CD reviews: Aidan Moffat & RM Hubbert, Arctic Monkeys, Giant Haystacks, Adam Stafford, Sweeney Straddles The Sun, Modern Studies

Wednesday, 23rd May 2018, 11:11 am
Updated Wednesday, 23rd May 2018, 2:21 pm

Arctic Monkeys - Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

Alex Turner and pals didn't become the last guitar band to really matter without taking some risks along the way '“ so why not follow up rock god opus AM with a cosmic crooner collection? Composed entirely on piano by the frontman, it's easy to imagine him as John Lennon wafting through his deserted mansion in the Imagine video. Turner anticipates the criticism with the album's opening line 'I just wanted to be one of The Strokes, now look at the mess you made me make,' as the other Monkeys provide a cocktail of melodramatic piano, acid funk guitar and baroque synth arpeggios straight off the Barbarella soundtrack. Coming from one of the world's most muscular rock bands, it is both an act of ridiculous indulgence and a stroke of genius. (FS) ****

Giant Haystacks - This Is All There Is

There's a decidedly punk rock feel to this compilation from defunct Californian trio Giant Haystacks. There's also an alien (to the locals) burr from ex-pat Scots singer Allan McNaughton, adding to the spiky jangle of the Postcard-esque guitars. Influences come from around the world - opener '˜How We Lost The War' is straight from the Bay Area. However, the jerky rhythm of '˜Rebirth Of Our City' draws from Brits like Wire or Gang of 4, while '˜Slack Nail' - the longest tune at almost three minutes - rocks like a slightly antsy Franz Ferdinand. Downloadable at gianthaystacks.bandcamp.com, for a whiff of real nostalgia, it also comes as a cassette with fanzine - just like the good old days. (SMcH) ****

Adam Stafford - Fire Behind The Curtain

Following a break from making intensely angular indie pop songs to produce his 40 minute photo album soundtrack '˜Reverse Drift', Stafford has set his stall somewhere inbetween these with this collection of 13 filmic tracks. As ever taking a series of looped passages of voice and guitar, Stafford builds up insistent and infuriatingly catchy themes that will stick in your head all day. Largely vocal-free, it does take its blueprint from 2013's Scottish Album of the Year-nominated '˜Imaginary Walls Collapse'. From the delicately oriental '˜River Search' to the apocalyptic '˜Museum of Grinding Dicks', these atmospheric vignettes will conjure up their own imagery, and soundtrack the films in your own head. (SMcH) *****

Sweeney Straddles The Sun - Ducks At The Moon

Following an eight-year hiatus between his debut and last year's '˜Tarantula', Jason Sweeney has got prolific all of a sudden. It's as if a dam has burst and a slew of musical ideas have come pouring out. And despite an almost randomness to proceedings at times, there's a roundness to this EP (still containing eight tracks). From the surf metal guitar instrumental title track to closer '˜Robot Baby Broke' s mutant disco, it's a giddying jaunt through Sweeney's imagination, grabbing influences from the likes of the Beta Band and Devo as its catchy hooks burrows their way deep into your subconscious mind. And you get the feeling there's plenty more to come. (SMcH) ****

Aidan Moffat & RM Hubbert - Here Lies the Body

Aidan Moffat is well versed in pushing boundaries, usually of the explicit confessional lyrical variety, so it's hardly surprising to hear fragrant guest vocalist Siobhan Wilson warning 'keep your fingers to yourself' on the opening encounter of his latest collaborative release. '˜Cockcrow' brings together the album's protagonists, former lovers reflecting on their relationship through a series of flashbacks, flash-forwards and cliffhangers.However, following Moffat's previous award-winning '˜Everything's Getting Older' made with Bill Wells, Moffat's faithful partner in this latest narrative endeavour is his old buddy, virtuoso guitarist RM Hubbert. The former EL Hombre Trajeado guitarist brings dexterous, rhythmic playing, tapping and fingerpicking to the party, marking him out as a composer-collaborator to match Wells - no mean feat. (FS) *****

Modern Studies - Welcome Strangers

Modern Studies attracted a lot of admiring glances for their 2016 debut album, '˜Swell to Great', which didn't quite convey how immersive their organic blend of folk, jazz and blues can be in a live setting. Now it sounds like a mere warm-up for this sumptuous follow-up, an album to sink into like a downy duvet. There are echoes of psych folk pioneers Pentangle and Fairport Convention in the burnished brass and soothing harmonies of '˜Get Back Down', a track which takes its time and paces it just right. Emily Scott and Rob St John are soft singers but strong persuaders, while the impeccable work of chamber orchestra The Pumpkinseeds is particularly ravishing on '˜It's Winter', a cosy fireside snuggle worthy of the sensual Kate Bush. (FS) ****

(Reviews by Fiona Shepherd and Stuart McHugh)