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Music round-up: June 2010

Jude Mason

Losing a band member can be make or break for a group. When Brooklyn wonders The Hold Steady lost their crazy-eyed and scenester-moustached keyboard player, a large part of their identity and sound went with him; but (and it's a big but) instead of being a disappointment Heaven Is Whenever is wonderful. As always (Heaven is their 5th album) the lyrics are awash with transcendent imagery as it collides with real life.  Unafraid of both the glory and reality of life, theirs is a living and breathing spirituality. 'Our struggle still feels wonderful most days,' Craig Finn sings on the final track, 'We're not afraid, we have our faith.'

Rufus Wainright
lost more than a band member when his mother succumbed to cancer earlier this year. All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu is an album-length outworking of that grief. Wildly different from his extravagantly produced recent albums, this is just Rufus and a piano. Unfortunately while being stripped back sonically, it feels unnecessarily theatrical and overblown, even un-musical in places.  The one saving grace is the track 'True Love Sweet', which is achingly beautiful.

Kate Nash
's second album is a fantastic array of styles from breezy girl-pop, through the post punk of Bow Wow Wow, to slam poetry. My Best Friend Is You is way better than I could have thought possible.  Beware though - although the songs may sound chirpy on the radio there's plenty of filthy language here, so edit the playlist if you have children.

Over here in the USA we've been waiting patiently for the music of Marina & The Diamonds (pictured) to cross the great dividing ocean. The perfect middle point between Lady GaGa and Florence & The Machine (less gimmicks than the former, less drama than the latter), The Family Jewels is already burned and creating the soundtrack of the summer in our household. Smashing summer pop.

Also out is an ace new album from The National, more genius ramblings from Mark E Smith on The Fall's The Future Is Our Clutter, and the first new music from art-house nutters Devo in 20 years.  Bouncy, electronic and weird -maybe they just waited till music turned full circle and sounded like Devo again.  Whatever, it works.

Jude Mason