His third collection of standards exudes and celebrates a majestic darkness.
Bob Dylan's third foray into songs previously recorded by Frank Sinatra isn't only the largest set of new recordings he's ever released (three CDs, 30 songs), it's also majestic in its own right. Dylan moves through this area – the region of Sinatra, and also of standards songwriters like Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Hoagy Carmichael, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein – as if it's territory for him to chart and command. Indeed, Dylan has now made more successive albums in this idiom than in any other style since his world-changing mid-1960s electric trinity, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde.
That's stunning – and not only because of the album's grand latter-day vision. When Dylan issued his first set of Sinatra-related songs, 2015's Shadows in the Night, the project reflected the history of American music's oldest cultural war; the songs Dylan chose for that album, and a follow-up volume, last year's Fallen Angels, showed how well he understood Sinatra and the rarefied "Great American Songbook" era of Tin Pan Alley and Broadway musicals. When the rise of outsider forms – country music, rhythm & blues, rockabilly – displaced all that in the 1950s, some reacted as if barbarians had stormed the gates. Sinatra was among them. "Rock & roll smells phony and false," he said. Dylan, though, had done something even more radical – maybe worse – and he knew it. "Tin Pan Alley is gone," he said in 1985. "I put an end to it. People can record their own songs now."
With the monumental Triplicate, he's certainly made amends. Though Dylan recently won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his own songwriting – that is, for how he expanded the arts with his use of language – songs have always been much more to him than wordcraft. Music itself carries as much meaning. A song isn't a song without melody, harmony and voice.
Time and again he proves the same thing on Triplicate. Though a handful of songs here are delightful bounces (including the opening track, "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plans") and some easygoing almost-blues ("That Old Feeling", "The Best Is Yet to Come"), most are downbeat, spectral ballads. In songs like "I Could Have Told You", "Here's That Rainy Day" and "Once Upon a Time" – ruminations on a memory of loss that is now central to the singer's being – Dylan raises devastation to a painful beauty. Other times, he intimates something ghostly. In Sinatra's original 1965 version of "September of My Years", arranger Gordon Jenkins opened with an eddy of strings, invoking the tide that eventually rolls in for everybody. Dylan's band creates the same undertow effect, sounding just as full, with Donnie Herron's steel guitar and Tony Garnier's bowed bass.
When Dylan first decided to sing Sinatra, the idea seemed far-fetched. Did he have a voice left that was possibly up to it? Dylan made plain at the outset of Shadows in the Night, in the opening measures of "I'm a Fool to Want You" – the most defining of all Sinatra songs, and one of his only co-writing credits – he was better than up to it: He did the song dead-seriously, and chillingly. "Smooth" is not a word you would use to describe Dylan's weatherworn voice. But he can wield phrasing as effectively as Sinatra himself.
Dylan uses only a quintet throughout Triplicate, no strings, no big band (though there's a small dance horn section here and there). They re-create the solemn openings to "Stormy Weather" and "It Gets Lonely Early" in all but instrumentation. He's picked his repertoire carefully and meaningfully here. Of the 50-some albums he released between In the Wee Small Hours, in 1955, and 1970's Watertown, Sinatra made about a dozen exploring loss, masterpieces every one. Dylan culls more than half of Triplicate's songs from those releases – particularly favouring Sinatra's often-overlooked last LP for Capitol, Point of No Return, from 1962.
He closes Triplicate, though, with something Sinatra sang many years earlier: "Why Was I Born", written by Kern and Hammerstein in 1929. It's a torch standard that epitomises the sort of writing that Dylan killed off, asking the biggest questions – "Why was I born?/Why am I living?/What do I get?/What am I giving?" – on the most personal level. Dylan is no stranger to dejection or hard self-examination. What he understands here is the triumph in surviving that darkness. It's in that survival, and how you put it across to others, that you find out why you were born.
Topics: Bob Dylan
More dreamy melodies from evolving Virginia outfit.
Recent visitors to Australia in support of Touché Amoré, Turnover's earliest output and DIY approach to touring has long seen them lumped in with the punk scene. 2015's Peripheral Vision was a sonic step away, and so it continues on their third LP. Austin Getz's sleepy vocals mesh with the Virginia outfit's dreamy mix of chiming, reverb-laced guitars to create a sound that never sets the pulse racing, but instead washes over you like a warm bath of melody and mood. Perhaps lacking the energy of Peripheral Vision, Good Nature is nonetheless another interesting step in Turnover's evolution.
