music

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 

The Boys of Summer

 

By Robbie Daw

 

Summer 2013 needed a soundtrack. Thankfully it’s Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe to the rescue. Thirty years into their career as the preeminent gentleman of pop and conveyors of all that is witty, heartfelt and occasionally tongue-in-cheek under the strobe light, Pet Shop Boys are about to release their 12th studio album, Electric. For production duties, the UK duo enlisted fellow Brit Stuart Price — yes, the man behind Madonna’s Confessions On A Dancefloor and a dozen other pop gems from the past decade. The result, dare we say it, is the pair’s most banging album since 1993’s Very.

 

What brings you two to Los Angeles?

NEIL TENNANT: We’re just in LA for two days before going down to Chile. Our manager also lives here, so we’ve been meeting with her on a few other things. We’re about to start a South American tour on Monday, and we go to Argentina, Colombia, Brazil and Paraguay.

 

The Electric Tour hits the States in September. I caught you twice last time around, on the Pandemonium Tour, including the date in Italy with Take That.

NEIL: Oh, in Milan! Yeah, that was fun.

 

Do you anticipate this jaunt lasting as long as the previous one? That tour stretched on for three years.

NEIL: Yeah, well, we’ll see! The Pandemonium Tour was officially going to take two years. But then the Take That thing happened. You know, sometimes you just get offers to do festivals or to do certain gigs, and so we’re happy to do that.

 

Let’s discuss the new album, Electric — which is coming out on your own label, x2. Chris, do I understand this correctly, that you came up with the name, x2?

CHRIS LOWE: Well, actually, we didn’t think we needed a label. We hadn’t really thought about it. And then we suddenly had to have one. We came up with a few ideas. Can’t think of what they are now.  But I like DSQUARED2, the clothing label, and I thought, ah, DSQUARED2 — and there are two of them; they’re twins. So I thought, what would the Pet Shop Boys’ version of that be? I thought maybe x2. I put it on my iPhone and it had a very nice simplicity to it. It looked very elegant with the “x” and the “2”. So the exciting thing is having a new brand, a new label. And we want to do different things with it — not necessarily music-related.

 

Your previous album, the beautiful Elysium, was only released last September, and yet here you are with a brand new record, out in July. This is like a feast for all the Petheads out there.

NEIL: It’s kind of a remarkably quick turnaround after Elysium. But we feel really excited about that. When we go out on tour, which starts Monday, we’ve got two new albums to play songs from. And also, I think, with our new label set up, we feel the freedom to do what we like. I think that’s a very important freedom for us. When you’ve been making records for a long time, it’s great to suddenly feel that you can do things and not necessarily always worry about radio play or whether the music industry finds it a bit strange to release two records in a 12-month period. And we can do that! So it feels like a great, free time for us.

 

 

 

 

In your video for the Electric teaser track “Axis,” it appears as if the orange cone hats are back. Is this a wink toward Very?

CHRIS: A lot of that is video projections from the latest show we’re doing. The designer, Es Devlin, who we’ve worked with before, wanted to reference some of our older stuff. But also, when we appeared at the closing ceremony of the Olympics in London, they wanted us to wear those pointy hats. They’ve become part of our iconography now. They’re black, though, not the orange ones, so they’re slightly different from Very.

NEIL: The Very ones were actually made of cardboard, or paper, even. Gareth Pugh made the ones for the Olympics. And the ones we wear for this tour are much more designer.

 

Electric is a very “up,” nine-track album produced by Stuart Price, and it plays like the perfect record for summer.

CHRIS: The main thing about working with Stuart is it’s just a lot of fun in the studio. There’s a lot of laughter and a lot of chatting. He works very, very quickly, which we always like with people. It’s never boring working with Stuart. He’s the perfect collaborator for us.

 

 

 

 

The new single, “Vocal,” undeniably has you two getting back to the dance floor.

