New releases for 31 May 2024

The first of this week’s sparklers is Gravity Stairs, the eighth album from Crowded House, on which the band’s current incarnation – Neil Finn, Nick Seymour, Mitchell Froom, and Finn’s sons Elroy and Liam – prove to be as sharp as ever, feeling musically adventurous and still capable of reaching the staggering highs that have made them an international favourite. It’s the act of climbing those figurative ‘gravity stairs’, inspired by a heavy stone staircase near where Finn holidays, that he likens to his own mindset as a creator.

When Richard Thompson began writing songs for his latest album, Ship to Shore, he was instinctively drawn to his own musical roots, employing them in the service of fashioning a deep and diverse 12-track collection that pulls from various styles, genres and eras, but remains unmistakably Richard Thompson. There’s the rumbling, Motown-style rhythm that propels ‘Trust’, and the straightforward riff-rock of ‘Turnstile Casanova’. The drone-y ‘The Old Pack Mule’, an “old man’s song” that takes musical cues from 1600s-era European music, and ‘Life’s a Bloody Show’, an ode to “snake-oil salesmen and hucksters” that floats on a glammy, cabaret-like melody that’s “almost like a parody of a Noel Coward song, or something from Berlin in the 1920s,” as Thompson says.

Arooj Aftab makes the night the focus of her latest nine-song collection. Entirely in her own voice and through her own story, she delves into the multi-faceted, bold and fascinating realm that comes to life after dark. Some nights are for falling in love, some are for solitude and introspection, some are for being annoyed at a forced social gathering – and so go the stories of Night Reign. The album features new friends like Cautious Clay shredding on flute, Moor Mother echoing Aftab’s sentiment of how cruel the world is, and Chocolate Genius aka Marc Anthony Thompson lending his tender sensibilities to a song about being grounded. Long-time collaborators Petros Klampanis and Maeve Gilchrist also continue their musical partnership as core members of Arooj’s musical family. The resulting new music again showcases Aftab’s striking ability to build a thing of beauty from distinct elements.

Bat For Lashes’ new album The Dream of Delphi is an ode to motherhood created in LA, Natasha Khan’s second home, during the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s a sonic archive of a time when Natasha gave birth to her daughter Delphi – named after the site of the Greek oracle, the ancient future-teller. The record weaves together ten song-poems, documenting the polarity of navigating both an exterior world that was seemingly turning upside down while experiencing the profoundly personal and transformational early moments of mothering Delphi. The music became Natasha’s sanctuary, born out of stolen trips to the studio, where each track was improvised and completed in a few hours and chronicles her diary-like offerings over a period of two years.

Good Grief is the first new solo album in 25 years from songwriter and producer Bernard Butler. Between then and now, Butler has ventured into the world of pop songwriting and producing, including two seminal albums with folk musician Sam Lee, a Mercury-nominated project with actor Jessie Buckley plus an eight-million-selling, Grammy-winning record with Duffy, as well as working with Bert Jansch, Ben Watt (Everything But the Girl), The Libertines and Tricky. Of returning to solo work after two and a half decades, Butler says: “For a good while I was scarred and I was scared. I was happily distracted and joyously involved with so much music. I realised just being there was more than I had ever hoped for.

Our release of the week is In This City They Call You Love, whose 12 outstanding songs include some of the finest ballads Richard Hawley has ever written, which can be described as ‘vintage Hawley’. Gorgeous melodies and arrangements are accompanied by Hawley’s emotive and sonorous voice, which sounds better than ever, making this a crowning moment in a hugely successful recording career of almost 25 years.

Richard Hawley - In This City They Call You LoveCrowded House - Gravity StairsRichard Thompson - Ship to ShoreArooj Aftab - Night ReignBat For Lashes - The Dream of DelphiBernard Butler - Good Grief

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