October Audio Reviews: Diane Birch — In, Katy Perry —Out

By Robbie Daw & Stephen Sears

October Audio is here, Instincters, and more interactive than ever! Stream music, watch videos, plus get the ever-excellent expert opinions from our musical mavens on the newest releases. What’s spinning right now? We've got reviews on the new releases from Diane Birch, Katy Perry, Donna Summer, St. Lucia and Cass McCombs.

 

DIANE BIRCH

Speak A Little Louder (S-Curve)

5 stars

Forget Katy, Gaga, Britney, Miley and all the other pop dames out there chucking out standard pop-porn fare; Diane Birch has the truly amazing album of Fall 2013 that you need to be tuning in to. It’s been over four years since the singer-songwriter’s debut Bible Belt first gained her a moderate amount of attention, but this follow-up, written during much emotional heartache (the songstress went through a breakup and dealt with the passing of her father) signifies that it was worth the wait. The title track starts things off on a hauntingly melodic, mid-tempo note before “Lighthouse” kicks things up a notch with galloping drums and a soaring chorus. Keep an ear out for the outstanding “Pretty In Pain,” a funky toe-tapper Birch wrote with disco legend Betty Wright. It’s followed by killer cuts like the handclap-filled, Stevie Nicks-esque “Love And War,” the new wave throwback “Frozen Over” and the heartbreaking tribute to the singer’s father, “It Plays On.” Buy this album, please. — RD

 

 

 

KATY PERRY

Prism (Capitol)

2.5 stars

Here’s the thing about Katy Perry’s third album Prism: she worked with several Swedes on the album, including Bloodshy and Klas Åhlund, and those are really the standout tracks here. (Some may dig the ballad "Double Rainbow," if that’s your thing.) One of the big songs that’ll get a lot of gays clutching their candy is "Walking On Air," which Perry did with Klas and sounds like an early-'90s house throwback. At a recent album listening session in New York, Katy said she wanted something that sounded like an old CeCe Peniston jam with this track — and it’s pretty marvelous. But overall, you get the sense that the choruses on Prism just don’t go anywhere like you really want them to. The song "This Is How We Do" was recorded in Stockholm with Bloodshy, and I kept hoping the chorus would just blow up. Mind you, it was a decent track, but by album number three, Katy should be knocking catchy vocal arrangements out of the park, and it just doesn’t seem to be happening this time around. Sorry, KatyCats. — RD

 

 

 

DONNA SUMMER

Love To Love You Donna (Verve)

3 stars

The thought behind this posthumous remix collection of the famed disco diva’s hits is to honor her biggest chart successes like “Love To Love You Baby,” “Hot Stuff” and “MacArthur Park,” while also introducing her tracks to the younger, more EDM-loving generation. The reinterpretations themselves are hit or miss for the most part. Duke Dumont’s take on “Dim All The Lights” incorporates little of Summer herself, while the Holy Ghost! Mix of “Working The Midnight Shift” takes a backing vocal track rather than the lead melody fans will recognize. Elsewhere, Afrojack offers up an adrenalized take on “I Feel Love” and Frankie Knuckles pairs with Eric Kupper for a retro-sounding house work-over of “Hot Stuff.” Curiosity seekers will no doubt be thrilled with the addition of “La Dolce Vita,” an unreleased track Summer recorded with longtime producer Giorio Moroder. If only there had been other such lost gems to populate this otherwise so-so compilation. — RD

 

 

 

ST. LUCIA

When The Night (Columbia)

4 stars

St. Lucia’s long awaited debut album thunders across the dance floor. Lush single “Elevate” is held aloft by monolithic synths, while “The Way You Remember Me” recalls a lost John Hughes soundtrack. Band leader Jean-Philip Grobler’s voice is right up front in that track’s polished mix of big drums, synths and — sigh — a sax solo. Early single “September” is a leaner disco machine with swoops of falsetto vocals and a sense of elegant urgency. Former choirboy Grobler delivers a collection of songs that mainline pure euphoria; this is music equally compelling beneath strobe lights or sunshine. — SS

 

 

 

CASS MCCOMBS

Big Wheel And Others (Domino)

4 stars

Cass McCombs records always sound best in the fall, and so here we are with the mid-October release of the California alt-rock poet’s seventh LP. With a run-time of nearly an hour-and-a-half, there are 19 (!) tracks to be found, three of which are snippets of dialog from ‘70s documentary Sean. It would be altogether bizarre stuff if McCombs wasn’t so deft at turning out completely amazing, off-the-wall rockers like “Big Wheel” and “There Can Only Be One,” or the somber, timeless sounding “Brighter!”, a collaboration with recently-deceased actress Karen Black, of all people. Cass has always proven himself to be a musical oddity you shouldn’t miss out on. Here’s another chance — a pretty great one, at that — for your introduction to his world. — RD