Alex Hutton Trio.

Legentis.
F-IRE Records.


Reviewer - Jez Matthews.


Legentis is a rich, textured album by Alex Hutton, perhaps one of the UK's most under-rated pianists, originally from Sheffield, but now based in London. He is joined by Russian virtuoso bass player Yuri Goloubev, and one of the UK's most subtle and musical drummers, Asaf Sirkis. Hutton has a distinctive style with a real sense of melody and drama, influenced by contemporary pianists like Esbjorn Svensson and Keith Jarrett. Wordless vocals, French horn, flute and cor anglais add colour to the arrangements, making this album a really varied listen.

The music moves easily from the euphoric dance-inspired riffs of the opening 'J.J' to a more impressionistic feel on pieces like the lovely 'Clouds'. Here Hutton invokes the sound of church bells, before some wonderful lyrical playing by both Hutton and Goloubev. 'The Legentis Script' has a very structured compositional feel, with vocals, French horn and flute framing the improvisational stretches of the piece. Hutton's playing on this is melodic but has a sense of direction reminiscent of Esbjorn Svensson. 'Then There Were Four' follows 'Clouds' with a theme based around cascading piano arpeggios. Whilst technically impressive, the music is never forbidding, even when the improvisation becomes more exploratory towards the middle of the piece, and the return of the theme at the end is both thrilling and uplifting.

The cor anglais duets with piano in 'Hymn 2 (We The People)', a piece imbued with a calm pastoral lyricism. 'Wonder Why' has a rocky feel, and like several of the pieces evokes the music of other contemporary jazz trios like the EST or Avishai Cohen, with a tight yet loose feel to the playing and a real head-nodding groove. 'Farewell 296' is perhaps the most melancholic of the themes on the album; full of subtlety, with Goloubev initially doubling up the melody line with Hutton's piano. Again Goloubev solos magnificently on this, before some of Hutton's most expressive playing.

'Crying Wolf' features the French horn, and has a dramatic main theme with a real filmic feel to it, interwoven with a folky counter-melody. The main themes lead into yet another of Yuri Goloubev's wonderful solos, backed sensitively by percussive touches from Sirkis and also Hutton, both subtle but never losing sight of the groove. Hutton's solo playing on this has a spacey feel, before the return of the main theme. Closer 'A Norsk Tale' is a piece for solo piano, beautiful in its simplicity, and a feeling that Hutton is somehow providing a musical epilogue to an epic drama.

This is a jazz album, but in common with many of the younger generation of jazz musicians, Hutton has absorbed influences outside the normal jazz reportoire to create music that refuses to be tied down to that label, and certainly deserves to be more widely heard.

Deerhoof.

Breakup Song.
ATP Recordings.


Reviewer - David Ellis.


Something heard while listening to this tea party of avant-garde pop with a death rattle cough made me look through the credits for a Mr W. Wonka. A long shot, admittedly, but these eleven tracks seem to have many of the same ingredients as those 'exploding candies for your enemies'. The results are certainly similar, and this is no bad thing. Breakup Song fizzles with teeth-rattling strangeness through some of the catchiest pop music released this year, seducing listeners with little hooks and repetitions while constantly screwing with any semblance of a formula through scratchy guitars and stuttering drums. The mixing desk must have melted.

Right from the opener 'Breakup Songs', Deerhoof's paradox is immediate; the floating warmth of fluttering female vocals battling a militant snare. And as the song squelches through a slick groove of noise, all San Francisco cool, a break comes with a keyboard riff straight from a carousel in Scunthorpe. As this fades, sound effects from Pong compete with cymbals swooshing backwards and Satomi Matsuzaki sings like she's a subway announcer. This is 'There's That Grin'. By the end, guitars spiky with fuzz have inconceivably joined in and we're briefly listening to Depeche Mode covered by Nirvana. Then the computer stops working at its thirty seconds of panicked bleeps and error messages somehow singing in time. Then 'Bad Kids to the Front' starts up with a cuckoo clock driven to insanity - presumably after listening to the two tracks it's following - before melody battles a Nintendo circa 1986. The eighties theme continues for 'Zero Seconds Pause', where the riff is unashamedly wearing a shell suit and tossing its permed hair. It's often said Deerhoof are hard to define, which is nonsense; they are just about everything. No, really.

A lull comes in the shape of 'To Fly or Not to Fly' and 'We Do Parties', both decidedly ordinary works of noise in their context. Still, the album rarely lets up and the band parade their particular brand of peculiar with a strange calm. They shape-shift, but with precision. This is a band in control.

