Soothing, warm beats dispel the ghosts of Grant's past
Album Review: John Grant Pale Green Ghosts (Bella Union) ****
The wretchedness of substance addiction pockmarked much of John Grant's early life and provided his acclaimed solo album, The Queen of Denmark, with a rawness that marked it out from the pack.
But two years ago, when everything appeared to be looking up for the former Czars frontman, he was diagnosed with HIV.
The trauma of this shattering discovery and, perhaps the hostility he once experienced as a gay man in his native Colorado, are the likely sources of the pain he sings about in the album's astonishing closer, Glacier.
This is confessional songwriting of a particularly intimate kind that draws the listener deep into Grant's world.
Yet, while there is much anxiety on this album, there is a real sense of contentment, too.
Where his first one was made with the help of Texan alt.folk heroes Midlake, this is the product of a collaboration with Icelandic electronica outfit Gus Gus and was recorded in Grant's adoptive home of Reykjavik.
And the result is a batch of songs composed from warm synths and disembodied beats and are both soothing and beguiling.
Lovely backing vocals are provided by Sinead O'Connor.
Grant used to listen to her crystal clear vocals while still a young man and she provided a striking cover of The Queen of Denmark on her excellent recent album so there's a neat symmetry to her appearance here.
More importantly, there's a lovely interplay between the pair's vocals. Might a Grant-O'Connor tour be too much to ask?
KEY TRACKS Glacier; Blackbelt