audio

August Audio Reviews

By Robbie Daw and John Hamilton

Our Audio section is 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 Annie, Ayah Marar, The Civil Wars, KT Tunstall and more.

 

ANNIE

The A&R EP (Pleasure Masters)

4 Stars

Like a skip through the neon-lit streets of Clubland, The A&R EP showcases what singer/songwriter Annie and frequent collaborator Richard X do best: make sparkling, futuristic dance music with a winking eye toward the past. Whereas previous singles betrayed a love for the ‘80s (“Chewing Gum,” “Anthonio”), A&R dips into ‘90s house and dance-pop sounds with cheeky aplomb. First single “Back Together” percolates with the upbeat spirit of Cathy Dennis, while centerpiece “Ralph Macchio” frames an irony-free love letter to the Karate Kid star in a flurry of bleeps and bloops. Lucky for listeners, Annie can be eccentric without losing sight of the fun, ensuring The A&R EP stays as chipper, sexy, and bold as its colorful artwork promises. —JH 

 

 

 

 

AYAH MARAR

The Real (Radikal)

3 Stars

UK-based singer Ayah Marar is a voice you’re likely just now getting up to speed on thanks to her feature on Calvin Harris’ current UK Top 10 hit “Thinking About You.” That particular ‘90s house throwback is truly the best track off the Scottish DJ/producer’s most recent album, 18 Months (she's also featured on “Flashback” from Harris’ previous album Ready For The Weekend), and now Marar’s own album, The Real, is seeing the light of day in the States. Generic-sounding production weighs some of this dance-driven LP down, (dubstep numbers “The Predator” and “Alive” are particularly overcooked), but there are two highlights worth checking out: throbbing jam “Mind Controller” and the album’s housey title track. —RD

 

 

 

 

THE CIVIL WARS

The Civil Wars (Columbia)

4 Stars

As tender as some tracks on this—the second album from country/folk heroes The Civil Wars—are (“Same Old Same Old” is a particular heart-tugging highlight), one can’t help thinking of the duo’s inner strife while listening.  Quick catch-up: Joy Williams and John Paul White struck a chord with music buyers two years ago with Barton Hollow and subsequently when on to snag a Grammy. They’ve since gone on hiatus and we’re now left with their fragile, self-titled sophomore album sitting among the ashes. Knowing this makes their Smashing Pumpkins cover “Disarm” ring with even more poignancy, and the duo’s harmonies on songs like “Dust To Dust” seem like a sad reminder of a once-promising partnership. —RD

 

 

 

 

KT TUNSTALL

Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon (Blue Note)

4 Stars

The world needs more guitar-toting divas like Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall. She doesn’t make hits, rather, she crafts music that’s thoroughly enjoyable to throw on in the background while taking in a book at the coffee shop, lounging in a hammock or sharing a bottle of wine on the patio with friends. And the latter is far more difficult to achieve than the former. The double slashes in the album title here come from the fact that Tunstall staged two different recording sessions, in Arizona with indie/alt-country songwriter Howard Gelb in 2012. The result is a double-album-in-one with gorgeous, piano-driven gems like “Crescent Moon” and “Yellow Flower,” as well as sweet jangle-pop numbers “Invisible Empire” and “Honeydew.” —RD 

 

 

 

 

RUDIMENTAL

Home (Big Beat)

4 Stars

This British dance outfit struck a home run in their home country last year with “Feel The Love,” a euphoric dance track that features up-and-coming soul crooner John Newman. They’ve since wrangled in other prominent hitmakers to lend their voices, like Emeli Sande (on “Free” and “More Than Anything”), Angel Haze (“Hell Could Freeze”), Foxes (“Right Here”) and Alex Clare (“Not Giving In”). As far as DJ-fronted pop goes, Rudimental’s album Home is more pleasant than anything David Guetta has chucked out and on par with the best of Calvin Harris. This one is all beats and heart. —RD 

 

 

July Audio Reviews

 

By Robbie Daw & Stephen Sears

 

 

Our Audio section has moved online—and it’s 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 Sara Bareilles, Pet Shop Boys, Cody Simpson and more.

