Album reviews: Celeste – Not Your Muse, and Goat Girl – On All Fours

Roisin O'Connor
·3-min read
Celeste in artwork for her new album, Not Your Muse (ELIZAVETA PORODINA)
Celeste in artwork for her new album, Not Your Muse (ELIZAVETA PORODINA)

CelesteNot Your Muse

★★★★☆

Where many artists dubbed “one to watch” find themselves ushered onto the world stage before you can say “debut album”, Celeste’s career has developed at a noticeably unhurried pace. It suits her. The 26-year-old's music – delicate, Thirties and Forties-leaning jazz and soul – is the type to be savoured, not skipped over on a streaming algorithm.

Celeste – born in LA but raised in Essex and Brighton – has earned valid comparisons to Billie Holiday, but the similarities extend far beyond the velvety nature of her voice. It’s in her phrasing, the way her languid delivery allows each vowel to swell to the point of almost bursting. Take “A Kiss”, the song at the heart of her radiant debut album Not Your Muse. Backed by muted guitar-picking, it’s a track designed to exhibit everything Celeste’s voice is capable of. “Tonight Tonight”, meanwhile, has a propulsive rhythm that recalls Michael Kiwanuka’s superb 2019 single “You Ain’t the Problem”; “Love is Back”, with its silky chorus and intricate orchestral arrangements, is as commanding as Amy Winehouse on “You Know I’m No Good”.

Like the great female artists who came before her, Celeste seems compelled to challenge society’s expectations of what forms her sense of self-worth. Her hit single “Stop This Flame” has been compared to Florence and the Machine but is closer to Nina Simone's wilfully determined and uplifting sound. And in Celeste’s song, as Simone often did, her voice complements the piano’s punchy contrapuntal rhythms. Not Your Muse is an album that will lure you back time and time again, as much for its technical brilliance as any of its other qualities.

Goat GirlOn All Fours

★★★★☆

In a recent Guardian interview, Goat Girl’s lead singer/guitarist Lottie Pendlebury said the group felt like “a different band” than on their 2018 self-titled DIY debut album. They sound like it, too. While the anti-authority attitude is still present and correct on On All Fours, the songs recorded at their label head and producer Dan Carey’s south-London home prove they’ve evolved. “Sad Cowboy” manages to segue from electronic and trance into spaghetti western twangs, “Anxiety Feels” luxuriates in hazy soul, while the epic scope of “The Crack” has a lot to do with its rock guitar fuzz.

In the same interview, the band posited that all-male bands such as Fat White Family get more industry recognition, despite the equally controversial nature of their own lyrics. “It’s not even recognised as being on the same level of intensity,” bassist Holly Mullineaux said. On All Fours is undoubtedly an intense listen, with its blistering harmonies and Pendlebury’s low murmur. They’re good for a sharp analogy, too: “Bite On You” references a real-life experience with scabies but quickly becomes a metaphor for capitalist greed.

There’s a jitteriness to On All Fours that’s well-suited to the public mood, one that screams malcontent despite the frequently sweet-sounding nature of Pendlebury’s voice. Beneath the layers of lyrical meaning is a simpler message, directed to the ones in charge: “Sort it out,” they seem to say. “Or else.”

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