Albums of the Week: As Long As You Are, April Bella, Anima Rara
New releases from Future Islands, Emmy the Great and Ermonela Jaho
This week’s three releases include Future Islands’s “excellent” sixth album, an “ambitious and adventurous” record by Emmy the Great and “spine-tingling” work by Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho.
Future Islands: As Long As You Are
“The synthesiser is a curious instrument,” said David Cheal in the FT. From the alienated soundscapes of David Bowie’s Berlin albums to the bouncy synthpop of Erasure or Vangelis’s Blade Runner soundtrack, the synth always seems to carry “a strain or a hint of sadness, remorse, regret, wistful nostalgia, yearning, longing”. That’s certainly the case with this excellent sixth album from the US band Future Islands. Over all 11 tracks, their synthesisers “float, grumble and groove, they make little pleading noises like hungry kittens, but, above all, they haunt”.
If their last LP, The Far Field, was the Baltimore band’s driving album, this one sees them “spinning thrillingly off the tracks” and “reaching for the bottle”, said Damian Jones on NME. “Gone are the instant anthems doused in Samuel Herring’s familiar growl; in come broken ballads racked with haunting memories.” But for all its anguish, the album does feature “both joy and bangers”. Waking, for instance, offers “pulsing basslines and widescreen 1980s synths”.
Emmy the Great: April Bella
Born and raised in Hong Kong, with an English father and Hongkonger mother, Emma-Lee Moss (aka Emmy the Great) found fame in Britain before moving to the US in 2014. This fourth album, written during periods in both New York and Hong Kong, is a “sweet”, almost “childlike” tribute to the city of her birth, said Will Hodgkinson in The Times. It’s a celebration of its chaotic mix of the old and the new, and combines touches of East and West in a way that mirrors the city – “from the elegant Cantonese pop of Mid-Autumn to the prayer bells on Okinawa/Ubud and the rusty Americana of A Window/O’Keefe”.
The “lush and exploratory” music on April incorporates Cantonese vocals and samples of Hong Kong traffic lights into Moss’s folk-pop, said Emily Mackay in The Observer. Dandelions/Liminal, for example, deploys jaunty, bubblegum-pop to explore “American protest seen through the lens of Chinese Buddhism”. It’s an ambitious, adventurous album that is “all the more stirring for never really finding a safe resting place”.
Ermonela Jaho: Anima Rara
Opera lovers are well used to the “blazing intensity, fruity but well-managed vibrato and rounded, copper-coloured tone colour” of the Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho, said Geoff Brown in The Times. Yet the “Jaho effect” continues to “thrill and startle” throughout all 14 tracks on this “spine-tingling album”. Anima Rara is a passionately rendered exploration of the repertoire of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (Puccini’s choice as his Butterfly at its premiere in 1904), and it is magnificently played, with Andrea Battistoni conducting.
Storchio also created four famous roles by three of Puccini’s contemporaries, said Hugh Canning in The Sunday Times: Leoncavallo’s Mimì in La bohème, the title parts in his Zazà and Mascagni’s Lodoletta, and Stephana in Giordano’s Siberia. Here, Jaho also adds extracts from several other roles: Mascagni’s Iris, Boito’s Margherita in Mefistofele, Catalani’s Wally, Verdi’s Violetta and Massenet’s Manon and Sapho. For me, the scene from Lodoletta stands out, but Jaho’s “alliance of music and text” is always compelling.
Opera Rara £12