This week's best new albums: Perfume Genius, Charli XCX, Sparks and more

Perfume Genius (Mike Hadreas) performing at the Roundhouse, London, in 2017
Perfume Genius (Mike Hadreas) performing at the Roundhouse, London, in 2017 Credit: Redferns

Proving there is life during lockdown, singer-songwriter-producer and all-round pop whirlwind Charli XCX has written, recorded and released an entire quarantine album in just six weeks. Digital technology has long since empowered high quality home recording and long-distance collaboration, so don’t go in expecting some lo-fi bedroom navel gazing acoustic opus. 

how i’m feeling now (Atlantic ★★★★★) is every bit as sonically over-the-top as Charlotte Aitchison’s previous high concept sci-fi pop. Nevertheless, her account of coping with isolation has a directness, immediacy, intimacy and emotional impact that has eluded her before, which goes to show there can be a benefit in not overthinking things

It is not easy to see how the music business will emerge from social isolation, with the future of touring and promotion under threat幼女视频在线视频. But at least the release schedules are starting to heat up. There are some very strong albums out this week for anyone craving a new music fix.

The fifth album from poetic, shapeshifting singer-songwriter Perfume Genius is a thing of beauty and wonder. Set My Heart on Fire Immediately (Matador ★★★★★) is the most accessible album from Mike Hadreas (aka Perfume Genius) to date, without sacrificing any of his otherworldly strangeness and rich emotionalism. A somewhat tortured character, Hadreas has wrestled philosophically and emotionally in his work with growing up gay in mid-west America before embracing an out-an-arty homosexual life in New York, which has sometimes seen him pigeonholed as a queer artist. What he should really be recognised as is one of the most inventive, intense and expressive singer-songwriters working anywhere at this moment in time.

This is his fifth album, and second with producer Blake Mills, himself a brilliant guitarist and songwriter who has produced such singular talents as Fiona Apple, Alabama Shakes, John Legend and Laura Marling幼女视频在线视频. For the first time, Perfume Genius has recorded in a live band set up, employing such veteran super session musicians as drummer Jim Keltner (who has worked with pretty much every major rock star you can think of) and Pino Palladino (the fretless bass virtuoso whose range extends from Gary Numan to Elton John).

幼女视频在线视频The album's sound is soft, warm and deep, extending in style from baroque arpeggio ballads reminiscent of Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison at their most moodily romantic (Without You, Jason) to the limber dance grooves and strange atmospheres of such 1980s iconoclasts as Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush (On The Floor and Your Body Changes Everything). In between, it explores the mysterious acoustic drama of Tim Buckley (Moonbend) and the dark indie rock of War On Drugs (Nothing At All).

幼女视频在线视频Songs shift, change and writhe, as if mimicking the expressive dance movements of Hardeas’s very physical performance style. Yet his voice remains front and centre, maintaining a connection with his original exposed and fragile lo-fi recordings. His singing can be both edgily tentative and creamily assured, spanning a baritone croon and tender falsetto. His songs wrestle with life, love and sex as if his entire being is on the line, with beautiful melodies set in rich and spooky arrangements. It is an album of vast depths that will reward a lot of listening – just what some of us need to get through these long lockdown nights.

Jason Isbell operates in a much more straightforward fashion than either of the above artists, writing in established country rock and singer-songwriter forms. He happens to be brilliant at it, one of the best currently out there. Reunions (Thirty Tigers ★★★★☆幼女视频在线视频) is his sixth album (and the fourth to be credited alongside his band The 400 Unit). He write about the ordinary torments of an examined life with real empathy, matching sublime turns of phrase with all the right chords in all the right places, and arrangements that lift up a song and carry it exactly where you might want it to go.

The album cover of Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit's Reunions Credit: AP

From exquisitely tender, elegaic ballad Only Children (“‘Heaven’s wasted on the dead’ is what your mama said / When the hearse was idling in the parking lot”) to self-questioning anthem What I’ve Done To Help, Isbell and his band are firing on all cylinders. Honestly, if you like this kind of thing, the guitar sounds and solos on burning rocker Overseas  are worth the price of entry alone. Isbell is right up there with Tom Petty as a master of Americana, creating songs that make you feel good even as they wrap around bitter nuggets of hard-earned wisdom.

Ever since the glam-rocking 1970s, the sibling duo of Ron and Russell Male have been making arch, intricate art pop as Sparks with no discernible diminishment of quality. A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip (BMG ★★★★☆)  is packed with more clever, satirical observations of everyday life that somehow blend the extravagant flamboyance of operatic showtunes with baroque electro pop; a modern-day Gilbert and Sullivan meets an old-fashioned Pet Shop Boys. This is their 29th album, a delightfully silly set of eccentric songcraft. You could do worse than take Russell’s tetchy advice on iPhone: “Put your f------ iPhone down and listen to me!”

Moby is another class act, returning with his 17th album All Visible Objects (Mute ★★★☆☆). Stylistically, it’s a bit all over the place, as he touches on many disparate strands of his electronic oeuvre, from euphoric techno to emotional house, slamming utopian political anthems against atmospheric ambient doodles. It may not be his most cohesive collection but when it comes to concocting sad bangers artfully combining bittersweet emotion with mesmeric dance grooves, Moby is too good to dismiss. All profits are going to a personal selection of charities, so you can dance along in lockdown and do some good at the same time.

Moby performing at the 2003 Glastonbury Festival Credit: Reuters

Atlanta native Navaydius Wilburn (aka Future) is one of the architects and current prime practioners of the spacey, narcoleptic, auto tuned sing song sound prevalent in hip hop at the moment. It has a monotone yet dreamy ambience you can drift away to, if you don’t pay much attention to what he is actually rapping about. Now, we all know a middle aged white British rock critic is not the target audience for his new album High Off Life (Freebandz / Sony ★★☆☆☆). He hails from and writes about a very different world to me and has succeeded with very different challenges and priorities. Throughout decades of listening to and enjoying hip hop, I have had to take such matters into account whilst contemplating lyrical attitudes that I might find personally reprehensible. But rap has been around for four decades now, and you might have hoped it would have evolved beyond this kind of backwards, deeply misogynist, abusively macho, greed- and status-obsessed posturing.

If a rock band sang songs like this, they would be banned from the radio and picketed at every performance. Future, meanwhile, has got to number one in the middle a global crisis with a facile, boastful bling anthem, Life Is Good, his current collaboration with Drake. There is, as ever in the arts, no accounting for taste.