June Music review – Laura Marling, Charlie Boyer, Jagwar Ma, the National

You know, I thought I’d reviewed the new Laura Marling album, Once I Was an Eagle, last month. but I didn’t. So here we are – and it’s another one going straight into the very best of the year list. Despite winning a Brit and a lot of critical acclaim, I still don’t think we’ve quite woken up to how amazingly talented Marling is. This is her fourth album, she’s still only 22, yet it’s hard to talk about her without drawing comparisons now with Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, and even – whisper it quietly – Bob Dylan.

Master Hunter” here is a Dylan homage (“it ain’t me babe” she sings), whilst the mini-song suite of four tracks that starts the album reminds me of Astral Weeks period Morrison. At times, the Mitchell comparison is even more striking –yet through it all, this is unmistakably her original work and style.  Now Dylan is a once in a hundred year genius, but Marling is playing with the very big boys and girls now as we start thinking about her comparative place in musical history.

Anyway, this is a sprawling album, over an hour long, without a dud track except maybe for a short, strange discordant cello instrumental piece. It is largely acoustic, with judicious use of strings and some lovely warm Hammond organ work on a few songs adding colour. It appears to trace a relationship and the protagonist’s feelings through love, anger, passion, loss, acceptance..  not that it’s a heavy listen. Whilst not every song has a sing-a-long type tune, there is always something  unexpected to keep your attention -  chord patterns, the lyrics, changes in her vocal style. Her singing and guitar playing have progressed, and she can do tunes when she feels like it – “Once” is just beautiful and as another reviewer said, you’ll think you know the song before you’ve got to the end of your first listen.   9.5/10

Here’s a superb acoustic live version of that track.

Charlie Boyer and the Voyeurs are a young-ish band from London, whose debut album Clarietta  is encouragingly hard to pigeonhole. Intelligent punk? Slightly  gothic rock? Guitar driven glam? The musical part of my brain automatically searches for reference points and the closest I got here was a somewhat darker Television, if you remember the New York art-punks from the later 70s, led by star guitarist Tom Verlaine. Boyer shares a bit of Verlaine’s yelping singing style too which can sound a touch affected at times, but the music is a sharp confection of guitars, angular tunes, with some spooky organ every so often – the darker moments get into Horrors territory. A very promising debut. 8/10

I heard a few tracks from Jagwar Ma on YouTube before buying their new debut album  Howlin, and it got a rave review in NME as well. But it’s a bit of a mixed bag for me. Jagwar Ma are two young Aussies, and they combine late 60s psychedelia with  touches of the Madchester Happy Mondays vibe, plus a modern dance underpinning. When it works, it is great but the album has a few tracks that might be brilliant to dance to in a club or on the beach in Ibiza, but just sound a bit irritating in a kitchen in Camberley! Choose a few tracks to download would be my advice – the best really are very good. I could make a 6-track EP out of the album that would score 9/10 but as it is, the whole thing is a 7/10. Here’s one of the best tracks.

Finally, The National with Trouble Will Find Me  . They’re  a slow burning US band, who have  built up a strong  following over six  albums, with the somewhat morose baritone vocals of Matt Berninger being their most distinctive feature. Their generally mid-paced, clever, multi-layered, emotionally charged yet tuneful songs take a few listens to get into, but their previous three albums have ended up being real favourites of mine. This is another fine album from them, perhaps a little less upbeat than their last (High Violet, which is probably the best starting point for new listeners to the band). I find them hard to describe actually – just listen to this and if you like it, you will like the album. 8.5/10

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