A week of huge hitting records in the world of radical pop music, from the south London soul masterclass to Sierra Leonian folk psyche to Brooklyn art house reaching high-higher-highest.
Album of the week: Jessie Ware – ‘Devotion’ [PMR]
Last week, the very beginnings of the Jessie Ware backlash was spotted. Laura Snapes, associate editor of Pitchfork Tweeted “I’m more interested in how such an * incredibly * adult-contemporary record has such crossover chops”, to which Popjustice replied “There is a touch of the Sandés about it in the establish-with-tastemakers, sell-to-mums sense.” This tiniest flutter of online events references something crucial about Jessie’s album. ‘Devotion’ is, emphatically, an album with mass appeal. Much has been made of the 80s-recalling sonic touches, from the perfectly brushed guitar solos to Jessie’s Sade vocal. But if this is a love-letter, it’s to a time when world-conquering pop could be made in front-rooms, when love songs could be profound, deeply meant and light as a crush. And, indeed, when a pop album could be taken to heart by us all, and our mums.
To look at this extraordinary record, it’s worth looking at the talents behind it. House DJ Julio Bashmore, with whom Jessie shares the small home of PMR Records, and The Invisible’s Dave Okumu, with whom Jessie shares a south London hometown handle production. Both are artists with a gift for melody and freshness, working at the fore of the underground but more emotionally and classically minded than most. Jessie, of course, rose by blessing tracks around the after-and-around dubstep spectrum with her voice and snapshots of relationships, from needing space to asking someone to be a bit more open, with hugely ambitious verve and vision. And this album, written in Dave Okumu’s front room by these three innovative lights, is a joyfully clever record, musically – from those sublime guitar solos on Running to the delicate patter of drums on 110% – and charmingly simple in its ambition to make beautiful, classic pop songs about the condition of love in 2012.
And that voice! Half purr, clear as glass, expressive yet restrained, Jessie, more than anyone else around – apart from Beyonce, as a matter of fact – pulls off the classic popstar trick of sounding both regally impervious and completely relatable at once. With Beyonce she also shares an almost universal admiration (Laura and Popjustice were both at pains to say that they thought ‘Devotion’ was incredible), among those aware of her, at least. That number is surely set to explode outside its already sizeable group, but for now, let’s all enjoy a pop-dance classic, a set of fantastic love songs, and the timely arrival of a very British popstar. [CRJ]
Teengirl Fantasy – ‘Tracer’ [True Panther/ R&S]
Teengirl Fantasy return with ‘Tracer’ a follow up to their debut LP ‘7AM’ released in 2010. The new album explores the visions of Logan Takahashi and Nick Weiss to create electronic music with a difference. The sounds seem to have no set direction but in way which makes you engage with them even more. Highlights of the album include the opener Orbital which snaps up your attention straight away and also EFX where Kelele’s sensational vocals explode over the delectable beats. Other artists featured on the album include Panda Bear on track Pyjamas, where the beats are raw and the track may feel a little unnerving but only in a way which is necessary to attempt to push the boundaries of house music. Also Mist of Time uses the ethereal vocals of Laurel Halo to create a beautiful track, there is a clear sense that Teengirl Fantasy had particular artists in mind when writing certain songs. With ‘Tracer’ Teengirl Fantasy are producing original sounds with a multitude of euphoric tracks you’ll want to play, party and afterparty with. [FD]
You can listen to the full album stream via NPR here.
Janka Nabay – ‘En Yay Sah’ [Luaka Bop]
Janka Nabay is this incredible Sierra Leonian singer who basically resurrected ‘bubu’, this ancient folk song from his area of east Africa, and turned it into the most awesome pop music. He then moved to New York because of the civil war, and got musicians from Brooklyn bands like Skeletons, Chairlift, Highlife and Saadi to play his tunes. They do an incredible job – adding a taut, precise melody to the songs, giving the rhythm space to breath. Janka’s incredible voice – smoky, wistful, energetic yet sad – is the real star here though, moving freely between around the song, sometimes speak-singing, ad-libbing and employing tension and release beautifully. This is honestly one of the funnest records you’ll hear this summer, and you should totally hear it. [CRJ]
Stream Janka Nabay’s album ‘En Yay Sah’ here
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – ‘Mature Themes’ [4AD]
‘Mature Themes’ is Ariel Pink’s ninth official release, his second studio album since signing to 4AD in 2009. The follow up to his previous album ‘Before Today’, which was released in 2010 comes as a work that appears to be a more universally accessible record. With a trademark tape-warped sound, there are tracks on this album such as ‘Only in My Dreams’ which show a more emotional side to Ariel Rosenburg, offering a glimpse to a more sensitive side to the maestro behind the music. Having said that, the LP also has some sounds reminiscent of his previous work, a little more avant garde with tracks such as Schnitzel Boogie proclaiming the lyrics ‘lettuce, tomatoes and onions only’, which on the surface is about ordering a cheeseburger. The unconventional sense of humour offered by some of the tracks makes ‘Mature Themes’ equally a little less accessible to the mass market, but may just be reflection of Ariel’s personal maturity, having recently stated ‘You take life less seriously when you’re older’ in an interview with Dummy. With all that being said, it’s an album which is definitely worth your attention, an eclectic range of songs that have something to offer for everyone, whether you want a poppy song you can relate or whether you want songs with a little less structure. [FD]
You can stream Ariel Pink’s new LP via The Guardian.
Tropa Macaca – ‘Ectoplasma’ [Software]
After an extraordinarily fruitful 18 months, the the ambient synth drift that’s served as the dominent sound of the noise/ambient scene has drifted off, thankfully, leaving super abstract sound art-leaning stuff on one side, and very affirmatively musical work on the other. It’s basically a weird and totally thrilling time for the underground, Portuguese duo Tropa Macaca’s are emblematic of these shifts, right down to their blessing by Oneohtrix Point Never, who’s releasing it on his label Software. Unashamedly out there, it’s a lesson in pure sound design as potent as SND or Aaron Dilloway, yet filled with an unctuous listenability, a primordial, glowing slime that’s as addictive yet stately as the best in the genre. It couldn’t be further away from the album at the top of this list in terms of crossover potential, but, frankly, I love it almost as much. [CRJ]