Working with a pseudonym borrowed from a German board game, Human Don’t Be Angry sees Malcolm Middleton in an appropriately playful mood. Opener The Missing Plutonium lounges like Don Henley’s Boys of Summer given a retro-futurist reshuffle, while H.D.B.A. Theme further clarifies the album’s combination of guitar-based vistas and looped cores. Both tracks impress by blowing open expectations, pushing Middleton into new, but intuitively grasped, territories.
In early HDBA live shows, Middleton struggled to fully embrace this altered direction, saying: “I’d always, after two or three instrumentals, think ‘shit, I need to give them a song!” The album, deliberately or otherwise, is similarly structured, with vocals henceforth used intermittently: sometimes incorporated in fairly unorthodox ways (First Person Singular, Present Tense’s searching mantra); other times towards more straightforward ends (epically eighties-esque ballad Asklipiio). Regardless, HDBA’s tabula rasa has done a fine job of both revitalising Middleton’s palette and nourishing his muse.
Out 16th April
AU - Both Lights (****)
AU’s latest album is typically arcane, yet it crackles with access points. As always, a casual cadre of guests expand upon Luke Wyland’s intricate compositions, with frequently exceptional results: punchy opener Epic is an explosion of rapidly-tapped guitars, with a gradually-building sax undertow courtesy of Colin Stetson; Get Alive switches track by entwining Wyland’s baleful croon with Holland Andrews’ airier counter-vocals, over playful AnCo-friendly psych-pop; while Solid Gold again benefits from Stetson’s bestowment, a vigorous jazz solo enlivening the track’s closing minutes.
Throughout, Both Lights radiates at unpredictable tangents, but always naturally; this doesn’t feel like experimentation for the sake of it, more like the fruits of a musical mind instinctively following its synapses wherever they fire, without stopping to question either methods or results. To be privy to such explorations is a treat, albeit an occasionally long-winded one that could only benefit in future from tighter editorial reins.
Grand Duchy - Let the People Speak (**)
Every marriage has its ups and downs; Let the People Speak is mostly the latter. Husband and wife Frank Black and Violet Clark follow up Grand Duchy’s 2009 debut Petit Fours with another eclectic collection of divergent genre dabblings, but it’s hardly the stuff on which iconic reputations are built, nor maintained. The record begins inauspiciously, with See-Thru You a hi-NRG beat and a dye-job away from Republica, while The Lopsided World of L is the first of several skits – each more teeth-grindingly irritating than the last.
Amidst the dross is a smattering of decent tracks, and even one or two rough diamonds: the escalating Dark Sparkles and the Beat showcases Clark’s affective vocal style well, while Shady features an enjoyably eccentric performance from Black, full of playfully arcane lyrics. But even these high watermarks are fathoms below his best work, rendering the enterprise intermittently diverting, but skippable.
Out 9th April