Albums of the week

23.04.12 Words by: Ruth Saxelby

Actress – ‘R.I.P.’ [Honest Jon’s]
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Making ‘R.I.P.’ was medicine, Actress told me in an interview last week. For the listener, too, this is an album that can provide solace and refuge. Where ‘Splazsh’ was frenetic, ‘R.I.P.’ moves at a not dissimilar pace and yet it feels slower, deeper and richer. The difference is the movement is directed inward, not outward. Sonic phrases repeat, becoming almost chant-like. The effect is one of focus: the mind cleared of clutter, the vision channelled, the way clearer. The song titles speak to a Biblical story arc, telling a story of life and death, redemption and damnation. Ideas of light and dark are central to the journey, with both Archangel Uriel, whose name means “God is my light”, and Tartarus, the underworld abyss and home of damned souls, playing starring roles. The two tracks they figure in talk to one another, with inverse levels of spiralling, chiming melodies and swathes of heavy bass. Yet there is something altogether more comforting in Shadow From Tartarus’s dominant use of bass and, conversely, something unnervingly sinister in the seemingly lighter melodies of Uriel’s Black Harp. Nothing is what it seems, hints Actress.

Raven, so often death’s herald, is recast as the album’s guiding light: a masterpiece of tension and release, and easily Actress’s finest heart-in-throat melodic work. The Lords Graffiti and IWAAD stand together as memories of, or memorials to, the world that the London artist once resided in. On ‘R.I.P.’ Actress tears down old frameworks and boundaries, and his world is born anew. ‘R.I.P.’ is both a highly personal album – a laying to rest of some old demons – and one that is in conversation with our times. In staring death in the eye, both recognising and questioning it, Actress loosens its grip on the moment, for a divine moment. [RS]
Buy Actress – ‘R.I.P.’ [Honest Jon’s]

Death Grips – ‘The Money Store’ [Epic]
Death Grips are a three-membered rap band who make really visceral music. ‘The Money Store’ is their second album, their first for a label (‘Ex-Military’ was a Bandcamp album). Most people were amazed that a major as major as Epic could sign something this confrontational, but it’s far from unlistenable. Grooves and samples lock and twist throughout: if anything, there is too much music here rather than not enough; too many jumps, drops, loops and hooks to swallow rather than not enough, lyrics rushed at you faster than you can take in. It’s a full contact sport, rather than a blood one, in other words, and with a palette that takes in bhangra, baile funk, sub-Surgeon techno, industrial and dubstep, it’s a very open, furiously fun template. It sounds a bit like hurtling through the storm at the heart of the vortex of the internet, basically, or a bit like what all rap sounds like to your grandparents. Heartily recommended. [CRJ]

Jack White – ‘Blunderbuss’ [XL/Third Man]
Picking up where the final White Stripes album, ‘Icky Thump’, left off, ‘Blunderbuss’ is a continuation of Jack White in his purest Jack Whitean form, suited and booted in a new mint colourway and soaring through the wacko-o-meter levels unapologetically. Freed from the crash-bang-wallop of Meg’s artfully naïve drumming, the arrangements are knottier (fiddle, clarinet, pedal steel guitar and upright bass all squeeze in) and the mix is as polished as a midnight cowboy’s boot, reflecting White’s move from the scuzzy industrial blues of Detroit to the rhinestone glamour of Nashville, where his Third Man label and recording studio is based. Happily, we also get a sharp dose of fearsome guitar-wrangling that harks back to the Ball And Biscuit rawness of classic Stripes – behold Freedom At 21 and the Little Willie John number I’m Shakin’. A classy revamp for the former Man In Red. [CR]
Stream Jack White – ‘Blunderbuss’ [XL/Third Man]

Santigold – ‘Master Of My Make Believe’ [Atlantic]
Recorded with numerous collaborators of the respected-but-predictable variety (Dave Sitek, Diplo, Karen O and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), ‘Master Of My Make Believe’ makes no huge leaps in style or imagination from Santigold’s 2008 debut – but considering how ahead of the curve she sounded back then, mashing up booty-shaking global bass, blustering art-rock and madcap funkiness, this still leaves her in the top percentile of pop stars making deeply weird yet mainstream pop music. That percentile has since barged its way to the top of the charts (Gaga, Minaj, Kanye et al), leaving this album sounding almost disappointingly ‘now’, when what we really want from Santigold is pop music for tomorrow. Where she has the edge, though, is the melancholy that underlies tracks like The Riot’s Gone and This Is Our Parade, as something delicate reaches past the ricocheting beats to make a more heartfelt connection. [CR]
Stream Santigold – ‘Master Of My Make Believe’ [Atlantic]