I have said it before (and will most likely say it again soon) – there is such an astonishing amount of incredible music being produced, and I bet you only get to hear a tiny fraction of it. My guess is that most of you will only have been exposed to at the most five of this week’s albums. I hadn’t been, until I started this month’s hunt. But the great music is out there, as you will soon see – and hear.
Most of the 103 new songs in the list are accessible pop, rock, country or jazz recordings, with a straight path from the source to your brain’s pleasure centre. True figurative art, in other words, nothing abstract about it, beauty to be indulged from the first note.
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But let’s start with the least contemporary in this week’s list, one of music’s greatest masterpieces, Sgt. Pepper’s Heart Club Band by The Beatles, re-released in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of its original release. There is not very much to be said that hasn’t already been said about this milestone in music, except to repeat that this album has probably inspired more music than any other album in history. To think that this was produced by George Martin with 4 tracks available, beggars belief.
If it hadn’t been for The Beatles, perhaps Kinks would have been the world’s most loved pop group of the 60s, but they always came in second, which is saying nothing about the fabulous pop music they left us with. Their genius frontman Ray Davies – now Sir Ray Davies – is not only rereleasing old masterpieces; he is making new ones. Americana is truly a brilliant album, filled to the brim with storytelling from America, both personal and other people’s stories. He hasn’t lost the knack for composing great pop tunes on the way and seems to have been inspired, not limited, by sticking to a concept.
A giant leap from the Beatles and Kinks to two young artists on their way up in the world. Jakob Ogawa has only released an EP, Bedroom Tapes, but the sound is modern and truly original, and gives promise of an artist we will listen to a lot in the future. This is sweet and accessible, with great harmonies and a figurative and genderless musical landscape to embrace the sounds of summer.
Lorde from New Zealand is only slightly older than Jakob Ogawa, but she has already developed immensely as an artist, following what easily could have been a solitary massive hit, Royals, a few years back. Her new album, Melodrama, is an outpouring of self-confidence and young energy; it is just impossible not to be riveted by the rhythms and by the originality of both performance and songwriting. Lorde is here to stay.
The same must be said about Charlotte dos Santos. Charlotte has been a friend of our family since she was a young girl, and I have been fortunate enough to follow the development of a great talent, but even I was taken aback when I heard her debut album, Cleo. She dares to try out musical styles that she is interested in herself, without paying any attention to what is pc for a debuting artist, which is why Charlotte is impossible to typecast within a musical genre. Maybe that is why this album will be the first of many. Congratulations, Charlotte!
The American trio Cigarettes After Sex is another debuting artist. The band released an EP in 2012, and now, five years later, the album Cigaretters After Sex is ready for the public. The dreamlike and low-energy, sweet pop songs can either bore you or relax and appease. To me they do the latter.
It is quite a task to find any resemblance whatsoever between the gritty rock’n’roll of Black Keys and the music on their frontman Dan Auerbach’s solo album Waiting on a Song. His alter ego has visited Nashville and produced a country pop album, filled with fun, fun, fun, hand-clapping and sunny riffs rarely created outside the city limits of Nashville. Thank you, Dan, for giving us a tasty summer album.
We also have a lot to thank The Unthanks for (I couldn’t resist, sorry). They have brought attention to the little known mother of a little known artist from the 60s. Molly Drake never published any of her sweet, romantic and truly poetic songs, but obviously inspired her son Nick Drake, a quiet but outstanding folk singer who met an early death, with her compositions. Now the songs come to new life though The Unthanks album Diversions No 4.: The Songs and Poems of Molly Drake. I am really touched by the frailness and incredible beauty of some of these songs.
Ron Sexsmith is also a terrific storyteller, and an artist who creates silly love songs without making you cringe. He has a rare ability to write songs that feel familiar even when you cant possible have heard them before. And he is doing this without plagiarizing himself or other artists. The Last Rider is filled with such songs.
The same can be said, and perhaps with even greater emphasis, about the new Fleetwood Mac album (which it isn’t) by Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie. I keep thinking, this can’t be a new album? They don’t write and perform songs like this any more? Well, they surely do, and if you used to love the Mac, you’re in luck, for the kings and queens weren’t dead, at least two of them resurrected, and this truly utterly brilliant album came as a result. I have been given ten new sing-a-longs for the car.
Hannah Reid of London Grammar has a voice truly out of the ordinary, with a rare strength and range. Their second album, Truth is a Beautiful Thing, delivers on the promise of the first, and then some. There is something almost divine about Reid’s sad vocal as it surrounds and wraps itself around you. It is just so beautiful.
So is the music of trumpeter Arve Henriksen. We used to reach total calmness with the sax music of Jan Garbarek years back. Now Henriksen brings back some of the same ambient, eerie music on Towards Language. If you need to truly relax and take leave of the world for a while, put this album on. And if you don’t have the time, listen to it twice.
The British band Saint Etienne has released a concept album, Home Counties, with stories from the heart of England, the areas around London. I am sure this has more relevance for people growing up there, but the album offers refreshing and wide-ranging pop music even for us who grew up elsewhere.
Irish diva Imelda May has invited other icons, T-Bone Burnett, Jeff Beck and Jools Holland, to make an album, Life Love Flesh Blood, with her, and the result is as great as can be expected, emphasizing May’s distinctive and slightly theatrical (in a good way) voice. This music is timeless with roots going in all directions, as you should expect from a chanteuse of Imelda May’s calibre.
Another great and distinctive voice belongs to South Korean singer Youn Sun Nah, although she hasn’t managed to reach the same diva status as Imelda May. I kept playing her 2009 album Voyage again and again back then and recommended it to everyone. Her new album She Moves On, is also interesting and pleasing, but Youn Sun Nah still seems to be looking for a unique way to make a mark on the musical world. She enhances most songs she performs, so this is definitely worth delving into.
Cameron Avery is also looking for his own inimitable style – or perhaps he isn’t? His album, Ripe Dreams Pipe Dreams, offers so much, but is more related to the big crooners than to the psychedelic rock he used to perform before. There is Lee Hazelwood and Leonard Cohen in there if you listen carefully, and then some.
I don’t want to stretch your attention too much, so to leave room for 102 new songs, I take out the songs that have been there the longest, tracks from Laura Veirs, Halfdis Huld, Courtney Marie Andrews, the xx, La La Land, Carol Bach-y-Rita, Brent Cash, SOHN, and Kathryn Williams.
See you after summer!