Sunday, December 03, 2017

Irish and English heroes shine on essential new releases

When it comes to new music, the end of 2017 is delivering some of the year's best and most noteworthy titles. In particular, a handful of artists from Ireland and the U.K have returned with albums that are required listening. 

Artist: Pugwash
Title: Silverlake (Lojinx)
You might like if you enjoy: ELO, XTC, The Beatles
Tell me more: I have heard hundreds of new studio albums this year and I can't think of any that are better than the brilliant Silverlake from Pugwash. A dozen marvelous originals fill this disc, all written by Dublin-based singer-guitarist Thomas Walsh. But the equally-winning part of the formula is the crucial work of Jason Falkner (a former member of Jellyfish and the Grays, and long-time lead guitarist of Beck's touring band), who produced, mixed and played a slew of instruments including guitars, bass, drums and keyboards on the tracks. To be sure the intoxicating "The Perfect Summer," "What Are You Like," "Without You" and other songs here will leave listeners with a delightfully-incurable case of earworm. Those looking for honest, melodic and inventive songwriting that is delivered with the artfulness of enduring classics from ELO, XTC, Crowded House and the Beatles should dispose of the weary adage "They don't make music like that anymore" and discover the magic of Pugwash. And the fact that the album was recorded in a mere 22 days makes this masterwork all the more remarkable. Information:

Artist: U2
Title: Songs of Experience (Interscope)
You might like if you enjoy: U2, Coldplay
Tell me more: One of rock's greatest and most successful bands of all time, U2 has returned with the sequel to the quartet's 2014 album Songs of Innocence with the newly-released Songs of Experience. The lyrics touch on everything from enduring love and mortality to Syrian refugees and an examination of the "American Soul," but U2's success has always been about whether or not the band's songs have connected with their global audience. The good news here is that overall the material on "Songs of Experience" is stronger as a complete body of work than the track listing on their previous LP. Chief among this writer's favorites is the introspective "The Little Things That Give You Away" complete with The Edge's shimmering guitar textures, the anthemic "Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way" with Bono's soaring voice and the stirring "13 (There Is A Light)." U2 fuses its trademark sound with blues, gospel and soul on the determined "Lights on Home; "Red Flag Day" recalls the foursome's approach back in their early days with The Edge's rapid-fire guitar, Adam Clayton's thundering bass and Larry Mullen Jr.'s forceful drumming. A wonderful return. Information:

Artist: The Corrs
Title: Jupiter Calling (East West Records)
You might like if you enjoy: The Corrs, Dido, the Cranberries
Tell me more: The Corrs bridge the worlds of traditional Celtic folk, '70s folk rock and contemporary rock with affecting songcraft, stellar vocals and an Irish warmth that fully comes across on the siblings' latest album Jupiter Calling. Singer Andrea Corr's lead vocals continue to be a wonder; she delivers performances free of the bombast that has sadly become a jarring mark of so many modern-day female vocalists while her talented sisters Sharon (violin, backing vocals) and Caroline (drums, percussion, piano, bodhrán, vocals) and brother Jim (guitar, keyboards, vocals) create an expansive and nuanced blend of old and new. For those who like catchy pop songs, the rousing "SOS" and infectious "Hit My Ground Running" most recall the quartet's early hits ("Breathless," "Radio"). Elsewhere on the 13-track LP  the Corrs explore the quiet with strength and purpose; the lovely "Son Of Solomon," "Road To Eden" and "Live Before I Die" inhabit that corner of the group's sound with nuanced fire. Information:

Artist: Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Title: Who Built The Moon? (Caroline International)
You might like if you enjoy: Radiohead, Doves, Blur's "The Magic Whip"
Tell me more: Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds have returned with another outstanding album. Who Built The Moon? is an almost-radical departure from the British troupe's excellent 2015 "Chasing Yesterday." There are electronica and art rock flourishes aplenty, including the propulsive "Fort Knox," explosive dance-worthy "Holy Mountain" and reminiscent rocker "She Taught Me How To Fly." The atmospheric "It's a Beautiful World" equals the majesty of masterworks from Doves, Blur and Radiohead, and the shimmering alt rocker "Black & White Sunshine" rivals the straight-up classics he recorded with Oasis. "Who Built The Moon?" is a fantastic album. Information:

Artist: Downes Braide Association
Title: Skyscraper Souls (X2X Records / Cherry Red)
You might like if you enjoy: ASIA, Peter Gabriel, Geoff Downes
Tell me more: The third collaboration from London-based duo Downes Braide Association (keyboardist-composer Geoffrey Downes and singer-keyboardist Christopher Braide) is a progressive album sure to please fans of Downes' work with ASIA, the Buggles and Yes. The material on Skyscraper Souls is expansive, ranging from the ASIA-flavored "Skyscraper Souls" (featuring Kate Pierson of B-52s fame on backing vocals and Dave Colquhoun's wonderful lead guitar throughout) and lush "Glacier Girl" (with guest Andy Partridge of XTC) to the uplifting pop anthem "Angel On Your Shoulder" and British folk ode "Tomorrow" (a lovely duet between Braide and David Longdon) this is an album whose detailed lyrics and themes will provide discerning music aficionados an endless number of layers to discover with each listen. This is a project whose creative scope extends beyond the music, with noted artist Roger Dean having created a painting for the cover art and the logo, while lyrics add depth to the experience. Information:

Robert Kinsler

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