reviews

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

 

September/October Show

Reviews by Jeff Katz & Gary Kramer

 

Valentine Road (TV)

HBO 

4.5 stars

Five years after the tragic murder of 15-year-old Larry King comes the powerful doc Valentine Road, debuting in October on HBO. Speaking with friends, lawyers, former teachers and family, director Marta Cunningham attempts to explain the whys of both how a young boy who felt different wasn’t protected, and how his classmate could go to such extreme measures when he felt threatened. Cunningham does explore the backstory of what some have dubbed the other victim in this unfortunate incident—King’s killer, Brandon McInerney. His family and friends are interviewed and we learn of his abusive upbringing and, much like King, a difficult childhood. Perfectly timed for National Bully Awareness Month, Valentine Road, in part, brings to light how the school administration failed both boys, with interviews from teachers and staff that are equally heartbreaking as they are infuriating. At times the doc feels as if it’s lacking a bit of call to action, possibly masked behind the in-depth backstory. But it's the contributions from Larry’s friends that will leave viewers with a bit of hope at the end of this sad story, as one boy’s ability to live his all-too-brief life authentically continues to inspire those who knew him. — JK

 

 

 

 

Laurence Anyways (DVD)

Breaking Glass

2 stars

Out filmmaker Xavier Dolan’s ambitious film about the title character (Melvil Poupaud) becoming a woman is overlong—nearly three hours!—and underwhelming. While there is plenty of style on display with Dolan’s fancy camera work, imaginative fantasy sequences, and his penchant for gorgeous clothes and fabulous set design, there is, alas, no heart here. Laurence and his girlfriend, Fred (Suzanne Clément), are shrill, selfish characters who lie and fight. There are points to be made about gender roles and the treatment of and marginalization of trans people, but Laurence Anyways suggests punching men in bars and screaming at insensitive waitresses are effective methods for teaching tolerance. Poupaud is unconvincing as the woman he was not born to be, even when he walks confidently down the street in female dress and attracts stares. Dolan’s uneven film swerves wildly between dramatic and melodramatic crescendos without an ounce of emotion, save frustration. At least Nathalie Baye is terrific as Laurence’s mother. — GK

 

 

 

 

Bashment (DVD)

Ariztical

Bashment is an ambitious, overstuffed, but not ineffective film about a queer, white MC in the UK grappling with the aftermath of a violent incident that leaves his lover brain damaged. Writer/director Rikki Beadle-Blair asks many provocative questions about race and class, as well as masculinity, gender, and sexuality as victims confront their jailed attackers to find the source of the hate and rage. The ideas about forgiveness and bridging the gaps between black and white, gay and straight, even male and female are valid, although viewers will have to get past some wildly unrealistic transformations. Additionally, the characters’ thick accents, plus the film’s plot contrivances and staginess—Bashment is based on a play—can be straining. And while Beadle-Blair may cudgel viewers with loud, angry language, his mission here is to promote a new way of thinking about manners, racism, and homophobia—and for that he should be applauded. — GK

 

 

 

 

Aleksandr’s Price (DVD)

Breaking Glass

1 star

Written, directed, and starring the handsome but talentless Pau Masó, Aleksandr’s Price is a laughably bad drama about an illegal broke young Russian in New York City who turns tricks to support himself. While Aleksandr had a few good experiences initially, he soon experiences a downward spiral of epic proportions. Recounting his story to a therapist (one of the many bad performers in the film), Aleksandr talks about his regrets. Viewers who watch this film all the way through will have some as well. Aleksandr falls for his clients and would-be clients to ease his loneliness and stave off debt; he gets raped, blackmailed by a cop, and into a quasi-S&M-like scene. And just when the film cannot possibly get any worse, he hits absolute rock bottom by sleeping with the wrong man. Aleksandr’s Price is never sexy or stimulating, but the title character has an odd habit of masturbating to ease the tension in his life. Yes, it’s that kind of wrongheaded film. — GK

 

 

September Audio Reviews

By Robbie Daw, John Hamilton & Stephen Sears

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 Goldfrapp, AlunaGeorge, Janelle Monáe, Natalia Kills and more.

GOLDFRAPP

Tales of Us (Mute)

4.5 Stars

Goldfrapp’s sixth album opener, “Jo,” starts with a red herring: a burst of synth strings. They quickly fade to a plucked bass and Alison Goldfrapp’s beautiful voice singing, “Heard a shot and someone calling, strained in darkness.” It’s as if she’s passed through a film noir portal. The album’s ten songs are narratives: “Annabel,” based on the story of a young hermaphrodite expected to choose one sexual identity; “Simone,” a betrayal scenario. Only the pounding “Thea” hints at past disco majesty; most of Tales is built on acoustic instrumentation, awash in orchestrals.  Make no mistake: the album is a perfect fall headphone record.  The lone song without a proper name, “Stranger,” ascends the (felt) mountain of Goldfrappian classics. To paraphrase its lyric, Tales Of Us will kill you, tenderly. — SS 

 

 

 

AVICII

TRUE (PRMD/Island)

4 Stars

Like a slightly more ambitious David Guetta (heaven forbid), Avicii is taking the opportunity of his first studio album to make a play for world domination. With a Grammy nomination, a bona fide dance-pop classic in the Etta James-sampling “Levels,” and new single “Wake Me Up” bounding into the U.S. Top 10, the 24-year-old DJ/Producer just may be onto something. TRUE parlays his disco expertise into a surprisingly diverse set of pop tunes, one that betrays influences of everything from country to '60s psyche-pop to ethereal diva wailing. He’s even wangled guest star collaborations from Nile Rodgers, Adam Lambert and Mac Davis, of all people, to show that his musical roots extend beyond the club. If that all sounds terrifyingly unfocused, fear not: every track is an upbeat corker with a chorus clearly engineered for major dance floor arm-waving. Extra points for doing so without help from Sia or Pitbull. — JH 

