BBC Album Reviews: Some of the Best, part two

Continuing on from yesterday’s first ten picks, here’s ten more standout examples of music reviewing on the BBC.

(Nb these are all from the period I edited the section – summer 2009 until the service’s cancellation this week. Prior to my arrival, the service was run by Somethin’ Else, under the guidance of a fine chap by the name of Chris Jones. A skilled writer – I’d have liked to have kept him amongst my contributors, but it didn’t work out – Chris has a number of BBC reviews to his name (568 to be precise). The quality control under SE was inconsistent, though, as evidenced by exploring the reviews archive. The company makes great radio – Now Playing, Gilles Peterson, Mayo and Kermode, Jazz on 3 – but running this service wasn’t quite its forte.)

Lovely reviews, below…

Fraser McAlpine reviews Elbow’s Build a Rocket Boys!
“There isn’t even a palpable air of triumph to proceedings; no more so than usual, anyway. Elbow are a classier act that that. They do what they’ve always done: construct billowing repetitive structures out of tightly-controlled ideas – twisty guitars, razor-bass, clockwork piano, shakes and rattles and finger-clicks – and then invite a bearlike man with a helium roar to fill them with his scuffed and maudlin love letters.”

Greg Moffitt reviews Hawkwind’s Blood of the Earth
“Occasional Hawkwind collaborator and all-round synth genius Tim Blake is the one weaving the electronic fabric which holds the album together, and his flourishes span from ethereal and entrancing to sinister and unsettling with masterful ease. It’s just a question of balance. There’s not a whole lotta rock. None of the three-chord warp drive needed to take this into orbit. Certainly the eerie atmospheres that the band once conjured like so many cosmic wizards are nowhere to be seen or heard…”

Hari Ashurst reviews Julia Holter’s Ekstasis
“Holter balances her mostly zoned-out atmospheres with a couple of moments of ecstatic release. The biggest of these is In the Same Room – the most conventional and striking moment on the album. For the first three minutes the song unfurls just like a pop song. Electronic beats push a steady momentum while Holter playfully darts around two of the record’s strongest hooks. Small details gather and drive towards a climax that doesn’t quite happen – rather, the song ebbs and slips dreamily back into the pretty soundscapes that characterise the rest of Ekstasis.”

Andrew Mueller reviews Giant Sand’s Blurry Blue Mountain
“Blurry Blue Mountain is a warm, unassuming album, the kind of record made by someone long past trying to impress anybody – which, as is the perverse way of these things, makes it all the more impressive. Gelb’s songs are, as ever, adroitly trimmed to the limitations of his voice, whether the Tom Waits-ish lament Chunk of Coal, the hungover duet with Lonna Kelley on Lucky Star Love, or the half-spoken Ride the Rail, a romp through the legend of the Molly Maguires, which recalls the modern historical narratives of Corb Lund and Patterson Hood.”

Everett True reviews The Black Angels’ Phosphene Dream
“Whereas before, The Black Angels’ albums – great as they were – were mostly centred around one incredible track (most noticeably The First Vietnamese War from the 2006 debut album Passover), Phosphene Dream stuns by its quality of depth. In Bad Vibrations, the balls-out River of Blood, Haunting at 1300 McKinley and several others, The Black Angels have written a series of rock anthems to match both the ghosts of the past and tribal-leaders of the present. The title is a reference to PH3, a toxic and explosive gas. It’s suitable, trust me.”

Laura Barton reviews Sharon Van Etten’s Epic
“There is something special about Van Etten’s voice. It is neither the sort of fey, delicate wisp nor the sour, brittle twist we have come to expect from female folk singers; there is a weight and a gravel to it, evocative of She Keeps Bees or early Cat Power. It’s nice to hear a female artist singing so much from the belly, even, at times, with a stirring kind of anger – as in the rollicking Peace Signs. But even elsewhere, on the country lament of Save Yourself, for instance, or the free-floating haze of DsharpGg, there is always a sense of strength to Van Etten, something strong-boned and muscular, which marks her out from her contemporaries.”

Lloyd Bradley reviews Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of
“The album is all about love in its many manifestations: joy (To Zion and Nothing Even Matters); pain (I Used to Love Him); disappointment (Doo Wop and Lost Ones); and optimism (Can’t Take My Eyes Off You). Sometimes it’s intensely personal (Ex-Factor), or takes a wider perspective (Everything Is Everything and Every Ghetto, Every City), or might even be an attack on her former bandmates (Superstar and Forgive Them Father). In every case, though, there’s an astuteness and sensitivity disproving the notion that hip hop audiences have only two speeds – radical or licentious. Hill’s poetry assumes a liberating intelligence among her listeners, to be repaid as they follow her unflinchingly into some of the more intimate aspects of her life.”

Ian Wade reviews The 2 Bears’ Be Strong
“Touches of skastep (a genre I’ve just invented) on Heart of the Congos, and country on Time in Mind, guarantee proceedings are never monotonous; these tangents also provide the pair’s considerable songwriting chops with a nice stretch. The utopian existence of the disco is but a fleeting temporary state, and so beneath the optimistic ‘dance your cares away’ vibe there’s also an element of the real world outside the club: Work acknowledges that times are tough, and while you have big dreams you need to actually, er, work at them.”

John Doran reviews Grace Jones’ Nightclubbing
“All of her covers are astutely chosen; Bill Withers’ Use Me and Flash and the Pan’s Walking in the Rain are canny reworkings and, as with all good covers, the style in which they are reworked becomes a statement in itself… The album’s undoubted centrepiece is an original composition and a work of cocksure funk disco genius. Pull Up to the Bumper remains a bona-fide dancefloor filler and one powered by a delicious irony at that. Jones’ fanbase at the time was mainly comprised of white gay men, who idolised this chiselled, masculine woman who sang unashamedly and quite obviously about the joys of an, ahem, alternative sexual practice for her, that wasn’t so alternative for them.”

Kev Kharas reviews The Fall’s Your Future Our Clutter
“You don’t last as long as The Fall have without learning a few things. Things like how many times you have to play the same riff before it becomes invincible, and how long you have to spend barking at people before they start treating you like a hero. Mark E. Smith is 371 in dog years. He has been barking forever, and, as The Fall enter their 34th year with their 28th studio album, a hero many times over: looping in and out of critical approval as endlessly as the snarling, nagging guitars that have underpinned his scornful non-sequiturs for decades.”

More BBC album reviews, here.

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