British indie outfit feed off the world's ills on fourth album.
What riches the world has bestowed upon Everything Everything singer/songwriter Jonathan Higgs for their fourth album. Between Trump, Brexit and the generally dire state of politics worldwide, there is much with which to indulge his operatic brand of decadent pessimism, from knockout opener "Night of the Long Knives" to "Good Shot, Good Soldier" ("you're a good shot, you're a good soldier, of all the good things to be"). Everything Everything don't always hit their targets – "Big Game" drags, "Desire" grates – but at their best, as in the aforementioned, they are glorious, all circling synths, artful layering and rapturous maximalism.
Sydney dreamers deliver a stunning double-album opus.
Gang of Youths don't do things by halves. Their 2014 debut was about disintegrating relationships, cancer, and suicide attempts: its follow up is a sprawling, magnificently realised double album that poetically explores the human experience in all its bleakness and triumph, confusion and clarity, heartbreak and joyousness.
It's a staggeringly cohesive multi-generational musical piñata: cross-pollinating Springsteen's sweeping Americana, the National's piercing truths and the sweaty insistence of LCD Soundsystem, with splashes of Arcade Fire, War on Drugs and U2 swirling amid its emotional tornado. There's the Japandroids-channelling, punch-the-air final moments of "Atlas Drowned"; frontman Dave Le'aupepe's jaw-dropping "get shitfaced on you" baritone wordplay during "Keep Me In the Open"; psyche darkness on "Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane"; baroque orchestration in "Achilles Come Down"; wild horns on "The Heart is a Muscle"; while its series of instrumental breathers allow you to be swept away on the album's all-enveloping current.
Le'aupepe's deft lyrical romanticism and emotional sincerity ties it all together forcefully and elegantly –lines crack like fireworks one after the other – defying cynicism anddelivering raw truth-seeking vignettes in unflinching fashion. It makes for a remarkable odyssey of an album that'll engulf you, leaving a bewildered smile on your face, a tear in your eye and a heart that's full.
Mercury Prize-nominated British MC cuts timely masterpiece.
Where South London-born Obaro Ejimiwe's first two albums explored ambiguous, surreal themes over prickly electronic instrumentation, 2015's Shedding Skin adopted a more tangible guitar-and-keys approach. Dark Days + Canapés picks up where that Mercury Prize-nominated record left off. Never quite rapping, never quite singing, the genre-defying MC invites listeners on a spine-tingling, head-nodding ride into his psyche. It's Roots Manuva meets Radiohead. All over this record, in fact, Ghostpoet manages to be two things at once: inviting and confronting; thoughtful and obscure; brilliant and understated.
Atmospheric fifth album from a unit now expert at composing experimental folk-pop.
It sounds absurd, but Grizzly Bear have carved a career from baroque-pop obfuscation. The US indie band's knotty creations very rarely sound like four guys in a room jamming a tune. Instead they're more slow-motion unspoolings of woozy sounds, teased and twisted into treacle-thick compositions so dense and dreamlike that somewhere along the line you forget how they began.
Painted Ruins is the band's first record in five years, and that labour shows. "Three Rings" begins as a reverb-drenched chatter, moving through groaning woodwinds and blossoming into a racket of fuzz bass, celestial synths and rippling guitar arpeggios, Ed Droste singing, "Don't you ever leave me/Don't you feel it all come together". Those details and underlying accusations continue on the glam groove of "Losing All Sense", Droste asking, "Could I ask of you not to cut into me?" The band's lyrics have never been direct, but the tension through Painted Ruins is palpable.
The density of arrangements can tire, but there's calm too – "Aquarian" builds until a beautiful sequence of unadorned chords; "Systole" opens with a rare bare vocal from bassist and producer Chris Taylor. Some touchstones call through the haze – Tame Impala's modern prog-psych, Radiohead's anxious percussive web, and White Album-era Beatles. But for the most part Grizzly Bear return again grown from their own strange plot.
Big-sky musing and epic noodling from UK prog maestro.
