NATHANIEL RATELIFF: In Memory of Loss (Universal)
The first thing that struck me when I slipped Nathaniel Rateliff’s album, In Memory of Loss, into my stereo was that this was a very mature and confident-sounding album for a debut. The second thing that struck me was the quality of the songwriting. Dripping in melancholy, the album imbues a warmth and intimacy that feels effortless, but is clearly not.
The work of producer Brian Deck must be applauded here. He has managed to create an engaging album that is loaded with great arrangements but still leaves the space that is central to the impact of Rateliff’s songs.
You could call the genre nu-folk and draw comparisons to early Bob Dylan, Will Oldham, Lambchop and Leonard Cohen, but Rateliff sounds unlike anybody I have ever heard before. Like a Russian matryoshka doll, this album will reveal its beauty one layer at a time. — Lloyd Gedye
THE BESNARD LAKES: Are the Roaring Night (Sheer Sound)
The Besnard Lakes have to be one of Montreal’s best-kept secrets. Although a substantial amount of newspaper column inches and blog posts has been dedicated to Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Handsome Furs and The Dears, The Besnard Lakes have remained in the background.
This is something that their magnificent 20 07 album, The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse, cheekily referenced with its title. So in 20 10 they are back with a new offering, which is every bit the equal of their 20 07 album.
Opening with the one-and-a-half-minute ambience of Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent Pt. 1: The Ocean, it’s only two minutes into Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent Pt. 2: The Innocent that the album really kicks off with some great crunchy guitar.
By the time the seven minute track draws to a close, it’s clear that the husband-and-wife team of Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas has crafted another dense, sprawling psychedelic rock album that owes as much to the prog-rock of Pink Floyd as it does to the pop precision of the Beach Boys.
Album highlight and first single Albatros is a glorious rock song that falls somewhere between Sigur Ros’s otherworldliness and the pop sensibility displayed on the first Concretes record, and And This Is What We Call Progress is a blessed-out prog-rock treat. The Besnard Lakes are indeed the dark horse and the roaring night. — LG
PRANKSTER: Lay Me Down (Sheer Sound)
If Prankster was a city they’d be Cape Town. Kloof Street, Cape Town, to be precise. Their music is pretty, slightly edgy and mostly vacuous. They’re big on image and stick to the brief.
Which in this case is “dark and sexual”, in an accessible jazzy pop format, of course. But this, personal disdain aside, makes for easy listening and catchy tunes. And the high standard of production work on the album gets a thumbs-up.
Respected producer Arnold Vermaak is the brains behind the outfit and his 20 06 album, Bravo!, was nominated for a South African Music Award for Best Alternative Album in 20 07.
He is joined by Tamsin Mac-Carthy on vocals, whose look, racy lyrics and smooth vocals dovetail perfectly. Depending on your bent it could make for compulsive listening in your car on the way to Clifton beach, great background music for a dinner party or, in my case, an interesting but ultimately forgettable listen. — Verashni Pillay
TRIBUTE TO A REGGAE LEGEND: Various Artists (Putamayo)
Putumayo’s Tribute to a Reggae Legend, Bob Marley, shows the limitations that come when less talented musicians stand at the altar of a god.
A decade ago Marley’s son, Stephen, produced the critically acclaimed CD, Chant Down Babylon, and proved it’s possible to radically reinterpret and remix the master.
A slavish rendition of Marley’s songs that is close to the originals is a sure recipe for monotony. As some songs on this CD are classics, any attempt that’s close to Marley’s originals serves to show the great gulf between the god and the supplicants paying their tithes.
The songs that stand out include Freshlyground’s groovy reinterpretation of Africa Unite, Northern Lights’ folksy take of Waiting in Vain and Funkadesi’s polyrhythmic and multi-ethnic rendition of Real Situation. Most of the songs are flat and monochromatic. — Percy Zvomuya