Review roundup - the best new art rock releases

Chris Roberts samples the new releases on the prog/rock boundary, including Robyn Hitchcock, Thurston Moore, Feist, Jah Wobble & The Invaders Of The Heart, Fader, and Sleep Party People

Robyn Hitchcock album artwork

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Robyn Hitchcock may have run out of album titles but his 21st, which he describes as “an ecstatic work of negativity”, confirms that he’s still the Archduke of art rock.

Robyn Hitchcock (Yep Roc) is a typical (for him) yet surreal (for anyone else) buffet of psychedelia, folk and country, its sharp, serrated songs exploring science fiction, Sylvia Plath, extinction and empathy. There’s a reflection on his late father on Raymond And The Wires which displays that Hitchcockian twist of pulling emotion and epiphany from the jaws of weirdness. A four-decade career from The Soft Boys onwards has yielded countless great moments, and this Nashville-recorded nugget is shiny with more.

Thurston Moore has of late decided that more is more, and since the “hiatus” of Sonic Youth played with everyone from The Can Project to Sparks. His most regular band features long-time drummer Steve Shelley and My Bloody Valentine bassist Deb Googe. They brought their Rock n Roll Consciousness (Caroline) to the mean streets of Crouch End, where, implausibly, Adele producer Paul Epworth helmed this sprawling, expansive fusion of chaos and charm. Wildly exploratory, mysteriously spiritual and rather like a detuned Television resurrecting No Wave, it’s held together – and aloft – by the players’ fluid confidence.

Canadian award-magnet Feist returns after six years’ absence with her fourth foray, Pleasure (Polydor). The arrangements are raw and sparse beneath keening vocals: she lets you hear each guitar string vibrate. Not every song soars but there’s an intimate immediacy redolent of PJ Harvey’s early work. Jarvis Cocker provides a spoken-word cameo on Century, equal parts Gainsbourg and Betjeman.

Honouring an even more durable British institution, Jah Wobble & The Invaders Of The Heart’s The Usual Suspects (3Ms) sees the musically well-travelled former PIL bassist recording fresh versions of highlights from his unorthodox career. As well as essentials like Public Image, there are artful takes on the movie magic of Midnight Cowboy and Get Carter. Any doubts as to the validity of the project are scotched by his band’s insanely fine feel.

You’ll remember 80s ceiling-dwelling synth pop stars Blancmange. Frontman Neil Arthur links with John Foxx/Wrangler electronica whizz Benge as Fader, whose First Light (Blanc Check) evokes the darker moods of what’s reductively represented as a happy clappy musical decade. Songs like I Prefer Solitude and Laundrette channel neglected acts like The Sound and Comsat Angels while very stylishly dressed in today’s sonic garb.

Conversely, hysteria infuses Sleep Party People’s Lingering (Joyful Noise), where members of Air and Antlers guest with Danish all-rounder Brian Batz. The relentless, manic euphoria disorientates. One imagines it’s meant to.

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.