Rock, October 2021

hfnalbum.pngBig Big Train
Common Ground
English Electric EERCD0028; LP: Plane Groovy PLG096

Big Big Train are the most adventurous group currently operating under the progressive rock banner. They take the best aspects of the genre from the '70s, mix them up with other influences (they namecheck Elbow, Pete Townsend, Bowie, even Elton John) and create a hybrid of finely wrought big tunes – singer David Longdon has a wonderfully emotive voice – with dazzling instrumental passages, and on 'Apollo', they are augmented by a limber brass section. And it's all integrated without individual grandstanding. These new songs are more personal and reflective than the historical subjects they usually explore, but the prevailing themes of connection and communication coalesce on the 15m epic 'Atlantic Cable'. MB


Raven Bush
Fall Into Noise
PRAH PRAH034D (download only)

This debut solo album by Bush (keyboard player and violinist in psychedelic quartet Syd Arthur and nephew of Kate) grew out of his recent compositions for film and dance. It moves between grand melodic themes, ambient drift, kaleidoscopic patterns of electronics, and rhythms transplanted from mid-'90s 'intelligent techno'. The propulsive 'Factory Of Light' sounds like Pink Floyd's 'On The Run' pursued by Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre. It's an intricately layered collection with song-like structures and on the single 'The Start Of Something New', brooding keyboards, strings and processed voices hover above chattering beats to haunting effect. MB


Fever Dreams
Domino WIGCD463; LP: WIGLP463

From the off-kilter intro to 'The First Day', Conor O'Brien's Villagers sound sonically different from 2018's The Art Of Pretending To Swim. The songs have a familiar feel, albeit rather more oddly shaped than usual, but here he has chosen a particular production sound du jour of lo-fi drums and disorientating vocal effects, with finely etched details of tuned percussion, harp glissandi and electric piano – and loopy guitar solos on 'Circles In The Firing Line' – emerging from a reverby haze. But O'Brien's songs can withstand this kind of treatment and it all helps fulfil his desire for them to come across as 'ecstatic, euphoric and escapist dreams'. MB


Susanna & David Wallumrød
SusannaSonata SONATACD065; LP: SONATALP065

In recent years Susanna Wallumrød has recorded piano and chamber ensemble albums inspired by Baudelaire and Bosch. But here, in pre-pandemic performances with her keyboardist cousin David, she revisits her approach towards cover versions with The Magical Orchestra in the early 2000s when she recontextualised the songs via typically sparse, slow readings. But although 'Wrecking Ball' is even more spartan and melancholic than Neil Young's original, the duo's animated take on Tom Waits' 'Gin Soaked Boy' nods towards funky R&B and on Joni Mitchell's 'This Flight Tonight' Susanna's voice dances beautifully around David's electric piano. MB