Our top music picks for the end of summer are a mixture of weirdness, warmth and raging energy. From Blood Orange to Rachmaninov, here's what you should check out this August
Hunter by Anna Calvi
Oh, Anna Calvi. The voice of an angel, the inner fire of a demon, the guitar skills of Jimi Hendrix. What’s not to love? The British musician is back with her third, long-anticipated album produced by none other than Nick Launay (whose previous credits include Nick Cave, Lou Reed and Talking Heads—no biggie), and it’s obscenely good.
As a general rule, most albums will feature a handful of solid bangers; three or five strong tracks followed by a number of mediocre, unmemorable ones. But not this one. Hunter is consistently excellent, each song a standalone work of art. “Don’t Beat the Girl out of My Boy,” for example, is a plucky, riveting take on gender conformity; “Alpha” shamelessly allures you with a sexy beat and heated sighs, while “Swimming Pool” shifts gears with its operatic, psalm-like magnitude, offering a respite from aggressive rock riffs.
Calvi’s formidable vocal acrobatics keep taking unexpected turns, channelling everyone from David Byrne to This Mortal Coil and never failing to keep you on your toes. They’re accompanied by toothsome guitars, feral drums and angelic synths, arranged with dazzling sophistication. Hunter is inspired, feisty and fresh, and it’s hands down one of the best albums of the year.
Negro Swan by Blood Orange
If you’ve come across Blood Orange, aka Dev Hynes before, you’ll know exactly what to expect from the silky-voiced, ultra-cool British electronic R&B crooner. And he brings it all to us in his signature smooth fashion on his latest album. Entitled Negro Swan, it's his fourth solo record and “a reach back into childhood and modern traumas,” dealing with various issues and anxieties of queer/black people and what it takes to get through them.
Ultimately though, every track is underpinned by the notion of hope, culminating with the charmingly understated “Smoke”, made up of an irresistible mesh of Hynes’ melting vocals ("The sun comes in / My heart fulfills within") and simple guitar laid on top of a lush, mesmerising bed of backing vocals.
Other highlights include “Hope” with its lithe and sparkling farrago of sound pouring out of the standard song structure, or the red-blooded “Holy Will” featuring a stunning intro from Ian Isiah.
Don't Look Away by Alexander Tucker
If a good dose of melancholically playful (!), Seventies-spiked weirdness is what you’re looking for, you might want to familiarise yourself with Alexander Tucker. One half of indie duo Grumbling Fur, this eccentric multi-instrumentalist comes back with a new solo album, which completes what he considers a trilogy alongside the 2011 Dorwytch and Third Mouth from 2012.
It's a delightfully peculiar record that'll please fans of droning experimental folk, loose, psychedelic compositions and the droll, tongue-in-cheek vocal delivery of The Smiths or The Magnetic Fields. Featuring bizarre guitar experimentations, dissonant, whale-song-like vocal harmonies and gloomy yet somehow upbeat vibes, it’s one special little treat.
Highlights include the warm but sombre “A To C” with its stunningly beautiful vocal histrionics, the industrial-infused “Gloops Void (Give It Up)” featuring vocals from Nik Void, and the gentle “Visiting Again” laced with wistful viola, courtesy of fellow Grumbling Fur member, Daniel O’Sullivan.
Rachmaninov's Études-Tableaux by Steven Osborne
When it comes to dramatic, soul-stirring piano music, there’s hardly anything that beats Rachmaninov. Darkly captivating, moody and atmospheric, even the shortest of his pieces evoke deep, reverberant emotions.
Such is the case with his Études-Tableaux, two sets of short piano compositions written between 1911 and 1917, intended as “picture pieces”, each conveying a different theme and style. Flavoursome and emotionally pronounced, they require great technical skill as well as the ability to capture each specific mood of the individual pieces.
Here, they’re performed by the critically acclaimed Scottish pianist Steven Osborne and it’s a match made in heaven. His interpretation is dramatically charged and fiery yet incredibly precise and fluid. He manages to bring out the core elements and colours of each distinct piece with nimbleness and ease, displaying a deep and sophisticated understanding of the music.
Gilbert O'Sullivan by Gilbert O'Sullivan
Finally, a small oasis of calm and positivity on our list. Gilbert O’Sullivan is somewhat of a songwriting legend, known for his dulcet melodies, clever lyrics and effortless delivery, which is exactly what you’ll get on his latest, self-titled album. Warm and familiar, the record is a delightful collection of lilting guitar and affable vocal-driven ditties, such as the playful “Love How You Leave Me” or the irresistibly Sixties-sounding “I’ll Never Love Again”.
Every song is permeated with O'Sullivan's sincere sense of humour and clever wordplay which he has a remarkable gift for. His sheer charisma and bubbly demeanour make this record an undeniable feel-good staple; never overbearing, and bound to put a smile on your face, whatever mental state you decide to listen to it in.
It’s the perfect companion for a sunny Sunday walk in a park, a relaxing evening at home by the fireplace or just any time you crave some high-quality, belly-warming, old-school pop.