 

 

 

 

JANELLE MONE

Electric Lady (Wondaland Arts/Bad Boy)

4 Stars

The curious case of Janelle Monáe: Prince, James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald and Liza Minnelli rolled into one pocket-sized pistol. High art, high hair and high fashion have not equaled high charting singles. Second LP Electric Lady is a Gemini, split into two halves. The first is serious funk R’n’B soul (her duet with Miguel, “PrimeTime,” may actually dent the charts). The Stevie Wonderesque second half (check “It’s Code” and “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”) is a near flawless '70s album unto itself. Make your own playlist and call it Songs In The Key Of Monáe. — SS 

 

 

 

 

ALUNAGEORGE

Body Music (Vagrant)

3.5 Stars

Riding the current wave of UK dance that also includes Jessie Ware, Katy B and a raft of other hopefuls, electro-soul duo AlunaGeorge have a good shot at their own hit with the sleek Body Music. Reminiscent of Craig David, AlunaGeorge—singer Aluna Francis and knob-twiddler George Reid—lay atmospheric R&B over skittering 2-step garage beats and taut, popping basslines like nobody’s business. Although most tracks swing in the right direction (first single “You Know You Like It” is a jam) and seamlessly fuse the dance floor with the bedroom (album highlight “Driver”), nothing lingers in the memory very long after it’s ended. Still, it’s a pleasant enough party that ends on a high note with a cheeky cover of Montell Jordan’s classic “This is How We Do It.” — JH 

 

 

 

 

NATALIA KILLS

Trouble (Interscope)

3.5 Stars

Ah, Natalia Kills—the raven-haired Hot Topic goth girl who tried to jump on the Lady Gaga bandwagon three years ago with clumsy electro debut Perfectionist. How she’s still signed to a major label after that colossal flop is anyone’s guess, but here we are. “That girl is a problem,” Natalia warns on electric rock rant “Problem,” before asking, “Don’t you wanna save this dirty little damsel?” Other tracks like “Saturday Night” and “Outta Time” mine '80s synth pop for all it's worth. To be honest, the overall result here is a generally pleasing, modern-sounding record (as it should be, given that studio whiz Jeff Bhasker produced the album). When presented with a rare second chance, Kills seized upon it and actually delivered a somewhat solid album. Whether she’ll get the big break it’ll take to catapult this into the mainstream, however, remains to be seen. — RD 

 

 

June/July Word

By Brian Andersen, Obie Espinosa & Mark Schulte

 

Need a welcome relief from beach stalking this summer? Instinct's on it, boo! Our Word reviews have found a new home online; and our sassmouth literary lads are here to C Get the scoop on "Openly Straight", "Straight People: A Spotter’s Guide to the Fascinating World of Heterosexuals" and "Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence."

 

"Openly Straight"
 
Bill Konigsberg (Arthur A. Levine Books)

5 stars

When you’ve been out as long as I have (we’re talking pre-Facebook era here, people) you’ve probably read more than your share of High School cookie cutter ‘coming out’ novels. Praise RuPaul – our Patron Saint of Gayness – for this smartly written novel putting a clever spin on the usual classic (a.k.a. clichéd) story. Openly gay youth Rafe flees his perfectly pleasant and happy life to attend an all boys school across the country in an effort to ditch the “gay label." Escandalo! Rafe’s humorous and thought-provoking journey is a powerful reminder to all LGBT people (we’re talking to you Richard Simmons) on how important it is to live an authentic life. Get it! — BA

 

"Straight People: A Spotter’s Guide to the Fascinating World of Heterosexuals"

Jeffery Self (Running Press)

2.5 stars

If anyone was going to write a book on straights and the art of heterosexual watching, I suppose the ever-witty Jeffery Self would be the proper scribe. Now just who should buy this book isn't quite as clear, but I suppose that's not nearly important as the actual content. Straight People pokes fun at the majority with just the right amount of tongue-planted-in-cheek sass and damn-honest truth. The "staggering statistics on heterosexuals" are particularly amusing (though also presumably completely made up). But is a 200-plus page book on the subject really necessary? A briefer gag-gift version would be perfectly suited for holiday parties, but this extended edition is not ideal for summer reading. Consider yourself warned. — OE

 

"Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence"

David Samuel Levinson (Algonquin Books)

2.5 stars

Catherine is a bookstore employee whose husband, an up and coming author, has died mysteriously. Her former lover, also an author, moves into her guesthouse, even though his girlfriend (an author too, of course) lives down the street and suddenly befriends Catherine. The mystery surrounding the girlfriend’s new novel keeps the story moving forward, but every character’s actions are implausible to the point of being distracting. Overall, the book shows promise as a first novel, but is a bit too literary-incestuous. Levinson has written a novel perfect for writers (we love the drama), not so much for readers. — MS

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. - See more at: http://instinctmagazine.com/post/july-audio-reviews#sthash.o6mjNohN.dpufOur 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. - See more at: http://instinctmagazine.com/post/july-audio-reviews#sthash.o6mjNohN.dpufOur 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. - See more at: http://instinctmagazine.com/post/july-audio-reviews#sthash.o6mjNohN.dpufOur 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. - See more at: http://instinctmagazine.com/post/july-audio-reviews#sthash.o6mjNohN.dpuf