So there's a new Slowdive album in 2017; it almost seems too pure for this sinful Earth, but I'll take it.
Of course, you don't want a Slowdive album compromised by two decades of cynicism and the world generally going down the shitter, so it comes as a relief that Slowdive, though recorded last year, could have been from 1994, a missing link between Souvlaki and Pygmalion, perfectly preserved in amber and discovered just when we need it most. Slowdive shouldn't be penalised for sticking to what works, because it does work; there hasn't been a time between their formation and now when their simple yet layered and meticulous compositions wouldn't have seamlessly blended into the musical landscape aesthetically while standing out in quality. Though it's no mere nostalgia trip, Slowdive nonetheless serves as a reminder of a time when there was assumed to be preordained limits on human ego, hubris and stupidity - that if we weren't already as low as we could go, we'd at least know when we got there. It's the album we need right now, even if it's not the one we deserve.
A recently posted Instagram photo of Benjamin Booker from Christmas 2005 shows Booker with a Stratocaster. "My first Fender! White for Jimi and Kurt. Smashed on stage at Lollapalooza in the summer of 2014." Booker believes music is eternal, but instruments are ephemeral. That, or he just likes smashing shit. In any case, Booker embodies Cobain's punk spirit while being a student of classic rock, soul and blues. The sound of his debut could be compared to that of Chuck Berry fronting Nirvana, although his voice defies easy comparison. On Witness, Booker tempers the garage-punk sound on which he built his name, favouring those older influences, especially on the gospel-infused title track. On his debut, Booker sang that "the future is slow coming", which recalled "A Change is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke (who is evoked on Witness in the string intro to "Believe"). He wasn't contradicting Cooke's message, but adding "it's gonna take longer than we thought". Booker is the change he wishes to see in the world, and Witness is the sound of him settling in for the long haul.
A band that released its first album in 1996 shouldn't sound this vital in 2017. Hell, not in 2007. Having got this far with only one genuine aberration (2010's Transference), Spoon has earned the right not to be expected to still deliver era-defining albums and only needs to vary its sound just enough to avoid staleness.
Hot Thoughts incorporates synth elements that have existed in the Spooniverse (I'll see myself out) since Britt Daniel and Dan Boeckner's Divine Fits, but wisely doesn't mess with what's always worked about Spoon. Spoon's best songs are low key and moving in an esoteric way. "I Ain't the One" carries on this tradition with its simple keyboard chord sequence and swirling synth. Likewise, the centrepiece and the closing track, which are of a piece: "Pink Up", a slowly building composition of keys and thick percussion and "Us", a meditative brass jam on the former and a great finish to an album that consistently delivers and occasionally surprises.
Upon his rediscovery in the early 60s, Son House cheerfully exclaimed that hadn't touched a guitar in 20 years. The two young guys who found him had to reteach him to play in the style they'd learnt from him in the first place. On The Complete 1965 Sessions, he made multiple mistakes and lacked the deft touch he had 30 years earlier. What he did have, besides his perfectly preserved voice, was a renewed passion for the music, which he channeled every time his fingers touched the strings.
Technical ability is not the point of that analogy - Spaltro has no lack - but her singing and playing are similarly resonant. The entirety of Tender Warriors Club is Spaltro alone and acoustic, with extra layers of vocals the only overdubs. In this way it recalls her early lo-fi recordings, and it's something I didn't know I needed after she showed what she could do with a full band on her first studio album Ripely Pine (2013) and its equally strong follow-up After (2015). Tender Warriors Club seamlessly fuses the intimacy of that early stage of her career with the improved songwriting chops of her more polished recent work. The EP relies little on effects, but its two best songs use them pointedly: "Heaven Bent" leaves space at the end of phrases for the reverb to perceptibly decay, and later adds delay for a more pronounced effect; "We Are No One Else" makes further use of reverb, allowing multi-tracked vocals to build to a near-cacophony before dying out suddenly.
Tender Warriors Club is no mere stop-gap or house clearing exercise, but a cohesive and fully realised release, and another notch in the belt of an already accomplished young songwriter.