Cat Power

Wanderer

American musician Cat Power, born Charlyn Marshall, is a respected and seasoned artist, notable for her lengthy absences and musical pivots. Wanderer finds Marshall changing direction once again, six years after Sun cemented a newfound electronic sound. Understandably, this has all been scrapped.

This is an album about disconnection and profound isolation. In that sense, Wanderer is less of a rebirth than a midlife crisis. An infusion of the recognisably modern appears in the form of a quietly restrained Lana Del Rey on ‘Woman’. Together, Marshall and Del Rey access a well-measured, maternal relationship.

The biggest surprise though is Marshall’s straightforward, grown-up cover of Rihanna’s 2013 single ‘Stay’, Marshall here lending unmeasurable maturity to a pop song about the repetitiveness and defeatism of unconditional love. Marshall smugly uncovers the hidden waves of romantic torment within the original track with subtle ease.

In many ways, Marshall’s album is streaked with a peculiarly feminine aggression, a boiler pot of seething fury. ‘In Your Face’ and ‘You Get’, twin tracks fuelled by the same belligerence, are beguiling and sly, yet mesmerisingly tense. Marshall’s music is, as always, wonderfully open and intimate. On Wanderer, everything is hot to the touch. The intensity of the drum kit on ‘You Get’ or the steady timpani beat of ‘Robin Hood’ are rooted in a restrained, brittle anger.

The wars, mostly against former flames, serve as insidious subplots. Not everything works, and ultimately Marshall’s mood appears to overstay its welcome, but this is a serious album demanding quiet authority.

Ethan Hemmati

Friends of Batman

Pain

Rock is a rich seam for lampoonery, but easy targets don’t make for easy laughs. On the contrary, rock music is so innately and knowingly absurd that finding a good gag that hasn’t already been done is a genuine challenge.

Rock has always been a theatrical genre, but it’s a low-bandwidth medium where only the most basic ideas can carry over the sonic onslaught. The four tracks on Pain, with their square-on-the-nose humour, simple riffs and shout-along choruses, have all the hallmarks of belonging to 45 minutes of Friday night live-at-yer-local pub rock mayhem, where they would presumably be accompanied by plenty of over-the-top silliness and flamboyant self-deprecation.

However, the toilet humour and entry-level irony is left rather too exposed on record, where the basic nature of the tunes becomes a liability rather than an asset. If ‘Rock + Roll Dickhead’ is a passable entry to the vast canon of cocking a snook at sell-out rebels, then the portrayal of moneyed privilege in ‘Poorman’ is less a satirical skewering than a finger-prodding from a drunk teenager. And while I’m sure that ‘Perfume’ isn’t intended to be a joke at the expense of trans people, it might all too easily be taken as one.

The Friends of Batman sound like a loud and boozy laugh of a live act. But like that crafty kebab before your last bus home, sometimes what makes sense when you’re six pints down looks far less funny the morning after.

Paul Graham Raven

John Carpenter

Halloween OST

The timing of John Carpenter's Halloween reboot is opportune. Nostalgia-laden, referential contemporary horror, such as It Follows and Stranger Things, increasingly mimics Carpenter's signature sound. It has become dependably evocative of a specific era in budget horror and the remade score capitalises on this revival. Ten years ago it might’ve been a slicker affair, shorn of synth tones deemed dated. As it is, it's an enhanced but faithful re-imagining.

Halloween 's title theme was itself originally referential, resembling a simplified ‘Tubular Bells’, the Mike Oldfield composition used famously in the score for The Exorcist. The downsizing of Oldfield's prog rock excess reflected not only the smallness of Halloween's budget, but the smallness of its story and its emotional accessibility. Carpenter's remastering of the theme is warm and spacious, pulling the flat original into three dimensions. With fluttering hi-hats and a pounding, five-on-the-floor kick drum, it's almost danceable.

Other iconic themes are similarly elevated. ‘The Shape Kills’ imbues its panic-inducing bass-piano heartbeat with industrial crunch. As Laurie's character ages, her theme is transposed downwards, the descending piano figure rendered more solemn than mysterious, the harsh synth chimes adorning the original replaced with soft, gloomy strings. Michael's original motif, a spine-chilling synth flute trill, reappears unembellished.

Beyond these pieces, the original soundtrack is much expanded. With a muffled mechanical chug exploding into churning strings, ‘Michael Kills Again’ exhibits more contemporary influences, recalling Mica Levi's soundtrack for Under The Skin. However, the elements of modern industrial horror are never more than decoration. Analogue synths remain the centrepiece.

Andrew Trayford

Makaya McCraven

Universal Beings

Often it seems that jazz and hip-hop artists are reviewed in the context of their influences. It’s hard to resist picking out the subtle hat tips and melodic cameos that inevitably make their appearances in songs. Listening to Makaya McCraven’s work, however, is a completely different experience. Recorded over two live and two studio sessions, Universal Beings is an immersive story loaded with heavily-influenced yet starkly unique tracks that blur the lines between jazz, hip-hop and neo-soul.

At times, it’s dark and pensive. Opening tracks ‘A Queen’s Intro’ and ‘Holy Lands’ are slow and seductive, the depth of the bass and sharp, yet delicate harp notes work together to create something that is both contemporary and timeless in its foundations. Equally, in ‘Young Genius’, the percussive groove retains elements of classic jazz and the hi-hat produces a distinctive swing, yet there’s an enduring sense of modernity throughout.

An accomplished ‘beat scientist’, McCraven does not shy away from toying with tone, even within the same album. ‘Atlantic Black’ is frenetic, a chorus of musical voices that gradually add layers of organised chaos as the track progresses. Conversely, ‘Universal Beings’ is light and crisp, finishing off the album on a distinctly uplifting note. The changes in mood create a sense of constant excitement and anticipation from one song to the next.

The overall effect is mesmerising, even hypnotic. Universal Beings is a sophisticated, meditative collage of the best jazz hip-hop improvisation, digging deep into the question of how far musicians can stretch established genres.

Noah Martin

Yuri Urano

Autline

CPU Records comes out from behind its electro shield to jump into techno deep space with their latest hot signing from Japan.

Osaka-based Yuri Urano, a member of the wonderfully-named Naturally Gushing Electric Orchestra, delivers a four-track EP that manages excellence and variation across the techno sphere. It starts with the minimal title track, which has plenty of space to breathe and uses crude vocal sampling to good effect in the style of early Warp protagonists Sweet Exorcist.

'Pec' raises the stakes with a four-to-the-floor kick that grinds through the gears, building in tension before steel-forged percussion drives the track home to a fine but manic finale. The third track, 'Knock', takes the tempo back down to more familiar ground for CPU fans, as a fat bassline washes in and out over a sparse but hypnotic dubbed-out beat.

The finale is modern techno at its best. All the major influences are there - Berlin, Detroit and Tokyo - but this is progressive, fresh, mature and unpredictable. With 'Massio', as with the two previous tracks, we are lifted up and dropped in the midst of a well-executed breakdown, but the final track goes that bit further. Only two minutes in, Urano dispenses with formality and finally crashes 'Massio' into a mass of samples before a steady subatomic beat kicks back in. Like I say, unpredictable and edgy, something that we don’t hear enough in modern dance music.

Andy Tattersall