Two of the strongest albums of the year so far have a common theme: established artists, known for wide-angled work, turning their gaze on their own hearts. The Detroit-born singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens once announced a grandiose plan to make an album about every state in the union. He got as far as Michigan and Illinois, and then his mother, Carrie, died. So he made “Carrie and Lowell”, an exquisite tribute, raw in both content and form. In concert, it should be magical.
Meanwhile, in Iceland, another singular singer was trying to forge links between music, nature and technology. Bjork’s “Biophilia” (2011) was intriguing but not entirely successful. The follow-up, “Vulnicura”, is darker and starker, drawing on the demise of her relationship with the father of her child, the artist Matthew Barney. “Is there a place/Where I can pay respects/For the death of my family?” she asks, over pounding and slicing electronic sounds, edited by Arca, a young producer born in Caracas and based in Dalston.
The album will be performed live for the first time in Europe at the Manchester International Festival. Bjork’s New York shows in March, coinciding with her retrospective at MoMA, featured a minimal cast – just Arca, the percussionist Manu Delago and a contemporary string ensemble. Bjork wore a helmet of transparent, feather-like spikes over her face, as if to shield something of herself while sharing her innermost feelings with the audience. Her music is still deeply strange, ignoring traditional time signatures and melodic structure; but the intensity with which she conveys marital pain is more arresting than any musing on the atom. ~ HAZEL SHEFFIELD
Bjork tours Europe, July 5th to Aug 9th. Sufjan Stevens tours America, to June 11th; Europe, Aug 28th to Sept 30th
ROCK AT A GLANCE
Steely Dan and Elvis Costello (touring America, July 6th to Aug 12th). Who needs festivals when there are double bills like this? Costello is on achingly fine form, and Donald Fagen and Walter Becker pioneered thinking person’s funk. If you can’t catch them, make do with Fagen’s diary from Coachella in Rolling Stone: “Most of the music I heard was in the c.1965 Dylanesque mode, minus genius or anything like that...”
Lianne La Havas (album, July 31st). Gifted soul singer with a distinctive pedigree – Greece, Jamaica and Tooting. Her single “Unstoppable”, produced by Paul (Adele) Epworth, feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
David Byrne’s Meltdown (Southbank, London, Aug 17th-30th). A summer delight, curated this year by one of rock’s most open minds. ~ TIM DE LISLE