Electronica Album Reviews

Four Tet: 871/Parallel review – chaotic ambition with bells on

Veering from squalling howls to symphonic loveliness, Keiran Hebden’s two new albums are equally rewarding

In recent weeks, producer Kieran Hebden’s Four Tet has released two new songs with Thom Yorke and Burial, alongside these two new albums. Each track on 871 and Parallel is prosaically numbered in sequence, which hints these are end-of-year data dumps. The horrendous, squalling howls of 871’s opener 0000 871 0001 do little to dissuade this impression. At a time when every cough is a gunshot, you may prefer more felicitous sounds than Hebden scouring his hard drive clean with a metal mop.

Thankfully, most of 871 is rewarding, if occasionally derivative. Its music mostly dates back to 1996, and you can hear the teenaged Hebden essaying plangent shoegaze, ambient techno and trip-hop with varying success and an awful lot of bells. Twenty-five years on, its chaotic ambition sounds comfortingly nostalgic. Parallel is leaner, more purely melodic, and has the advantage of Parallel 1, a glorious 27-minute indulgence which begins unexceptionally then gently wears you down with its symphonic loveliness.

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Yvette Janine Jackson: Freedom review | John Lewis’s contemporary album of the month

(Phantom Limb Music)
The composer’s two new works, exploring slavery and homophobia, are like immersive non-visual films

On paper, the latest album by electro-acoustic composer and installation artist Yvette Janine Jackson isn’t the most inviting of propositions for these miserable days. It features two lengthy soundscapes: the 23-minute Destination Freedom is a sonic representation of a slave ship crossing the Atlantic; the 20-minute Invisible People is an aural collage that confronts homophobia within African American communities.

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Farhot: Kabul Fire Volume 2 review – gut-shaking sonic collage | Ammar Kalia’s global album of the month

(Kabul Fire Records)
The Afghan-born producer skilfully explores his heritage with an unruly collage of vocal samples blended with diasporic sounds

For producer Farhot, the cut-and-paste method of sampling in hip-hop serves as an apt symbol for the assembly of his immigrant identity – he sought asylum in Germany from his native Afghanistan in the 1980s and has not returned since. He first made his name with productions for the likes of Talib Kweli, Isaiah Rashad and Nneka that echoed the melodically driven US rap of the early 2000s and particularly the work of DJ Premier and Pete Rock. His first solo release, Kabul Fire Vol 1 (2013), was a scattershot mixtape homage to his childhood home, weaving in dub influences, rattling drum machine loops, Afghani folk samples and features from Kano, Ms Dynamite and Talbi Kweli.

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Flohio: No Panic No Pain review – rapper leaves no mould unbroken

The south Londoner broadens and deepens her emotional range, while continuing to select unexpected production partners

Flohio escapes labels. In fact, she actively contests them, asserting she’s not a grime artist as so many observers assume London rappers are. Since 2016 the Bermondsey rapper, who goes by a portmanteau of her real name Funmi Ohiosumah, has become known for unabashed stage presence and rapid-fire flows, spitting over the beats of electronic artists such as God Colony and Modeselektor rather than only rap producers. These daring, genre-resistant tracks earned her a place in the BBC’s Sound of 2019 poll.

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Cabaret Voltaire: Shadow of Fear review – a fittingly dystopian fantasy from Sheffield’s industrial pioneers

The first Cabaret Voltaire album in more than two decades feels oddly of the moment, their grim presentiments about disinformation, curfews and crackdowns fulfilled

Between 1974 and 1994, Cabaret Voltaire made a career out of being slightly ahead of the curve. They may well have been the world’s first industrial band. Throbbing Gristle coined the genre’s name, but more than a year before they formed, Cabaret Voltaire were ensconced in a Sheffield attic, experimenting with tape cut-ups inspired by William Burroughs, looped recordings of machinery in place of rhythms and churning electronic noise. When their sound shifted in the early 80s to something more commercially palatable, involving funk, the influence of New York electro and, eventually, collaborations with Chicago house pioneer Marshall Jefferson, it presaged their home town’s unique take on dance music, which eventually produced revered techno label Warp.

