Three recent releases for you to peruse. Canadian Owen Pallett’s new album ventures into Nick Drake territory with its acoustic guitar picking and strings. Paramore’s Hayley Williams first solo album is poppy, yet adult and restrained. London’s King Krule continues his enigmatic crossbreeding of punk and jazz. Enjoy!
Even if you’re unfamiliar with the name Owen Pallett, you’ve probably heard the Canadian composer’s music. Over the last two decades he’s amassed an impressive resume as a violinist and arranger, appearing on records by R.E.M., Frank Ocean, Taylor Swift, Robbie Williams, Arcade Fire, and HAIM. Island is Pallett’s first solo record since 2014’s In Conflict.
The acoustic guitar picking and orchestration are reminiscent of Nick Drake – Pallett received a note of acknowledgement from Drake’s estate in appreciation of Island. Pallett’s voice isn’t as distinctive as Drake’s hushed whisper, but his orchestral arrangements, as played by the London Contemporary Orchestra, are phenomenally good.
Island picks up the story of Lewis, a young, ultra-violent farmer, first encountered on 2010’s Heartland. At the conclusion of Heartland Lewis disavowed his creator, Owen, while at the start of this record he’s washed up on an Island.
The beautiful orchestral arrangements would make the record a keeper anyway, but the songs are good too. The acoustic guitar and orchestration of songs like ‘Transformer’ and ‘Fire-Mare’ is the most common mood of Island, while the solemn melody of ‘Lewis Gets Fucked Into Space’ resembles a Church hymn, even though the lyrics certainly don’t. The galloping percussion of ‘A Bloody Morning’ provides a jolt on energy on a mellow record. The record ends with band versions of ‘Paragon of Order’ and ‘Fire-Mare’, and they’re also gorgeous even without their strings.
Island is gorgeous, a supremely talented arranger letting his muse run freely over a beautiful record.
Petals for Armor
Paramore’s After Laughter is my favourite album of 2017, which effectively makes the solo debut of frontwoman Hayley Williams my most anticipated record of 2020. Paramore never interested in much in their first decade – even though I heard about Williams’ vocal prowess, I wasn’t interested in the emo and pop/punk zone they operated in. As they’ve moved closer to pop/rock in the last decade, they’ve lured me in.
Williams released the fifteen tracks of Petals for Armor in stages – the first five songs as an EP in February and the second set in March, before the full album was released in early May. It features Paramore’s other members – guitarist Taylor York produces, and tourist bassist Joey Howard is also involved. Zac Farro only drums on a couple of tracks, but directed the music video for ‘Dead Horse’. Petals for Armor is understandably similar to Paramore’s recent work – if anything it’s a little more subdued. Williams takes the opportunity afforded by a solo career to write about more adult themes – anger on ‘Simmer’ and lust on ‘Sudden Desire’.
Fifteen tracks is often too many, but the songwriting is consistent enough that it becomes a sprawling album that listeners can pick different favourites from each time. Currently my favourite is the low key ‘Why We Ever’ – it starts as a lush pop song before winding down into an emotionally fraught piano and vocal piece.
Upbeat songs like ‘Dead Horse’ and ‘Pure Love’ recall the technicolour synth-pop of After Laughter. The brooding opener ‘Simmer’ immediately stakes out new territory for Williams, while the six minutes of ‘Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris’ allows her to stretch out the arrangement with strings.
It doesn’t quite reach the greatness of After Laughter, but Petals for Armor delivers fifteen songs that are consistently very good.
While fans have worried that Petals for Armor is almost an anagram of “Last of Paramore”, Paramore have announced plans for a sixth album, reportedly taking them back to their pop-punk roots.
Archy Marshall started young, releasing his debut album 6 Feet Beneath the Moon on his 19th birthday in 2013. Marshall grew up in a creative household – his mother is an artist, and his godfather Dave Ruffy drummed for Aztec Camera. Marshall’s music recalls post-modern acts like Beck and Pavement, offering moments of emotional resonance among songs that blend disparate styles. In King Krule’s case, alongside punky alt-rock, there’s a surprising jazz influence and traces of 1990s trip-hop.
Krule’s voice is malleable, rising in intensity to a tousled yowl at times. He’s best on abrasive tunes like ‘Comet Face’ and ‘Stoned Again’, where his gravelly voice and the deep bass combine to create a face-melting blast of low-pitched noise.
In contrast, the slower material isn’t melodic to hook me in, but Krule’s synthesis of jazz textures with a raw punk sound is often fascinating. He’s emotionally resonant in songs like ‘Please Compete Thee’, and his atmospheric guitar playing also distinctive.
Two records into my King Krule experience I’m still unsure whether I’m a fan, but his aesthetic is distinctive and fascinating.