 

PET SHOP BOYS

Electric (x2)

5 stars

 

 

 

 

If you haven’t heard by now, there’s one album you absolutely need to acquire in order to get your pulse racing this summer, and this is it. Following 2012’s reflective Elysium — a record that focused on rich instrumentation and the UK duo’s own thoughts on aging in the music biz — pop gods Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have done a full 180 and are back on the dancefloor, with producer Stuart Price (Madonna, The Killers) in the passenger seat. Electric has the Boys crafting mind-blowing, addictive pop gems like “Thursday” and “Love Is A Bourgeois Construct,” while also serving up the strictly four-on-the-floor bangers “Axis,” “Fluorescent” and “Shouting In the Evening.” For the most part, the album’s tracks are arranged in alphabetical order, and things wind down with the peak-hour rave throwback “Vocal.” On the track, Tennant warmly informs us, “I like the people, I like the song / this is my kind of music, they play it all night long.” Our thoughts exactly, Neil. Whether you’re a diehard Pethead who’s been waiting for another Very-like masterpiece from the Pet Shop Boys or simply a fan of good pop, Electric is a must-have. — RD 

 

 

SARA BAREILLES

The Blessed Unrest (Epic)

3 stars

 

 

 

 

For most folks, summer is best fitted with upbeat music that lets us revel in the season’s sunny glow. But damn that notion, says Sara Bareilles — she of past hits “Love Song” and “King Of Anything.” On her fourth album, the California gurl dials down the tempo a few notches and gives us one piano lament (“1000 Times”) after another (“December”). This isn’t a bad thing, and there do happen to be a couple “up” moments, particularly with slightly-electro number “Eden” and hanclappy first single “Brave.” But, c’mon — lighten up, Sara. It’s July! — RD 

 

 

FRANKMUSIK

Between (VDI USA Inc.)

4 stars

 

 

 

 

Frankmusik has lived to tell. After a long stint in California and a second album that shed the charm of his much-loved 2009 debut, Vince Frank returned to England and reclaimed his mojo. Recording Between on his own budget, to the beat of his own drums — literal and metaphorical — the results puts him back in the game. The soaring chorus of "Did Love?" deserves to be on every car stereo this summer, while “How Do We Know?” is a gorgeous heartbreaker. Pop music with frenetic energy, passion and a dose of self-reflection…welcome back, Vince. — SS 

 

 

CODY SIMPSON

Surfer’s Paradise (Atlantic)

3 stars

 

 

 

 

Everyone’s favorite Aussie tween heartthrob Cody Simpson has gotten more muscular and quite hunkier since he swung onto the pop scene three years ago in a bid to catch the run-off from Bieber mania. But what of the music? This eight-track mini album surfs through jangly guitar pop (“La Da Dee”), dance-leaning radio candy (“Pretty Brown Eyes”) and even some reggae-lite moments (“No Ceiling”). Cody’s shelf-life might be up at any point, but if it’s disposable himbo pop you’re after, you could do worse than dive into Simpson’s cove. — RD 

 

 

​SKYLAR GREY

Don’t Look Down (Interscope)

2.5 stars

 

 

 

 

This chanteuse made a splashy debut as a songwriter a few years back, penning hits for no less than Eminem, Rihanna, Diddy and Dr. Dre. And partnering up with golden-fingered London producer Alex da Kid should have been a slam-dunk for her own solo career. Alas, Skylar has thrown at least four singles against the wall — none of which succeeded in sticking. The problem is this: from “Final Warning” to “Wear Me Out” to the Eminem-assisted “C’mon Let Me Ride,” we never get a sense of who the all-over-the-place Grey really is. Best hang behind the scenes, doll. — RD 

June Audio Reviews

 

Our Audio section has moved online—and it’s 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 CSS, Capital Cities, Sally Shapiro and more.

