Music reviews: Little Red is riding high
Reviewed this week: Katy B; Paximo Park, Ásgier; Broken Bells
Llittle Red (Colombia) ***
There really must be something in the water in Croydon. The illustrious BRIT School of Performing Arts and Technology in the satellite town south of London, best known for Kate Moss and the 'Croydon facelift', has spawned the eclectic talents of Amy Winehouse, Jessie J, Leona Lewis, Katie Melua, Kate Nash and Adele, to name just a handful.
Add pop, garage and dubstep crossover artist Katy B to those, and you have a comprehensive roll call of the best exponents of female pop in the last decade.
Katy B burst into the charts in 2010 with her hit Katy on a Mission, followed by her debut album On a Mission in 2011, which reached number two in the UK. The flame-haired sensation made an immediate impact, likened to "a tomboyish Kirsty MacColl on her way to a rave."
Katy returns to the fray a little older, wiser and certainly with a lot more to say. She sets out her mature dance-pop stall straight away with Next Thing and lead single 5am. Rather than tick all the predictable boxes with another collection of club bangers, Katy suffuses the songs with a range of complex emotions.
Crying for No Reason is a touching torch song for troubled times. Rather than frantically waving a glow stick in the air, Little Red is a much more reflective and melancholic suite of songs.
The only major quibble with this release is that the deluxe edition features a whopping seventeen tracks, which certainly constitutes excellent value for money, but Little Red still has its fair share of filler.
The album falls well short of being a masterpiece, but there's enough evidence here to suggest that it could well be just a matter of time. The ginger chanteuse might just inherit the earth.
Key Tracks: Crying for No Reason, 5am, All My Lovin'
Geordie quartet play it safe
Too Much Information (V2) ***
Newcastle's Maximo Park are the latest band to jump on the micro-brewing beer bandwagon, craftily timed with the release of their fifth album, and their first for V2 after leaving the electronic-based Warp label.
To mark the occasion, the group have created a new craft ale, along with Tyneside's Mordue Brewery. The brew is titled No 5, and is also a strong 5pc alcohol abv.
The Paul Smith-led quartet have enjoyed considerable success with three top ten albums. They've refined their pop sensibilities sharply for their fifth album, dropping a lot of their entertaining noisy bluster of old, which may disappoint some of their long-term fan base.
There are some fine moments peppered through Too Much Information and the way Smith sings in his own accent is highly endearing, but it doesn't quite hang together as a completely compelling whole.
Maximo Park were a little more effective when they looked and sounded like a slightly deranged gangs of droogs from A Clockwork Orange. Playing it a little safer doesn't really suit them so much. How it all fares at a show in Whelan's next month, which is a tiny venue by their headlining standards, could still prove to be very interesting.
Key tracks: Leave This Island, Drinking Martinis
Silence never sounded so good
IN THE SILENCE (ONE LITTLE INDIAN) ****
Björk, The Sugarcubes and Sigur Rós have ensured that Iceland punches way above it's weight and tiny population when it comes to music.
A 21-year-old called Ásgier Trausti has gone and trumped them all, setting astonishing new records in his native land and getting labelled "a one man One Direction".
The best-selling album in Icelandic history has spawned three number one singles, which isn't bad going for a country ravaged by a recession.
John Grant has helped Ásgier translate his songs into English with an eye on the international market. The real star is his incredible voice, which will strike a chord with fans of José González and our very own James Vincent McMorrow.
Ásgeir looks set to be Iceland's biggest musical export since Björk, so it might be an idea to snap up tickets for his April Dublin and Galway shows sooner rather than later.
Key Tracks: King and Cross, Torrents
Broken Bells loud on chimey goodness
AFTER THE DISCO (COLOMBIA) ***
2014 will be the year of the Mouse. Or to be more precise, Brian Burton aka Danger Mouse.
The ultra-hip producer will soon be very much on the pop culture radar, as he has been beavering away producing the forthcoming U2 album, which is expected to drop around April and become one of the most talked about and forensically analysed releases of the year.
Burton tees himself up nicely for the inevitable wave of over exposure with the release of his second collaborative album with James Mercer of The Shins under the moniker of Broken Bells.
After the Disco is as immaculately and beautifully produced as you'd expect from a man who has sprinkled his sonic fairy dust all over numerous records by everyone from Beck to The Black Keys.
At its best, Burton and Mercer have fashioned some of the best dreamy sensual pop since the Gallic genius of Air's Moon Safari back in the mists of 1998, but unfortunately, After the Disco is too slight and uniform of tone to make any impact.
Danger Mouse's Rome album with Daniel Lippi, Jack White and Norah Jones was much better. Now, let's see what he can conjure out of U2.
Key Tracks: Holding On For Life