Tuesday, 22 November 2011

reviews: she and him, simian ghost, charlotte gainsbourg

She & Him - A Very She & Him Christmas

She and Him - A Very She and Him Christmas (***)

A She & Him Christmas album feels as natural a fit for the yuletide season as tinsel, turkey and strained family relationships. While she already had a handful of acting credits to her name by 2003, most were introduced to Zooey Deschanel’s dulcet tones via twin tunes in Elf, the film which ignited her career via a thousand hopeless crushes.

A Very She and Him Christmas declines to restage Elf’s Santa Claus Is Coming To Town finale, but Baby It’s Cold Outside is present, nestling in a conservatively chosen, safe but snug selection box of covers. Its obviousness is a limitation (everything sounds precisely as you would expect) but also its strong suit. A Christmas album isn’t the place to seek strong artistic statements or surprises; this is cosy, warm and nostalgic, and would soundtrack chestnut roasting, decking the halls, dashing through the snow, and any other cliché you care to suggest, perfectly.

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Simian Ghost - Lovelorn EP

Simian Ghost - Lovelorn EP (****)

With Simian Ghost, Sebastian Arnström of Swedish post-rockers Aerial swaps out sprawling guitar epics for frothy electronic pop sheen with impressive results. The cynical might detect an element of opportunism in the blogger-friendly chillwave shimmer, but Arnström is such a smooth operator that any such charges slide right off.

Lead track Free Agents is the EP’s sparkling high-point, with warped-tape effects ruffling a pristine synth melody, while Bicycle Theme is blissed-out pop of the finest calibre. Where Simian Ghost’s debut full-length Infinite Traffic Everywhere (released in Sweden earlier this year and available online/on import), felt like a compromise of sorts, Lovelorn is the sound of Arnström embracing his new guise vigorously – as well he should; it rather suits him.

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Charlotte Gainsbourg – Stage Whisper

Charlotte Gainsbourg - Stage Whisper (***)

‘Brave’, ‘searing’, ‘extraordinary’: Charlotte Gainsbourg’s acting has quite rightly prompted many a critic to splutter enthusiastic paeans (even those who hated Antichrist took the time to praise her ladypart-lopping performance). Her music has had a more mixed reception, with praise often measured, or, somewhat insultingly, directed at her collaborators – Jarvis Cocker and co on 5:55; Beck on last year’s IRM.

The latter returns for the studio-half of this double album, though you wouldn’t necessarily detect his presence on the Goldfrapp-aping Terrible Angels, a strong opener that sees Gainsbourg confidently embody her role as electro-pop siren. Thing is, Terrible Angels has already appeared on its own EP, as has closing gem Memoir (written by Conor O’Brien of Villagers, for anyone keeping track). Which leaves just five tracks (less than twenty minutes-worth) of previously-unreleased material – a slightness that makes the live disc seem less like a bonus, and more like compensation.

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