.
It is nice. I do enjoy playing it. I just don’t very often. Awful, awful artwork too.