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Metal Album Reviews

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Rock Album Reviews

Six Feet Under: “Nightmares Of The Decomposed” Album Review

Six Feet Under make it very clear that more than 25 years into their career, they remain at the forefront of the death metal. Dynamic, heavy-as-hell, catchy, and uncompromising, it is everything that the band’s longtime faithful have come to expect from these giants. The band members are Chris Barnes (vocals), Jack Owen (rhythm and …

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Behemoth: “And the Forests Dream Eternally” Reissue Review

Behemoth slithered out of Poland and forever changed the black metal scene. After numerous successful albums and multiple monstrous tours, Nergal and company have risen to become quite the powerhouse in a genre that was once very much underground and taboo. Perhaps this album is their gift of sorts to their most loyal fans. And …

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Classical Music Album Reviews

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Jazz & Blues Album Reviews

Rick Shea – Love & Desperation | Album Review

Rick Shea – Love & Desperation

Tres Pescadores Records – 2020


12 tracks; 49 minutes

Rick Shea’s latest release “Love & Desperation” displays his consummate musical and songwriting skills. The Southern California musician plays electric & acoustic guitars, steel guitar, mandolin and dobro with precision, and conducted the band remotely, as they had to build the album part-by-part, in isolation from each other. Drummer Shawn Nourse, who has played with Dwight Yoakam, recorded his parts at his home studio, and Yoakam’s longtime keyboard player Skip Edwards tracked parts from his studio. Phil Parlapiano delivered accordion and Hammond B3 tracks from his Electricdog Studio. The bass player Dave Hall turned in his playing and vocal tracks at Shea’s studio Casa de Calora and from Hallway Studio. Steve Nelson supplies acoustic bass on the title track and electric bass on “The World’s Gone Crazy” and “Big Rain is Comin’ Mama.” Jeff Turmes is a double threat playing bass & saxophone. Trumpeter Probyn Gregory lends a hand on the final story-like song “Texas Lawyer.” Skip Edwards and David Jackson each supplied accordions to flesh out the album. For all the physical separation endured in the production process, the end result is a coherent performance that you could be forgiven for assuming that the musicians had tracked within sight of each other during the sessions.

Shea’s singing is unpretentious and charming, he often leans very closely to a preemptive yodel, indeed the first two songs, the Al Ferrier rockabilly cover “Blues Stop Knocking at My Door” and the Shea original “Blues at Midnight” bring Hank William’s voice to mind. The guitar work is exemplary, and on full display in the instrumental tune “Mystic Canyon” supported by beautifully sympathetic performances by Nourse, Parlapiano and Hall. The songs range from 50’s rockabilly to Norteño stopping at traditional Western Country on the way – and while there are frequent references to the blues, these have emotional rather than musical meaning.

The fourth song and title track “Love & Desperation” by Shea is clearly the strongest composition on the album with elegant interplay between the acoustic bass, accordion and Shea’s sparkling Telecaster. And if “Big Rain is Comin’ Mama” doesn’t make you want to dance – you’ve got another think comin.’

Clearly Rick Shea is an accomplished songwriter and musician, he grew his musical skills playing bars around San Bernardino in Southern California, before moving to Los Angeles venues where worked solo, and as a sideman for Chris Gaffney, Katy Moffat, Wanda Jackson and Dave Alvin among others.  His guitar playing is perfect throughout and  this a great album well worth cracking open a cold one while you listen to it. We should all look forward to the day Shea’s band can tune up, kick off the cobwebs and sawdust “Down at the bar at Gypsy Sally’s” and shake down the house together.

Dennis Jones – Soft Hard & Loud | Album Review

Dennis Jones – Soft Hard & Loud

Blue Rock Records – 2020

10 tracks; 41:38


Singer/guitarist/songwriter Dennis Jones doesn’t hide his classic rock influences on Soft Hard & Loud, his seventh album. But he also doesn’t use rock history as a crutch, instead creating his own original blues rock that sounds effortlessly liquid, but also deliberately thoughtful.

