“It’s hard working the same piece of clay, day after day, year after year,” sings Paul Simon on the title track of Stranger to Stranger, his first album since So Beautiful Or So What in 2011. But his tenacious pursuit of new sounds, such as the unique microtonal instruments of composer Harry Partch on Insomniac’s Lullaby, and juxtapositions such as the gnarled blues guitar (played by Simon) and cello on The Riverbank, make this album as rewarding as anything he’s done. The creaky slide guitars, distant train whistles and street-corner harmony groups on songs such as Wristband and The Clock hark back to the records of the 1940s and 50s. Yet the samples and loops amid the album’s dusty ambience mean it’s no exercise in nostalgia. Simon’s lyrics are finely honed, from the conversational The Werewolf to the confessional title track, a moving exploration of his creative process. “Just a way of dealing with my joy,” as he puts it.
Jon Dennis is Guardian's multimedia production editor and also writes about music.