Review roundup - The best new art rock releases

Philip Kane Flowers & Ledges album artwork

The first album in a decade from the enigmatic Philip Kane is epic in scope and driven by hope.

Flowers And Ledges (Corrupt) is a grandstanding gallery of literate, heartfelt testifying, moving from reverie-rock balladry all the way to cosmic soul. As the title track broods like an outtake from David Sylvian’s Gone To Earth, Kane’s stunning voice sighs ‘You’ve got chocolate around your mouth’ like he’s had an epiphany and makes the idea of “hundreds and thousands” chime with Proustian resonance. Exquisite musicianship ebbs and flows as he shifts from Leonard Cohen to Curtis Mayfield, advocating education and resilience while wishing someone a ‘fucking awful Christmas’. Mark Eitzel and Suzanne Barbieri contribute backing vocals on a grand folly that’s simply drenched in wisdom.

Fiona Brice has provided orchestral arrangements and played violin and piano for everybody from John Grant and Roy Harper to Placebo and Vashti Bunyan. Her intriguing solo debut Postcards From… (Bella Union) arrives with a much-stamped passport, its 10 minimalist instrumentals bearing place-name titles: Berlin, Glastonbury, Dallas, Tokyo. A mostly hushed, haunted record suggests the accumulative angst of Arvo Pärt or Górecki, yet there’s serenity in the psycho-geography. St Petersburg is perfect for sullenly imagining you’re Tolstoy’s Prince Andrei.

Tony Visconti has a more eclectic body of work than even Bowiephiles perhaps realise. He’s curiously produced the Daphne Guinness album, Optimist In Black (Agent Anonyme). If you thought an heiress, fashion icon, actor and friend of Lady Gaga couldn’t make an art-rock offering, you’d be being obtuse. Somewhere between Marianne Faithfull and Grace Jones, this is self-consciously clever and unconsciously odd, sounding both highly 70s and faintly futuristic. ‘We’re old school’, she intones, ‘and that’s cool.’

Less stylised but equally anomic is the seventh Marissa Nadler album, Strangers (Bella Union). While its themes include isolation and the apocalypse, its diverse arrangements allow an undercurrent of contentment, even euphoria, to seep upwards. It’s arguably her most accessible. The re-jigged reissue of the 1979 Holger Czukay album Movies, now retitled Movie! (Gronland), is a more buoyant road trip, finding the Can co-founder in high spirits. Easy to forget that, upon release, this peripatetic anti-pop was acclaimed the equal of contemporaneous Talking Heads and Joy Division landmarks.

Three more notables this time. Excavated from obscurity is How To Fall (Trash Wax) by The Charity Case,
a late 80s London garage-psych outfit whose singer She Rocola brought Nico-esque noir to their bonfire. Elemental (Diamond Dust) by Exedra is an artful marriage of Jeremy Gluck’s words and Darrall Knight’s guitars, the two delivering mercurial magic. Tasteful trio Tetherdown’s deft debut First Flight (Trace) floats on bass-punctuated ambience like Eno after much vino. Imbibe!

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.