Jones, an L.A.-based guitarist, born in Monkton, Maryland, came to the blues after realizing it was the root of so much of the music he loved. His sound, especially his voice, is blues-influenced, and while he’s certainly capable of playing straight blues, you hear a wide range of styles on Soft Hard & Loud, from rock to reggae to metal. The various genres all hang together in a fun way, reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix in that the blues is an organizing principle for a flood of different types of music. While Jones tips his hat to Hendrix, and is open about his Hendrix influence, he’s got his own sound.

There are blues rock tracks like “Front Door Man,” with its Stevie Ray Vaughan bounce, Jones’ guitar riff leading the song through its paces while he playfully takes on Howlin’ Wolf’s classic “Back Door Man,” refusing to sneak around for an affair: “I ain’t afraid of your man / I ain’t sneaking around the back.” “When I Wake Up” is a slow-for-Jones blues with lots of metal crunch in his guitar tone, and even some glam rock in the mind-bending guitar solo. But his soulful voice is pure blues, giving the song emotional depth. Jones could have used familiar blues licks and he’d still have a solidly standard song, but by emulsifying his influences so thoroughly, he creates something new and surprising.

Jones also takes on styles you wouldn’t expect. “I Hate Hate” is reggae a la Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Mak’er.” “Nothin’ On You” is soulful pop, with Jones singing uncannily like Hendrix. “Like Sleep” has an AC/DC crunch and “Burn the Plantation Down” is punk blues. There’s no way to generalize the style, as Jones pulls in so many influences and then exports them through his own sensibility. He makes it sound easy, but when you go back to break down all that he’s synthesizing, you realize it’s amazingly intricate work.

Jones is more blues rock than pure blues, but Soft Hard & Loud has plenty of great blues moments. Jones folds in everything he hears and uses his power trio, often enhanced with keyboard, to focus a wide beam of music into something as precise as a laser. Soft Hard & Loud owes a lot to classic rock, but Jones and his band bring those beloved sounds into modern times.

Ray Cashman – Palmetto & Pine | Album Review

Ray Cashman – Palmetto & Pine

Pistol Blues Productions

11 songs – 38 minutes


Ray Cashman has been holed up at home in Sam Houston National Forest outside of Montgomery, Texas, because of coronavirus for the better part of the past year, but that hasn’t stopped the veteran blues-rocker from delivering this rollicking paean to the hard-working folks toiling in the oil fields of the Gulf Coast.

A 20-year veteran of the Austin and Nashville scenes, Cashman has been making waves since 2007, when he released Texassippi Stomp, a disc that featured contributions from Squirrel Nut Zippers founder and former Buddy Guy bandmate Jimbo Mathus in the lineup. The Texas native delivers a musical gumbo that features a light, single-note attack on guitar and tunes that range from Gulf Coast two-steps to high-energy rock and a taste of Chicago blues, too.

A frequent festival performer at events that have included South By Southwest and Mississippi’s Juke Joint Festival and Deep Blues Festival, he’s a fan favorite in Europe, where he was booked for two festivals and eight other gigs when the shutdown occurred.

Recorded at The Rock Shed in Houston under the direction of co-producer Gary Belin, who shares vocals, this disc is the eighth in Cashman’s catalog and a follow-up to Houston Electric, which charted as high as No. 3 on the Roots Music Report’s electric blues listings. He’s backed here by Pat Neifert on guitar and bass, Grant “Gabby” Brown on harmonica and Manuel Perez on drums.

The set of nine originals and two covers opens with “Lafayette,” a driving rocker that delivers a tip of the Stetson to Ray’s neighbors across the Louisiana border, where folks dance “until they’re soakin’ wet,”  fill up on crawfish pie, get down to zydeco and roll their own cigarettes. “Rainfall,” a loping blues with Texas feel, finds Cashman watching the puddles pool on the ground as he sits alone and “missing you, somethin’ I can’t do” – something that takes on different meaning in the current world situation. The flashy fretwork of the opener yields to sweet, single-note runs.

