Short takes

I’ve been listening to a lot of 2009 albums over my ~hiatus~ – unfortunately, not every album I listen to can end up as one of my favorites. Here are a few that I won’t be adding to my “best of 2009” list at the end of the year, but that I think are still worth a listen. :)

Utada-03-bigUtada – This Is The One
The album doesn’t start very memorably – “On And On” is just bland. “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence – FYI” is also rather formulaic, but I love the way a melody, which is cribbed from a song composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto, is incorporated. The next track, “Apple And Cinnamon,” has nice piano and beats, and I like the “chemistry like apple and cinnamon” simile – but otherwise the song just doesn’t have that “something.” But “Taking My Money Back” has a bit of a 90s groove and great lyrics, like “what a waste of a man so fi-i-ine,” so things are looking up! “This One,” the best ballad so far, features the lyric “I’ve been living on my own like Freddie” – nice reference! :)

I found that this album gets better as it goes on. “Automatic Part II” has neat vocoded vocals, and is full of catchy swagger. “Dirty Desire” is fast-paced and I love the heavy beats and nice synth breakdown toward the end. A great guitar riff and fun lyrics like “Oops! Did I turn you on?” make “Poppin'” the album’s best track. Listen out for the “yes” after the “we have it better” lyric. At first I thought I preferred the Seamus Haji & Paul Emanuel remix of “Come Back To Me,” but the song sounds just as good as a ballad. I suppose it just depends on your mood! Love the chorus, which is beautifully melancholic but not sappy. The album closes with “Me Muero,” an up-to-date, 60s-loungey track. It’s a fine song but feels out of place; an odd way to end a patchy album.

1238761746_bwoBWO – Big Science
Big Science begins with my favorite song on the album, “Right Here Right Now.” The next track is really good too. “Love Came Crashing Down” has a piano intro that instantly brings to mind Bob Dylan’s “Ballad Of A Thin Man,” while the chorus reminds me of “Everlasting Love.” So OK, the song is derivative, but I still dig it. The big, gospel-infused ending is cool. “Kings Of Tomorrow (Ballad Version)” is moodily downtempo, and I have no idea what it’s about. It references “sealing fates,” “waiting for signals,” and “fighting the resistance.” So, yeah. I dunno. The next song, “Burning Down The House,” is very 60s-inspired, especially by the Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch),” but is ultimately kinda flat.

Current single “Rise To The Occasion” has nice violin work and hand-clap beats, and I like the “oh whoa oh oh”s in the chorus. “You’re Not Alone (Ballad Version)” has cheesy beats, but the synths are great. The next song, “Bite The Bullet,” is a bit dull, really… “In Too Deep” is pop-by-numbers… but “Thunderbolt” strikes next to save the day with its driving beat and chilled middle eight. Definitely better than the last few songs. “Rhythm Of The Night” is a midtempo track that’s decent but not great. There is a nice Queen-esque vocal rise toward the end, though, so listen for that. “Singing In My Car” is just far too cheesy. I’m a big fan of cheese but this just grates on my nerves (pun intended!) for some reason. BWO can do much better than this. The next song is some sort of sci-fi love song. “Shoot From The Heart” is one of those super-fast BWO songs that I love. The final two tracks are “disco versions” of “Kings Of Tomorrow” and “You’re Not Alone,” and I much prefer them to the ballad versions.

handsLittle Boots – Hands
“New In Town” kicks things of excellently. It’s irresistibly catchy and the chorus is fierce. Little Boots’ voice, though, doesn’t grab you or compel you to listen. The music is great, but there’s no personality driving it. Still, “New In Town” is really, really good stuff. “Earthquake” is synthesized heaven with a pretty chorus. The disco-y “Stuck On Repeat” doesn’t really go anywhere, but I like the beautiful “every time I try” melody. “Click”is icily bubbly and has a fun chorus – I really like this one. The dance-y and catchy “Remedy” sounds like Lady GaGa, which makes sense, because it was produced by RedOne. “Meddle” has a fantastic chorus, but only OK verses. The military beat of “Ghost” is good, but the rest of it isn’t anything special. Clever lyrics, plus a nice melody on the “heart plus a heart” bit, keep “Mathematics” from being too flat. “Symmetry” is very 80s, but in a good way. Little Boots’ voice goes well with Philip Oakey’s (of The Human League), but his vocals highlight how soft and, well, dull, her voice is.

“Tune Into My Heart”: I can hear that it’s a nice song but it just doesn’t strike a chord with me. “Hearts Collide,” on the other hand, does. This dark track is the best song on the album after “New In Town.” Hands closes with “No Brakes,” which has a good bridge, but is really a weak ending to the album. The trouble with Little Boots is that you want to like her – she’s pop! she’s electro! she covered a Freddie Mercury song (“Love Kills”)! – but her songs leave you feeling like you had a big meal but still feel empty. Her tunes do sound tasty but just aren’t satisfying.

