Röyksopp and more...
Too Long in This Condition
Although he made his name pursuing an innovative approach to folk music that emphasised surreal imagery, deliberate anachronism, and distinctive phrasing, Alasdair Roberts has always based his work on traditional forms. On Too Long in This Condition he paid homage to this bedrock with ten traditional ballads and one instrumental, including spellbinding versions of “The Daemon Lover”, “Long Lankin”, and “Barbara Allen”. Roberts enlisted the help of a strong team of folkies and folk-rockers, who provide meat to his typically skeletal arrangements for voice and (weirdly tuned) acoustic guitar. Harmony vocals were provided by young folk singer Emily Portman (whose own The Glamoury, with its magical realist lyrics set to timeless melodies, was another standout release of 2010). The mixture of weirdness and timelessness that has been at the heart of all Roberts’s work, and which connects him to fellow Glaswegians the Incredible String Band, was as present here as in his self-written material, proving that surreality is as old as the hills. Another nice nod to the past came with the idiosyncratic liner notes, which mixed folkloric detail, guitar tunings, and whimsy in the manner of classic British folk albums of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Richard Elliott
Luck in the Valley
When Jack Rose passed away at age 38 in December of 2009, it was a gut shot, a sudden loss of a huge and unique musical talent. To hear his last album as a sad reminder of his passing is to miss just how damned alive this record is. Like his other masterpiece, Kensington Blues, Luck in the Valley mines pre-war folk and blues, but Rose’s playing isn’t haunted by the past, it is invigorated by it. The bright snapping notes of “When Tailgate Drops, the Bullshit Stops” pulls you in, while the more exploratory “Tree in the Valley” surrounds you with its wandering feel. Rose, at the top of a crop of virtuoso acoustic players, is unsurprisingly impressive with his playing here. What makes this album brilliant isn’t the virtuosity of his performance, but rather the generosity of his sound. Rose never hides behind his intricate guitar playing, and this final album shows the best example of how he reaches past impressive technique to pull meaning out of those notes. The result is an instrumental album that seems to have more to say than the most verbose lyricists manage, and what it is saying—that wordless feel, that buzzing hope—comes out in every vital note of this record. Jack Rose is, and will be, sorely missed, but this is the kind of record that will live with you for a long time to come. Matthew Fiander
Long touted as a more subdued sequel to 2009’s buoyant Junior, it was perhaps not surprising that Röyksopp’s fourth album would meet with an altogether more muted critical response. The relative silence did the Norwegian electro duo an injustice however, as Senior betrayed at least as great a level of care and thoughtfulness on its creators’ part as had its predecessor. Without doubt, this oblique record demands an investment from the listener, but it’s an investment that yields a more than worthwhile return; scratch beneath their glassy surfaces and each of these tracks reveals a dark chasm brimming with mystique and subtlety of atmosphere. Here lies the difference between Junior and Senior: where the former had a gripping immediacy, the latter takes longer to unfurl its more considered charms, bringing an intriguing close to an extraordinary pair of albums. Andy Johnson
Salem’s beautifully affecting full length debut King Night finds itself luring somewhere between ooOoO’s more urban experimentation and the direction many might have expected Ethan Coen to take Crystal Castles with II. However theirs is, at first listen, a more abrasive sound that slowly reveals layers of intricate pop references, though at times barely audible. 2010 was a big year for imaginative drum patterns and the use of distortion and effects on these. With King Night, Salem emerge as amongst the cream of this particular crop. From the title track’s wallowing groove to the slow mo trip-hop of “Trapdoor”, the attention to detail is clear to see. “Hound’s” constantly morphing pattern demonstrates beyond this a knowledge and execution far exceeding your usual debut. Building an atmosphere of noir—labeled witch-house earlier in the year—with distorting layers within the sound, just as you start to see a formula develop in the albums opening six tracks the record turns into a far more sprawling and immersive affair. When the album changes at “Redlights”, the hints of excellence in its opening section are affirmed by some very bold—and perhaps previously unexpected—song craft in the record’s five closing tracks. Robert McCallum
What sets Sasquatch apart from the hordes of other hard-rockers out there is their ability to hit that sweet spot between brain-deadening fuzz and propulsive energy. Most stoner-sludge bands set up camp in the downtempo end of the scale, but a fair number of Sasquatch tunes you could safely listen to while operating heavy machinery. Hell, you could even dance to “Get Out of Here” or “Walkin’ Shoes” or “No More Time”. Even their slow tunes, which are many, are never lethargic. Meanwhile, stealth sort-of-mellow track “New Disguise” reveals that rarest of rarities: the heavy rocker who can actually sing. No Cookie Monster growling for this band. Keith Gibbs ain’t Pavoratti, but he howls and snarls like an existential coyote. All of the above add up to a can’t lose combination: fuzzed-to-the-gills rocking freakouts sporting irresistible riffs, decent singing, solid musicianship, and an utter absence of pretension or gimmickry. Sure, the lyrics are dumber than dirt. Would you want it any other way? David Maine