IN BRIEF: A quick overview of some recent international releases

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IN BRIEF: A quick overview of some recent international releases

With so many CDs commanding and demanding attention Elsewhere will run this occasional column which scoops up releases by international artists, in much the same way as our SHORT CUTS column picks up New Zealand artists.

Comments will be brief.

Agnes Obel: Citizen of Glass (PIAS)

This Berlin-based Danish singer-songwriter came to Elsewhere's attention two years ago when French For Rabbits mentioned her previous album Aventine when answering a Famous Elsewhere Questionnaire.

The album title is interesting because there is a beautiful transparent quality to these deftly arranged songs where surface and what lies beyond are given equal weight and polish. Classical listeners will hear layers of pre-minimalist string quartet music here, and those coming from the world of art music will be quickly attuned to the spacious placement of the instruments around her weightless, multi-tracked vocals. Her poetic and frequently skeletal lyrics refer to the natural world, lovers and sin, vague notions of regret and how we define ourselves . . . It is emotional deep and dense, yet delivered with the lightest of touches and radiates in indefinable, delicate and sad beauty.

Stone, by Agnes Obel

Virginia Wing: Forward Constant Motion (Fire)

Mid-tempo but slashing electro-beats are sometimes at the core of music by this South London duo (down from their previous trio iteration) where singer Alice Merida Richards adopts an icy and distant delivery over the busy percussive effects and scratchy sound. At times she brings to mind Eno's delivery on albums like Here Come the Warm Jets. The deliberately disconcerting rhythmic stutter and sudden sonic blasts on material like Grapefruit (which almost reaches for a pop song at some points) might make for some serious adjustments in your expectations. It sounds like it is being restructured before your very ears. Their quirky electro-pop (Miserable World, the treble-heavy Local Loop) is easiest to take on a first hearing, and they make room for some muscle-relaxant breathing space (the one minute Andalucia which leads into the lovely, almost childlike Sonia and Claudette) . . . although Be Contained sounds like a kindergarten song brought in from some techno-future where it's hard to tell the kids from the cyborgs. Baton is a tape loop, sample, collage and space-flight soundscape.

Hard to get a bead on, but repeat plays reward. Not easy though.

Grapefruit, by Virginia Wing

Weyes Blood; Front Row Seat to Earth (Mexican Summer/Southbound)

Weyes Blood is Californian Natalie Mering who apparently has some experimental noise works and odd collaborations (Ariel Pink) behind her . . . but here she comes to us on this album (her fifth?) as a previously unheard artist. And those past ideas are clearly abandoned because this quiet alt.folk singer-songwriter collection wafts in from the ethereal across piano (a variant on Moonlight Sonata/the Beatles' Because on Diary) but sometimes gently nudges towards Lennon's late-Beatles' period towards the end of Used To Be. Elsewhere however she conjures up a more ancient spirit (the contemporary lyrics of Generation Why are tied to a melody which sounds like a Fifties ballad but also centuries old and Celtic) and when a gentle wash of synths come in she eases close to a more grounded Enya.

But at the centre is her gorgeous, clear, beautifully enunciating voice which sings of fear, love lost, yearning and facing the uncertain future. She doesn't shy away from pop (the lowkey but hypnotic Seven Words, the equally fine Away Above) and the title track closer is an enjoyably mad little soundtrack instrumental with some crazy opera voice stomped on by a brass section in the final seconds. Very interesting indeed.

Generation Why, by Weyes Blood

Robbie Williams; The Heavy Entertainment Show (Sony)

The prologue/title track here does seem rather tasteless given the recent attrition of great artists: “Good evening children of cultural abandon, you searched for a saviour, well here I am. But all the best ones are dying off so quickly, while I'm still here . . . enjoy me while you can”. It's all blunt blade irony and self-lacerating satire (later he says he has a house in LA he's still paying for) delivered with merciless thump'n'thrash and is a pastiche piece whose co-writers are the late Serge Gainsbourg, Guy Chambers, Rufus Wainwright . . . It's an unpromising start and somewhat humourless despite its stab at wit. Party Like A Russian aims for social comment on oligarchs (among the co-writers are Prokofiev, there's what the producers take to be stentorian Russian male voices) but the rap-cum-rhymes are clumsy and dogged.

By the end of the third song Mixed Signals (the Killers wrote it) you feel you've been bludgeoned by an almost desperate need to be relevant as much as by Middle American Stadium Rock sonics. If he was looking for another lighter-waving Angel with the vaguely autobiographical Love My Life the song falls short, and celebrating yourself rather than others doesn't quite work.

But good on him for writing songs with titles like Motherfucker (Because he's still a bad boy? Except it's about his kids!), Bruce Lee (cliched post-glam turned up to eleventeen), Pretty Woman (Ed Sheeran getting co-credit) and Sensitive (silly disco-funk balladry). David's Song has a lovely melody, but that's about it.

Nice that Wainwright adds his vocals to their co-writer with Chambers on Hotel Crazy, but the sleazy sound just doesn't quite come off.

Heavy-handed . . . and not as much fun musically as Williams often comes off in his public life. Loved the only live show I've ever seen (and I'm guessing Sensational the final stadium-shaker/“I'm a star” is his new encore), but I couldn't put this aside fast enough.

Love My Life, by Robbie Williams

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