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POP Missy Higgins

SOLASTALGIA (EMI)

Missy Higgins melds personal and political spheres.

Photo: Cybele Malinowski

★★★½☆

"Solastalgia" refers to a state of existential distress caused by change in one's home environment. It is an apt theme for our current world and for Missy Higgins' fifth album – one that brims with both despair and hope as she returns with her first collection of original material since 2012. Lead singles Futon Couch and Cemetery are slickly produced, dance floor-ready pop earworms, but elsewhere Higgins retains her quiet singer-songwriter roots, with the piano-led Starting Again recalling the melancholy of Cat Power, and the simplicity of The Difference evoking her stripped-back early days. Higgins flirts with electronic production throughout the record to mixed results: autotuned closing track The Old Star sounds remarkably out of place, but Hallucinate soars with it. Personal and political spheres are melded throughout the album, with the sombre 49 Candles raising questions about gun violence in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting, and others pondering how to make the world a better place for Higgins' children. Solastalgia is the sound of a seasoned songwriter moving forward and settling into a comfortable new groove. GISELLE AU-NHIEN NGUYEN

JAZZ Wes Montgomery

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IN PARIS (Resonance/Birdland)

★★★★☆

Wes Montgomery always stood out from the welter of jazz guitarists who emerged in Charlie Christian's wake. Using his thumb (rather than a plectrum) he developed the warmest sound: a bronze tone that was equally effective on tender ballads or for lighting sudden spot-fires amidst his otherwise cruising, groovy solos. Not everything that Wes recorded showed his artistry to best effect, however, the stand-out being Full House, recorded live with Johnny Griffin plus Miles Davis's team of Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb in 1962. In Paris, a double album also recorded live with Griffin's swashbuckling tenor saxophone, dates from 1965, and now vies with Full House in my affections. Montgomery stretches out more here, taking longer solos and unleashing some startling ideas. Just as exceptional are Harold Mabern's virtuosic piano forays: slippery, surprising, multi-directional improvisations that sometimes even put Wes in the shade. Keeping this pair on the boil are bassist Arthur Harper and drummer Jimmy Lovelace, while Griffin is present just a guest. Much stronger than Montgomery's studio albums of the period, this should be a must for any fan. JOHN SHAND

INDIE ROCK Tropical F— Storm

A LAUGHING DEATH IN MEATSPACE (TFS Records/Mistletone)

★★★½☆

On 2016's Feelin Kinda Free, the Drones, Australia's best rock band, successfully began dismantling rock music to see what fresh forms it might contain. The emergence of Tropical F— Storm, a new project for Drones singer/lyricist Gareth Liddiard and bassist Fiona Kitschin, sees that process accelerate. From the serrated, squealing chords that initiate the opening You Let My Tyres Down, the traditional structure of twin guitars, bass and drums is corrupted, as if the band is prey to a creative infection. Not merely technical, the change suggests different shapes, best heard on the skittish pulse and industrial splutters of Antimatter Animals and the urgent tribal grooves of The Future of History. Drummer Lauren Hammel leaps forward where most might hold back, while guitarist Erica Dunn tears off corrosive parts and supplies coolly contained harmonies with Kitschin that are a counterpoint to Liddiard's serpentine narratives. The singer's feel for self-destructive outsiders and apocalyptic futures is now tempered by a tragically absurdist streak. "The world's way too connected and all anybody does is fight," he says on Rubber Bullies, but this band excels in charting the end days. CRAIG MATHIESON

CLASSICAL Claudio Arrau

COMPLETE PHILIPS RECORDINGS (Decca)

★★★★★

To paraphrase Shakespeare, Claudio Arrau may have been the noblest Chilean of them all. One of the great pianists of all time, Arrau (1903-1991) always brought a moral intensity and dignity to his playing, allied to a technical certainty and unostentatious interpretative profundity that set him apart. Everything he played sounded to me like Beethoven, whether it was Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt or Schumann. This sounds like a criticism, but is not: his Chopin nocturnes were a long way from the poetic delicacy of Rubinstein, but he gave them a majesty and dignity that I would not want to be without; he made everything noble. Music lovers can judge for themselves thanks to this 80-CD collection of his complete recordings on Philips. Dominated by Beethoven (two sets of both the sonatas and the concertos, which are fascinating to compare), it also includes substantial collections of Schubert, Chopin, Liszt and Debussy. One particular gem is two CDs of Beethoven violin sonatas with the incomparable Belgian Arthur Grumiaux. Arrau's austere fidelity to the score might be slightly unfashionable today, but I treasure it all the more for that. BARNEY ZWARTZ

INDIE ROCK Okkervil River

IN THE RAINBOW RAIN (ATO/Inertia)

★★★½☆

In the past, Okkervil River have written songs about confessional poet John Berryman and porn star Shannon "Savannah" Wilsey. The fact they were both beautiful and heartbreaking says something about this most literary of bands. Like many songwriters right now, Will Sheff is wrestling with a Trumped-up world. He has reacted not by going inward and acoustic, but open and upbeat. Sure, opener Famous Tracheotomies is about the titular medical procedure Sheff underwent as an infant. But not only does he find commonality with others who have had the operation – Gary Coleman, Mary Wells, Dylan Thomas, Ray Davies – but he dresses the song with tinkling keyboards, a skipping beat and a winking reference to Waterloo Sunset. At first glance, In The Rainbow Rain seems to take a page or three out of The War On Drugs' playbook, while some of the preset rhythms and the odd squawking sax solo suggest an '80s yacht-rock throwback. You sense Sheff is striving for optimism in troubled times. On Shelter Song and How It Is he is reaching out for connection via soul-tinged pop. And on the twinkling Family Song he boils it down to basics: "You're alive, I'm alive." BARRY DIVOLA

POP Tove Styrke

SWAY (Sony Music)

★★★☆☆

Swedish singer Tove Styrke is back with her third studio album, and she is still only 25. For several years the former Swedish Idol contestant has existed on the periphery of mainstream success, and now this record seems to coalesce all her knowledge and talent in the one place for the first time. Lead singles Say My Name and On the Low were safe bets, with Styrke's husky whispering working well against minimal downtempo pop beats. But it is on songs like Changed My Mind where she sings with bravado that she is most impressive. Collaborating with producer Elof Loelv she looked to "strip it down to the essentials…and write songs that [address] this inner dialogue that you have in your head". Mistakes and I Lied achieve recreating that incessant internal voice, and, instead of pairing it with traditional pop melodies, she opts for a playful minimalism. Sway works best as a temporary escape from reality, and it does not strive to push any boundaries. If it steers away from delving into anything too profound, nor does it need to. It is what it is: a pop album that's easily digestible, and sometimes that's all that music has to be. KISH LAL

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