videos

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

 

Heart It or Hate It: "Red Flag" By XELLE

The gals of XELLE (pronounced ex·elle) are on a mission! Their newest release “Red Flag” is a call-to-action, meant to inspire fans to stand up to people like Russian President Vladimir Putin (who this week, signed a new law placing restrictions on the discussion of homosexuality) and New Jersey governor Chris Christie (who is petitioning his state’s court to repeal their recent ruling allowing gay marriage).

“We want ‘Red Flag’ to be the theme song for a movement that helps change the world for the better,” say JC Cassis and Rony G, the dance floor divas who front XELLE.  

The ladies hope to start a movement encouraging everyone who believes in human rights to speak out about their support for LGBT equality in Russia and around the world by posting videos, pictures and social media updates with the hashtag #IRaiseARedFlag in order to show the global community that anti-LGBT sentiment, behavior and legislation will not be tolerated.

Will you join in the fight, Instincters?

Check out the video for "Red Flag" below and tell us — heart it or hate it?

 

 

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