The subjective nature of truth. The bliss of death. An epic duet (with Ninet Tayeb) about despair, co-dependency and redemption that makes Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up" sound half-cooked. Phew, eight songs to go. Porcupine Tree dreamweaver Steven Wilson thinks big as always on album five, a spacious head-trip with toe-curling flights of uber-muso malarkey. "Blank Tapes" is classic flutey melancholy, "People Who Eat Darkness" a crashing drama of urban paranoia. God (the mean, vengeful one) makes a cameo in the 10-minute suite, "Detonation". All told, a ton of melody and energy on face value, and a lifetime between the speakers for those so inclined.
Melbourne post-punks get punchy with Gareth Liddiard.
On Gold Class' second LP, Adam Curley is punchy, the music percussive. "We were beaten, but I still feel a thump," he hollers, amidst Evan Purdey's knotty guitar scrawl on the relentless "We Were Never Too Much". And Drum duly delivers a thump, producer Gareth Liddiard's stripped-down setting letting the propulsive rhythm section push towards the foreground. There's nothing groundbreaking here, but the quartet boast heart and wit, sounding committed to their cause. "Weave the blows/Like a boxer on tiptoe," Curley bellows in "Thinking of Strangers", recalling Morrissey's lyrical pugilists as the song drags Smithsy jangle into a dark alley.
First solo album in 12 years for Superjesus singer.
For such an ostentatious backstory – the Superjesus-singer-turned-solo-rocker-turned-EDM-bandwagoner shipped herself off to an icy New York winter for three months in isolation, simultaneously finding inspiration in Stallone's Rocky franchise – you'd expect Sarah McLeod's new album to be a touch more engaging. Instead, after a promisingly sweet opener ("Rocky's Reprise"), the Nineties rock tropes ("Giants"), country pop tropes ("Bad Valentine") and power pop tropes ("Hurricane") are catchy yet oddly one-dimensional. Despite her excellent, raspy voice, the familiar tales of love and loss offer little by way of meaning or memorability.
Traditional country-folk master tills the fertile field of Americana anew.
Rawlings' third solo outing finds him and indispensable collaborator Gillian Welch continuing in their alchemical quest to breathe fresh life into the sounds of Harry Smith's seminal Anthology of American Folk Music (1952) – from Appalachian folk (hill country nursery rhyme "Lindsey Button") to the prairie (the jaunty "Come On Over My House"). Spanning banjo-anchored ditty "Money is the Meat in the Coconut" to the brooding folk-rock splendour of the CSNY-like "Cumberland Gap", it's yet another masterful demonstration of enigmatic backwoods poeticism, technical mastery, and eternal songcraft.
The singer channels five years of personal hardship into resilient, genre-smashing pop.
In 2012, wild-child pop diva Kesha hit a high point with her dirty, glitter-soaked rock album, Warrior. But she's spent the past five years in silence, embroiled in a grueling legal battle with her most frequent collaborator, superproducer Dr. Luke, whom the singer accused of physical and emotional abuse.
On her excellent comeback record, Rainbow, Kesha channels that drama into the best music of her career – finding common ground between the honky-tonks she loves (her mom is Nashville songwriter Pebe Sebert) and the dance clubs she ruled with hits like "Tik Tok" and "Die Young," between glossy beats, epic ballads and grimy guitar riffs. In the process, she also finds her own voice: a freshly empowered, fearlessly feminist Top 40 rebel.
The LP opens softly with "Bastards," a ballad ripe for a campfire singalong. Above acoustic guitar, her once-Auto-Tune-weary vocals breathe easy as she nimbly and confidently shows off her underappreciated range, singing, "Don't let the bastards get you down." It's followed by the glam-punk kiss-off "Let 'Em Talk," where she's joined by Eagles of Death Metal. Kesha executive-produced the album, working with a team that included everyone from Ryan Lewis to Ben Folds to her mom. Across the board, she achieves a careful balance of her diverse musical selves: The gospel-tinged "Praying" takes the high road by wishing the best to the people who have hurt her, and "Woman" is a blissfully irreverent, proudly self-sufficient retro-soul shouter backed by Brooklyn funk crew the Dap-Kings.