The swamp rocker “Palmetto & Pine” pays tribute to the land Ray’s family settled a century ago and a father whose life was “makin’ money, but home was all he knew.” Apparently, Cashman feels the same way – something he expresses in “Going Home,” a driving rocker delivered from the position of a tunesmith touring in foreign lands.

The band revisits “Walkin’ to My Baby,” a stop-time pleaser penned by Kim Wilson as a member of the Fabulous Thunderbirds with a disappointing result. While Ray’s vocals and guitar dominate, Brown’s work on the reeds pales in comparison to Kim both in attack and tone. The blues-rocker “Listen to My Heart” provides momentary respite before the straight-ahead blues, “Southern Belle,” provides another difficult listen.

Fortunately, the pain subsides from the opening notes of “Evangalina,” a Gulf Coast pleaser with acoustic rockabilly overtones and a tasty mid-tune solo from Neifert, and continues in the high-test rocker, “Creeper.” A great reprise of Ray Wylie Hubbard and Cody Canada’s “Cooler n’ Hell,” about a favorite ’68 Camaro, follows before the original rocker “I Don’t Know” questions a relationship to bring the action to a close.

Available through Amazon and other online retailers, Palmetto & Pine offers some pleasant moments. But if you’re heading there, be aware that there are some bumps in the road.

Göksenin – Women’s Blues | Album Review

Göksenin – Women’s Blues

Self-Release – 2020

9 tracks; 29:31 minutes


It’s not surprising to see a blues album coming out of someplace other than the United States. There are thriving blues scenes all over the world, so an artist’s country of birth is no longer a musical plot twist. Instead, the fun of singer/guitarist Göksenin’s Women’s Blues is in how she mixes her Turkish roots into a few of the album’s tracks, creating a personal sound that’s a clever twist on the blues.

Göksenin’s journey to the blues wasn’t straight-forward. Born in Istanbul, Turkey, she quit her job over a decade ago to focus on music, releasing two rock albums, in addition to commercial work, and even some children’s theater. She eventually pivoted to blues, developing a live show around blues women, like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, designed to introduce these artists to a non-American audience. She started with covers, adding in some of her own songs, with the live show culminating in Women’s Blues.

Göksenin has a smoky voice, jazzy as it is bluesy. She uses it on a mix of originals and covers that range from straight-ahead blues funk, to the aforementioned combinations of Turkish melodies and lyrics inserted into blues structures. These blues/Turkish mash-ups are the album’s strongest moments, with Göksenin unearthing new ground that allows her to internalize the blues, rather than interpret it from a distance, both geographic and emotional.

The best example of this is “Take Me Out,” an original co-written with Gürkan Özbek, who plays resonator guitar on the track. The song is Göksenin accompanied by Özbek’s guitar. Özbek shifts between blues, classical, and Middle Eastern, and Göksenin is right there with the guitar, tapping into the sadness of the blues, her voice displaying a bluesy grittiness, but also sounding like herself. The track is blues influenced, but also finds a new, unique perspective.

Göksenin continues the Turkish blues work on “Çayda Çıra,” a traditional Turkish folk song reworked as a blues. The song begins with Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” riff before settling into a 10/8 time signature that gives the song a shimmy, as Göksenin sings in Turkish. The rest of the song is traditional blues rock, but between the Turkish language and the non-bluesy beat, the song feels new, like a fight between two genres. And the battle gives the song a tension that’s riveting. “Hala Vazgeçmedim,” Turkish for “Haven’t Given Up, Yet” is a more familiar blues, sung in Turkish, but also one of the album’s looser tracks, with Göksenin and her band sounding like they’re cutting loose, less interested in controlling the tune, and more open to letting it unfurl a bit more raggedly than any of the album’s other tracks.

Göksenin initially came to the blues as a proselytizer, trying to teach her compatriots about American artists who weren’t well-known in Turkey (and to be fair, they’re not nearly well-known enough here in the United States). Somewhere along the way, she began to integrate her own experiences, sounds, and time signatures into the music, creating something new, and those fresh moments are the album’s strongest, Göksenin singing her own blues. Turkish blues might not be its own subgenre, but it’s one we should consider adding.

