Music reviews: Jenny Lewis, Amanda Palmer, David Bridie, Gesaffelstein and more

INDIE-ROCK Jenny Lewis

ON THE LINE (Warner)

Jenny Lewis: wrapping sadness in regret.Credit:Autumn de Wilde

★★★★☆

There was some concern that the fourth album from LA-based indie-rock goddess Jenny Lewis would be overshadowed by misconduct allegations against Ryan Adams, the embattled singer working with the former Rilo​ Kiley frontwoman​ on her 2014 set Voyager and again here in a reduced capacity. But that's all that really needs be said on the topic, as this is about Lewis, and On the Line deserves its own spotlight. Here her songwriting has never been stronger, as she regales the listener with tales of hedonism, faded glamour, regret and lost loves, all sugar-coated​ in her wonderfully melodramatic croon. Opener Heads Gonna Roll, featuring Ringo Starr, is a gentle break-up ballad with fierce lyrics that cut through the melancholy, and this piano-led, sad-song template is used liberally, to wonderful effect. It provides many standouts, such as the faded glamour of Hollywood Lawn ("I'm long lost like Rockefeller, drifting off to sea"), and the bluesy Party Clown, which oozes the assuredness and confidence that drips from On the Line. Meanwhile the '70s-tinted Wasted Youth is one Lewis' finest moments, juxtaposing an irresistibly poppy melody with a tale spelt out in its title, and few can wrap sadness and regret up quite so gloriously. BRONWYN THOMPSON

FILM & MUSIC David Bridie

THE WISDOM LINE (MGM)

★★★★½

Apart from his much loved bands, Not Drowning, Waving and My Friend the Chocolate Cake, David Bridie has been involved in composing film and television scores (more than 50 credits at the last count) since 1987. It makes perfect sense that his new collection of songs (his first in six years) comprises 11 compositions all accompanied by short films; that at davidbridie.com/films Bridie is releasing audio-visual depictions of the songs (with films) at the rate of one a month; that the launch of this new album is occurring at two cinema venues in Melbourne. These 11 songs are standard Bridie fare: gorgeous washes of melancholy electronics; minimal piano and percussion accompaniment; thoughtful understated lyrics and a clear understanding of the compelling ambience that can be created by the interplay of lyrics, music and images. No better example exists than the opening track Red (2000 Miles Away from the Fair), where Bridie's lyrics about the red wasteland of Central Australia are perfectly complemented by LJ Spruyt's​ haunting images of the vastness of the deserts, alongside intimate images of balloons, a girl and a carousel at a fairground. BRUCE ELDER

ISRAELI Idan​ Raichel​

AT LO NISH'ERET​ LEVAD​ (Cumbancha​)

★★★☆☆

Pop artist Idan​ Raichel​ rose to fame with albums that celebrated the richness, diversity and skill of Tel Aviv's music community. His multilingual duets with multifarious non-Western Israeli singers, combined with a congenial "peace through music" message, made his band an international festival favourite. This album (the title translates as You Are Not Left on Your Own) features Israeli and international guests performing standard-form pop songs with splashes of ethnic decoration, or songs from other cultures that Raichel​ sugar-coats with his sensibility and production. It's pleasant, but listeners already accustomed to music from diverse traditions and genres may find that Raichel's​ contributions actually smother much of the complexity and distinctiveness that make such music exciting. It's as if he is not particularly interested in exploring the sounds in depth, beyond the colour they add to his songs, like someone who skims through a book just to pick out snappy quotes, or travels to a distant location just to take a selfie​. Why Do We Deserve It? (with rock legend Berry Sakharof​) and the tender, warm-hearted​ You Are Not Left on Your Own, however, remind us that Raichel​ is a genuinely talented singer-songwriter. EUGENE ULMAN​

JAZZ Adam Simmons

THE USEFULNESS OF ART (Fat Rain)

★★★★★

The breadth of music matches the scale of ambition. These five albums of scintillating creativity dig deep into the oeuvre of brilliant Melbourne composer/multi-instrumentalist Adam Simmons, beginning with Concerto for Piano and Toy Band, a dense, giddy conversation between pianist Michael Kieran Harvey and the eight-piece Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble (CME). The second disc is a suite bearing the album's title (played by a 15-piece CME), which, alongside its intense beauty of melody and improvisation, carries dialogues between startling fluctuations of sheer mass, from the leader's spectral bass clarinet to avalanches of ensemble sound. The scale of ambition only grows when Travellers Tales places Simmons' assorted reeds (including his mighty tenor) against a heady, edgy composition for 20-piece string orchestra. The Calling couldn't be more different, with a 14-piece CME containing no less than six drummers and percussionists, among whom Ray Pereira features prominently. Finally a 12-piece CME performs the sometimes meditative, sometimes exotic The Kites of Tianjin​. The usefulness of art? Sparked by a Rodin​ quote, Simmons lists such effects as empathy, generosity and compassion. Amen. JOHN SHAND

FOLK-POP Amanda Palmer

THERE WILL BE NO INTERMISSION (Cooking Vinyl)

★★☆☆☆

"I'm even scared to put these lyrics in a song," sings Amanda Palmer. But, of course, not too scared. This line comes in the middle of A Mother's Confession, which goes on for more than 10 minutes about how she's got baby brain: seeing her kid fall off a shelf as she comes back from taking a pee, then accidentally stealing a ChapStick​ from a store, then posting a picture of the wrong blankie​ that she thought her husband's 99-year-old cousin knitted for the baby, then … Oh God, please make it stop. Much like Mark Kozelek's​ recent trajectory, a time arises when writing about the minutiae of everything that passes through an artist's head becomes something like an over-sharing Facebook feed with a musical backing. Palmer tries to marshal her many, many thoughts into a few more shapely moments: Judy Blume​ is a tribute to the author who got her through adolescence; The Ride riffs on late comedian Bill Hicks' existential act. But her meanderings and lack of self-awareness scream for an editor, or in the case of Bigger on the Inside – which equates her suffering criticism with the suffering of a rape victim – someone bearing a large gong. BARRY DIVOLA​

TECHNO Gesaffelstein​

HYPERION (Columbia Records)

★★☆☆☆

The 2014 bursting of the French electro bubble ended the careers of many who, unlike Daft Punk and Gesaffelstein​, failed to find a life-raft into the mainstream. Gesaffelstein​ (Mike Levy) sustained his reputation with credits on Kanye​ West's experimental masterpiece, Yeezus​, inadvertently piquing the interest of a genre he had no intention of infiltrating. This, his second solo foray into pop and hip-hop, lacks the veracity that made the Frenchman such a lucrative export. Known for dark, sinister, threatening techno, he attempts pop on collaborations with Pharrell​, The Weeknd​, and HAIM​, but the finished product is a lacklustre shadow of his former self. As a techno producer Levy is a student of pioneers Drexciya​ and The Hacker, but as a newly minted hip-hop producer his inexperience is palpable. The brutalist​ music and charm of his enigmatic persona wear thin against the fragile edges of Ever Now and Memora​, which play like rejected snippets from the equally underwhelming Tron​: Legacy movie. Forever, featuring Levy's hero The Hacker and blog-house pioneers Electric Youth, tries to mimic '80s electronica, but instead resembles half-baked nu-disco. Ultimately Gesaffelstein's​ attempt at reinvention signals a necessary return to his roots. KISH LAL

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