Kesha used to sing about partying with rich dudes and feeling like P. Diddy. Rainbow is full of sympathetic (if at times cloying) prisoner metaphors and therapist clichés: "Live and learn and never forget it/Gotta learn to let it go," she repeats on "Learn to Let Go." Luckily, she also showcases her absurdist sense of humour. On the standout "Hunt You Down," she evokes June Carter with a devilishly threatening country ditty: "Baby, I love you so much," she sings in the most innocent Southern-belle voice she can muster, then warns, "Don't make me kill you." On "Godzilla," a gloriously surreal slice of indie-folk kitsch, she imagines what it might be like to fall in love with a cartoon monster, creating a lighthearted novelty out of chaos and destruction.
The album's most powerful moment is a cover of the 1980 Dolly Parton ballad "Old Flames (Can't Hold a Candle to You)" – Sebert's biggest country hit as a songwriter. Parton herself helps out on guest vocals. But this isn't some Grand Ole Opry homage. Kesha flips and filters it through her dreamy vision, turning the sweet tune into rousing rockabilly until the standard sounds refreshed and vividly modern, battle-tested and born again. Just like the woman singing it.
Classic riff-rock return for the bard of the burbs.
Paul Kelly's not drowning, he's waving. Shakespearean dalliances behind him, these waters vividly recall his surging pop-rock fortunes of the Nineties. That's literally true in Linda Bull's full band revisitation of "Don't Explain". Vika's thumping "My Man's Got a Cold" is such a classic Aussie household concept it's hard to believe it took Kelly so long to nail it. He sings the rest, bouncing off the ladies' big harmonies and Ash Naylor's twangsome riffs as the rising moon on a warm summer night and an open fire by candlelight invoke the lusty passions of everyman. All this and a priceless sequel to Roy Orbison's "Leah". Spoiler alert: he lives.
OPN scores OST with analogue electronics, Iggy Pop.
Crime-thriller flick Good Time sets Robert Pattinson on a downward spiral of bad choices. The action's matched to a synthy score from Daniel 'Oneohtrix Point Never' Lopatin, its ambient waft and arpeggiated blips heavily influenced by Tangerine Dream. This isn't just the straight score: distorted voices and sounds from the movie are scattered throughout, as compositional bridges and sound-art devices. It crests with the cathartic finale "The Pure and the Damned". It's a striking song: Iggy Pop's murmured words and weathered croon evoking both the film's fatalism, and his own mortality.
Clear-eyed rock reckoning from Melbourne indie powerhouse.
Meet Jen Cloher. Sure you've seen her around, maybe shared some quality time. But here's where you bust in on her playing guitar naked on her bed. Her girlfriend's away on tour. Again. The job's a slog. The country's a joke. Shut the door on your way out. She's going somewhere with this.
The bliss, longing and jealousies of her life with the celebrated Courtney Barnett simmer in the present, in the wiry opener "Forgot Myself", and the sweet intimacies and raw insights of "Sensory Memory", "Waiting in the Wings" and "Dark Art". The past comes in raging flashbacks to Catholic girls' school, where "to love was to live in sin"; and to scenes of music as salvation, as ecstatic as the Dirty Three in "Loose Magic" and as heroic as the Saints and the Go-Betweens' in the savage "Great Australian Bite".
Cloher's perspective on Australian culture and its music industry's navel-gazing and compromises are brutal. Bickering mynah birds and crabs in a bucket define our politics and sad illusions of success.
It's the weight of three albums that make her every truth shake the foundations of the cosy singer-songwriter myth. Well, that and her band, with Barnett at her back, and a voice that's found a new well of deeply personal resonance. "It's exhausting up here on the surface," she sings. Too true.
Political punk rock brought into razor-sharp focus on third LP.
Not taking into account their liberal use of saxophone, Rhode Island's Downtown Boys come across as a punk rock, political Pixies: Victoria Ruiz has the raw mania of Black Francis at his most unhinged, even occasionally singing in manic Spanish ("Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas)"). Produced by Fugazi's Guy Picciotto, Cost of Living is a pummelling "fuck you" to whatever injustice the band sets its unflinching gaze on, whether it's structures built to keep people apart ("A Wall") or being wilfully denied a seat at the table ("Promissory Note"). The unrelenting abrasiveness on show dulls the impact slightly, yet it remains a searing sonic wake-up call.