There’s a strong batch of newish albums this week. The retro 1970s sleaze of St. Vincent’s Daddy’s Home, the diverse indie-pop of Japanese Breakfast’s Jubilee, and the Nigerian ambient field recordings of Emeka Ogboh.
Annie Clark has been one of the most critically acclaimed artists of the last decade or so. Recording as St. Vincent, she has terrific guitar chops and an ability to reinvent herself every few years like her hero David Bowie. Her newest record was made with Jack Antonoff, with the pair playing almost all of the instruments; veteran pedal steel player Greg Leisz appears on ‘Somebody Like Me’. Daddy’s Home is set in the mid-1970s, as St. Vincent referenced Steely Dan and Stevie Wonder as influences. The sound palette of Daddy’s Home is electric pianos and soul grooves. Like Don Henley in the mid-1970s, Clark is picking away at the dark undercurrents of fame in a time of opulence.
Saint Joni ain’t no phony
Smoking reds where Furry sang the blues
‘Pay Your Way in Pain’ is a great opener, shifting gears from a jaunty piano introduction to St. Vincent’s discordant verses. But more often Daddy’s Home is gorgeous – Clark’s sitar adds a surprising element to ‘Down and Out Downtown’, while the Wurlitzer of ‘The Melting of the Sun’ is lovely. St. Vincent’s a charismatic enough vocalist to pull off a torch song on ‘My Baby Wants A Baby’, while one of the most satisfyingly pieces is the brief closer ‘Candy Darling’.
St. Vincent often feels like a cut above other musicians – even when she’s limiting herself to a specific set of sounds, her music is still filled with personality.
Indie artist Michelle Zauner has taken the old-fashioned approach to success with her band Japanese Breakfast. Born in South Korea, Zaumer started Japanese Breakfast with self-released songs on Tumblr. Her career is now in upward trajectory, signed to the label Dead Oceans and gathering more attention with each release. Jubilee is Japanese Breakfast’s third album, released shortly after Zauner’s memoir Crying in H Mart. Like Japanese Breakfast’s first two albums, Crying In H Mart is about the loss of Zaumer’s mother.
In comparison, Zaumer describes Jubilee as an album about joy. It’s surprisingly diverse, with everything from the horns of opener ‘Paprika’ to the lengthy, ruminative closer ‘Posing In Cars’. The moody electronic shimmer of ‘Posing in Bondage’ contrasts with the chirpy ‘Savage Good Boy’. The obvious single is ‘Be Sweet’, a sophisticated 1980s flavoured pop song with a killer chorus.
Zaumer has so many ideas that Jubilee feels incoherent sometimes, but it’s proof of a bright future with many different directions to explore.
Beyond the Yellow Haze
At the age of 44, Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh released his debut album. Ogboh’s better known as a visual artist and Beyond the Yellow Haze was created as the background music for the art installation No Condition Is Permanent. It works as standalone music, mixing African beats, ambient soundscapes and recordings from the busy streets of Lagos. Lagos was affected by violence in late 2020, with citizens protesting against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad.
The 40-minute record is comprised of four lengthy pieces and a brief outro. ‘Everydaywehustlin’ is the most rhythmic, while ‘Palm Groove’ is moody and unsettling. ‘Danfo Mellow’ references the yellow taxi cabs around Lagos. The gentle repetition of the music often places the focus onto the field recordings.
Beyond the Yellow Haze is too far beyond my normal musical sphere to talk intelligently about, but it’s still engrossing.