Summer Album Review with NAO, Michael Kiwanuka and Tegan & Sara

We missed our June album review for some reason, so this weekend we have a double-header to round up some of the most noteworthy releases of the last couple of months.

When I first saw NAO mentioned with an album titled For All We Know, I was surprised that the National Audit Office had released a electro soul / R&B album! But no, although Google gets a bit confused, this NAO (sometimes Nao) is a 28-year-old female Nottingham / London singer-songwriter, born Neo Jessica Joshua. R&B is not one of our favourite genres, to be honest, but this is a very impressive debut from a talented artist – both as songwriter and singer. It’s in the main smooth, tuneful and poppy enough to be very pleasant background music, but the use of electronics, distorted vocals and generally interesting stuff going on in the background (technical term there) means it replays closer listening too.  There are some funkier tunes as well as the laid-back tracks and I did find myself gyrating gently whilst writing this review… that must deserve an 8/10.

 

We liked Michael Kiwanuka’s debut back in 2012, giving it 7/10, but thought it was a bit bland and Radio 2 at times. His long-awaited follow-up Love & Hate is much more ambitious and generally impressive, and is winning a lot of excellent reviews, with good cause. To start with a ten-minute long track (Cold Little Heart – see below for a live version) is brave. Almost 5 minutes of virtually instrumental music that sounds like Dark Side era Floyd (in a tuneful moment) then flows into a lovely, emotional mid-tempo song that instantly sounds like a classic. It’s a stunning and lovely start to the album, but you’re shaken immediately by track 2, Black Man In A White World, a gospel and soul-influenced number that (obviously) has a pretty direct message and would not have sounded out of place on a late period Temptations album.  It’s hard to categorise Kiwanuka – there are many influences here as you can tell just from those first two songs. Retro but contemporary folk-soul-jazz-pop maybe, but it’s generally excellent and well worth checking out.  8.5/10 

 

Regular readers may remember the controversy when we threated to give Tegan and Sara’s 2013 album Heartthrob our first ever 10 out of 10 rating, calling it the “best pure pop album since Abba”. We settled on 9.5 in the end. Well, they are back with Love You To Death and it is very much more of the same, with both the positives and negatives associated with that approach. It really is remarkably similar to the last album, and a cynic might say some of the tracks sound like leftovers that weren’t quite good enough to get onto Heartthrob. Having said that, there are still great hooks, tunes and pop moments – 100x (see video below) is a lovely piano ballad, although even here you really want it to develop more. It cries out for the big orchestral climax or maybe even a bridge into a dance-floor climax - but it just stops. An obsession with keeping songs to around the 3-minute mark? Not a bad thing maybe, but at times, you long for a bit more variety. We’re being super-critical here, and it is still a good album, but you can feel our disappointment,

Finally, it would have been 8/10 but loses a Value for Money half mark for only being 31 minutes long. So 7.5/10

A final note here. We love Metacritic, which aggregates reviews and is a great guide to finding good stuff – music, films, TV etc. But this is one of those rare occasions when the wisdom of crowds and the principle of averaging does not apply.  Metacritic’s aggregate score makes this a better album than Heartthrob, scoring 79 against the prior album’s 75. But it’s simply not better.

Now we suspect that is because some reviewers were confused by the change of style for Tegan & Sara that Heartthrob represented and therefore mis-judged it brilliance.  So it got some really quite poor reviews (4/10 in Q Magazine, for instance!) Now that everyone knows how well Heartthrob did (commercially and artistically), no-one is going to make the same mistake again, so we get more of a “herd” view that the new album is good – which it is. But not as good as Heartthrob.

Discuss this:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *