Rock, March 2021

City Slang SLANG50349; LP: SLANG50349LP

Vocalist Stuart Staples describes Distractions as 'minimal, austere almost', with decoration regarded as 'frivolous'. He's not kidding. It's a challenging collection and a world away from their trademark orchestrated ballads. On the 11-minute 'Man Alone (Can't Stop The Fadin')' sparse incantations float around synthetic drums as if skirting a musical void, but it's gripping nonetheless. There are creepy recitations on 'I Imagine You', a skeletal piano ballad in 'Tue-Moi' and 'Lady With The Braid' is an animated bossa nova with lush keyboards and strings. The closer 'The Bough Bends' incorporates birdsong and voices intoning 'Distractions, distractions', as if a fleeting thought had been transformed into a song. MB


The Besnard Lakes
The Besnard Lakes Are The Last Of The Great Thunderstorm Warnings
Full Time Hobby FTH382CD; LP: FTH382LP

The Canadian psychedelic rock sextet return with their first album in seven years and by track 2, 'Raindrops', this 72m expedition reaches the first of its peaks. A paean to the late Talk Talk founder Mark Hollis, it emulates some of that band's search for transcendence through lengthy instrumental and melodic excursions. Guitarist and vocalist Jace Lasek often slides up into falsetto, a tendency balanced by Olga Goreas' sweeter, steadier tones. The Besnard Lakes strive towards the epic and their layered guitars and keyboards interact like a more invigorated Spiritualized – the title track is 16m of spacey drones. MB


The Notwist
Vertigo Days
Morr Music MM180CD; LP: MM180LP

The German group resurface with a set that invites comparisons with the Krautrock sound of the '70s, particularly the hypnotic drum patterns of Can and the hazy sonics and skewed lyricism of Faust IV. But The Notwist are forward-looking and the musicians they've invited to augment their keyboards, guitars and electronics include Japanese vocalist Saya from Tenniscoats and jazz clarinettist Angel Bat Dawid, with Argentine singer Juana Molina guesting on the breakbeat-driven 'Al Sur'. Their songs balance melody and sonic experimentation and the recapitulation of the instrumental 'Stars' and the disarmingly sweet 'Into Love' gives it a thematic coherence. MB


James Yorkston and the Second Hand Orchestra
The Wide, Wide River
Domino WIGCD484; LP: WIGLP484XM

James Yorkston asked music producer Karl-Jonas Winqvist to invite musicians to improvise backing for these songs. While this might have resulted in a few train wrecks, Yorkston's folk-ish songwriting style is more concerned with detailed observation than structural convolutions and the 'orchestra' play keyboards, guitars, accordion, strings and winds with energy and empathy. 'To Soothe Her Wee Bit Sorrows' has a similar inspired looseness to John Martyn's '70s material; 'Ella Mary Leather' is more arranged, a typically gritty love song; and 'A Very Old-Fashioned Blues' is fleshed out with vocal harmonies. MB