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.



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 






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 (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






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 






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 



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