 

CSS

Planta (SQE Music)

4 stars

One of this year's surprising musical delights was Tegan And Sara's Heartthrob, an album that found the sister act slipping easily into the world of sugary electro-pop. And, now, most likely unintentionally, sexy Brazilian quartet CSS have crafted the perfect companion LP to Heartthrob, with their hook-heavy fourth set Planta. TV On The Radio's David Sitek picked up production duties here (look for his knob-twiddling on the recent Yeah Yeah Yeahs material and Kelis' upcoming record, as well), and the result is a hip summer album full of synth gems like the playful "Teenage Tiger Cat," '80s-leaning "Into The Sun" and tongue-in-cheek "Frankie Goes To North Hollywood." Clever.  — RD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAPITAL CITIES

In A Tidal Wave Of Mystery (Capitol)

4.5 stars

Allow me to rant for a second about "Safe And Sound," the Little Song That Could by Los Angeles indie-pop dance duo Capital Cities. Before they were signed to, obviously, Capitol Records (watch the spelling), these two released this bouncy single various times, in several different versions. They eventually laid a horn track over it, and, starting in January this year, mainstream radio has slowly been picking it up. Good! "Safe And Sound" deserves to be a sleeper summer hit, up there with Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," if you ask me. The pair's debut album consists of six previously-released numbers, plus a handful of new tracks, like trippy jam "Farrah Fawcett Hair," a quirky collaboration with Andre 3000 and, of all people, NPR personality Frank Tavares. Good stuff for the BBQ and pool season. — RD

 

 

 

 

 

BROADWAY CAST

Kinky Boots (Sony)

4 stars

Did you expect Kinky Boots, a new musical based on the 2005 British film of the same name about a straight bloke who teams up with a drag
queen to save his father's shoe factory, to land 13 Tony nominations (the most in 2013) this year? And when you heard Cyndi Lauper was scoring the production, were you expecting her to pull tunes this wonderful out of her cap? No, nor did I. The cast recording, led beautifully by Stark Sands and Billy Porter's vocals, is somewhat of a gem on its own. (Lend an ear to the pair's tearjerker "I'm Not My Father's Son" and the giddy show-stopper "Everybody Say Yeah.") But do yourself a favor — snag a ticket to this smash next time you're in New York; it's an uplifting sight to be seen, and Lauper has delivered with songs both familiar and gloriously unexpected. — RD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SALLY SHAPIRO

Elsewhere (Paper Bag)

4 stars

You gotta stay current in clubland, so dance music’s demurest diva and her inventive producer, Johan Agebjorn, have no qualms about putting out a full remix album just three months after their most recent opus, the sparkling Somewhere Else. Every track from that set has been given a sleek rejigging here, from a slew of interesting producers: Lovelock transforms “I Sleep With An Angel Tonight” into a beachy ballad, Mauvais Cliche go full ‘90s on “Architectured Love,” and even bona fide pop star Little Boots lends her touch to the proceedings. As these things go, the results vary but Elsewhere retains enough of its parent album’s dazzling energy to make it an enjoyable excursion. — JH

 

 

 

 

 

SUSANNE SUNDFØR

The Silicone Veil (susannesundfor.com)

4 stars

Trading on the kind of grandiose pop that’s made cult heroines of Tori and Florence, Susanne Sundfør pushes her icy trill of a voice to towering heights on The Silicone Veil, a captivating debut and no. 1 smash in her native Norway. “Stop (Push the Button)” and “Meditation in an Emergency” find the singer-songwriter having Epic Emotional Moments over electronic soundscapes you generally only hear in the movies -- fitting, considering Sundfør’s high-profile appearance on M83’s Oblivion soundtrack. Veil’s dramatic peak occurs in the blast-off single “White Foxes,” which is beautifully dark and just a little bit dance-y -- if your dancefloor is, say, in the middle of a snow-covered shire at midnight. — JH

 

 

 

 

May Audio Reviews

 

Our Audio section has moved online—and it’s 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 Betty Who, Little Boots, CHARLI XCX and more.

