Rock, August 2023

hfnalbum.pngThe National
First Two Pages Of Frankenstein
4AD 4AD0566C; LP: 4AD0566LP

The National have a peculiar chemistry. On 'Tropic Morning News' they generate power, but seem to be looking inward as well as projecting, a feeling reinforced by a subtle layered production. 'Eucalyptus' is slow-building

tension with little release apart from some inspired playing from guitarist twins Bryce and Aaron Dessner, while bassist Scott Devendorf and sibling drummer Bryan probe at the edges of the rock backbeat. On 'New Order T-Shirt' singer Matt Berninger tries to hold onto a memory with, 'I keep what I can of you, split-second glimpses and snapshots and signs' and this bittersweet mood pervades 'Your Mind Is Not Your Friend', a duet with Phoebe Bridgers decorated with piano and violin. MB


Mirror To The Sky
Inside Out 19658777562; LP: 19658777571

In their 1970s heyday, Yes were synonymous with good vibes, but their history since then has been fractious. The 2010s saw the unseemly spectacle of two rival versions of the band and this 'official' incarnation has polarised opinion among fans. All that aside, this double set is a compelling mix of styles from the pastoral, acoustic 'Circle Of Time' to the lengthy prog rock expedition of the title track, which culminates in a lavish orchestral climax. It's a colourful sound with vocal harmonies, spacey keyboard textures and guitarist Steve Howe is on sparkling form. And the single 'Cut From The Stars' sounds, dare one say it, like Yes at their best. MB


Baxter Dury
I Thought I Was Better Than You
Heavenly HVNLP214CD; LP: HVNLP214

Baxter Dury is the son of Ian and makes wry reference to being a 'prisoner of famous parents', but he's a self-possessed artist with a distinctive voice. Over sparse beats from downtempo to funky, and instrumentation including electronics and guitars, he revisits unhappy times at 'posh school', then goes on to crash a car and keep bad company – episodes he captures in vivid, salty, sometimes surreal lyrics. While Dury raps and recites but rarely sings, Madeline Hart's sweet tones frame his narratives with melody. It's an unusual, effective combination and she takes centre stage over acoustic guitar and mellotron on 'Glows', the lovely, redemptive closer. MB


They Watch Us From The Moon
Cosmic Chronicles, Act 1: The Ascension
New Heavy Sounds NHSCD043; LP: NHSLP043X

Kansas band They Watch Us From The Moon take the drop-tuned, furrow-browed riffs of what has been labelled as 'doom' or 'stoner' rock and by adding the female harmony vocals of Luna Nemesis and Nova 10101001 produce a thrilling yin-yang mix of soaring melody and monstrous power. On this first instalment of their 'Sci-fi Space Opera' the overall pace is slow, although 'Space Angel' hits a near funky groove. The album culminates with the astonishing homecoming processional, 'Return To Earth', with the singers intoning, 'Rest your weary head', while semi-comprehensible mission control babble and ecstatic guitar solos add to the sonic overload. MB