It's hard to comprehend how close to normal the entire affair is. From the opening moments through the closing refrain, something is almost always simple enough to grab hold of but some fantasy swoops in and dangles it just out of reach. It's normal, if normal were heard through ears turned inside out and back to front.

Mala.

Mala in Cuba.
Brownswood Recordings.

Reviewer - Jack Opus.


In 2011, Mala, Brownswood head honcho Giles Peterson and now-label mate Simbad travelled to Havana to collaborate and record with local musicians as a contribution to the ongoing Havana Cultura project, which aims to celebrate and showcase Cuba's musical talent to an international audience.

Mala in Cuba features musicians such as vocalist Danay Suarez, Grammy nominated percussionist Changuito and Buena Vista Social Club prodigy and acclaimed pianist Roberto Fonseca. The presence of the Cuban musicians is a real driving force behind the tracks featured on the album and, with it being previously remarked that all Cuban music is dance music, the album really acts as a demonstration of this, with its acoustic polyrhythms decorating the tracks.

The record itself is heavily reliant on dub structures, mixing techniques and processing, something often missed or lost in evolution within dubstep today. Although Mala in Cuba could not be considered a straight dubstep album, it includes many of the elements that made the genre great at its foundation - carefully-crafted minimal musicality and space, not just in terms of its note and beat placement but in its frequency range.

However - and this is what I love about the record - it is very much about musicians being themselves and executing music which showcases their personal influences. The Cuban musicians' creative gift to the record is obvious in every track. Mala's input is also clear via the jungle influences in some of the textures used, the depth of the sub-bass lines and the drum programming. Neither party has had their style compromised and it is a great achievement that the LP remains balanced as a whole.

Mala has really done a good job in utilising just enough of the recordings made in Cuba without falling into the trap of drowning the album in samples, which may have led to his identity being diluted in the process. This less-is-more approach has really helped to shine a spotlight on each contribution made by South American musicians with an element of suspense preceding each melody. When you hear the first chords in 'Como Como', they act as a very welcome and satisfying resolution to the tense feeling created by the repeated vocal line beginning the track.

'Noches Sueños' featuring Danay Suarez offers the listener the first actual 'song' and also acts as the album's finale. With each track on Mala in Cuba offering hints of the rhythms and tones of the track previous, I wonder whether this final track hints at his future musical direction. Either way, I'll be listening.

Mudcat Blues Trio.

The Tesla Recordings.
Tesla Records.

Reviewer - Samuel Valdés López.


The genre of blues sometimes gets a bad rep - undeservedly, if you ask me. It's seen as "dad rock"; self-indulgent and played only by a guy whose claim to fame was to share a wife (and solos) with George Harrison. Like any genre, there are people playing it by numbers and people who scramble the numbers to create Happy Primes and the Fibonacci sequence.

So maybe Mudcats Blues Trio are more into recreational mathematics than straight up algebra. Sure, 50% of The Tesla Recordings are covers, but they are pretty good renditions of classics - see 'Mannish Boy' and 'In My Time of Dying' - and their original offerings aren't half bad at all, with 'Blues for Buddy Guy' and 'Catfish Blues' being superb tracks.

'You Don't Love Me' is a great reinterpretation. I have to admit, with a certain degree of shame, that the version I knew was an infamous dancehall rendition from '94. Let's keep the canonic one on this side of the blues scale. Equally ace is 'Mannish Boy', originally by Muddy Waters. Mudcats' version is phenomenal.

What about the originals, you say? Well, 'Blinded By The Devil' is a sweet groove, 'Flood Water Rising Blues' is the soundtrack for my sampling ventures in the River Don and 'Blues for Buddy Guy' is both a love letter and a homage to Mr. Buddy Guy, one of the best wranglers of that beast we call "guitar". It all balances out: Mudcats Blues Trio are a band that manage to pay homage to the legends that inspired them whilst creating their own repertoire of gems.

If any complaint has to be found (and it's more of a nitpick) it's that the album manages to capture half of the energy and passion of the Mudcats in their live environment. This is probably more due to the fact that the freedom that blues gives for jamming and improvisation is not always translated into a recording. Solution? Catch them live. They are always a joy to watch.

One of the refrains in 'Catfish Blues' says, "Call me a rolling stone". Let's just call you an unsung champion of blues and keep rocking those instruments, shall we?

Animal Collective.

Centipede Hz.
Domino.


Reviewer - Sam Parkin.