 

LITTLE BOOTS

Nocturnes (On Repeat Records)

4 stars

Victoria Hesketh (aka Little Boots) briefly flirted with commercial success in her home country of England four years ago before seemingly disappearing into the ether. Her poppy LP Hands, on which she worked with hit-maker Greg Kurstin, produced the minor hits "New In Town" and "Remedy." But since 2009, Hesketh parted ways with her original label, DJ-ed around the world and quietly worked on her sophomore outing, Nocturnes. The result is a far less-polished affair than her debut album, but an utterly pleasing and altogether more-real one nonetheless. The album kicks off with moody electro number "Motorway" and proceeds to take us on a journey across shimmery disco terrain ("Confusion," "Beat Beat"), up the '80s synth-pop mountain ("Strangers") and down the path to full-on '90s house revival ("Every Night I Say A Prayer"). At just 10 tracks, Nocturnes is a tight little record that's capped by two standout numbers: the sharp new wave lament "All For You" and Saint Etienne-esque "Satellites." —RD

 

 

 

ALISON MOYET 

the minutes (Metropolis Records)

4 stars

Alison Moyet is loved. The past few years have seen her serving up what her fans want (live performances with Yazoo). She’s described recording the minutes—yes, in mysterious lower case—as her “happiest studio experience.” It’s also her most cohesive album in 20 years. If you know the work of collaborator Guy Sigsworth (Frou Frou, Alanis), you can anticipate the lush, sputtering sonics of album opener "Horizon Flame." The turbulent “A Place To Stay” whips sawing strings and some very high vocals into a sort of Middle Eastern metal-pop storm. But the minutes also reveals Moyet’s lighter side with “Love Reign Supreme,” perhaps the most joyous song she's ever recorded. —SS

 

 

 

BETTY WHO

The Movement (BettyWhoTheMovement.com)

5 stars

Thank God young Aussie songstress Betty Who ditched her plans for a career playing cello and began to pen dreamy pop songs about love and heartache, because while her EP, The Movement, only contains four songs, at least three of them are summer party playlist-worthy. The singer sounds vaguely familiar (her voice echoes both Elly Jackson from La Roux and Katy Perry, while shades of the Cranberries' Dolores Riordan also creep in), and that gives an added likability factor to her scandalously amazing songs. The synthy "Somebody Loves You" sounds as if it could easily have been wedged on radio playlists in 1983, alongside hits by Culture Club, Duran Duran and Human League. But it's the irresistible mid-tempo jam "You're In Love" that's truly gripping our hearts. Betty then goes in for the kill with "High Society," the best song Bananarama never recorded in 1987. —RD

 

 

 

ANNA BERGENDAHL

Something To Believe In (Decca)

3.5 stars

With Adele taking a breather to polish her Grammys work on her next blockbuster, the pop scene has an opening to fill in their Overseas Sensation Department, Confessional Singer/Songwriter Division—and Anna Bergendahl is giving a very good interview. Working with Joni Mitchell producer Larry Klein, the native Swede mines the same El Lay hippie-lady gospel of Mitchell tempered with sharp lyrical chops (the clever “I Hate New York” stands out) and a clear, pain-imbued vocal style all her own. Despite the somewhat retro vibe, big pop hooks are present and accounted for without oversweetening this impressive debut, a tender but tough song cycle of love, loss and metropolitan solitude. —JH

 

 

 

CHARLI XCX

True Romance (IAMSOUND/Atlantic)

4.5 stars

Don’t judge an oddball by her glittery makeup—Charli XCX is far from another Lady Katy Ke$ha knockoff. On the appropriately-titled True Romance, the UK singer-songwriter lays out her pop wares with a distinctly moody and personal point of view. “Nuclear Seasons” and “Stay Away” set a high water mark for gothic disco, while “Cloud Aura” evokes the gritty, cinematic bravado of your average twentysomething art class obsessive. The set is polished where it needs to be and filled with potential hits (“Set Me Free,” “Black Roses”) but forward-thinking in a way that indicates bigger and better things to come. “I fucked up” she wails over a clattering beat at one point; she couldn’t be more wrong. —JH 

 

 

April Audio Reviews

Our Audio section has moved online—and it’s 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 OneRepublic, Dido, Suede and more.