5554Erika Jayne – Pretty Mess
“Stars” is first and is a disco dream! Erika’s kittenish voice, somewhat like that of Donna Lewis or Saint Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell, is perfect for this pop confection. Great synth work and cool vocal effects (love the descending vocal at the end of each verse!) and Erika’s delivery bring the attitude to “Just A Phaze.” The bit at 2:58 is rather euphoric, really. “Everybody Wants Some” of this next track, which starts with a very French-sounding accordion, then gets into a dirty groove. Love the way Erika sings “she’s so bad!” Her purring and meowing get pretty silly, though. “Give You Everything” takes us back to the disco. Everything about this track is fantastic – the chorus is instantly memorable and the production is top-of-the-line. The Mike Rizzo Funk Generation remix of this song is really great, too, by the way! “Pretty Mess”: Oh dear. The one track on the album that just doesn’t work. The sex-driven lyrics are just tired, and basically the song is only a few of those lyrics repeated. Sadly dull.

“Beautiful” is more like it! A perfect summer song, all about beaches, sunsets, and sunrises. Hot beats and shimmery production touches give this track a beachy kind of cool. Deep ‘n’ dirty bass underscores the fabulously filthy lyrics of “Roller Coaster.” No, this track doesn’t really go anywhere – but like a rollercoaster ride, it’s not the destination that matters. What matters is the ~journey~. ;) On the next track, Sheila E. provides some seriously infectious beats. But “Time To Realize” is otherwise kinda boring – you’d think a track featuring Sheila E. would have more energy! The bitchy-fun lyrics, like “is that your real hair?”, make “Run Along” a memorable track. “Sex Shooter” has bite: Erika has incredibly confident delivery. The tempo slows down with “Without You,” a pretty track that proves Erika’s voice works just as well floating atop downtempo beats as riding dance drums. “Love You Forever” starts off as a slow jam, then segues into a delightful dance number. I suppose this song has the slow-to-fast formula of “Pretty Mess,” but for some reason “Love You Forever” works much better. “Lose Myself” is set in Paris in 1922 – no, I have no idea why either! – and accordingly this mellow groove features some French words d’amour. The production is beautifully atmospheric. Erika should try some more songs like this – she’s not just a disco dolly! “One More Time” closes this album with panache. Erika’s voice is really pretty here, supported by breezy, gauzy synths and beats.

All in all, a worthy album, especially considering it’s a debut. Sure there are a few less-than-stellar tracks, but a couple clunkers out of 14 songs is pretty good, I’d say! :)

la-rouxLa Roux – La Roux
You either like La Roux’s Elly Jackson’s high-pitched vocals, or you run screaming in the other direction. Personally, I quite like that her voice isn’t your typical pop vocal. The album gets the show on the road with “In For The Kill,” a nicely icy synth-pop gem. Elly’s tough delivery on “Tigerlily” gives the song a great aggressive vibe. The chorus, in contrast to the forceful verses, is rather pretty. Elly Jackson’s father gives a Vincent Price-in-“Thriller”-esque voiceover toward the end of “Tigerlily,” and to me it’s too obviously derivative to be fresh. “Quicksand” was the first La Roux song I heard, and I loved it! It’s pretty simply arranged, with no big chorus or anything, but it just sounds really good. I’ll be honest, I didn’t like “Bulletproof” at first. It sounded like an ad jingle for a toy store or something. Then I listened again, and the ricocheting drums and fierce melody got lodged in my brain. I guess it was the bubbly synths at the beginning that threw me off at first! Gentler vocals from Elly and a lovely melody make “Colourless Colour” a highlight of the album. I love how the chorus introduces a driving beat – it gives the song that little extra punch.

Though “I’m Not Your Toy” was a single, I think it is fairly average stuff. To be honest, the “I’m not your toy” thing was done much more meaningfully by Lesley Gore with “You Don’t Own Me” in the 60s. Still, “I’m Not Your Toy” is not a bad song, it just pales in comparison to the first five tracks of La Roux. The soft vocals from Elly and the twinkling synths of “Cover My Eyes” makes me think this would’ve been a good slow-dance song in the 80s or something. I like the background vocals here, “ooh”-ing and echoing key lines. To me, this song, aside from those neat bg vox, is one of the reasons why La Roux songs are thought of as just pastiches of 80s synth-pop. By all means, get inspiration from 80s artists – just don’t stick to their formula! The melancholy but bouncy “As If By Magic” reminds me of Ladyhawke’s sound. Next is “Fascination.” From the beginning of this track, my interest was piqued. The catchy melody is enhanced by thumping beats and galloping synths.

“Reflections Are Protection”: By this track, I realized I prefer La Roux’s more fast-paced songs. When they slow it down, the fairly simple synths are less effective than when paired with more energetic vocals and beats. I do like the chorus of this track, though, so it’s not all bad. The album closes with “Armour Love,” a huge step up from “Reflections…” More downtempo than just slow, “Armour Love” has more “oomph” to it because of the nifty beats and synths that don’t sound as color-by-numbers. Bonus track “Growing Pains” is stronger than, say, “Reflections…”, so I would have included it as an album track. The chorus, with its complaint that the answer Elly gets to her questions or struggles is simply “it’s just growing pains,” sounds a bit like a whiny teenager! But the melody’s good, so I can forgive her for the chorus lyrics. :)

All of these albums should be available on iTunes, though I’m not sure about BWO’s Big Science… Anyways – happy listening! :)

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