The centenary of the outbreak of the first world war has already been marked by two outstanding albums – Robb Johnson's Gentle Men and the Show of Hands collaboration with Jim Carter and Imelda Staunton – and now comes a double album from Barry Coope, Jim Boyes and Lester Simpson, a trio of exhilarating a cappella singers who have done more than most to express the horrors of the conflict in their songs, and have been involved in a series of war-related projects, including concerts on former battlefields. The 50 tracks here include new and old recordings of wartime songs and their own compositions, with occasional piano work from Belinda O'Hooley and vocals from June Tabor on the atmospheric Shule Agra. But they are equally powerful on their own, with magnificent, stirring harmony work on the cheerfully bitter Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire or Jim Boyes' bleak lament, Hill 60.
Always aware of the import of even their slightest movement, Manic Street Preachers place a lot of weight on their album titles and 2014's Futurology is designed as a conscious counterpoint to 2013's Rewind the Film. That record wound up closing an era where the Manics looked back toward their own history as a way of moving forward, but Futurology definitively opens a new chapter for the Welsh trio, one where they're pushing into uncharted territory. Never mind that, by most standards this charge toward the future is also predicated on the past, with the group finding fuel within the robotic rhythms of Krautrock and the arty fallout of punk; within the context of the Manics, this is a bracing, necessary shift in direction. All the death disco, free-range electronics, Low homages, and Teutonic grooves, suit the situational politics of the Manics, perhaps even better than the AOR-inspired anthems that have been their stock in trade, but the words – crafted, as ever, by Nicky Wire, who remains obsessed with self-recriminations, injustice and rallying cries – aren't the focus here. Unique among Manics albums, Futurology is primarily about the music, with the surging synthesizers and jagged arrangements providing not an emotional blood-letting or call to arms, but rather an internal journey.