With the Grammys out of the way, we here at the Sphinx have been diving, head first into 2019’s new album releases, unburdened by awards chatter, and the exhausting cultural discourse of last year. As a result, we’ve been able to dig up some of the most promising of this month’s releases. This month includes the latest album from a notorious jazz saxophonist, the ever-changing works of a beloved indie group, and the latest offering from adored rock giants.
Chris Potter – Circuits (Daniel Marx – Music Editor)
It is a pretty rare occurrence these days that someone will dispute American tenor saxophonist, Chris Potter’s position as the most technically proficient saxophonist alive. Such is Potter’s reputation that Snarky Puppy (arguably the most high-profile jazz band on the planet) were overjoyed for him to, at the last minute, walk onto the stage with them at last year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival to play a solo over one of their most notorious tunes.
Following his impressively heady, three-album run for ECM, Potter has returned to the more nostalgic, groove-heavy sound with which he garnered huge popularity in the 2000s. His latest album, Circuits, recorded on Edition Records with drummer Eric Harland and keyboard wizard James Francies, is monster of an album on which Potter and co. push their technical abilities to their limits. The end result is an album that manages to weave some of the most viscerally satisfying grooves and solo runs, together with mind-bending harmonic and rhythmic ideas. A particular highlight is ‘Exclamation’ a track whose groove and exhilaratingly intricate melody is reminiscent of Potter’s Underground Quartet recordings from the mid-2000s. Circuits gives Potter a chance to show, once again, why he’s the most well-regarded saxophonist alive, and is especially rewarding for those just looking for a jazz album that grooves really hard.
LCD Soundsystem – Electric Lady Sessions (Tom Murphy)
For most bands, a live sessions record comprised of recent album tracks with a few covers thrown in would not be considered essential listening – but then, LCD Soundsystem are not most bands. The crucial change here is the personnel difference: 2017’s American Dream was recorded as an almost entirely solo effort, with frontman James Murphy, ever the perfectionist, performing near enough every instrument on every track. However, the Electric Lady Sessions sees tracks from the album, some older material and covers from Heaven 17, the Human League and Chic taken on by LCD Soundsystem’s live outfit. Murphy’s role is reduced from all-powerful micromanager to simply vocalist, stationed behind a microphone whilst the band takes up the reins. The result is an added energy to the tracks, with new life breathed into the six taken directly from American Dream in particular.
‘Call the police’ and ‘tonite’ are transformed by the group dynamic, Murphy’s vocals all the better for having a band to compete with. Best of all is ‘emotional haircut’, a track that comes off fairly underwhelming in the studio recording yet here crescendos to an almost punk-like climax of guitar-fuelled adrenaline. The Electric Lady Sessions are so much rawer than the studio takes, imbued with something that American Dream is lacking – the sound of a group of musicians enjoying themselves, feeding off one another; perhaps a little rough around the edges for a perfectionist such as Murphy, yet these tracks show just how much a band like LCD Soundsystem can be elevated by live performance.
Girlpool- What Chaos Is Imaginary (Lily Blakeney-Edwards – Deputy Music Editor)
It’s another hit for the indie fans. This month, California-based indie-rock band Girlpool consisting of members Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad, graced our ears one again, releasing their third studio album What Chaos Is Imaginary. With this being the first album since Tucker’s recent transition, the album was bound to have some changes to the groups usual sound, however, the most apparent, and arguably most effective difference comes from the vocals featured throughout the works. Tucker’s newly-found tenor range stray far from the melding of vocals featured on their previous works, however, this change is a welcomed one, with the two sensual, differentiated voices, adding a new, engaging aspect to the bands tracks. Another notable new feature, is the welcomed density that is apparent throughout the work. Unlike the arguably simplistic writing of the band’s previous releases, this album is scattered with beautiful layered arrangements, and even a few guitar solos. This complex layering works in the band’s favour, adding depth to the already moving song writing which features prominently across the album, with the lyrics of the band often revolving around heartbreak, reflection and a sense of isolation. Although not the cheeriest, this album is a rich, exploratory collection of works, marking new era for the band, as well as being one of their best releases yet.