Mick Kolassa – If You Can’t Be Good, Be Good at It! | Album Review

Mick Kolassa – If You Can’t Be Good, Be Good at It!

Endless Blues Records MMK022020

12 songs – 42 minutes


Fresh off his all-acoustic Blind Lemon Sessions, which was recorded in Germany and released last summer, guitarist/tunesmith Mick Kolassa teams with blues-rock firebrand Jeff Jensen and members of the Memphis blues community for this interesting mix of what he terms “free-range blues” – a diverse set that encompasses everything from the sound of the city to gospel, too.

This is the seventh album in the career of Michissippi Mick – a nickname that fuses his Great Lakes birthplace with his longtime home – since he started easing himself away from a lifetime career in the business world in 2014.

A former member of the board of directors of the Blues Foundation, Mick usually tours with his Taylor Made Blues Band and occasionally works with Florida-based guitarist/bassist Mark Telesca – something that was impossible for this one, which was produced in partnership with Jensen and recorded at the legendary Ardent Studios in the Bluff City and Farmhouse Studios in Moscow, Tenn.

Kolassa handles vocals in his pleasant, relaxed tenor throughout, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar as he intersperses lightness and dark in his clever lyrics. Jeff divides his time between electric and acoustic six-string and percussion backed by Rick Steff on keys, Eric Hughes on harp, John Blackmon on drums and Bill Ruffino on bass. The album also includes guest appearances by Tullie Brae (backing vocals), David Dunavent, Brad Webb and Kern Pratt (guitars), Marc Franklin (trumpet), Kirk Smothers (sax), Alice Hasen (violin) and Willie “Too Big” Hall and Weston Caldwell (percussion).

The R&B pleaser “I Can’t Help Myself” – the first of nine originals – opens the action, beginning with a percussive acoustic/electric guitar intro before building intensity throughout propelled by the horns. Mick can’t resist a certain lady whose love is “just too good.” A choral intro kicks off a cover of James Taylor’s “Lo and Behold” before the band explodes, delivering fire and brimstone in its spiritual message.

The percussive title tune, “If You Can’t Be Good,” fires out of the gate, delivering a little downhome advice with a phrase Kolassa frequently uses at the end of conversations, before the sweet ballad, “A Good Day for the Blues,” describes a life in which one bad decision makes takes the good times with it.  “I’ve Seen,” which follows, kicks off with a spoken introduction as it recounts encounters with the holy trinity of the blues and more, but becomes a lazy paced, harp- and fiddle-driven expression of desire to “see you lyin’ next to me.” What woman could resist?

The message continues in “We Gotta,” a horn-driven soul-blues, in which Mick and the lady should chase stars, close down bars and more. “Sweet Tea” offers up a toast to a Southerner’s favorite drink before sex is on the menu once more in the ballad “Slow and Easy Love,” which features tasty fretwork from Jensen.

Up next, “Good Night Irene” – not the Lead Belly standard – is a clever original that finds Kolassa phoning the lady in question, getting her answering machine and questioning whether she how her night out went with another man. The action ends with an exception, updated cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talking” and “She Kept Her Head Up,” a loving tune Mick penned for his daughter, Kassi, during her battle against breast cancer.

A labor of love, Kolassa is targeting 100 percent of the proceeds from this CD to the Blues Foundation, splitting the funds between the HART Fund, which provides relief for struggling artists, and Generation Blues, which supports young musicians. Pick this one up from Amazon, iTunes or CDBaby. It’s good for your ears and your soul, too!

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Pop Album Reviews

Dua Lipa Gets Interviewed on Kimmel, Local Natives Perform With Sharon Van Etten: Watch

Last night’s episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live was a musical hullabaloo. Not only did Dua Lipa Zoom in for her first late night interview of 2021, but Local Natives and Sharon Van Etten teamed up for a picturesque performance of their new collaboration “Lemon”. Before the music started, the Future Nostalgia star spoke with Kimmel her…

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Dua Lipa Gets Interviewed on Kimmel, Local Natives Perform With Sharon Van Etten: Watch
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Buck Meek: Two Saviors review – too laid-back for his own good

(Keeled Scales)
The Big Thief guitarist’s wonderfully relaxed second solo album all but drifts by

After releasing two excellent albums, UFOF and Two Hands, with Big Thief in 2019, the New York-based indie-folkers’ core duo have since concentrated on their solo careers. Frontwoman Adrianne Lenker’s companion sets Songs and Instrumentals came out simultaneously in October, and guitarist Buck Meek now follows suit with a second LP under his own name.

