Albums of the week: Spare Ribs, Joseph Haydn, Magic Mirror
New releases from Sleaford Mods, Maxwell Quartet, and Pearl Charles
This week’s three new releases are the latest albums by Sleaford Mods, the Maxwell Quartet, and Pearl Charles.
Spare Ribs by Sleaford Mods is a “cutting, witty and maudlin portrait” of pandemic Britain and lockdown paranoia.
The Maxwell Quartet’s second offering devoted to the composer Joseph Haydn is a “wonderful album” with “intoxicating arrangements”.
And Pearl Charles’s Magic Mirror combines “razor-sharp lyrics, confiding, crystalline vocals and nods to classic country rock and soft pop”.
Are Sleaford Mods the most influential band in Britain? When the electro punk duo first surfaced in 2007, said Neil McCormick in The Daily Telegraph, their spoken word invective over punchy dance-style backing – somewhere between “punk rap and grime rock” – sounded singular, “awkward” even. Now, the “thrilling contemporary indie scene” is awash with the same “declamatory” dynamic (albeit with added guitars). And yet the “middle-aged Mods” still stand out from the young crowd, and they are at the top of their “sweary, punky, bilious” game. This “dazzling” new album is among their best.
“Having set out their stall as absurdist chroniclers of the British grotesque, Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn had their work cut out in 2020,” said Will Hodgkinson in The Times. Spare Ribs has a greater emphasis on melody and “singalong tunes” than their previous albums, but the basic ranty formula is the same: Spare Ribs is a “cutting, witty and maudlin portrait” of pandemic Britain and lockdown paranoia; and it’s “captivating”.
Joseph Haydn, String Quartets Op. 74 & Folk Music from Scotland
“Every winter day, I’ve decided, requires a dose of Haydn,” said Geoff Brown in The Times. “He’s music’s vitamin C.” This wonderful album, the Maxwell Quartet’s second offering devoted to the composer, slips “intoxicating arrangements” of Scottish reels, fiddle dances and pipe tunes in between Haydn’s three Op. 74 string quartets. But even without the folk injections, the disc would be “remarkable for the joy and energy” of these Scottish musicians; they prove “ideal interpreters of Haydn’s mischievous jokes, sudden mood swings and lyrical ingenuity”. The “prize peach” is the G minor quartet (known as the Rider for its galloping finale). But the whole thing sparkles and cheers.
There’s a “tangible compatibility” between Haydn’s snappy Viennese classicism and the rustic verve of the Scottish dances, said Ken Walton in The Scotsman. The performances here are paragons of “stylistic finesse, the Maxwell’s precision complemented by moments of aching tenderness”. “The quirky Scots stuff is the icing on the cake.”
Pearl Charles is a singer-songwriter from California with an intriguing backstory, said Dan Cairns in The Sunday Times. At 18 she formed a country duo with Christian Lee Hutson, the artist responsible for last year’s wonderful album Beginners. A few years later, she switched genres, and became the drummer in a garage-rock band. “Happily for us, her decision to go it alone is bearing luscious fruit.” Her new album, Magic Mirror, combines “razor-sharp lyrics, confiding, crystalline vocals and nods to classic country rock and soft pop, with results that are ensnaring and bewitching”.
Charles’s “retro” sonic palette is heavily influenced by the “sun-drenched sounds of 1960s and 1970s California”, said Roisin O’Connor in The Independent. On this “impressive, mature” collection, she incorporates “bright, cosmic synths”, buoyant instrumentation and classic rock motifs, along with “brilliant, subtle flexes of country slide guitar”. And while she toys with setbacks and self-doubt in her lyrics, the album has an overriding sense of optimism and “heady abandon”.