7 Albums you can't miss this month
50 Song Memoir by The Magnetic Fields
There are numerous ways to celebrate your birthday, but it would be difficult to top what Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields did for his 50th. The indie-pop band’s founder took it upon himself to release a 50-track concept album, with each of the songs marking a year of his life.
The inside of Merritt’s head is a fascinating place: it’s full of pathos and drama, but also hilarity and innocence; all of it playing out to the sounds of over a hundred peculiar instruments (abacus solo, anyone?).
50 Song Memoir is a treasury of all the band’s eccentric specialties: the droll self-mockery, the whimsical melodies and Merritt’s distinctive, matter-of-fact bass vocals channeling Leonard Cohen. It’s also a testament to his incomparable talents as a lyricist: his autobiographical stories will place you in uncharted territory of seamlessly fluctuating laughter and sadness.
Jethro Tull: The String Quartets
If you happen to be a fan of both prog rock and classical music, you’re in for one hell of a treat this month! Jethro Tull’s frontman Ian Anderson and keyboard player John O’Hara have conceived a unique idea for an album: classic Jethro Tull repertoire arranged for a string quartet.
It's brilliantly executed on this album by the Carducci String Quartet with the flute, guitar and vocals of Anderson. The music was recorded in the crypt of the iconic Worcester Cathedral and in St Kenelm’s Church in Gloucestershire and includes classical takes on Tull hits such as "Bungle in the Jungle", "Aqualung" and "Songs from the Wood".
The result is incredible: these prog rock staples sound just as tight, full-blooded and feisty, with an added layer of classical sophistication. Or, as Anderson likes to put it, “Perfect for lazy, long sunny afternoons, crisp winter nights, weddings and funerals”. Go figure!
Yours Conditionally by Tennis
Who doesn’t love a good husband-and-wife music duo? We sure do and this one’s teeming with fresh, spring sweetness, candy floss and kisses!
Alaina and Patrick, aka Tennis, return with their fourth album playfully titled Yours Conditionally, six years on from their highly successful 2010 debut Cape Dory. Their latest record is a collection of effortlessly constructed, charming melodies laced with an ethereal wistfulness reminiscent of Cocteau Twins. The main focus is on Alaina’s sweet, innocent, 1960s girl group-style vocals. The perfect prelude to the beginning of spring!
Fink's Sunday Night Blues Club, Vol. 1 by Fink
With his clever, discerning lyrics and a charmingly lilting voice that will make your heart beat faster, Fink established himself as a promising artist to watch all the way back in 2007. Since then, he's worked with artists such as Amy Winehouse, John Legend and Bonobo.
Those great vocals are still present on his latest album, but take on a more serious, sombre tone, signifying Fink has come a long way from “Blueberry Pancakes”. The album is his first solely blues-orientated musical output and a side project prior to embarking on the eagerly anticipated studio album due to be released later this year.
Blues agrees with Fink. The songs take their time, moving leisurely from Robert Johnson-style slide guitar, to gospel-inspired backup vocals, to Fink's soulful, brooding voice at the centre. Whether you’re a fan of softer, understated, old-Fink tunes or some feisty Howlin’ Wolf-like riffs—you’ll find something you like on this record.
A Common Truth by Saltland
If you’ve never heard of Saltland before, you may be slightly taken aback once the album hits those first few notes (or chants in this case). A Common Truth is a unique sonic experience, concocted by Canadian composer and cellist Rebecca Foon under her cryptic alias Saltland.
It’s her second solo album and it is utterly mesmerising in a dark, mystical way. Using the cello as the primary source for all the sounds on the record, Foon blends wordless instrumentals and lyric-driven pieces with stirring chants, solemn string arrangements and formidable pump organs (courtesy of Warren Ellis himself). It’s like nothing else you’ll listen to this month and serves as a perfect palate-cleanser if you’re in need of one.
Semper Femina by Laura Marling
At age 26, Laura Marling has already released five albums and garnered three Mercury Prize nominations. Her sixth album Semper Femina reminds us what makes her such a great artist enjoying a skyrocketing career.
The record is a wonderfully folky collection of thoughtful ballads driven by Marling’s distinct, yearning, sometimes-Dylanesque vocals. She keeps the music simple, letting the clever, insightful lyrics do their thing.
Semper Femina is the artist’s soulful examination of womanhood and a perfect accompaniment to a quiet, meditative evening (though morning would do too). Look out for “Soothing” —a mercurial, sensual little number shot through with deep, pulsating bass.
J.S. Bach's St. John Passion by Apollo's Fire
And, of course, no music list would be complete without a bit of Baroque. The critically-acclaimed Cleveland-based baroque orchestra Apollo’s Fire recorded J S Bach’s ground-breaking work, The St John Passion, along with Apollo’s Singers and an impressive cast of soloists: tenor Nicholas Phan, baritone Jesse Blumberg and baritone Jeffrey Strauss.
St John Passion is the older of two surviving Passions by Bach and it was first performed on Good Friday in 1724. Apollo’s Fire’s vibrant, intense approach to the composition resulted in an awe-inspiring, expressive rendition that brings immediacy to the dramatic setting of the Passion story according to the gospel of St. John.
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