st vincent

St Vincent's self-titled album is beguiling, creative and adventurous.

Pop

ST VINCENT

St Vincent (Caroline)

Last time she passed by here, Annie Clark, aka St Vincent, was making odd pop music - brass and ballads, noises and sweetness - with David Byrne.

They were equal partners in the songs, the nuttiness on stage and the downtown art-world sensibility of intellectualising emotions and conceptualising spontaneity (or conceptualising emotions and intellectualising spontaneity), but undoubtedly he brought the fame.

With luck, those who came for him left wanting more of her: her beguiling songs, her creative and adventurous guitar playing and her own oddness. All those things, including the intellectual rather than emotion-driven crafting of tracks, are evident on this sometimes wildly varied album.

It contains jumpy '80s synth pop in Birth in Reverse; almost metal levels of heaviness in the guitars, and keyboards with slightly disturbing choral backing in Huey Newton; and what might in less lyrically imaginative company be windswept ballads for some high-concept Hollywood drama in Severed Crossed Fingers and I Prefer Your Love.

Clark has evidently grasped a few good ideas from Byrne's back catalogue - including, if you want to be a smartie, a sort of psycho killer of her own in Psychopath.

In the first song she's ''sweating, sweating'' over a stuttering synth rhythm, which is not a million miles from the jerky pop that Byrne brought to the fore in early Talking Heads, before a descending riff that hints at some of the other tricks Eno brought to mid-period Heads albums. Then she bends her guitar into melting shapes and oddly angled places more like Adrian Belew's contributions to the big-suit live version of that band in the mid-'80s.

On the other hand, Digital Witness has a march feel with Clark giving it a bit of late-period Madonna vocalising.

You could imagine this being done by Lady Gaga, but with the brassiness replaced by electronics and, consequently, the lightness replaced by a more defined dance-floor sense.

That wouldn't necessarily be bad, but one of the attractions of Clark's songs is how they retain some lightness when others might go hard. Even Bring Me Your Loves, which is decidedly Gaga-ish, is more inclined to skip across the synthesised surface than land hard. You could put that down to that sense of the intellectual rather than the emotional. With Clark you're always conscious of how these are smart pieces rather than being allowed to disappear into each song. Doesn't stop you admiring them though.  BERNARD ZUEL

 

 

Roots rock

JOHN BUTLER TRIO

Flesh & Blood (Jarrah Records)

There have been two contrasting through-lines to the quiet evolution of John Butler's successful output. The first is that he's become more certain in what he wants musically, remaking the trio attached to his name to capture deeper grooves and sustained sounds.

The second is that doubt has crept into his lyrics.

''There are places you will never go, there are things you will never know,'' sings Butler on the menacing chorus to Ill Wind, one of several songs on the singer-songwriter's sixth studio album that build from lean, otherworldly musical beds. There are still scrambling, bluesy guitar solos but now they provide necessary relief instead of easy release.

Arrangements surge and build, or sometimes fall away, and the familiar vintage vernacular of Devil Woman now abuts the spooked dub of Blame It on Me.

Social sketches such as Livin' in the City still verge on the generic, but this is the most varied, intriguing record John Butler has cut and hopefully it supplants the image long defined by Betterman - dreadlocks and protest causes. CRAIG MATHIESON

LIKE THIS? TRY THESE Wilco, The Whole Love; Paul Dempsey, Everything Is True.

 

Jazz

CAPTAIN KIRKWOOD

Theseus and the Minotaur (captainkirkwood.com)

Ellen Kirkwood's achievement in creating this musical retelling of the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaurmay not quite match that of Theseus in conquering the dreaded half-man, half-bull, but it's close.

Like Theseus, the odds were stacked heavily against her, the chances of a stilted outcome huge. But Kirkwood's deep understanding and affection for the tale, as well as her abilities as a composer and band leader, proved more than a match for the pitfalls.

Kirkwood's trumpet is joined by Paul Cutlan's brilliantly evocative clarinets and saxophone, Alon Ilsar's drums, Tom Botting's bass and Glenn Doig's piano. They create contexts for Ketan Joshi's delivery of a concise version of the story, and flesh out the text with colour and drama, as well as putting our imaginations to work with sonic realisations of some of the action.

They also compound the suspense, and, however well you know the tale, this retelling is gripping. Were one to be picky, perhaps the bullfight motifs in the finale may be a little too obvious, and, as good as Joshi is, perhaps a narrator with a voice of more weight (such as Helmut Bakaitis) may have been better. Nonetheless, the project should surely appeal to major arts festivals.

After Theseus come three pieces to show that Kirkwood can just as effectively lead her band of intrepid improvisers into musical labyrinths that are entirely devoid of Minotaurs. Remarkable. JOHN SHAND

LIKE THIS? TRY THESE Chris Potter, Sirens; Gianluigi Trovesi, All'Opera.

 

Electronic

EAST INDIA YOUTH

Total Strife Forever (Remote Control)

East India Youth's William Doyle is one man. East India Youth's first album suggests he's one man with a lot of catching up to do after a period in a not-that-well-noticed band.

Total Strife Forever is principally an electronic record: the four parts of the title track, which are dotted through the album, are its key machine-tooled sections of mood-setters, climaxing in the ambient sweep ofTotal Strife Forever IV.

The album's opener, Glitter Recession, comes across like a less dystopian contributor to the Blade Runnersoundtrack. The sounds feature little in the way of analogue or hand-made, though Midnight Koto almost touches solid ground.

However, the album draws its components from sources wide enough to suggest life beyond Doyle's laptop. The verging-on-epic spaces and rise-and-fall dynamics on some tracks suggest a fondness for big but vague guitar bands of the shoe-gazing variety.

Some of the vocal tracks are abstract and atmospheric or slightly distanced, such as Looking for Someone. Others make a clear and, in the case of Dripping Down, you'd have to say pop-focused statement.

And then there are rhythmic elements, sometimes harsh and sometimes quite danceable, as in Hinterland, which speak of clubs, bucket hats and hands making fish swimming shapes. It's a confident record for a starter pack. BERNARD ZUEL

LIKE THIS? TRY THESE David Bowie, Low; Oscar+Martin, For You.