Reviews of this week’s CD releases
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Lana Del Rey
Did you know that there’s a tunnel Under Ocean Blvd
Since Lana Del Rey burst onto the scene in 2011 with the single and video for Video Games, she has always seemed otherworldly — an ethereal alt-pop/rock cipher whose cinematic soundscapes and low-key, almost deadpan vocal delivery create moods rather than visceral, emotional responses. Through eight full-length albums, Del Rey has almost perfected her high-concept approach, peaking with 2019’s Norman F***ing Rockwell. Despite the brilliance of that album’s widescreen sonics, fans and critics, while in thrall to the music, still wondered how much of Elizabeth Grant (Del Rey’s real name) is in her work.
Del Rey’s two pandemic records — 2021’s Chemtrails Over the Country Club and Blue Banisters — hinted at personal revelations and Ocean Blvd, her ninth album, is now being hailed as her most personal collection. Its first song is called The Grants, after all, and she alludes both in it and in other tracks, such as Kintsugi or, especially, the epic, seven-minute-long Fingertips, to intimate details such as the 2016 suicide of her Uncle David, her sister Caroline’s firstborn child, even the death of a teenage boyfriend named Aaron Greene.
Other songs, such as the title track, Paris, Texas or A&W (the letters stand for ‘American whore’, not the burger chain), seem to question whether it’s possible to imagine a world in which Del Rey can live on her terms, without the judgments of others and with the love of someone who can accept her as she is.
At nearly 80 minutes, across 16 tracks, Ocean Blvd is a sprawling listen. Ubiquitous production guru Jack Antonoff is again one of her main collaborators, and the overarching vibe is, as ever, contemplative and cinematic, full of gentle piano melodies and swelling string flourishes. There are a couple of questionable inclusions, such as a four-minute interlude featuring Churchome preacher Judah Smith and a quasi-rap song called Peppers with Tommy Genesis, but, rather than ruin the record, these serve instead to enhance Del Rey’s enigmatic legend. Guests and collaborators whose work is most welcome include Jon Batiste, SYML, Father John Misty and Bleachers (Antonoff’s band). ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THESE: Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd, A&W, Fingertips
— John Kendle
Praise a Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds) (Warp Records)
Yves Tumor’s new album starts with a scream. The first song, God Is a Circle, quickly layers in heavy breathing and a propulsive beat. Tumor never lets up — the artist’s fifth studio album is a thriller from start to finish.
The title, like the album itself, is grandiose and a bit inscrutable: Praise a Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds) delivers a unique blend of electronica, glam, goth and new wave.
Like many artists, Tumor partly reinvented during COVID and spent the period designing and upholstering furniture. The earlier albums were experiments in densely curated noise, mixing industrial, droning and found sounds. The post-pandemic work has not abandoned these roots but instead builds irresistible hooks on top of the more abstract soundscapes to strike an effective balance between experimentation and accessibility.
Still, this is heavy music throughout. As with Nine Inch Nails and Joy Division, Tumor offers just enough pop sensibility to pull it toward the mainstream.
The bass playing is warm and organic, lending buoyancy on otherwise cool tracks. And although vocals sometimes feel like an afterthought, on songs such as Meteora Blues Tumor sings with a grinning brightness evocative of Tricky and Lenny Kravitz.
The instrumental track Purified by Fire opens with a cinematic, ’70s-style instrumental that fully deconstructs and then rebuilds to an apocalyptic clamour. Tumor has a mastery of mood palates that could lead to a second career in Hollywood scores. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THESE: Praise a Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds), Purified by Fire
— Jim Pollock, The Associated Press
The Winds of Change
This latest album by pianist/composer Billy Childs is an entertaining treat from beginning to end. His quartet has Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, Scott Colley on bass and Brian Blade on drums. These four accomplished musicians take a wonderful playlist and completely nail it.
Five of the seven tracks are Childs originals, and they are all splendid. The opening track, The Great Western Loop, sets a high energy up-tempo mood that will draw you in. The next track, the title track, moves to mid-tempo and engaging melody. In fact, one of the fine features of this album is the melodic tunes of the leader here. They are almost all hummable and lovely. The End of Innocence is one of the fine examples of Child’s compositional skills. Each musician shows comfort at all tempi, but the “mellow” moments are the winners here. Akinmusire’s tone is predominantly quite gentle with no rough edges and fits this music perfectly. Bassist Colley and drummer Blade are fully involved here, managing the ensemble foundation and solos with ease.
There are two covers worth mentioning. One is Kenny Barron’s The Black Angel with complex time signatures and an appropriately aggressive feel. The other is a lush cover of Chick Corea’s Crystal Silence that is sensitive and simply beautiful. The creativity here is within accessible and completely enjoyable boundaries. All the boxes are checked here. This is highly recommended. ★★★★1/2 out of five
STREAM THESE: The Winds Of Change, Crystal Silence
— Keith Black
Beethoven String Quartet No. 4, Op. 18,
Shostakovich String Quartet No. 3 Op. 73 (Praga Digitals)
The Oistrakh Quartet performs three works on this latest release by Praga Digitals, proving once again the power of the intimate chamber genre to stir the senses while packing an emotional punch.
Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 4 in C minor, Op 18, described by the German composer himself as “absolute rubbish”, bristles with tension, first heard in its opening Allegro, ma non tanto movement.
First violinist Andrey Baranov artfully brings out the theme’s urgency performed over cellist Alexey Zhilin’s ostinato figure, with the following movement Scherzo. Andante scherzoso quasi allegretto particularly highlighting the strings’ clarity with their imitative entries. The Menuetto returns to edgier climes courtesy of its highly rhythmically syncopated theme, while the musicians’ rendering of the Allegro — Prestissimo propels towards the finish line as a brilliant, breath-taking finale.
Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 3 in F major Op. 73 offers another compelling work penned centuries later in 1946, and in the wake of the disastrous premiere of his Symphony No. 9. The opening movement Allegretto teems with acerbic wit the hallmark of the Soviet-era composer, punctuated further by Zhilin’s even more sardonic theme of the subsequent Moderato con moto, and driving force of the Allegro non troppo. The Adagio leading directly into the Moderato takes listeners into more introspective landscapes, while equally showcasing the quartet’s natural dramatic sensibility.
Also offered is Schubert’s String Quartet No. 12 in C minor, D. 703, a.k.a. the Quartettsatz as a single movement work, showing the greater lyricism of the players. Last but not least is the Fedor Belugin’s arrangement of Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 in A minor Op. 1 providing one last burst of devilish fire and fury in this admirable new addition to the string quartet discography. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THIS: Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 in A minor Op. 1
— Holly Harris
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Updated on Thursday, March 30, 2023 7:34 AM CDT: Adds preview text