In Review

Albums of the Week: J.S. Bach – Goldberg Variations, Shadow of Fear, Hey u x

Three new releases from Pavel Kolesnikov, Cabaret Voltaire and Benee

London-based virtuoso Pavel Kolesnikov has the “Midas touch” as he tackles a baroque masterpiece. Shadow of Fear, one of the finest electronic albums released this year, is up there with Cabaret Voltaire’s best. And after snaring a TikTok viral hit, Benee looks destined to be anything but a flash in the pan.

Pavel Kolesnikov: J.S. Bach – Goldberg Variations 

Just when you thought there were enough recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, another comes along that makes the music sound ”fresh off the page”, said Erica Jeal in The Guardian. The London-based virtuoso Pavel Kolesnikov has tackled the baroque masterpiece on a modern Yamaha piano, but the tone is “soft, rounded and woody, more reminiscent of a fortepiano than a concert grand”. It is a “revelatory” recording which combines intense interiority with almost “kittenish” bursts of playfulness: the variations “soar as if new”.

Whether he is playing baroque, classical or contemporary romantic, the 31-year-old Russian has the “Midas touch”, said Hugh Canning in The Sunday Times. His playing here has the “joy and freshness of a new encounter, imbued with terpsichorean grace and delight”. He “revels in the jig-like rhythmic momentum of Variation 7”, and in the adagio of Variation 25, his playing approaches “the sublime”. There are countless great accounts of this music on harpsichord and piano, but this one is “magisterial”, essential listening.

Hyperion £11.50

Cabaret Voltaire: Shadow of Fear 

You might have thought age would have mellowed Cabaret Voltaire, those “pioneers of electronic music who have been sound-tracking industrial decay since 1973”, said Will Hodgkinson in The Times. But on the evidence of Shadow of Fear, the Sheffield band’s “deeply absorbing” first album since 1994, the opposite is true. The “clanging, metronomic” Be Free features an ominous voice warning that “the city is falling apart”, while the “primitive techno” of Night of the Jackal is “tense enough to induce a panic attack”.

The sole survivor of the band’s original line-up is Richard H. Kirk, and the sound he has created for this “fine” album is a “return to the proto-acid house magnificence of the band’s early ’80s” heyday, said Guy Oddy on TheArtsDesk. Shadow of Fear has “real depth and soul”, offering “raw and disorientating electronica, dub and motorik sounds with bags of punk attitude and a dancefloor-heavy vibe”. It’s up there with Cabaret Voltaire’s best, and is one of the finest electronic albums released this year. 

Mute; £12

Benee: Hey u x  

New Zealander Stella Bennett’s breakthrough track Supalonely became a global lockdown smash in March, thanks to its ubiquity on TikTok, said Michael Cragg in The Observer. Dance videos set to a brief loop from Supalonely were viewed 5.8 billion times, and the song itself racked up 2.1 billion streams. It’s a cracking pop tune, and like the majority of songs on Bennett’s “endearingly careworn debut” album – a “genre-hopping” treat that mixes “woozy alt-rock” with “louche hip-hop” with a “wheezy take on disco” – it manages to be both “breezy and broken”.

“Snaring a TikTok viral hit is the new holy grail in pop music,” said Ludovic Hunter-Tilney in the FT. But Benee, 20, looks destined to be anything but a flash in the pan. Over 13 tracks, she moves “fluently through different styles, from the daydream-like haze of A Little While to sharply scored dance music on Sheesh. “With its imaginative songcraft and deft sense of performance, Hey u x points to a bright future, the upside of a TikTok-dominated world of pop.” 

Republic; £8

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