SOUND BITES

Stepping out of their comfort zone

Troubled English folk troubador Keaton Henson (above) has gone fully instrumental for his third album, while American indie rocker Hamilton Leithauser channels Frank Sinatra in his debut outing. -- PHOTO: OAK TEN
Troubled English folk troubador Keaton Henson (above) has gone fully instrumental for his third album, while American indie rocker Hamilton Leithauser channels Frank Sinatra in his debut outing. -- PHOTO: OAK TEN
Troubled English folk troubador Keaton Henson has gone fully instrumental for his third album, while American indie rocker Hamilton Leithauser (above) channels Frank Sinatra in his debut outing. -- PHOTO: RIBBON MUSIC/DOMINO
Troubled English folk troubador Keaton Henson has gone fully instrumental for his third album, while American indie rocker Hamilton Leithauser (above) channels Frank Sinatra in his debut outing. -- PHOTO: RIBBON MUSIC/DOMINO

Folk troubadour Keaton Henson and indie rocker Hamilton Leithauser surprise in their albums

Some singers come to life onstage, fed on adoration; others nestle in the anonymity of seclusion.

News that the reclusive Kate Bush will tour next month for the first time since her only tour in 1979 sparked a reaction reserved for the truly legendary: All 22 dates of her live shows in London's Hammersmith Apollo sold out in - get this - less than 15 minutes.

She may have another successor in the cult department: Keaton Henson may be young - the scraggly Londoner is only 26 - but already, the musician-visual arist-poet has earned a reputation for being extraordinarily gifted and tortured.

Kiwi-shy (he rarely grants interviews), he suffers from stage fright, even as followers hang at his tremulous, angel- silencing croon and lyrical turns of phrase.

His latest move comes from the leftfield: He has abandoned voice completely for his third album, Romantic Works.

Such is the discreet bravura: Instead of staying in his comfort zone and producing yet another spartan folksy release, he's stepped outside and gone classical.

A suite written for cello, piano and woodwind and recorded entirely in his bedroom, it's the soundtrack of an intensely private mind. He sees the shift to classical as "teaching myself a new way of building a song".

Shorn of words, the piece is its own signpost, not unlike the 2011 orchestral record If… by The Coral's Bill RyderJones.

The results are mellifluous yet allusive, providing an entry to his inner sanctum.

Elevator Song was triggered by a pre-concert anxiety attack he had in a lift in Glasgow.

The familiar ringing tone announcing a lift landing comes on innocently at first then gets menacingly louder. The cello, care of Ren Ford, shadows, as a dint of a synth or a cry flits by; so quickly, you barely register it.

When the strings and piano crest at the end, you feel the undertow. It doesn't matter even when you don't know the background to a song's inspiration.

The gentle ivory caresses and mournful strings in Field build up to a transcendence.

Similarly, you are rather taken with the solo debut of Hamilton Leithauser of the estimable New York indie rock band The Walkmen (now on "extreme haitus").

Black Hours is an intriguing amalgam of contemporaneous indie rock with music's earlier influences, such as doo-wop, jazz, blues and rockabilly.

He's backed by a stellar indie roster - namely Richard Swift of The Shins, Morgen Henderson of Fleet Foxes, Amber Coffman of Dirty Projects and Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend - who add their idiosyncratic touches into the mix.

Alexandra stomps to a bar-room beat, while 5AM stretches out with leonine grace.

Leithauser holds the fort as a young Frank Sinatra at an unexpected joint, swigging beer with strangers and then prancing onstage to sing his heart out to a peppering of surprised clients.

Rock/New wave/Raggae

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NIGHTCLUBBING

Grace Jones

Island

****

Grace Jones is the godmother of transgression. A reissue of her 1981 album Nighclubbing shows how far ahead of the curve she's been.

Mixing dub, reggae and disco with insouciance, she piques your curiosity.

The Jamaican goddess toys with gender and image in a half-spoken cover of Flash & The Pan's Walking In The Rain, confessing she "feels like a woman, looks like a man".

Pull up To The Bumper benefits from the killer rhythm section of Sly and Robbie - squelchy and riffy, and altogether very sexy.

The title track - a cover of an Iggy Pop song - struts as Jones pouts. This is a supermodel who doesn't even need to pose to look deadly.

Alternative rock

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HAPPINESS IS

Taking Back Sunday

Hopeless Records

***1/2

Taking Back Sunday are perfecting the art of suspense and climax.

New York's reinvigorated rockers get deeper in the groove this time, after the original line-up reformed for their self- titled 2011 outing.

Vocalist Adam Lazzara snarls on hold-and-release anthems such as All The Way and Flicker, Fade, as drums pound and guitars shred loud and louder then soft.

The album lays its heart out in the open, proclaiming dreams (Better Homes and Gardens) and regrets (We Were Younger Then), but with wisdom earned.

Indie pop

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DAYS OF ABANDON

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart

Fierce Panda/Yebo Music

***

No one can accuse New York’s The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart of not living up to their name. Frontman Kip Berman revels in the moment. Their aptly titled third album cruises through feelings hurt, ameliorated and thrilled.

It’s softer and fuzzier, like running your hand through velvet and finding sandpaper instead. Berman purrs sweetly, whether it’s the minor-key Art Smock, or the jangly and pun-happy Masokissed.

Guest vocalist Jen Goma from Philadelphia collective A Sunday Day In Glasgow plays the feminine foil to Berman’s sensitive-new-age-bloke shtick in the toe-tapper Kelly. It’s sweetly bitter, and a tad precious.

kaichai@sph.com.sg


Albums of the week

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Classical/Folk

ROMANTIC WORKS

Keaton Henson

Oak Ten

****

Chamber pop

BLACK HOURS

Hamilton Leithauser

Ribbon Music/Domino

***1/2

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