First & Last was perhaps ungenerously characterised as a ‘low-key introduction’ to RM Hubbert’s solo methods within these pages as we greedily anticipated its already-in-the-works successor two years ago. While such impatience undoubtedly sold his debut short, Thirteen Lost & Found is certainly the more immediately satisfying volume; where that first release was a straight-up expression of his compositional style, its follow-up adds guest vocals and more varied instrumentation, with wholly positive results.
The credits are a who’s who of Scottish talent, each diversifying Hubbert’s songwriting in their own particular ways – from Aidan Moffat’s characteristically droll contribution to The Car Song, to Alasdair Roberts’ traditionalist take on folk standard The False Bride. An ovation for all concerned, then – yet, unexpectedly, it ends up being the solo, instrumental pieces that impress most. Set amidst this record’s more mixed aesthetic, their expressive qualities are brought sharply into focus, with For Joe the album’s peerless highlight.
Out 30th January
Boy Friend - Egyptian Wrinkle (****)
Those looking for a short-cut introduction to Boy Friend’s sound could do worse than track down their cover of Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man after Midnight) online. Slowed a beat, with glassy vocals draped across woozy synth washes, Christa Palazzolo and Sarah Brown transform the overly-familiar ABBA standard (thanks, Mamma sodding Mia) into something fresh, without sacrificing the track’s finer qualities amidst the serene coos and tasteful echoes.
This balance between esoteric atmospherics and pop accessibility is carried across to the duo’s ten track debut, its somnambulist drift reminiscent of an extra-dreamy Cults, or Blouse after a mitt-full of Nytol. It’s a winning combination – and, unlike Stephanie Franciotti’s more abstract, shrouded Sleep ∞ Over project, with whom Palazzolo and Brown used to play, Boy Friend are comfortable piercing the ambience with some straight-up emoting; see, for instance, In Case, a torch song Shakespear’s Sister would be proud to call their own.
Out 6th February
For thirteen years, LAL have sat proudly outside the mainstream, embodying a multicultural, multi-genre approach that combines political activism with elements of trip hop, soul and dub (amongst other influences).
On their fourth album, Rosina Kazi’s lyrics address civil liberties and political disillusionment (“where’s the integrity you spoke about last week…trying to act, act like they’re leaders/ they’re kicking us down”), but are let down by unfortunate dips into cod-philosophical hippy territory (see Live Your Light, the chorus of which has echoes of pre-Timbaland Nelly Furtado, without the youthful naiveté).
Similarly, for every successful sonic blend (I Know Your Face’s bassy Portishead-like brooding; Red Room’s thick electronics) there are moments of boredom (Background, for one, makes little impression), meaning that, while LAL the album successfully demonstrates the breadth of LAL the band’s ambition, it stops short of achieving them. An intriguing record, if not quite an exemplary one.