NEIL: It genuinely sounds like a dance anthem. And also, it was a challenge writing the lyrics to a song about being on the dance floor without being cheesy. I’m really proud of the lyrics. I think they’ve got a lot of poetry about them — you know, “aspirations for a better life are ordained.” Sounds positively biblical! [Laughs] I think it’s a lovely song. It’s got a joke in it — which actually slightly dates it, because dance music has gotten more vocal recently — about having every track as a vocal, and that makes a change. So much dance music is instrumental.

 

Looking ahead, you’ve been working on a project revolving around the life of Alan Turing. How did this come about for you two?

NEIL: Chris saw a documentary on television about Alan Turing. He was, for people who don’t know, an English mathematician and inventor and code-breaker, and he invented what is now the modern home computer —the universal machine, which is one machine that would solve every problem. During the second World War, he had this big team that broke the Enigma Code, so they could find out what the German submarines were doing in the Atlantic. He very much helped to win the war. But also, he was an open homosexual. He used to tell people that he was a homosexual, which was illegal in those days and very shocking for people. He was very, very direct about it. He ended up being prosecuted for that and going to court. As punishment, they didn’t send him to prison, they gave him injections of female hormones. And as a result of being found guilty of gross indecency, his security clearances were withdrawn. He became depressed and he killed himself.

 

What a horrible end for a man who was essentially a pioneer and a war hero.

NEIL: He died and still remains a guilty man in the eyes of the law. Anyway, this film that Channel 4 made was very moving. We both read this biography by an Oxford professor called Andrew Hodges, who wrote this in the early ‘80s. He came from two directions: one, he’s a professor of mathematics, and two, he was a gay rights activist in the 1970s. Both of those strands came together in this magnificent biography. And that’s why [our] piece is called A Man From The Future, because [Turing] was credited as the inventor of the modern computer. Also, he was openly gay, which was an extremely difficult thing to be in those days. He was also looking forward to how things would be in the future. This piece is structured as eight different scenes in the life of Alan Turing, and it’s a spoken-word, electronics orchestra. We actually premiered one of the pieces when we did a concert with the BBC Philharmonic last year. It was called “He Dreamed Of Machines.” We went through Andrew Hodges’ book and took just phrases, really, to indicate what was going on at a particular time. That phrase, “He dreamed of machines” — which is beautiful, I think, for a piece of music — came from Andrew’s book. So that’s kind of an indication of what it’s like.

 

Thank you both very much for the chat. Looking forward to catching you on the road this fall!

NEIL & CHRIS: Thank you!

 

Pet Shop Boys new album Electric will be released on July 16. The North American leg of The Electric Tour kicks off September 12 in Miami.

The Skivvies Bare It All

By Mike Ciriaco, Photos by Augusten Burroughs, Monica Simoes and Michelle Blake

 

The Skivvies are all about stripping down. The New York-based music duo of Nick Cearley and Lauren Molina perform stripped down, acoustic covers of popular songs while stripped down to their underwear. This unique act has attracted the attention of high profile collaborators, like Tony-award winner Daisey Eagan and critically acclaimed writer/photographer Augusten Burroughs. Cearley and Molina recently exposed their souls to Instinct, revealing the origins of their band, their aspirations, and of course, performing publicly in their undies.

 

Where did the concept of The Skivvies originate?

Nick: In our pants. Kidding. Not really. Lauren and I have been creating music together for 10 years, wearing clothes, but performing this style of stripped down covers/mashups, plus originals.

Lauren:  We were getting sandwiches at the corner deli near my apartment and the song "We Found love" by Rihanna was playing.

Nick: I remember saying to LoMo, "God, this song drives me nuts. It’s just digital noise."

Lauren: So we went back to my apartment and dissected the song. We liked what we did with it, making it a waltz march by simply changing the time signature on guitar and ukulele. And we thought we would record a video for the YouTube.

Nick:  Lauren was deciding what to wear, standing there in her bra, and shouted to me from her bedroom asking what she should wear and I said "Just wear that!"

