By BRUCE DENNILL
Rodrigo Y Gabriela: 9 Dead Alive
Various Artists: Paper Towns – Music From The Motion Picture
Jack White: Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016
Prog-rock soundscapes, with a lead vocal that sounds like Ben Gibbard: ISO manage to be creatively insistent and easy to listen to for fans from across the spectrum. They kick off this album with Evolution, its Dave Matthews Band-ish intro giving way to a classic rock expanse. Rabbit Hole is a great alternative single, sounding like Death Cab For Cutie, who would please their fanbase no end if they appropriated the song. Each track here is multi-faceted, though the band are top technicians, able to weave their complex musical patterns with deceptive ease. There’s an argument for all this sonic density becoming tiring for listeners, so it’s good when a track like the piano ballad From The Skyline breaks the momentum. Walk Through The City and many of the other tracks are as much compositions as songs in the mainstream sense, unconcerned with fitting into radio formats or listener preconceptions. As such, ISO is a little like English band Porcupine Tree – capable of creating music that occasionally excites chart fans but equally likely to inspire a cult following of musically literate cognoscenti.
Mexican super-strummers Rodrigo Y Gabriela have moved part that portion of their career when they could rely on the novelty of the combination of fierce energy and classically-based acoustic guitar instrumentals to give them a worthwhile foot up. As such – this is their fifth studio collection (and there are three live albums), showing off their enduring strengths is important. There is still all the remarkable dexterity, but importantly, there is also a good deal of rhythm, kick drums and slapped dreadnought bodies that inspire a gut reaction even before the complexity of the picking and fretwork is appreciated. First single The Soundmaker is an excellent bar-setter in both of the above-mentioned respects, with Torito, Misty Moses and Fram being other compositions appealing on all fronts. The only notable misstep is the languorous Sunday Neurosis, which stalls badly in the middle to allow for some esoteric musings that will likely annoy many listeners. That’s made up for by a bonus DVD that includes a tutorial from both musicians – if you think you can keep up…
A modern coming-of-age film, exploring that period where youngsters come to the end of their time at school and peer with a mixture of fear and excitement into the unfamiliar future, Paper Towns will sound strange to film fans who still have The Breakfast Club as their template for such tales. This compilation is packed with artists who make Rihanna (rather than, say, Rod Stewart) look slightly old-fashioned, but it’s cleverly put together to ensure that there is good range in terms of who the music might appeal to while still sounding of a type and thus linking together in one believable narrative – in this case a purely sonic one. Santigold’s Radio sets out the compilers’ stall with with driving pop beats and a melody and performance that touches on the mainstream appeal of Katy Perry or Taylor Swift but which is more edgy and less eager to please. The next track, To The Top by Twin Shadow, adds an anthemic chorus to that formula, and together, these introductory tunes paint a good picture of the general mood and tone of what is to come. Where there are variations from the theme, the artists are easily cool enough to pull off standing out like a sore thumb, with Taxi Cab by Vampire Weekend changing musical tack but enticing anyone paying attention to go with that flow. Similarly highly-regarded acts from the last couple of years include Vance Joy (Great Summer) and Haim (Falling), whose offerings here are both excellent. The relatively weaker tracks are, perhaps coincidentally, two remixes, Lost It To Trying by Son Lux and Runaway by Galantis, but with 14 other tracks to choose from, listeners can afford to be picky. One track definitely worth repeating is Used To Haunt by The Mountain Goats – the collection’s shortest entry, but one of its best. Together with the also great Burning by The War On Drugs and Look Outside by Nat & Alex Wolff, that tune provides an ending to the soundtrack that’s so compelling you’ll likely want to start from the beginning again just to ensure you can reach the end anew. Seeing the film is just a bonus – this is a top-notch collection of music that will introduce many listeners to wonderful new talents, as well as encouraging an enthusiasm for that kind of discovery, reflecting part of what the film’s characters experience.
Jack White is a phenomenal musician, but he is not a conventional one, preferring to place the soul of whatever song he is performing front and centre, sometimes to the detriment of the purity of a sung note or the exact rhythms of the percussion underlying his guitar playing. These intended impurities are perhaps most evident in his less sonically layered material, like these 26 tracks, taken from White Stripes and solo records, plus a couple of unreleased tunes, of acoustic (or mostly – there are electric intrusions as early as Apple Blossom, the second track) and they may jar the first time you listen to this collection. But before the end of the second disc, you’ll appreciate – or better still, love – the zeal imparted by these touches, which, rather than being distracting, become markers for the honesty of the performers. All of the material delivers once you invest in it, but when the songs are accessible – as is the case with the trio of Hotel Yorba, We’re Going To Be Friends and You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket on the first disc – this is a roots music showcase of formidable quality. White, happily, is able to take the mickey out of himself as easily as he capable of introducing listeners to a musical heritage of which they may have been unaware, and Well It’s True That We Love One Another takes many of the quirky legends that have been woven into White’s public persona and gently mocks them. One of the defining aspects of White’s career to date has been an apparently unshakeable certainty that he knows what he’s doing, even if he’s completely out of step with prevailing tastes. Having this curated cross-section of his work in one package shows that he does know what he’s doing and that following his example – schooling yourself on musical history and appreciating instruments with real character as well as the skills needed to play them – will likely help you get more value out of your listening time. And if that esoteric angle doesn’t do it for you, the wonderful concoction of melody and rough-edged talent in tunes like Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy really should. Listen and learn.