Rock, November 2021

hfnalbum.pngPublic Service Broadcasting
Bright Magic

PSB enjoy working thematically and Bright Magic is a kaleidoscopic musical survey of Berlin. On 'Der Sumpf (Symphonie Der Großstadt)' they metaphorically drive into town on pulsing synths like Tangerine Dream, and then examine the city's history and myths, its citizens and the people it has influenced. It was recorded at Berlin's Hansa Tonstudios [HFN Aug '21], as used by David Bowie, and Depeche Mode – who are explicitly quoted on 'People Let's Dance'. Norwegian singer EERA adds sweetness while Berliner Blixa Bargeld sounds sinister on 'Der Rhythmus Der Maschinen', and the whole shebang veers audaciously from complex guitar-based numbers to excerpts from a 1928-recorded sound collage of the city. MB


Nanocluster Vol.1
Swim WM56; two 10in LPs: VWM56

Immersion is the electronica alias of Colin Newman and Malka Spigel, who are equally adept at writing pop and rock earworms in their other projects like Wire and Githead. Here they combine those styles with guests including Stereolab vocalist Laetitia Sadier and electronic artists Ulrich Schnauss and Scanner. There are cryptic songs about disappeared neighbours and cat lovers, and on 'Remember Those Days On The Road', Spigel recounts images from half-dissolved memories. These sit alongside expressive instrumentals, particularly the radiant, song-like 'Skylarks' and the loping 'Metrosphere', which is driven along by Newman's repetitive guitar figures. MB


Manic Street Preachers
The Ultra Vivid Lament
Columbia 9439895432; LP: 19439895431

'Walking on my own, it's 1993' sings James Dean Bradfield on 'Snowing In Sapporo'. It's a song full of memories that 'couldn't last without the hurt', looking back at the band's beginnings as confrontational, arty punks, and their guitarist and singer Richey Edwards, now declared dead in absentia. It's a reminder of how much they have changed, but also that they have achieved commercial success by playing widescreen rock without bluster and with erudite lyrics. Bradfield duets with Julia Cumming on 'The Secret That He Missed,' taking the roles of artists Augustus and Gwen John, and the single 'Orwellian' sets an apocalyptic scenario to a hummable tune. MB


Martina Topley-Bird
Forever I Wait
Awal (tbc)

Since emerging as a teenager on Tricky's epochal 1995 trip-hop album Maxinquaye, Martina Topley-Bird has charted an idiosyncratic course. Although she has sung with musicians including Mark Lanegan, Gorillaz and Massive Attack – whose Robert Del Naja contributes here – this is only her fourth solo album. She has a beautifully controlled voice, singing soft and small, and drawing the listener into her world of atmospheric electronics and gently simmering beats on 'Hunt', then becoming more animated on the funky, bass-led 'Game'. The arrangements are subtle and imaginative, the highlight being the string quartet setting of 'Rain'. MB