Lauren: I was like, "Well, we are doing a stripped down version of the song...that's pretty hilarious, to take the musically stripped down element to the next visual level" Thus, The Skivvies were born. Nick loves being in his underwear and we are both theatrical actors who have often had to appear in our underwear onstage. So it just seemed right. And ironic. Covers, uncovered.

 

How does playing in your underwear influence your performance?

Nick: Its freeing. I'm self taught, so when I learn an instrument, I am usually in my living room in some sort of state of undress figuring it all out. Putting on clothes to play instruments feels so weird.

Lauren: When we are actually in performance, there's a natural vibe the audience gets by seeing people in their underwear. It makes you appear very vulnerable and it instantly helps the audience to be on your side. Also, if I make a mistake, they are generally more forgiving.

Nick: Yes. Our straight male and lesbian fans are very happy when Lauren makes a mistake. She usually drops something and picks it up off of the floor to make up for it.

 

Do you have a 'lucky pair' of undies?

Nick: I like to wear Andrew Christian, not only because he has been very kind to give me dozens of pairs, but I also feel they are very kind to my naughty parts.

Lauren:  I like wearing Victoria's Secret brand though they have not given me a damn thing. 

 

 

What was the most interesting aspect of shooting your music video 'Hardbody Hoedown' with Augusten Burroughs?

Lauren: Augusten is an incredible photographer and he has the ability to find beautiful interesting shots in the unusual.

Nick: He is also has a very generous heart.  I was fortunate he was able to take my wedding pictures when I was married last June to my husband, Eric Lesh, who is a lawyer at Lambda Legal.

 

In your Rockwell show in LA, you were joined by a very pregnant Daisy Eagan, also in her undies. Did this set the bar for your live shows? Have you ever done anything more unusual?

Lauren: Oh yes! She really raised the bar in all departments.

Nick: We have both been fans of Daisy since we were kids.  I remember watching the Tony Awards the year she won her Tony for The Secret Garden and I remember saying "I want to do that. I will do that." I never played Mary Lennox, but boy I tried really hard.

Lauren: We first got the idea to ask Daisy when we were reading her blog and following her on twitter and realized her sense of humor is also our sense of humor.  We simply wrote her after reading a particular jawdropping entry about healthcare in America and her being pregnant. She replied with a big fat “yes!” within seconds.

Nick: That's what so great about bringing in guests to play with The Skivvies. Everyone has a sense of playfulness and unique creativity and that we can build off together.  Each arrangement is specific for the guest.  Another aspect of individuality is in what each guest chooses to wear. 

We have had Tony Nominee heart throb Will Swenson in a G String dedicating his tune "Get Low" to his mother. The cutest was Barrett Foa in Rocky Balboa boxing get-up singing a mash-up of all songs 'Stronger.' 

 

 

How did you guys first meet?

Lauren: In 2003,  Nick and I were cast by TheatreWorks USA, a children's theatre company that tours across the country. 

Nick: We played the grandest cafetoriums in the land.

 

What is your ultimate goal as a duo?

Nick: The Dream! We have always been a large fan of shows that incorporate sketch comedy with music.

Lauren: "Portlandia" and "Flight of the Conchords" are recent inspirations that are similar to what we would like to be doing.

Nick: I have always been inspired by The Monkees and how they were able to incorporate these aspects so seamlessly as well.

 

What kind of impact are you aiming to make on the gay music scene and the music scene in general?

Nick:  I think what we are doing is truly original.  We take some of the best songs and put our own spin on them. The fact that we are in our underwear is inconsequential.

Lauren: It has been so great to be embraced by the gay crowd. Because of our backgrounds, they seemed to notice us first and give us so much love and attention.

Nick: Wit and irony seem to always be embraced by the gay scene. Look at Oscar Wilde.

Lauren: He also was the first to say "All art is truly useless."

Nick: Well, I think an underwear clad duo singing cool mashups on cello and ukulele, with comedic undertones, is a pretty useful asset to any music scene.

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