Mark Lanegan – Phantom Radio & Gargoyle
Mark Lanegan might be my favourite male singer of all time, with a gravelly cigarettes-and-alcohol baritone that sounds so richly lived-in and is deceptively controlled and flexible. And he looks like his voice too – like a person who’s lived through some dark and troubled times. His pipes have become more brittle with years and these days Lanegan sounds less like he’s about to jump out of the speakers and punch you in the face, and his lower register on Gargoyle is almost Leonard Cohen-esque. But his grizzled vocals are no less compelling for that.
These latest two albums continue the experimentation with electronica and synths that first appeared on the 2012 Blues Funeral, while retaining the trademark dark bluesy vibes and oblique lyrics full of macabre gothic imagery and ruminations on sin, death, love and redemption. Business as usual in other words, but as long as his output remains this strong and consistent I’m not complaining. Now bring on the tour!
Laura Marling – Semper Femina
This British folk singer-songwriter has six albums under her belt at the age of 27; by the time her career is over I might have a separate shelf to accommodate her material, provided physical albums don’t die out and provided she keeps up the good work. She hasn’t had a misstep yet, and this latest – which focuses lyrically on the complex relationships between women and whose title translates as “always a woman” – is probably the most straightforward, relaxed and accessible work to date. It lacks the ambitious compositions and intensity of Marling’s previous albums, but it’s a gorgeous and elegant offering.
Savages – Adore Life
It’s been forever since I got into a new guitar-driven rock band, so this ferocious all-female post-punk foursome is a great find. Apparently, this second album wasn’t as celebrated as their first, and their records don’t come close to the power of their live shows, but I like it a lot. Savages’ apparent influences are easy to name (Joy Division, Gang of Four, Siouxsie and the Banshees) and they’re not the first recent band to mine this particular territory. What always makes or breaks a band for me is the lead singer, and refreshingly Jehnny Beth is not your average boring alternative/indie yelper. Her rich distinctive voice sounds, for the lack of a better word, very womanly, and she has an immensely charismatic vocal presence which is hard to pin down but you know it when you hear it.
Natacha Atlas – Gedida
An early album by the Egyptian-Belgian songstress whose music is a staple in my belly dance class. She’s known for blending traditional Arabic music with the contemporary Western dance beats, and this album is an infectious collection of hip-shaking tunes and epic cinematic vibes, held together by Atlas’ extraordinarily beautiful and expressive vocals. There’s also a couple of left turns, like a gorgeous cover of Mon Amie la Rose and a foray into rapping. Apparently she’s a fantastic belly dancer as well.