Music reviews: Richard Swift, Alessia Cara, Tyshawn Sorey, Majken and more – Brisbane Times

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THE HEX (Secretly Canadian/Inertia)

★★★★☆

Richard Swift made something of a name for himself in the 2000s with albums such as the low-key piano balladry of Dressed Up For The Letdown – but perhaps he was more noticed within the industry than outside it. In the 2010s he didn’t release much under his own name, instead working as a sideman (in the Shins and the Black Keys) and producer (Foxygen​, Damien Jurado​, Nathaniel​ Rateliff​ & the Night Sweats). Sadly, he died aged 41 in July this year, from complications related to alcohol addiction. The Hex sounds like a finished record from a talented producer following an adventurous muse into psychedelic worlds adjacent to, say, Flaming Lips or Radiohead​; more like an album Swift never got around to putting out than the bunch of incomplete offcuts you often get with posthumous albums. Typical of it is Selfishmath​, a beautiful mess that mixes thundering drums, a relentless bass riff, a child choir, dirty Western-style electric guitar lines and psychedelic squalls of sound. The highlight might be Dirty Jim, the album’s most straightforward pop tune, which sounds jaunty on the surface but clearly hides depression and desperation underneath. TIM BYRON

JAZZ Andrew Dickeson Quartet

THE SONG IS YOU (andrewdickeson.com)

★★★½☆

This music shouts “real”, from the leaping vibrancy of the analogue sound, to “period” jazz being played with such conviction as to be completely authentic in the moment you listen, rather than being a facsimile of something past. Snappy drummer Andrew Dickeson assembled saxophonist Nick Hempton (alto/tenor), guitarist Carl Dewhurst and bassist Ashley Turner to help freshen up nine standards – and they more than succeed. There are two Monk tunes, Dickeson intending to give Trinkle​ Trinkle​ an Ornette​ Coleman treatment (and they certainly direct-inject an undeniable vitality), while he swaps Ugly Beauty from its usual 3/4 time back to Monk’s original 4/4, to striking effect. Moonlight in Vermont has its inherent yearning thickened with gentle mallets, a subtle Latin groove and an airy statement of the head from Hempton. A particular pleasure throughout is hearing the melodic ingenuity of Dewhurst’s improvising, given he’s so often heard in contexts where shimmering soundscapes​ are more the norm than tunes that just want to swing like hell. Another pleasure is hearing Bernie McGann’s​ timeless Spirit Song being rightfully inaugurated into the standard repertoire. JOHN SHAND

IMPROVISATION Tyshawn Sorey​

PILLARS (Firehouse)

★★★★★

It is the sheer audacity that hits you right between the eyes. In a quick-fix world where art must snare you in a trice, then hold you hooked with shocks and swift delights, Tyshawn​ Sorey​ dared to dream; dared to aspire to higher art. He dared to imagine a partly composed, carefully shaped improvisation lasting nearly four hours, where not a second would be squandered. He invited seven of New York’s finest players to join his own drums, percussion and trombone, and paint music on a canvas as vast as the night sky: music that dares to glory in silence, and thereby frosts the air around the notes with echoes of those just past or anticipation of those to come. Seldom does the band ignite as one, but rather smaller groupings come and go, enjoying exchanges that cut to the chase of what it is to be alive. This music is that profound. It dwarfs most of what is churned out, and his collaborators (including guitarist Todd Neufeld​ and bassist Mark Helias​) are perfectly attuned to Sorey’s​ grand – or sometimes miniature – intent. The recording quality will shake your speakers as much as the music may shake your life. JOHN SHAND

INDIE ROCK Art Brut

WHAM! BANG! POW! LET’S ROCK OUT! (Alcopop!)

★★★½☆

“And yes, this is my singing voice, it’s not irony!” yelped Eddie Argos on Formed a Band, Art Brut’s 2004 debut single. “We’ve got a lead singer – doesn’t really sing,” he shrugs on Kultfigur from the Berlin-based English band’s fifth album. Argos is nothing if not self-aware: he doesn’t sing so much as hector in the style of a less curmudgeonly Mark E Smith, while lyrically he elevates the mundane in the manner of a more jumpy Jarvis Cocker. Backed by raucous (yet tuneful) post-punk that is occasionally augmented by horns, Argos drops bon mots like a cheery stealth bomber, whether he is feeling bitter (“I hope you’re very happy together, and if you’re not, that’s even better”) or chipper (“Keep going, don’t stop, I feel like I’m on Top of The Pops.”) It seems that there is little from which Argos cannot extract material, whether it is a one-night stand or a hospital stay. He also has a winning honesty about him. Veronica Falls is a rare melancholy moment, tinted with regret about missed opportunities, then closing with the explanatory line that it’s “a song about not cheating on your girlfriend when you wish that you had”. BARRY DIVOLA​

POP Alessia​ Cara

THE PAINS OF GROWING (Def Jam)

★★★☆☆

Alessia​ Cara comes from a time when teenagers were plucked from YouTube and contracted to major record labels. When Def Jam signed the charismatic Canadian, releasing her debut single Here, a star was born. Her anticipated sophomore album, The Pains of Growing, is a continuation of her signature teenage ennui, that fails to be anything but saccharine. Cara has been incredibly open with her mental-health struggles, and when she’s not bogged down by tired cliches, she shines. On Not Today she coos, “One day I won’t need a PhD to sit me down/And tell me what it all means”, and her sincerity is resounding. Lately, sadness has become a commodifiable​ resource in the pop world, making raw and honest moments few and far between, but Cara has always seemed cognisant of that. This makes songs like Girls Next Door and Easier Said – where she tells us, “I don’t really like to get dressed up”, and then mocks misguided conversations about mental health – feel like stale off-cuts from a less canny musician. It’s a bitter chaser to the beginning of the album, where acoustic moments I Don’t Know and Wherever I Lie glisten with melody and melancholy. KISH LAL

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