Elbow – Seldom seen kid

While Madonna, David Bowie and Kylie Minogue embrace emerging or popular sounds, with varying degrees of success and cynicism, others only slightly alter what they do over time. Others like Neil Young, 50 Cent or Elbow. A fourth album from Guy Garvey and chums ushers in an occasionally more cheerful and experimental era for the Bury band, but for the most part it's brilliant business as usual.

The Seldom Seen Kid begins with Starlings, a tender effort that, aside from its insane horn blasts and Sigur Ros waves of feedback, comes on like a very now version of Fleetwood Mac's Albatross.

Next up we’re in familiar territory. Chanting, flamenco flourishes, a lyric that aches with lines of cryptic longing like, ''I'm five years ago and 3,000 miles away'', inventive percussion and a haunting yet uplifting Garvey vocal. The Bones Of You is so damn Elbow it should have half an arm coming out of both ends. It is followed by Mirrorball, a beautiful acoustic guitar and piano-led drift into dreams with an epic widescreen synth and strings chorus. It may not be a huge leap of originality for these men, but there is no one else who does it this well.

Elsewhere, Grounds For Divorce, the album's big single, is immense. It snarls, bites, chants and thrashes like Alabama 3 wrestling alligators in a Louisiana Bayou. Pedal steel guitars, handclaps (the hallmark of so many genius singles)… You can imagine Guy watching The Wild Bunch and wearing a Stetson as he laid down the vocal in the studio.

From here only the ponderous An Audience With the Pope dips below the high standard set. Special mention must go to The Loneliness Of A Tower Crane Driver, which is so huge it sounds like a weight-lifting welder building a giant ship from concrete blocks and The Fix, which features a duet with Sheffield troubadour Richard Hawley. It evokes a doomed funfair ride and is probably the best tune about gambling since The Card Cheat by The Clash.Those who find Elbow drab will still probably be unmoved by this Talk Talk-inspired band's latest. But for everyone else who likes to be moved, relaxed, and cheered by superior, soulful Mancunian lullabies, The Seldom Seen Kid is essential.

 

These two 45rpm discs cut that way for better sound quality are more natural sounding than a lot of today's discs but do sound a little compressed. The vinyl is quite heavyweight and housed in a gatefold sleeve with details and lyrics printed on the inside. Inner sleeves are standard die cut white. The sleevenotes also reference the website turnmeup.org an organisation dedicated to the return to a more natural mastering process.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/release/2bcz/

Calexico – Carried To Dust

Hands in the air please for the return of Arizona's number one sons. All the tropes are in place… the brushed rattling percusion, the twangero guitar, the open, desert-evoking sound. And yes, the return of the mariachi blare that so suits the writing of Covertino and Burns. After their disappointingly 'rock' album, Garden Ruin, Calexico have returned to the southern states' alt country that's part-western, part-central American folk and all their own. Thank goodness…

In a year that's seen acts as diverse as Fleet Foxes to Conor Oberst stretch and challenge what the term 'Americana' could contain, this return to form-of-sorts is a timely reminder of how influential Calexico have been. The band's turn at last years Womad festival, with guest star Amparo Sánchez (who appears here), shone out even among the mud and rain. And while Calexico's real strength lies in live performance, Carried To Dust is a gem.

The album does have a loose concept around which it hangs: a screenwriter's search for inspiration in the wide open spaces around La La Land (Writer's Minor Holiday). But there's also room for the political poetry of opener Victor Jara's Hands (Jara was an artist/poet tortured by the Chilean dictatorship) and the pure wiggly Mexicali joy of Inspiracion or the Morricone madness of El Gatillo (Trigger Madness). All of these are guaranteed to sound astounding live.

If there's any reservation here it's because a little too often you get the sense of deja vu. The lyrical imagery and the tumbleweed dryness sails a little close to parody. It's almost as if they've had to emulate themselves to find the way forward again, the melodies not leaping out as smartly as they might. And sometimes you long for the more outre weirdness that filled the gaps on earlier classics such as Feast Of Wire. But frankly, something this good shouldn't be sniffed at. Calexico are back on track. Cause for celebration, indeed.

 

Simple enough package for Calexico. Not a gatefold but it dpes have that lovely art both on teh outer sleeve and on the inner, albeit flimsy, inner sleeve. As usual with calexico the sound is pretty good and full of interesting flourishes. Always a pleasure to listen to.