Jukebox (Matador Records)
Out Jan 22
The first album I heard by Cat Power was The Cover Records, which showcases Cat’s style as a singer who is overcome by the universe and expresses this through the emotion present in the music; the album oozed a sad contemplation of the world. Jukebox is another album of covers, but in opening song New York there are uncharacteristically powerful drums and, in Don’t Explain, Chan Marshall’s voice gains a new confidence with a depth in tone that bears comparison with Billie Holiday. Marshall is beginning to sound like someone who is getting to grips with this world. Having said that, the subtle and fragile voice which is so attractive about Cat Power is always present.
Covers excite me, but also worry me. Recently there have been two acoustic covers of Teardrop, both pointless. Cat Power’s covers, on the other hand, are closer to jazz. She takes a song and both de- and re-constructs it. On the Bonus CD she covers for the second time Naked, If I Want to, but this time it is an upbeat version and the piano in the background sounds like Jools Holland could be behind it. Breathless lacks the harmonic build up which adds to the joy that emanates from the Nick Cave’s original, but this is Cat Power, and her version reflects her voice and her style. If anything this cover pays homage to the original; it is far from pointless. As for Blue, she was probably born to cover it, and she does not let us down. The instrumentation intertwines with the vocals to create incredibly powerful music. This track sums up her development and showcases her newfound self-belief without losing the raw, heart-bleeding emotion. This album is a masterpiece. It shows that original performance makes exciting music just as much as original material.
In The Future (Jagjaguwar)
Out Jan 22
After their well received eponymous debut, Canadian prog-stoners Black Mountain return with this, their extraordinarily taut and muscular second album. While Black Mountain’s Sabbath riffs and stoned psychedelia would suggest their new album has a somewhat contradictory title, they bring enough new ideas to the table to make In The Future sound genuinely cutting edge. The band really hit their stride on the third song, the immense Tyrants. The track unfurls into a thrilling combination of crushing power chords, spooky synths and Amber Webber’s full-blooded vocals, pinned down by some thunderous drumming. Early days these may be, but there may not be a more potent rock song all year.
Throughout In The Future, there’s a sense of hoodoo and the occult. Forget the theatrics of recent Queens Of The Stone Age albums: this album sounds like it was made to be played while performing eldritch dance rituals around a fire. The keyboards only add to the atmosphere. In a lesser band’s hands, this might have backfired horrifically, but they add another dimension to a track such as Wucan. When the two-part Bright Lights rolls into view towards the album’s end, it feels like the whole album has been building up to this point: a 16-minute epic, which, when it finally breaks into a relentless riff amidst wailing vocals, sounds like a latter day version of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, only some five times longer.
Black Mountain also display a remarkable degree of subtlety at times, such as the gentle strum-along of Stay Free, or the hymnal closer Night Walks. It’s this combination which prevents In The Future from sounding monotonous, and instead like the sound of a band meeting its potential.
Introducing (Ferret Music Corp)
Out Jan 21
“I must say, what a very nice bunch of boys,” intones a stuffy narrator over the sound of a ravening crowd on opener Introducing Foxy. Seconds afterwards, as the guitars scream into top gear and the track settles into a handclap-driven groove punctuated by bursts of hardcore rage, you realise he’s right. The weird piano-heavy hybrid punk sound of Foxy Shazam is strangely beautiful and beautifully strange, and at times it’s difficult to tell whether they have a conscious agenda of subversion or are just having a good time.
The band excel in below-the-belt, bait-and-switch musical tactics. Inexplicably titled A Black Man’s Breakfast seems to be a pretty straight Queen-influenced love song, but your opinion changes slightly when lead guitarist Loren Turner soloes sweetly in the wrong key. Ghost Animals trips the listener up with four unexpected rhythmic surprises in its first forty seconds, while the Latin horn tune that heralds album highlight Red Cape Diver is abruptly muffled by a tender piano melody, only to later return in a smoky Santana-esque guitar lick.
Speaking of Queen, Foxy Shazam compare themselves to said late great band in their press releases, although again it’s uncertain how much they’re just trying to stir up controversy. Vocalist Eric Nally uses his stunning voice for evil, not good, sounding in his soul-infused snarl a bit like Freddie Mercury after being kidnapped, tortured and told all his family were dead. Introducing… captivates on a first listen with its eclectic uniqueness and then progressively reveals its subtleties. Foxy Shazam will divide opinion; this is the first Marmite album of 2008, and perhaps the first great one too.