New Music Reviews – Marlon Williams, The Beths, and Ibibio Sound Machine

It’s a strong week of new-ish releases, with two New Zealand acts. Country crooner Marlon Williams expands his range with a fun new album, while power-pop maestros The Beths are also back. London afro-beats/electronic band Ibibio Sound Machine, with lead singer Eno Williams, also feature.

Marlon Williams

My Boy


2022, 9/10
Marlon Williams carved out a niche for himself as a serious-minded country crooner, singing dark songs of heartbreak. On his third album, he reinvents himself. He embraces fun, drifting into camp territory on tracks like ‘My Boy’ and ‘Thinking of Nina’. Where his previous work gave little indication of his Maori heritage, he embraces it on My Boy. A Maori strum powers the title track, while he slips in some Maori language on ‘Don’t Go Back’. My Boy is Williams’ most incoherent, least unified record to date but it’s easily his best.

There’s a terrific interview where Williams name checks Barry Gibb, Gene Clark, Duran Duran, and The Velvet Underground, an indication of the scattershot nature of My Boy.

He’s best here at the upbeat songs, unlike anything else in his catalogue to date. The title track, as the lead single, indicated the change of focus. Even stronger is ‘Thinking of Nina’, where his croon projects ambiguity on a Bowie or Ferry scale. There are echoes of Williams’ previous work on the closing ‘Promises’, which utilises Williams’ fragile croon. But even the mellow songs are mostly different than before – ‘Soft Boys Make the Grade’ would have fitted a John Hughes soundtrack, while ‘Princes Walk’ blends pedal steel and effect-laden electric guitar.

My Boy is excellent, Williams adding some fun to his music.


The Beths

Expert in a Dying Field

2022, 8.5/10
The Beths are from Auckland, New Zealand, where they met at jazz school. Guitarist Jonathan Pearce stated that playing jazz provided a “very clear idea of what we didn’t want to do”. Instead, the quartet reverted to the music they loved in their youth, 1990s guitar rock, infused with the pop sensibility of The Breeders’ ‘Cannonball’ or Weezer’s Blue Album.

They’ve gone through the “difficult” second album, always a difficult challenge in power-pop where it’s often hard to expand your band’s sound. On their third album, they excel on the mellow material where they can utilise their harmonies, a strong point for this technically accomplished group.

There’s a range of moods on Expert in a Dying Field – the title track is attention-grabbing with its relatable central premise. The misleadingly titled ‘Silence is Golden’ pushes close to punk, while ‘Head in the Clouds’ is perky power-pop. ‘2am’ is a lovely, gentle closer and ‘I Want to Listen’ is driven by an acoustic jangle.

Expert in a Dying Field is a strong third album, an accomplished band showing expertise in the guitar-pop field.


Ibibio Sound Machine

Electricity

2022, 8/10
London’s Ibibio Sound Machine are cultural synthesists, mixing 1980s West African funk and electronic sounds like drum and bass. The eight-piece band feature vocalist Eno Williams fronting a horn section, a Ghanaian guitarist, and a Brazilian percussionist. On their fourth album, Ibibio Sound Machine work with English synth-pop band Hot Chip, who emphasize the electronic elements of that band’s sound.

Electricity is diverse, although it’s their in-your-face tracks that are the most effective. Opener ‘Protection From Evil’ was inspired by George Floyd and it sets the tone beautifully, colliding African rhythms with pulsating synths, and building into a great climax – the “spiritual invisible protection from evil” hook is an earworm. The band also explore the idea of synths with African beats on the title track – like Giorgio Moroder with Tony Allen.

The gentler songs work too – the gorgeous ‘Afo Ken Doko Mien’ is almost a capella. The attention-grabbing synth arrangement on ‘Freedom’ is also effective.

Williams is a charismatic vocalist, and Electricity is a vibrant record.

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16 Comments

  1. I love it that there’s a group called The Beths. Kind of like The Donnas. I think there was also a group called The Bettys in the ’80s or something. I’m going to listen to The Beths because it sounds like it could be cool.

    • Actually, they were just called Betty, not THE Bettys. It says they were an alternative rock group formed in 1986 and still active. I remember them because sometimes they used to be on a children’s TV show that I used to watch on Saturday morning.

  2. I have a draft with that Beths song I need to finish…I saw a video of them performing on KEXP studio and it was great.
    I also like Head in the Clouds with it’ dynamics with the drums and guitar.

  3. Well, I’ll be the contrarian as usual. I wasn’t familiar with any of these artists, but like them all, based on the tracks you shared. But I’m most impressed by Marlon Williams, particularly his song “My Boy”. I’ll definitely be checking out the rest of his album. I love both the videos for “My Boy” and “Protection From Evil” too.

    • None of the three artists are particularly famous, so not surprised you don’t know them. Thanks for checking out the other two – I would expect most of my readers to gravitate toward the guitar-pop of The Beths, so good to have someone championing the other two.

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