Compared with her debut, a distinct sense of freedom and a playful exuberance sweeps the record, as she reimagines pop’s most joyous decades with a modern twist. Expertly delivered samples imbue nostalgia, especially on Love Again, which borrows from White Town’s ’90s hit Your Woman. As the title suggests, there are nods to the past, with moments resembling Giorgio Moroder interpolated with iridescent production and modern lyrics that centre Lipa’s sexuality, like “all that good pipe in the moonlight” on Good In Bed. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the star whose publicised love-life bubbles over into powdery songs such as Levitating and Hallucinating, an upbeat electro-swing cut. Her biggest triumph is to restore pop’s fizzy optimism, and what better time than now?
GIGATON (Monkeywrench/Universal) ★★★½
“Whoever said it’s all been said, gave up on satisfaction,” Eddie Vedder sings on Who Ever Said, the opening track on the Seattle figureheads’ first studio album in seven years, and the line’s pithy, defiant tone encapsulates the search-and-enjoy mentality that powers this brisk and mostly muscular set.
Pearl Jam left behind the catharsis-turned-orthodoxy of the grunge movement decades ago, picking up the classic rock baton with the vitality and cohesion of 2009’s Backspacer album. Gigaton doesn’t quite match that 40-something benchmark, but the five-piece’s foundation stones are still immaculate. Vedder can effortlessly move from tension to release, even as he punches out every syllable in a line, while rhythm guitarist Stone Gossard funnels arrangements with admirable economy. Seven O’Clock and Quick Escape both have an easy affinity with the aromatic strand of North African-influenced rock long loved by Robert Plant, but Pearl Jam are definitely still good for a propulsive backbeat, as Never Destination and Take the Long Way make clear. Aside from Buckle Up, the diversions don’t jar and the album has an admirable dynamic. There’s no shortage of satisfaction here.
Simon Barker/Scott Tinkler
INTERWEAVE (Kimnara) ★★★★½
No instrument has a more sharply honed edge than Scott Tinkler’s trumpet, which cleaves the air with such reckless ferocity as could split atoms. The brilliant Melburnian seldom visits Sydney or makes records these days, so this one is hugely welcome. It’s one of four albums that master drummer Simon Barker has released simultaneously. Two are solo efforts. This one contains five duets with Tinkler; the fourth, Lines Blend, is the latest instalment from Chiri, the trio of Barker, Tinkler and the extraordinary Korean vocal improviser, Bae Il Dong. With all more than worthy of review, I’ve singled out the aptly titled Interweave due to the telepathic rapport the pair have shared for nearly 30 years and the phenomenal pitch of invention to which they’ve raised their shared artistry. Their improvisations are thrilling in their intensity and brimming with subtleties. Barker and Tinkler never meander amid the rhythmic complexities and joint melodic labyrinths but share keen instincts for dramatic turning-points. Blistering sections suddenly fall off sonic cliffs to the barest whispers, or vice versa, and rests can jolt the listener as much as any notes. Monk made ugly beauty: this is beautiful violence.
IT IS WHAT IT IS (Ninja Tune) ★★★½
The headline here, which may disappoint some, is that there is nothing on Thundercat’s fourth album to match Them Changes – the astonishing and wildly popular track from 2017’s Drunk that brought melancholy and a certain wistful, melodic aesthetic to the visceral oomph of funk. However, It Is What It Is is overall a more cohesive LP than Drunk, while still showcasing Thundercat’s virtuosic talent on bass, and his maturing song-writing. At 37 minutes, this is notably shorter than Drunk, and is a tighter and more focused affair altogether, with less filler and fewer fragmentary “sketches” of songs.
As ever with Thundercat, several distinguished collaborators were enlisted for a number of tracks, with the standouts being the frenetic I Love Louis Cole (with Louis Cole) and Fair Chance (with Ty Dolla $ign and Lil B). Childish Gambino is also involved on the lead single Black Quails. As usual, Thundercat (real name Stephen Bruner) brings a dry sense of hipster humour to proceedings, which is amusing enough, although the record could probably do without the slightly tedious Dragonball Durag. Otherwise, Thundercat confirms himself as a formidably brilliant explorer of funk-pop fusion.
Craig Mathieson is a TV, film and music writer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
John Shand has written about music and theatre since 1981 in more than 30 publications, including for Fairfax Media since 1993. He is also a playwright, author, poet, librettist, drummer and winner of the 2017 Walkley Arts Journalism Award