Recorded in New Orleans during a heatwave, Two Saviors has a wonderfully loose feel. Meek’s gently enunciated vocals, delivered with all the urgency of Kurt Vile awaking from a nap, are backed by a band that knows how to keep it simple, Mat Davidson’s pedal steel and organ from Meek’s brother Dylan giving proceedings a timeless country feel.

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Sleaford Mods: Spare Ribs review – a joyous tonic

(Rough Trade)
Inspired guest turns add a twist, but the duo’s blazing invention and lacerating lyrics remain the main draw

In the Christian folk tale, Eve was fashioned from Adam’s superfluous rib. Sleaford Mods think we’re all spare ribs: canon fodder, expendable in the eyes of a government that responded too weakly, too late, to the pandemic. The ruling class, Jason Williamson suggests, perennially sacrifice the powerless to feed GDP.

If that’s the cheery take-home at the heart of Sleaford Mods’ sixth album, the east Midlands duo remain a joyous tonic, all funny, burbling noises, word association and banging tunes. Andrew Fearn’s deathlessly inventive compositions stare you down, defying you to find them simplistic – the title track’s turbo-charged electro, and the pointillist electronics of Top Room, are just two cases in point.

Related: On my radar: Jason Williamson’s cultural highlights

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Cerys Matthews, Hidden Orchestra and 10 Poets: We Are from the Sun review – works a treat

Poets ranging from Adam Horovitz to Imtiaz Dharker are backed by shifting arrangements from Matthews and Joe Acheson on this remarkable collaboration

In the pop era, the long love affair between poetry and music has bloomed into inspired tributes – the Waterboys on Yeats, say, or Jah Wobble on Blake – while living poets declaiming to music has proved more erratic. There have been highs – Betjeman, Cooper Clarke, LKJ, Tempest – but worthy-but-dull is more common. Here, Cerys Matthews and studio polymath Joe Acheson , AKA Hidden Orchestra, pull off the trick in style, with 10 diverse UK poets reading to arrangements that shape-shift dazzlingly between pastoral sound washes, stark beats and found sounds, all with “genesis” as the theme (more “poem song” albums are promised).

Among the award-laden poets (and some of us clearly haven’t been paying attention), Adam Horovitz and Liz Berry embrace the landscapes that shaped them, respectively Cotswold stone and Black Country grime, the latter evoked by a confusion of furnace, factory noise and feathers before drifting away on the white breath prayer of January. MA Moyo’s Flame Lily, an invocation of feminine power, gets growling synths and clattering drums. Raymond Antrobus’s elegiac memories of his father need only a piano coda, while Imtiaz Dharker’s nocturnal cameo is set to dreamy trumpet. A fascinating, lyrical collection – what an alt national treasure Cerys has become.

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Zayn: Nobody Is Listening review – music to make babies to

The former One Directioner has retreated to the bedroom on this impressively assured set of R&B booty calls

Pop music is not an easy place to be a reluctant, brooding antihero. In a world where everyone is doing jazz hands, strutting their stuff and projecting to the back of the hall, Zayn Malik has long been more wallflower material – less eager to please, more introverted and more sceptical than the job description called for.

Nearly six years since he bowed out from One Direction, precipitating their indefinite hiatus, the mononymous Zayn remains something of a cipher. Despite being three albums and umpteen paparazzi shots into a solo career, he’s a vanishing act. Nobody Is Listening doesn’t change that. As Zayn himself would have it, he’s perennially “in a world of [his] own”.

Happily, Zayn’s libido is not the toxic kind that has you rolling your eyes

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