Hot Chip: Fine Dining
Hot Chip - In Our Heads (Domino)
Willie Nelson - Heroes (Legacy)
Regina Spektor - What We Saw from the Cheap Seats (Sire)
The Invisible - Rispah (Ninja Tune)
Smoke Fairies - Blood Speaks (V2)
Boban I Marko Markovic Orkestar - Golden Horns: The Best of Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar (Piranha)
Pop has long been a dirty word, but it’s dirtier now than it ever has been. Blame reality TV, ever more manufactured boy bands and hip hop’s unrelenting recycling of cheesy, David Guetta-style dance beats. It doesn’t need to be that way, however. Hot Chip are proof that it’s possible to make instantly likeable pop songs without compromising your integrity.
Album five, the follow-up to 2010’s One Life Stand, sees them on excellent form. Tracks such as Motion Sickness and How Do You Do are equipped with melodic hooks so sharp they should come with a safety guard, yet they are balanced by quirky electronics and a goofiness that has become the band’s trademark. And on the tender, emotive ballad Look at Where We Are, they show they are capable of real depth. This is what pop should be like.
The superannuated star of yesteryear recording a late-career covers album has become one of the clichés of recent times. Everyone from Johnny Cash to Tom Jones has had a go.
So an album of covers, revisited old songs and three new tracks by country legend Willie Nelson is not immediately appealing – something entirely new would be more enticing. But Nelson’s languid, duffed-up voice lends an entirely new perspective to The Scientist by Coldplay and Just Breathe by Pearl Jam – you’ve never heard them like this.
A new version of A Horse Called Music, the title song of a 1989 Nelson album, has the bittersweet quality that comes from a lifetime’s experience, and adds to what is a quietly captivating album.
In the early noughties, Regina Spektor was one of the founding figures of the American anti-folk scene. Her recent albums, meanwhile, have tended towards a more fleshed-out sound that is pitched somewhere between Tori Amos, Fiona Apple and Suzanne Vega.
What We Saw from the Cheap Seats is her first release for three years and it’s worth the wait. She weaves delicate vocal patterns over scratchy synths, thudding drums and minor piano keys on All the Rowboats, while Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas) is a whimsical ditty, all French lyrics and plinkety-plonk melodies. Infectious stuff.
Rispah, the follow-up to The Invisible’s Mercury-nominated 2009 self-titled debut, is, says the band’s frontman Dave Okumu, “a love letter to grief” – sadly, Okumu’s mother died while they were recording. Out of this personal tragedy comes a darkly compelling album.
Wings sees Okumu’s eerie falsetto bouncing off pattering electronics and dark atmospheric sound effects. The effect is like a more leftfield Radiohead. Perfect nocturnal listening.
Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire come from Chichester in Sussex. You wouldn’t know it listening to Smoke Fairies’ second album, where the swampy blues riffs and twangy guitars on The Three of Us and Take Me Down When You Go are steeped in Americana – something to do with extensive, transcontinental US touring, perhaps? But who cares where they come from when they play with such confidence and vigour. It’s engaging and exciting, two indispensable qualities.
And another thing…
Father and son duo Boban and Marko Markovic are legends of Balkan folk music and key figures in the Balkan beat scene, which fuses dance beats and gypsy melodies. This 15-track compilation, Golden Horns, is an excellent primer for the uninitiated.