Charlotte Gainsbourg – IRM (Because Music) *****
Five stars: you’ll perhaps be expecting fireworks but what you actually get is a sultry, understated, modest affair – sweetly folkie and Francoise Hardy in places, lightly industrial and post-rave in others – with a slightly messy, small-hours feel to it. That’ll be the influence of Beck who produced and co-wrote the songs, based on fragmentary lyrics suggested by Gainsbourg. They’ve worked together brilliantly. I’m particularly smitten with the lilting lullaby-like In the End, the whispery dream-pop of Time Of The Assassins and the enervated punk-electronica of Greenwich Mean Time, but I can tell already the whole thing is going to be a massive grower. Borderline genius.
First Aid Kit – The Big Black And The Blue (Jagadamba) *****
First Aid Kit have become a bit of a You Tube sensation with a cover of Fleet Foxes’ Tiger Mountain Peasant Song so exquisitely, unfeasibly lovely it makes the original sound almost like a tuneless dirge. Though you’ll surely think, as I did, that they’re some authentic Appalachian folk outfit – clear, penetrating vocals, the sweetest close harmonies and the most delicious country twang – they’re actually Swedish sisters, Klara and Johanna Soderberg (aged 16 and 19). I particularly like that little high whoop one of the girls does on the mindblowingly good A Window Opens but really the whole album is a total masterpiece. Buy!
Tindersticks – Falling Down A Mountain (4AD) ****
I’m giving Tindersticks’ eighth album a four-star benefit of the doubt. While I’m not yet totally smitten their records are often very slow growers and even after two plays I can hear definite signs of renewed confidence and creative revival. Harmony Round My Table is classic, old-school Tindersticks – right down to the delicate glockenspiel – with Stuart Staples’s lugubrious lounge vocals reaching almost dangerous levels of jauntiness. Elsewhere there are forays into Calexico-style western, a duet with Mary Margaret O’Hara, some mildly experimental jazz, and some lengthy, sparse but haunting instrumentals. Worth a go, definitely.