ONEREPUBLIC

Native (Interscope Records)

4 stars

When PopJustice recently compiled its list of definitive ballads (subtly entitled EPIC BALLAD BONANZA), it was no surprise that the top entry was a Ryan Tedder creation: Jordin Sparks’s everything-but-a-cannon-going-off anthem “Battlefield.” Tedder, the mastermind behind OneRepublic and wizard of hits for Kelly Clarkson and Beyonce, continues to ply his stock in trade with pleading, hook-laden torch songs on Native, his own act’s third album. No one’s breaking new ground here, but Tedder’s signature brand of bombast still brings major goosebumps on tracks “Can’t Stop,” “Burning Bridges” and “Feel Again.” Downbeat yet uplifting reminders of the power of the power ballad.  —JH 

OneRepublic: “If I Lose Myself”

 

SUEDE

Bloodsports (Ingrooves/Fontana)

4.5 stars

Suede (or The London Suede, as they’re known in this country, for legal reasons) never quite reached the giddy heights their Britpop peers Blur ascended to in the 1990s. Still, Brett Anderson’s impassioned, unmistakable yowl and the band’s crunchy glam-leaning guitars guaranteed that they were our favorites, at least. It’s been 11 years since Anderson & Co.’s last album as Suede, and thankfully the band reunited with original producer Ed Buller for their sixth LP, Bloodsports. The result is a moody epic worthy of the act’s legacy, populated by such gems as the ecstatic “It Starts And Ends With You,” gloomy rocker “Sabotage,” jangly power ballad “For The Strangers” and the joyously sappy “Always.” Consider this the perfect remedy for those in need of a 1993 fix. —RD 

Suede: “It Stars And Ends With You”

 

DIDO 

Girl Who Got Away (RCA)

4 stars

For every five years that Dido takes between album releases, a new crop of electronic pop girls surfaces and then, in some cases, just as quickly fades away. (The latest batch includes Ellie Goulding, Jessie Ware and Elly Jackson of La Roux.) Still, amidst the synths and beats, there’s something rather comforting about Dido’s voice that, at the very least, keeps our curiosity piqued for each new album. Her fourth outing is brimming with comforting, radio-ready pop like slinky groove “Go Dreaming” and the building slow burner “Let Us Move On.” One particular highlight is the shimmery “Blackbird,” a song that could easily be one of the most gripping the 41-year-old Brit has ever recorded. It seems collaborators like Greg Kurstin, Jeff Bhasker and Rick Nowels have helped this girl who got away find her inner pop goddess.  —RD

Dido: Girl Who Got Away album sampler

 

GOLD FIELDS

Black Sun (Astralwerks)

4 stars

Gold Fields is one of the most chart-viable indie pop acts to come out of Australia in the wake of groups like Cut Copy and PNAU. Their flawless 2012 single "Dark Again" is a template for the 11 tracks on their debut, Black Sun. In live performance, the five-piece band is energized by a powerful duo of drummers. The recordings, while still bearing a tribal drum influence (think Friendly Fires), are more synthy and pop-minded. “Closest I Could Get” balances grooving verses with a huge, layered chorus, while the violin-laced "Happy Boy" is exquisite, trading pounding beats for a sleek melancholy. —SS

Gold Fields: Black Sun album sampler

 

KWANZA JONES

Supercharged (Innovation Entertainment Group)

3 stars

It’s hard out there for a self-proclaimed “gladiator in the thong,” especially when she dabbles in crafting club jams. With so many dance-pop divas cluttering the charts these days, you’ve practically got to launch bottle rockets out of your bra to get the attention of the masses. Lucky for Kwanza Jones, she’s got a handful of solid tunes on Supercharged, including high-octane stompers “Flawless,” “Turn It Up,” “Time To Go” and the title track. The bad news for listeners and, in turn, Ms. Jones, is that the latter half of the album falls into a monotonous rut, and what should be a full LP comes off sounding like one long megamix of the same three songs. —RD

Kwanza Jones: “Supercharged”