Thursday, 19 September 2013

reviews: The National Jazz Trio of Scotland, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Sky Larkin

                                                   Bill Wells' National Jazz Trio of Scotland – Standards Vol. II

The National Jazz Trio of Scotland - Standard Vol. 2 (****)

 As if the double fib in their name wasn’t enough (not jazz; not a trio), Standards Vol. 2 is not, as its title implies, an assortment culled from the songbooks of Gershwin et al. Rather, it’s a collection of bandleader Bill Wells’ original compositions (give or take a borrowed lyric and a Moondog cover), brought to life with the help of vocalists Lorna Gilfedder, Aby Vulliamy and Kate Sugden.

Try not to hold the dastardly deception against them though, for no amount of misdirection can distract from the airy beauty stamped through these thirteen pieces: from wistful opener We Grow Accustomed (sounding of a piece with Wells’s Lemondale work) to the hushed farewells of closer Unexpectedly, via such highlights as Hillwalks’s winsome glide and Things We Got Up To’s tiptoeing bossa nova undertones. In fact, add another lie to the rap sheet: work of this calibre is far from standard.

Out now

                                                   Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Fly By Wire

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - Fly By Wire (***)

With their moniker’s flippancy presumably lost in translation, glibly christened indie-poppers Someone Still Love You Boris Yeltsin were recently invited to Russia by the Boris Yeltsin Foundation (the former President too dead to offer his gratitude personally). Gifted expensive vodka and made US cultural ambassadors, the band returned stateside with a spring in their step, and fourth album Fly by Wire is the produce of their topped-up enthusiasm.

It sees the Missouri trio on reliably hook-filled form (Young Presidents is a particularly deft slice of footloose guitar pop) but overall their self-stated artistic rejuvenation shows through only lightly – in single Nightwater Girlfriend’s crunchy chorus, perhaps, or the lush vocal layers of Unearth. Otherwise, this is a strangely uninvolving listen, from listless (and inexplicably titled) opener Harrison Ford to the frothily inconsequential Lucky Young. It’s never so dull as to deter another listen, but they’ll have to work harder to illicit sustained affection.

Out now

                                                    Sky Larkin – Motto

Sky Larkin - Motto (***)

Every track on Motto could serve as a fine introduction to Sky Larkin’s brand of dynamic indie rock – and given neither The Golden Spike nor Kaleide received half the attention they deserved, such introductions are both valuable and necessary. Throughout, brawny guitars serve propulsive choruses, in which Katie Harkin’s vocals captivate via sharp lyrics and a forthright delivery that reaffirms her natural front-of-stage role after time spent touring in Wild Beasts’ live band.

Having expanded from three-piece to four, Sky Larkin use the extra hands to add bulk to their already-robust sound (see, for example, the scintillating way Italics builds into a pop-rock goliath), and it’s only their over-fidelity to their trademarks that prevents Motto matching up to its predecessors. Hit the same buttons long enough and something’s bound to jam, and so it is that Motto manages to feel thrilling in segments, but marginally less exciting when taken as a (slightly) repetitive whole.

Out now

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