Following weeks of radio mixes, covertly featuring guest DJs and new tracks, New York's avant-folk bandits turned synth wizards Animal Collective have launched Centipede Hz, their first full-length in four years. It is alive and streaming; the first time the band have diverged from what band-member Geologist described as a romantic loyalty to the non-digital simplicity of the physical release date.

The album is streaming in video format, making the band's analogue tapestry inextricable from its melting psychedelic face, courtesy of artist Abby Portner. This indirectly emphasises arguably the best aspect of the band's current identity - that you have no idea who's doing what and how. I challenge anyone to fully dissect any of the tracks on Centipede Hz into rigid, compartmentalised band members or sounds. That's why I've hesitated to label Geologist as anything other than a 'band member'. Aside the distinctive vocal stylings of Avey Tare and Panda Bear, little else is immediately attributable to individuals, as all four band members play samplers and percussion alongside their respective instruments. The result is a writhing cacophony of analogue squelches and blurts, at times referencing their Sung Tongs era anti-folk, but largely working within the synth and sampler set up they've pioneered in recent years.

One feature that marks Centipede Hz different is the use of 'radio conjoiners' that transcend track divisions. Inspired by Avey Tare's brother Dave - once a successful commercial DJ - the conjoiners reference the Animal Collective radio initiative that led up to the album stream, whilst also capturing the band's interwoven live shows in which the music ebbs and flares continuously. On record, these sonic abstractions, which swallow up the melodies they sandwich, continue an tension pervasive in much of the band's work: the tug-of-war between melodic frivolity and underlying sinisterness. This tension complicates cascading chord changes that sometimes threaten to sound cheesy-grinned, such as in 'Amania' and 'Applesauce', and generates wondrous moments such as the grim laughter that spirals into the maddening loop of "Feel Good!" at the end of 'Wide Eyed'. It's nothing less than thrilling, though not what you'd quite expect to be heard on Radio 4.

Early highlights plucked from the multi-legged musical scuttle of Centipede Hz include 'New Town Burnout', the barn-storming opening duo of 'Moonjock', single 'Today's Supernatural', and 'Wide Eyed'. Ultimately, however, all but the foolish would expect this to stay the same for long. With an album so dense with divergent melodies and rustling textures, Centipede Hz is one for the long haul.

Holy Other.

Held.
TriAngle Records.


Reviewer - Jack Scourfield.


There's a semi-regular column in the somewhat holier-than-thou free music magazine The Stool Pigeon which seeks out - based upon the tweetings of @solovelythatithurts - uses of the phrase "achingly beautiful" from reviews and descriptions around the world, and collates them into a handy column so that readers can sneer and scoff at how unimaginative the writers have been in using it.

On the surface, "achingly beautiful" doesn't seem like the most clichéd of phrases. Sure, you know you've heard it before, but it's not as if it's "nice" or "good". It has a much more poetic ring to it and, unlike "good", takes you on an exploration of the fragility of human emotion within the confines of its seventeen letters. Should I be blissfully entranced by this concerto / cinematography / Lana Del Rey song, or should I be wincing and reaching for a softer pillow to sit on? What if Lana Del Rey's lips and this pillow are actually so hard to distinguish that they're essentially the same thing, as pain and pleasure can often be? Would I rather sit on Lana Del Rey's lips than this pillow? Well yes, I suppose I would, although I don't see the relevance in this instance.

Listeners to Holy Other's previous work will be well accustomed to walking around with rouged cheeks and dilated pupils by now. 2011's With U EP was one of the year's finest releases, possessing the ability to almost physically stupefy the listener, creating such an overpowering whirl of emotions that numbness was always just on the verge of being induced. The Manchester producer's debut full length, Held, continues in a similar vein, meshing together hope, desire, resignation and despondency into singular bursts that are so sonically heavy that they'd probably be unbearably oppressive were it not for the snatches of pitched vocals and cinematic elegance that flit in and out of the songs like loose petals blowing in a gale.

As a whole, Held is a somewhat safe, restrained record, with just a few tracks matching up to those heard on With U. Those that do - 'Tense Past' and title track 'Held' are probably the best new additions to his catalogue - are stand-outs, but in reality this isn't an album that should be taken one song at a time. Having dubbed it "safe" and "restrained" but two sentences ago, it could be considered that these are in fact not derogatory terms at all, but actually the core of what makes Holy Other's music so powerful. It's the comforting, unassuming nature of it that has such a numbingly potent effect. And when you're aching from too much beauty, a bit of numbing could be just what the doctor ordered.