★★★★★

Now in her 27th year, Gabrielle Aplin bypasses any quarter-life crisis melodrama with an intricate portrait of the bruises and realisations of the aftermath of that phase. Gone are the stinging lyrics and heavy guitar distortion of 2015’s Light up the Dark. Here to stay is a dance-synth-filled pop palette, by turns uplifting and desolate. Kintsugi (the title a nod to the Japanese artistic technique of mending cracked pottery with gold leaf to beautify its flaws) is a danceable ode to life experience, with the refrain, “All my scars are golden”. The slightly anxious So Far, So Good is just as much of a bop, but the poetic vulnerability of My Mistake makes it the standout track. Gentle piano chords accompany Aplin’s suffocating isolation (“I’m talking to the walls/But the walls keep caving in”), before understated strings transform the wretched, soaring chorus into something akin to an acoustic cousin of Radiohead’s Creep. The title track is an album-closing ballad that begins timidly (“Dear Happy don’t go/I’m not there but I’m close”), but finishes with burgeoning hope: “Dear Happy, you see/It’s not easy for me/But I’m closer than I’ve ever been.” JESSIE CUNNIFFE

POP

Halsey

MANIC (Capitol)

★★

One of pop’s greatest shortcomings is that rather than matters of the heart, the genre is often dictated by metrics and sales. Halsey vowed to resist this with her third studio album, promising a genre-agnostic smorgasbord of rock, hip-hop, country, “and f—ing everything” through the lens of her bipolar disorder. Last year’s single Nightmare delivered on this, with a head-banging hook and screamed bridge that defied her usual cavalcade of aloof electropop hits. Yet this rich, irreverent single was left off the album. Features from Alanis Morisette (Alanis’ Interlude), BTS rapper Suga (SUGA’s Interlude) and melancholy hit Graveyard are exciting slices of cinematic pop, but such moments are too rare. The sultry R&B of Without Me samples Justin Timberlake and Timbaland’s 2002 version of Cry Me a River, but, despite this framework, is rather forgettable. You Should Be Sad and 3am teem with generic lyrics that lack purpose, which is especially true of Clementine, a dull meditation on loneliness and fame, littered with banal metaphors. Instead of silencing those who insist she lacks identity, Halsey becomes lost in a sea of superstar guest performances and crisp production, falling short of her lofty ambitions. KISH LAL

FOLK NOIR

Keeley Forsyth

DEBRIS (The Leaf)

★★★★

Prior to making this intense and delicate album, Manchester-born Keeley Forsyth enjoyed a successful acting career that took in stage and screen. The expanded horizons resulting from working in another art form and the extra decades of sheer life experience have surely been vital in creating a debut album like few others. This impeccable record, mature, poetic and somewhat hushed, has elements of freak-folk – such as CocoRosie or My Brightest Diamond – yet this is altogether darker. Alongside minimal, meandering acoustic guitar, foreboding drones of strings fill out the low end, while Forsyth’s voice is a sombre contralto comparable with Nico or even, at a stretch, Nina Simone, yet it operates entirely on its own weird frequency. Highlights include the understated triumphs It’s Raining and Look to Yourself. Lyrically, Debris is a meditation on melancholy and loss, perhaps influenced by Leonard Cohen and his unmatched ability to juxtapose everyday routines and chitchat with momentous emotional heights. Debris may initially seem a fairly bleak listen, but as with most albums of layers and depth, something life-affirming is hinted at, as on the unexpectedly electronic closer, Start Again. BARNABY SMITH

JAZZ

Andrew Dickeson

GROOVE! (andrewdickeson.com)

★★★½

They say some twins know what the other is thinking. Bassists and drummers have no choice. In fact humans probably do nothing outside the bedroom demanding as such sublimation of the self as in the cause of creating groove. It’s an apt name for this album, which sees Sydney drummer Andrew Dickeson joined by Canberra pianist Wayne Kelly and US bassist Rodney Whitaker – he who has held down the bottom end on over 100 albums, including with Dianne Reeves, Wynton Marsalis, Johnny Griffin and Joe Lovano. Whitaker’s playing has a way of disappearing into the music without ever becoming anonymous. Part of this art is his preference for the bass’ lower register, and part of it is that the momentum he generates rides on a phenomenal buoyancy that seems to aerate the drums. But this wouldn’t work were Dickeson not so good at keeping his half of the deal so lithe as well as propulsive. The only time it doesn’t quite gel is on All or Nothing at All, where the “Poinciana groove” feels too earthbound. Kelly, meanwhile, takes flight over this rhythm section and these standards: a dancing, lyrical bop stylist, carrying occasional echoes of his namesake Wynton Kelly. JOHN SHAND

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