Rock, January 2023

hfnalbum.pngArctic Monkeys
The Car
Domino WIGCD455; LP: WIGLP455

Arctic Monkeys' hallmark style has been built on boisterous guitars and singer Alex Turner's sharp observations and sarky delivery. But 2018's Tranquilty Base Hotel & Casino represented a stylistic shift, and The Car finds them venturing further into piano ballads, electronics and orchestration. On 'Mr Schwartz' Turner sings 'Smudging dubbin on your dancing shoes', but this music is a world away from the single of that name, with string arrangements that range from baroque to sumptuous and romantic. Turner croons and often veers into a falsetto that lands somewhere between David Bowie and Marvin Gaye. And while that can sound a tad contrived, The Car is an inspired album on which they explore new territory. MB


Pete Astor
Time On Earth
Tapete TR511; LP: TR511LP

Pete Astor is best known as the cool, erudite singer and guitarist in The Loft and The Weather Prophets in the '80s and '90s, but here he takes stock of the past. 'New Religion' gently swaggers out on a synth hook, its lyrics a mix of Christian iconography and nostalgic imagery from youth culture – a theme Astor also explores on 'Sixth Form Rock Boys'. The poignant 'English Weather' is sketched out by piano and bolstered by a horn section, the music carrying a feeling of loss and longing. But the sardonic 'Undertaker' – 'Let's go down to the undertaker/Put what's left of you in the incinerator' – is one of the funniest songs ever written about death. MB


Fractal Sextet
Fractal Sextet
Alchemy ALCD1040

The main man behind Fractal Sextet is Swiss guitarist and composer Stephan Telen, from instrumental trance rock band Sonar and this group have a similar approach with their intricate, interlocking patterns of guitar and electric piano and electronics billowing in the distance. There are occasional guitar fireworks from Jon Durant, but the musicians essentially play as an ensemble. On 'Slow Over Fast' they subtly realign the rhythms so that the composition seems to gradually shift on its axis. Pick of the set is 'Planet 9', which is reminiscent of Can's Future Days with its rippling piano, mesmeric drumming and Colin Edwin's supple, beautifully poised bass lines. MB


Jack Hues & The Quartet
Epigonal Quark
Dawn Chorus DCRC031 (LP+CD)

Singer and guitarist Jack Hues made his name in '80s popsters Wang Chung but his music with The Quartet is completely different. This live album, which has a raw and immediate sound, sees them joined by members of neo-progressive bands Syd Arthur and Led Bib. With its electric piano and sax, their largely improvised version of Beck's 'Nobody's Fault But My Own', sounds like a rock take on Miles Davis's 'In A Silent Way' and a cover of Talk Talk's 'Myrrhman' runs along bluesier lines. The standout tracks are a tender but robust reading of Robert Wyatt's 'Sea Song' and the high drama of Hugh Hopper's 'Facelift', originally on Soft Machine's 1970 album, Third. MB