Albums of the week: Collapsed in Sunbeams; The Wide, Wide River; Well-Tempered Clavier
New releases by Arlo Parks, James Yorkston and the Second Hand Orchestra, and Piotr Anderszewski
“Hotly tipped” Arlo Parks justifies the hype with her captivating “woozy, bluesy pop-soul” debut album.
For his tenth solo record, Fife songwriter James Yorkston creates the “warm, relaxed feel” of an improv session in a cosy pub.
And Piotr Anderszewski, the great Polish pianist, turns his attention to Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier for the first time.
Collapsed in Sunbeams
Arlo Parks is a “hotly tipped” 20-year-old from west London, said Dan Cairns in The Sunday Times. On this, her captivating “woozy, bluesy pop-soul” debut album, she more than justifies the hype. Her songwriting is lyrically sophisticated –mixing “societal reportage with intimate diarising” – while her “melodic lilt, conversational vocals and innate empathy ensnare you from the start”. This is music full of “compassion and wisdom”; it “gets under your skin and stays there”.
Parks may be the “voice of Gen Z”, said Georgia Evans on NME, but she is far more than that. Collapsed in Sunbeams is a “universal collection of stories that’ll provide solace for listeners of all ages and backgrounds for decades to come”. This is music that offers a “warm hug” of reassurance in dark times. But soothing as the sound is – with that soft neo-soul, the use of acoustic guitar, and Parks’s honeyed voice – it is also “quietly subversive”. The album plays with received ideas around sexuality and mental health; and it marks the arrival of a major talent.
James Yorkston and the Second Hand Orchestra
The Wide, Wide River
For his tenth solo album, the “soulfully voiced, folk-tinged” Fife songwriter James Yorkston took a big creative risk, said Will Hodgkinson in The Times. Having travelled to Sweden to work with producer Karl-Jonas Winqvist, he adopted a semi-improvised approach, and invited a loose collective of instrumentalists (the “Second Hand Orchestra”) to accompany his songs after only one or two listens. But wonderfully, it works – from the unexpected instruments popping up on We Test The Beams to the harmonising chorus on Choices, Like Wide Rivers. “Ringing out with warmth and humanity, this is an album whose appeal lies in its imperfections and chance moments.”
Yorkston’s last album took him five years to make; on this one he finished four songs on the first day, said David Smyth in the London Evening Standard. He calls this approach “castings of the net”, and it creates the “warm, relaxed feel” of an improv session in a cosy pub. Even when the subject matter is bleak, “everyone sounds like they’re enjoying themselves”.
J.S. Bach – Well-Tempered Clavier
There’s “joyous” news for Bach devotees, said Andrew Clements in The Guardian: the great Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski has turned his attention to The Well-Tempered Clavier for the first time – with “compelling and hugely rewarding” results. Yet rather than record all 48 preludes and fugues in Bach’s two books, Anderszewski has picked just 12, all from Book II. Purists may baulk at hearing the music presented in what might seem a disruptively wilful order. But they “ought to be convinced by the sheer intelligence and lucidity of the playing, its immaculate phrasing and minutely graduated range of tone”.
Anderszewski knows exactly what he’s doing, agreed Harriet Smith in Gramophone. His selection of pieces is “less of a box of Quality Street to be consumed slumped on the sofa and more of an invitation to a cocktail party of great sophistication”. His chosen sequence is both “natural-sounding and innately refreshing”, and his phrasing is full of lightness, playfulness and “irresistible positivity”. This is a glorious recital, “as compelling as it is beautifully recorded”.