Open Ear Blog

New Music Reviews: January

Bonobo — Migration

Following up The North Borders could well have been a challenge for Simon Green, now known globally as Bonobo. The response to its bass driven Electronica resulted in new found International critical and public praise making it a hard act to follow. Yet here we are with another slow burning gem of Electronica that takes in diverse and, perhaps more importantly, subtle influences from a broad stroke of world music. Migration is warmer than its predecessor, with a pace and tone most similar to Black Sands. On ‘Kerala’ we find a chiming upbeat tempo while on ‘Second Sun’ , our highlight, the downtempo orchestral sway is as buoyant as anything Bonobo has released. Sit back and take a moment with it here.

SOHN — Rennen

SOHN is back with a more streamlined sound than appeared on 2014s Tremors. That doesn’t mean he’s lost any of the depth or nuance of his Indie Electronica, however, fitting in well beside contemporaries like How To Dress Well. ‘Rennen’ starts off confidently and proceeds with emotive vocals, warm synth swells, and scattering, clattering percussion. That percussion steals the show at times, whether on the snappy snares of ‘Falling’ or on the kicks that hint at a 4/4 pounding without ever getting there on the latter half of ‘Primary’. Catch the title track here.

Matthew E White & Flo Morrissey — Gentlewoman, Ruby Man

Cover albums are often a sign that an artist is either out of ideas, or simply having fun, fooling around, and willing to let the public in on the mayhem knowing that they’ll get the joke. Seldom are they a coherent, well articulated, and simply damned attractive proposition. Yet here we are with this collaboration between Matthew E White and the up-and-comer Flo Morrissey taking on cuts from a diverse range of sources, from Leonard Cohen to James Blake, Frank Ocean to Barry Gibbs’ ‘Grease’. The latter may well be the highlight of the package, showcasing warmth and affection for the original while adding a louche kind of sass. Don’t miss out

Various Artists — Hidden Figures Soundtrack

While this album may nominally be a compilation of tracks from various artists that go together to form a soundtrack for the critically-acclaimed new film of the same name, it has the name and imprint of Pharrell Williams all over it. As a producer of the movie, and the songwriter on the majority of this album, his influence looms large in its uplifting, soulful R&B. With voices as diverse as Mary J Blige, Alicia Keys, Kim Burrell, and Janelle Monàe (who plays a lead role in the movie), it’s an impressively cohesive arrangement packed with feel good tunes, tidy piano lines, and dramatic vocal swells. Catch Pharrell perform ‘Runnin’’ here.

The XX — I See You

The words “I See You” suggest a certain confidence, one that hints “… I know you can see me”. That’s not a sentiment you’d expect from The XX after their first two albums which were characterised by a soft spoken, stay in the shadows kind of shyness. Yet here they are opening up and embracing Pop and running with it. ‘I See You’ is all the better for it too; warmer, tighter, and bolder. The hallmarks of Jamie Smith’s solo forays out onto the dance floor as Jamie XX are clear, but so too is a greater focus on Romy Madley Croft’s Lou Rhodes-like vocals. Catch our highlight ‘Performance’ here.

Ryan Adams — Prisoner

Now on his sixteenth studio album, Ryan Adams has been the name in alt-Country since establishing himself with the band Whiskeytown in the mid-90s. That his solo work has roamed pretty far away from its Country roots somehow hasn’t changed that perception. Sure, his vocal cadence has always had the right level of grit, but he’s always been more of a Springsteen than a Willie Nelson. Perhaps ‘Prisoner’ will help reveal that perception as an alt-fact as this latest album takes on the clear influence of 80s Rock ballads. While ‘Doomsday’ picks up with a lead harmonica line, it’s impossible to deny the reverb laden drums draw Phil Collins to mind, while ‘Do You Still Love Me?’ comes complete with big power chords and dramatic vocal delivery. Listen in here while we find the smoke machine.

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