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50 great tracks for February from David Bowie, Waxahatchee, J Hus and more | Music


Month’s best music January

Katie Crutchfield got sober before making her fifth album as Waxahatchee. The resulting clarity shines through Fire, the first song from the extraordinary album Saint Cloud, out in March. Not only is it sparser than her prior work, trading rocky exuberance for a spindly front-porch meditation that foregrounds her gorgeous southern accent, but it also conveys the shock of seeing life and one’s own actions clearly. Prone to running and maintaining a facade to deflect intimacy, Crutchfield anxiously comes to terms with trust in a new relationship, her heightened state conveyed in a nervous falsetto. “I can learn to see with a partial view,” she sings as the melody starts rolling and the song’s textures soften. “I can learn to be easy as I move in close to you.” LS





Jeff Parker.



Jeff Parker. Photograph: Jim Newberry

Tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson’s Black Narcissus is a slow-swinging, nocturnal number that teeters from louche to lonesome between Henderson’s breathy melody and Herbie Hancock’s soft piano comping. What Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker adds in his take on this jazz standard is inimitable swagger. Straightening out the groove into a woozy, J Dilla-style beat, he stacks the hearty bassline with a synthesiser and unapologetically thrusts the melody into the light. His own playing is a suggestive background presence, but his arrangement is a poignant tribute to and radical reimagining of the original. AK

The Brighton band reinvent the Pixies’ loud-quiet-loud trademark with meteorological force. Dana Margolin and co swap muttered, malevolent verses with sudden blasts of swashbuckling noise, as if commanding an intermittently calm and aggressive sea. It’s hard to remember the last song that unsettled like Sweet, particularly once you delve into Margolin’s lyrics about depressive codependence, which she delivers with sullen, blunt force. Anyone who misses Nick Cave’s devilish side is well served here. LS

You couldn’t call Disq original: they evidently love Pavement so much they probably have tattoos of Stephen Malkmus’s face hidden on their bodies. But this teenage quintet from Wisconsin burst with joie de vivre. Their debut London shows the other week were fantastic – ragged yet coordinated – and their terrific second single does all the good bits from Pavement. It keeps threatening to fall apart, but then the band pull the guy ropes and the structure returns to its proper shape. Fantastic stuff, and their debut album, due in the spring, is a cracker. MH





Meg Remy of US Girls.



Meg Remy of US Girls. Photograph: Jeff Bierk

To listeners outside the Toronto indie underground, Meg Remy’s brilliant 2018 album, In a Poem Unlimited, came as a revelation. To be fair, its pointed glam strut, an upgrade of her DIY aesthetic, was probably a surprise to her OG fans too. She pulls a similar trick with the first single from her forthcoming record, this time literally reinventing a 2013 US Girls track – giving what was queasy and chaotic a vamping, hall-of-mirrors makeover fit for Jenny Lewis (with a bracing solo from E Street Band saxophonist Jake Clemons). Similar subject matter to Lewis’s 2019 album, too, as Remy discovers that a former partner was drinking themselves to death on the sly. LS

On Repeat, J Hus and Koffee – the first woman to win the Grammy for reggae album of the year – trade verses about going wherever the money goes: “Dollar signs, no coins, but mi still a jingle,” Koffee sings. But this rich, low-slung collaboration couldn’t be further from the clout-baiting neediness that has come to underpin most high-profile collaborations. Instead, the oaky-voiced Hus dabbles in a little French then cedes the floor to his partner, who shows off her lovely, melancholy singing for the first time. LS

It will surprise some that Scottish folk, Hindustani classical music and jazz can be instinctive companions, but they continue to be on Yorkston/Thorne/Khan’s third album, Navarasa, named after the nine emotions found in the Hindu scriptures. This luscious instrumental track named after a Scottish lightship, written by singer-songwriter James Yorkston, is a particularly beautiful thing. Suhail Yusuf Khan’s sarangi (a classical instrument with a sound close to the human voice) improvises delicate leaps of laughter as Jon Thorne’s double-bass anchors the tune’s drift between minor and major keys. Yorkston’s guitar adds texture and determination. Give these boys soundtrack work, film directors. They’re giving you the world. JR





Hayley Williams.



Hayley Williams. Photograph: Record Company Handout

Although she’s best known as a figurehead for emo, music’s most cathartic genre, you get the impression that Hayley Williams has suppressed a lot of rage over the years. As Paramore members came and went, often insulting her as they left, she maintained a dignified diplomacy. Their last album, 2017’s brilliant After Laughter, arrived just as her marriage was ending, another exposing experience that she kept quiet about. Her solo debut suggests someone who has spent a long time meditating on how to deal with anger, not least as a young woman in the public eye who might be undermined if she showed much of it. The sound of her short breath opens Simmer, a surprisingly low-key exercise in “how to draw the line between wrath and mercy”. Far from her day job’s polychromatic emoting, this tense, melancholy number recalls Wild Beasts at their subtlest. LS

Channelling the energy of the “new phone who dis?” post-breakup meme, Ella Eyre’s latest single – her best by a country mile – also works as a fairly obvious statement about phase two of her career. Her initial run of solo singles eventually led her down a retro-soul cul de sac. But a new label, a new mindset and, according to a recent interview, a reacquaintance with the kaleidoscopic pop melange favoured by Basement Jaxx, has resulted in a third-person stomper that accentuates rather than deadens her not inconsiderable voice. Bonus points for following an already top-notch hook – “Ella ain’t here, it’s a new me” – with a skyrocketing post-chorus that rhymes “key” with “weave”. MC

When it first appeared on the patchy 1989 debut album by Bowie’s short-lived hard rock band Tin Machine, I Can’t Read – written with guitarist Reeves Gabrels – came decked in guitar squalls and metallic feedback. However, this acoustic version from the forthcoming Is It Any Wonder? EP, cut during sessions for 1997’s Earthling but dropped from the final album, peels away the noise to reveal the subtleties of the gem beneath. Once described by Bowie as being “full of remorse and agony”, the haunting, ghostly beauty will be familiar to fans of Quicksand from Hunky Dory. DS

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