Gary Barlow's new album is top of the pop picks this week, while two generations of boybands - Boyzone and One Direction - take each other on in the charts. Shereen Low rounds up the week's releases.
Album of the week
Gary Barlow - Since I Saw You last
Gary Barlow's last solo album, Twelve Months, Eleven Days, failed to make a real dent in the UK charts in 1999, but The X Factor head judge and Take That frontman has "relit" his fire with this latest release. Things have changed over the last 14 years, and the 42-year-old now lets his music do the talking. Opening with the jaunty Requiem, the 12-track album, with all songs written by Barlow, features Face To Face, a dancey duet with Sir Elton John, poignant ballad Jump, Americana-style More Than Life and toe-tapping track Small Town Girls. Barlow shows off his vocals in 6th Avenue with its rousing chorus and piano melodies, and goes emotional on Dying Inside. Barlow is set to reunite with his Take That bandmates next year for a new album, but with pop songs this good, let's hope Since I Saw You Last won't be the last of Barlow's own music.
(Review by Shereen Low)
Various - Share More Air
With a name sounding like a forbidding Orwellian organisation, the Ministry of Stories is a cool creative writing charity, overseen by novelist Nick Hornby. For this album, they have paired the lyrics of 56 children, aged eight to 13, from the east end of London to the tunes of pop musicians. There are tales of world champion sandal throwers, cats on missions and the inventor of jazz - a man called Michael Jazz, apparently. The naivety of the words is coupled with predominantly sparse, folky arrangements, which is often very affecting. Opener Air by folk poppers Ajimal has a wispy fragility, punctured by stabs of spectral guitar, and is hauntingly beautiful. Tom Williams's treatment of paean to a lost pet, Vinnie The Cat, is heartbreaking and will not leave leave you dry-eyed. I Know Where Everything Is, with music by Ben Fletcher, is an exquisite lullaby. The only act to miss the mark is, surprisingly, the album's biggest name, Ben Folds with his childlike song, Enemies.
(Review by Mark Edwards)
The Fauns - Lights
Bristol band The Fauns release their hugely impressive second album, four years after their self-titled debut in 2009. They have taken their time with this follow-up, and this time in the studio has definitely paid dividends with a set of 11 superbly crafted songs. Frontwoman Alison Garner possesses an ethereal voice, which brings to mind Portishead's Beth Gibbons, and that band's ambient and atmospheric soundtrack to Gibbons's musings has clearly been a major influence. Backed by guitarist Lee Woods, bassist Michael Savage, guitarist Elliot Guise, and drummer Tom Adams, Lights is an albums to savour in a quiet moment, glass of wine to hand. Opener Point Zero sets out the template magnificently, with the brilliant In Flames and closer Give Me Your Love equally mesmerising. The Fauns are set to put the Bristol music scene firmly back on the musical map.
(Review by Kim Mayo)
One Direction - Midnight Memories
The X-Factor-born phenomenon, comprising of Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson, have (sort of) left their bubble-gum pop roots behind for their third album. The boyband's sound edges more towards rock-pop, with the music more mature and sophisticated than before. Some tracks such as Diana, Happily and Through The Dark are likely to please both fans and their parents, while forgettable slow numbers like You And I and Don't Forget Where You Belong prove the band's talent lies in up-tempo, dancing numbers such as Best Song Ever and Better Than Words - two tracks that show One Direction at their perfect pop best. Some of the songs sound like big 80s anthems, with Little White Lies having that epic anthemic potential. With plenty of catchy tunes and big choruses about young love, what more could a Directioner want?
(Review by Catherine Wylie)
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - Live From KCRW
Nick Cave fans have not been starved of new material, with the 15th studio album Push The Sky Away released back in February, but now the Australian veteran and a streamlined Bad Seeds have released their fourth live album. It features four tracks from that album - the title track along with Mermaids, Higgs Boson Blues and the excellent Wide Lovely Eyes - as well as a host of Cave classics. Stranger Than Kindness and the Johnny Cash-influenced modern arrangement of The Mercy Seat stand out while Jack The Ripper provides a suitably raucous finale despite Cave asking, 'What are the chords?' to the 1992 barnstormer.
