Anchored by sturdy, stunningly pretty folk-rock backings, Adrianne Lenker, her voice tremulous but tenacious, makes existential musings amid verdant nature.
The Californian troubadour, who has steadily wound his way through the fringes of Americana and indie for over 15 years, delivers another romantic, faintly psychedelic masterpiece. Tip of the Sphere is his ninth studio album of ever-expansive Americana, one where his myth properly matures. With as much an affinity with hip-hop and progressive rock as jazz, the trio of reeds player Shabaka Hutchings, synth player Dan Leavers and drummer Max Hallett make one of the most cosmic statements of the current British jazz revival.
It may also be the best. An overlooked masterpiece of modern soul, the Indiana quintet are shamelessly retro in their style: all pert brass and crooning close harmonies. But when the songwriting is this perfect, who cares about originality? The gothic teen queen came through with some characteristically unsettling productions on her debut album, but equally showed an unexpected love of show tunes that posited her as a Gen-Z Fiona Apple.
She sings in a discomfitingly close gasp, like an ASMR actor having a panic attack. The purposeful folk star Rhiannon Giddens teams with the Italian multi-instrumentalist for an album that explores how sounds and rhythms from Africa and the Arabic world connect with traditional music from Europe and America.
The New York-based cellist transcended her status as a collaborator with artists including Solange and Blood Orange on her stirring debut: disco reverie Poor Fake is a particular highlight. In fact, it sounds magnificent. A supergroup comprising North American roots musicians Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell and Amythyst Kiah: together, these banjo-wielding heroines confronted the historic and continued abuse of African American women with authority and intimacy.
One of the most plainly beautiful releases from the experimental Norwegian vocalist — using a retrofitted pump organ, plaintive ballads sit alongside whimsical flights of fancy. The one saving grace of Brexit Britain being so utterly toxic is that Sleaford Mods still have something to write about: they remain the great contemporary poets of a nation that is much worse than it thinks it is.
It prefers to critique this troubled isle through the minutiae of daily life, which is perhaps even more effective and damning. Another wretched yet amused state-of-the-nation address delivered in a broad, leering Midlands accent, Slowthai draws on sounds that have long chimed with the disaffected in the UK: grime, garage, punk and trip-hop. At 71, jazz pianist Aki Takase is more sprightly and inventive than people half her age: Thema Prima bursts with energy, with blurts of sassy big band, screwball improv and classy balladeering.
Returning after a six-year break, Vampire Weekend — now Ezra Koenig and a heap of collaborators — remain smart but never smart-arse. Addressing the environment, Jewishness and love, this is classic American songwriting reaches back to classic country and Paul Simon while facing forward.
The London guitarist hardly needed the between-song skits about contemporary anxieties to make her point on her rapturous and compellingly uneasy debut, laced with rare, bona fide indie anthems In Your Head and ripcord yelp shocks Heavyweight Champion of the Year.
Tue 4 Jun Big Thief — UFOF Anchored by sturdy, stunningly pretty folk-rock backings, Adrianne Lenker, her voice tremulous but tenacious, makes existential musings amid verdant nature.