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Reviews of this week’s CD releases


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Belle and Sebastian Late Developers

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Belle and Sebastian

Late Developers


Nearly 30 years into their career, Belle and Sebastian could hardly be called late developers, yet the seven-piece Glasgow band’s 11th album is still something of a surprise. First off, it’s the group’s second full-length album in eight months, following A Bit of Previous — after just three in the previous dozen years. Second, this 11-song collection contains the group’s first co-write with someone from outside the band; the effervescent, unabashedly ’80s synth-pop of I Don’t Know What You See in Me is the result of collaboration with Scottish avant-garde popster Wuh Oh (Peter Ferguson). Finally, Late Developers continues the eclectic, stylistic journey of its 2022 predecessor, showing off a group that’s comfortable with its identity and assured of its capabilities.

Like contemporaries such as The New Pornographers, Belle and Sebastian features several singers and songwriters and can thus show off different facets of the band. Stuart Murdoch is the band’s co-founder, de facto frontman and likely target of putdowns describing Belle and Sebastian as “sad” and “twee”, but singer/violinist/flutist Sarah Martin regularly brings her breezy stylings to the forefront. She does so here with the breezy Give a Little Time and the danceable synth-pop of When You’re Not with Me, as well as a duet with Murdoch on Do You Follow, a sinuous tale of romance from both sides. Guitarist Stevie Jackson weighs in on this album with the irrepressible momentum of So in the Moment.

Murdoch also embraces several approaches with his material which, while questioning the nature of love and life, is far from sad and is certainly not twee. Album opener Juliet Naked (originally penned for the 2018 film of the same name) features Billy Bragg on guitar and plaintive pleas for love; The Evening Star, with its vamping organ and horns, is a neo-soul workout and the album-closing title track even features a lilting Caribbean melody and a gospel choir led by Anjolee Williams. ★★★★ out of five

STREAM THESE: Give a Little Time, When We Were Very Young, I Don’t Know What You See in Me

— John Kendle

Sir E.U

I Will Never Let You Go

(Unbecoming Records)

I’ve seen Sir E.U rap with a Helly Hansen jacket draped over his face. I’ve seen him rap supine on the sidewalk. I’ve seen him rap clutching three microphones in his hand, as if hoping to triple the size of his voice. I once saw him rap in a state of blinky delirium during the final moments of a 25-hour concert when he only ever stopped rhyming to drink water. These performance modes might sound like stunts, but in a cumulative sense, the Washington, D.C., rapper appears unable to stop himself from broadening the critic Kodwo Eshun’s beautiful idea of hip-hop as “omni-genre.”

Eshun believed that through the use of sampling, no sounds in this wide world were off limits to rap artists, imbuing the music with an aura of everythingness. Peek into the nearest dictionary and that totality grows — “omni” meaning “in all ways or places,” making Eshun’s coinage feel big enough to contain E.U’s most stylish wildstyles. Like any rapper, Sir E.U can say whatever he wants over any sound he chooses, but unlike nearly every rapper, he makes the ways and places his priority.

So on his latest album, I Will Never Let You Go, he heads through the lobby of a boutique hotel in Adams Morgan and into a tiny podcast recording studio near the front desk where producer Jack Inslee has invited him to improvise over an assortment of moody beats that the rapper has never heard before. Hit play, start rhyming. The parameters generate something spontaneous, something strange, something that echoes the vim of hip-hop visionary Rammellzee circa 1983 and something that hints at the mysteries of existence circa eternity.

Throughout, E.U narrates fuzzy thoughts in real time, patrolling his psyche’s perimeter, gathering memories and ideas, trying to give them shape through fragmented rhymes. You can hear it best in the final verse of Notes from the Underground when he funnels an identity crisis through a Disney metaphor (“Lost my voice, I think I’m Ariel”), then tries to elevate his perspective (“had the view, took it aerial”), which provides him with a hit of self-awareness (“I’ve been milking, going against the grain like cereal”), before finally landing in a place of grief via bent homonym (“I’m a perforated individual, too tearful”).

That me-against-the-world defiance still burns at the core of E.U’s most tumultuous music, and it continues to feel deeply psychological — a real-time depiction of the riptide between what goes on inside and outside of his mind. Throughout I Will Never Let You Go, his interior dramas unfold at various local nightclubs, with lyrical shout-outs to Rhizome and Madam’s Organ — places where comrades in the nightlife can actually plant their feet. ★★★ out of five

STREAM THIS: Notes from the Underground

— Chris Richards, The Washington Post


I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying


(Six Shooter Records)

To start the album, she sings a drinking song. For the second tune, he sings a drinking song. On Whitehorse’s I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying, the singer-songwriter-husband-wife partnership Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland trade the lead and share their love of classic country music.

Twang has always been part of the Canadian duo’s repertoire, and while writing during the pandemic, they looked to the country sounds of a half century ago for inspiration. The result is a collection of tunes that are by turns weepy, funny, hooky, bouncy and lovely, echoing 1970s Bakersfield, Los Angeles, Austin and Nashville. Along with drinking, the coronavirus lockdown is a recurring topic, and Whitehorse also sings about gambling on love, the tug of home and toilet paper.

The arrangements are spare, wisely leaving the focus on the beautifully complementary vocals. McClelland and Doucet are both fine lead singers, and their harmonies can be savoury or sweet. The voices weave around Burke Carroll’s pedal steel and Doucet’s distinctive electric guitar work, which makes his strings sound as thick as cable from one of the many construction cranes that dot today’s Nashville skyline. On I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying, retro becomes modern. ★★★★ out of five

STREAM THESE: If the Loneliness Don’t Kill Me, Manitoba Bound

— Steven Wine, The Associated Press


Maxim Emelyanychev

Il Pomo d’Oro

Mozart — The symphonies

The Beginning & The End (Aparté)

This early February release on Aparté label features conductor and keyboardist Maxim Emelyanychev leading the Il Pomo d’Oro ensemble in a program of Mozart, as the first offering in a series of recordings showcasing the composer’s complete set of symphonies.

What makes it different is the musician’s purposefully choosing a pair of early and late symphonies to bookend each album, thus creating a greater historical context and opportunity to compare Mozart’s stylistic evolution throughout his all-too-short life.

First up is Symphony No. 1 in E-flat major, K. 16, composed at the astonishing age of eight. The musicians performing on period instruments immediately infuse its three movements with the vitality of youth, from its opening Molto allegro through to finale Presto. The central Andante further displays their sensitive rendering of its thematic material, with the conductor ably balancing the sections throughout.

Each album in the series, according to the liner notes, will include a surprise piece or “musical hors d’oeuvre.” In this case, Emelyanychev performs Concerto no. 23 K. 488 on a replica of an 1823 Conrad Graf fortepiano. While the choice is faithful to the period in which the piece was composed, it’s a bit jarring to 21st century ears to hear the modern day piano’s ancestor. Its drier, more brittle textures dispel the work’s inherent lyricism, especially during the slower Adagio section.

Last but not least is the mighty Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551, a.k.a. the Jupiter that never fails to stun with its unbridled complexity and mature artistry It being Mozart’s final symphony arguably his last ode and testament, the players resist any temptation toward the maudlin. If there was ever one piece for the proverbial desert island, it is the Jupiter’s famous Molto allegro, performed here at break-neck speed. Here the ensemble holds nothing back during the finale’s all-guns-blazing fugue, barreling towards the finish line just as the wunderkind would have wished. ★★★★ out of five

STREAM THIS: Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551, Molto allegro

— Holly Harris

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Updated on Thursday, January 26, 2023 7:20 AM CST: Changes tile photo

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