Albums of the week: Glowing in the Dark, Vida Breve, Skellig
New releases from Django Django, Stephen Hough and David Gray
Glowing in the Dark
The London-based four-piece band Django Django remain as “slippery to categorise” as ever on this excellent fourth album, said Phil Mongredien in The Observer. Like their previous releases, Glowing in the Dark is a “masterclass in blurring genre boundaries”, as “indie song structures are subtly enhanced with clever, deceptive rhythms, propulsive krautrock momentum and splashes of synths”. On Headrush, for example, the sinuous intro is underpinned by a “mighty, Peter Hook-like bassline”, while Waking Up features a “breathy guest vocal from Charlotte Gainsbourg”.
On another highlight, Free from Gravity, the band “heads into psych-pop heights” with Brian Wilson-style vocals and the “spacey electronic melodies” of 1970s German kosmische Musik, said Ludovic Hunter-Tilney in the FT. By contrast, the title track features an “oscillating techno tone” and dance beats. But whatever the genre or style, Django Django invest their music with “vibrant textures and psychedelic colours”, and a “pulsating sense of animation”. It’s all “deliriously enjoyable”.
There is “something for every pianophile” on this “characteristically ingenious concept album” from the British-Australian pianist and composer Stephen Hough, said Hugh Canning in The Sunday Times. Consisting of a series of pieces by great composers, it has as its climax Hough’s own 2018 sonata Vida Breve. The theme linking them is death, starting with Busoni’s famous piano transcription of the chaconne from Bach’s second violin partita, and continuing with Chopin’s “Funeral March” sonata and Liszt’s Funérailles. In the Chopin, Hough’s playing draws on his love of operatic bel canto and is “seamlessly lyrical”, while there’s a “demonically witty glint” to Liszt’s Bagatelle sans tonalité.
His accounts of these works is “arresting”, agreed Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times. His performance of the “colossal” Busoni/Bach piece – a real “cathedral of sound” – is “stunning”. His own sonata “shifts from lacy, harmonically wandering passages” to “stretches of industrious counterpoint, which build to a climax of teeming intensity”.
In the late 1990s, David Gray’s fourth album, the global smash White Ladder, became “as much of a dinner party staple as focaccia”, said Will Hodgkinson in The Times. Since then, he has gone further and further “down his own path”, and it has led to Skellig, a “concept album about a group of monks” who, in AD600, sought hermetic solitude on a rocky outcrop off Ireland’s southwest coast. It sounds odd, but it works. Made up of simple guitar parts, mournful violin and beautiful harmonies, the album is reflective and “warming”.
If all you know of Gray is his “singalong” single Babylon, then “you are missing out on one of the most thoughtful and nuanced singer-songwriters of recent decades”, said Neil McCormick in The Daily Telegraph. Skellig is a “ruminative” album that is ultimately about the tensions between sensualism and asceticism; participation and withdrawal. But “complex” lyrics are set to elegant arrangements adorned with “tinkles of electronica” and “gilded with gorgeous six-part harmonies that come floating in with a spooky loveliness”.