I dreamed last night that I met Sufjan Stevens at my school reunion. I remarked that I liked his album All The Trees Of The Field Will Clap Their Hands. He responded by telling me that isn't the correct title... which it isn't, it's Seven Swans. Let us imagine a future reunion of all the albums released on the 20th January 2017. Which will we recall with perfect clarity and which titles will escape even our best attempts at recollection?
We start this week with Voyager, the fifth studio album from French DJ Pascal Arbez, better known by his stage name Vitalic. I had a friend at school who used to describe techno music as 'songs to get your head kicked in to' and I initially put this album firmly in that category. As it unravelled, I realised there is something far more intelligent to Vitalic's work than I initially gave it credit for. Entirely synthesised, the album morphs between ominous instrumental pieces and more classically rooted collaborations.
Particular highlights include the simple but effective cover of Supertramp's Don't Leave Me Now, 80s inspired Waiting For The Stars featuring David Shaw and The Beat and the delightfully involved Lightspeed. Yes, there are occasions where it sounds like that time your NES console got a speck of dust on it and started to freak out during the Zelda theme but that is part of the charm. Each song is a journey – starting slowly, overcoming obstacles and ultimately resulting in the crescendo of joy once a destination is reached.
Next, we shall take a dip into the short but sweet musings of Canadian chanteuse Abigail Lapell in her second album Hide Nor Hair. At only 29 minutes, it is fleeting but what it lacks in length, it more than makes up for in substance. Lapell's songs are unostentatious, accompanied primarily by acoustic guitar, rooted in folk yet sung with just enough of a country twang to add an extra layer of intrigue.
Lapell's website remarks that her work is compared to that of Gillian Welch, which I can see. I personally, strange as this might sound, was reminded of the work of the late, great Elliott Smith... or perhaps what a love child of Elliott Smith and the more reflective songs of Aimee Mann might sound like. There is a beautiful tragedy in Lapell's music. They are songs for quiet, lonely contemplation. Atmospheric snapshots of desolate beaches pattered with sudden rain, of dense forests tingling with sunlight interjections, of distant mountains crested with fresh snow. Lapell's voice has an effortless lure and she is never tempted to overplay it, thus preserving the intricate balance that she has woven between calm and calamity.
Let us finish the week on Kill Your Darlings by Norwegian duo Elsa & Emilie. Having had relative success with their first album as 16 year olds, they are now returning with their second release. I can't help but equate my feelings on this album to the difference between watching the pedestrian American remake of The Killing and the original Danish version. Were the artist a duo from Basildon named Shazza and Candice, I don't think I would have even given the album a second glance. There is something about their country of origin that adds a dark authenticity to what they are doing, which is essentially broody pop. First single Au Volant and Chains Of Promises stand out as the best songs on the record but I do feel that there is an extent to which I have been drawn in by their Scandinavian glamour, behind which there is no real substance.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
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