(Review by Tom White)
Boyzone - BZ20
A listen to Boyzone's new album is filled with nostalgia. Without band member Stephen Gately, who died in 2009, BZ20 reminds fans what could have been. Many were devastated when the boyband, dubbed Ireland's answer to Take That, announced their split in 2000, but the 'boys' - Ronan Keating, Keith Duffy, Shane Lynch, Mikey Graham and Gately - reunited in 2007, and are now celebrating their 20th anniversary with a new record. BZ20 accompanies the quartet's 20th anniversary celebrations, which sees them embarking on an arena tour starting in Belfast on November 29. Their fifth album is a mixture of covers including The Tony Rich Project's Nobody Knows and Everything I Own by Bread and original tracks such as lead single Love Will Save The Day. It's a good listen for fans, but with the notable exception of Gately's vocals, it's more tinged with a sadness than celebration.
(Review by Shereen Low)
Sumie - Sumie
Delicate, minimalist guitars are the order of the day for this debut offering from Swedish-Japanese artist Sandra Sumie Nagano. Her sister, Yukimi, had already found fame with local trip-hop exponents Little Dragon, but Sumie's style is more low-key and reserved - owed, apparently, to the fact that she didn't want to wake her children while rehearsing. Whatever her reasons, it paid off. The resulting album plays out like fellow Swede Jose Gonzales's debut, Veneer - less complex, perhaps, but every bit as yearningly beautiful - with just an arpeggiated guitar and clear voice taking centre stage. Producer Dustin O'Halloran lends the odd unintrusive piano line, and there's occasional backing vocals that haunt the album like lost spirits but little else: purity is the key here.
(Review by Rob Lavender)
Buzzard Lope - Pyrrhic Victories
Alternative jazz is a hard sell. It was a bold move, then, for alt-pop trio Buzzard Lope to enlist the help of a folk-jazz accordionist to open their debut album - a statement of intent, perhaps, that this is a band not overly concerned with image. The trio - Bedford-based frontman Roger Illingworth, Brummie bassist Adam Jarvis and Brazilian percussionist Raphael Saib - continue in a similar vein, not so much inviting the listener to sample each track as merely not minding if you do. You get the impression that it's their world you've ventured into, and you'd better not move the furniture. It's diverse: Dylan-esque vocals combine with instrumentation akin to such chamber-pop acts as Esmerine - while the band cite Dresden Dolls as an influence. It's a lot to take in, and it will take some time to fully appreciate, but that's a price worth paying.
(Review by Rob Lavender)
A Tribe Called Red - Nation II Nation
There can't be many other boats in sight as this trio of Canadian DJs - Ian 'DJ NDN' Campeau, Dan 'DJ Shub' and General Bear Witness - navigate the unnervingly still waters between Aboriginal music and commercial dance. While nobody can question the tremendous soul and energy behind the Native American drums, chants and wails that are the beating heart of each track on Nation II Nation, A Tribe Called Red's second album, their fusion with contemporary clubland beats and bleeps somehow fails to engage beyond a metaphorical level. To the casual listener, it may feel like it simply lacks the cohesion and purpose to be considered truly innovative - as disrespectful as it seems to judge something so proudly expressing a cultural identity purely on a musical basis.
(Review by Steve Clarkson)
Pajaro Sunrise - Kulturkatzenjammer
Never the easiest artist to pin down, Yuri Mendez Jr's latest album at the helm of his ever-evolving project Pajaro Sunrise, sees him shift away from his American folk roots and into electro-tinged territory. While everything from production to instrumentation have indeed undergone a sea-change for this record, Mendez's vocals - arguably his strongest suit - remain largely unaugmented. Tracks such as Good To See You and Passing Birds display a familiar structure, too, which should please existing fans, while Long Forgotten Flowers and Move Like A Ghost are sunny, upbeat, retro pop numbers evoking the likes of M83 and Phoenix. His experimental streak, meanwhile is ever-present - A Love Like Mine sounds like a David Lynch dream sequence.
(Review by Rob Lavender)
On the road
:: Nine Inch Nails are to embark on their first UK tour in six years in May 2014. The Ohio-based rockers, led by frontman Trent Reznor, will play six shows, starting at Birmingham's LG Arena on May 18 and closing at Manchester's Phones 4u Arena on May 25. Tickets are available now from www.kililive.com/nin.
:: Maximo Park are to perform a 12-date tour in March 2014. The gigs begin at Portsmouth Pyramids on March 6, and end with a homecoming show at Newcastle's O2 Academy on March 21, stopping off at Bristol, Glasgow, Oxford and more along the way. Tickets go on sale at 9am on November 29 - see www.gigsandtours.com/tour/maximo-park.