October Album Review – St. Vincent, Phoebe Bridgers, Elizabeth and the Catapult and Nothing But Thieves

We promised to feature more female artists in this month’s album review than we did last time and we’ll keep that promise. The picture here is Phoebe Bridger's album but let’s start with St. Vincent and Masseduction.

Annie Clark (who is St. Vincent) is one of the smartest and most interesting artists around today, but I’ve found some of her previous albums admirably clever, but a little cold at times, perhaps too complex for their own good. This new work is being positioned by some reviewers as her “pop” album, and it is certainly more approachable and instant. But it is not exactly Steps; these are songs that take interesting twists and turns, use a vast range of sounds, and head off into unexpected middle eights and interludes. But yes, the tunes are strong, there is humour in songs like Pills, a Giorgio Moroder homage in Sugarboy, as well as a relatively simple and  beautiful ballad Happy Birthday Johnny. This all makes it an enjoyable as well as stimulating listen – it’s still growing on me but is already an 8.5/10 and will be high in the end of year “best of” lists, quite rightly.

Much less complex but also very impressive is Phoebe Bridgers with her debut Stranger in the Alps.  She is a 23 year-old folk-indie-pop singer songwriter from California. Her music is generally quite gentle, with tuneful often acoustic songs, given a frisson by the lyrics, which are very personal and at times certainly don’t fit the innocent folk singer image. For instance, Demi Moore is a gentle guitar ballad which starts with her asking her boy/girlfriend to “take a dirty picture babe”. It’s all rather lovely and dreamy musically but Bridgers keeps listeners on their toes with those lyrics – an excellent debut and 8/10.

Another real discovery is Elizabeth and the Catapult. Elizabeth Ziman is a New York classically trained pianist and composer who has been around a while but with Keepsake she might just move up a couple of notches in the musical league tables.  She can write conventional and strong pop songs like We Can Pretend but she also uses her musical virtuosity to bring in unexpected flourishes like the piano pyrotechnics on Mea Culpa. Her tunes are very memorable – I listened to this straight after St Vincent (see above) and there are similarities, but to be honest Elizabeth is probably a more straightforwardly enjoyable listen for me. Other reference points are Aimee Mann (who I have always loved), Sheryl Crow (for the tunes) and Suzanne Vega – so highly recommended again. You know, we might even go to a 9/10 here.

OK, let’s finish with the boys and a bit of rock. We’ve followed Nothing but Thieves for a few years now and it is good to see their steady growth in popularity, and their second album Broken Machine won’t do them any harm. It is another collection of tuneful but moderately heavy guitar rock, sitting somewhere between indie and metal, not vastly different to their debut to be honest. But one of their primary strengths is the excellent voice of Conor Mason who can turn fairly standard rock songs into something a little more special; he is comparable to Freddy Mercury or Matt Bellamy of Muse in his range and power, and can also sing very sweetly when that is demanded. This also includes their best song to date – Sorry – which is a real mid-tempo “ear-worm” in the best possible sense and is gathering huge traction on Spotify and YouTube -  8.5/10


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