I must add my voice to Highasakite’s growing international chorus of admirers. I’ve been seeing their name pop up all over the place since their smash performance at Øya Festival a few months ago, but as usual I was repelled by the hype. It wasn’t until their new video, “My Soldier,” recently premiered on a trusted source – the newly resurrected Wears The Trousers – that I bothered to pay them any mind. The Norwegian indie-pop trio is definitely a band to watch. Their music is soft and melodic, but has a dramatic edge. The closest comparison I can think of is of a Beach House and Mynabirds collaboration. You can watch their “My Soldier” and “Indian Summer” videos and download several mp3s at Soundcloud.
I opened Nathan Pacheco’s new self-titled album with some hesitancy. Another “Popera” voice attempting covers of “Hallelujah” and the requisite “Nessun Dorma?” No thanks. But then I pressed play and here I sit with a huge smile on my face. Pacheco’s voice is very good and deserving of the Josh Groban comparisons.
Particularly noteworthy are the original songs on the album, co-written by Pacheco. The centerpiece is an astonishing quartet of new songs which deserve to become modern classics – “Oyela,” “Infinito Amore,” “Tears from Heaven” and “Don’t Cry.”
They are followed by the slightly disappointing original track “Que L’Amour” before Pacheco climbs the summit of Lucio Dalla’s ode to “Caruso,” also covered on Jonathan and Charlotte’s debut. To my ear, Pacheco’s version is more accomplished.
Another standout on the album was a cover of “Now We Are Free,” originally performed by Dead Can Dance‘s Lisa Gerard for the Gladiator soundtrack. Matt Chamberlain’s drums help to make this a triumphant recording. I also appreciated the Celtic flavor added to the song and several other tracks by Eric Rigler’s uileann pipes and tin whistle.
My favorite song from the album, “Infinito Amore,” can be streamed below…
Amanda Palmer just released her sophomore solo album, Theatre Is Evil, with her new band, The Grand Theft Orchestra. The album explores pop, New Wave and synth rock in a way that is quite a departure from Palmer’s old punk cabaret band The Dresden Dolls, but it often has the same twisted wit, high energy and frenetic pace. The product of a successful Kickstarter campaign, the bombastic Theatre Is Evil is the best argument for fan-funded albums. It more than lives up to the excitement stirred up by the mp3s Palmer has shared over the past few months.
I heard that if you see a star at night
And the conditions are just right
And you are standing on a cliff
Then you can close your eyes
And make a wish and take a step
And change somebody’s life
Theater Is Evil begins with an unsettling blare of German blasting through a megaphone courtesy of Australian “Kamikaze Cabaret” artist, Meow Meow. The English translation is “Ladies and Gentlemen, how can I slit my wrists when I can’t stop dancing?” I could do without the grating sound of the introduction, but it does sum up the album pretty well. Palmer isn’t abandoning her Goth roots, she’s just mixing them with uptempo beats and rhythms. She herself describes the album’s style as “crancing” – simultaneously crying and dancing. Which is probably why so many songs remind me of a mix of The Cure and Depeche Mode.
“Smile (Pictures or It Didn’t Happen)” floats in on swirling, crashing waves of piano that build with Amanda’s voice into a crescendo of melodic melancholia.
The deliciously dark pop number “The Killing Type” sweetly seethes with stalkerish self-denial. It’s one of many standout tracks. Somewhere Siouxsie & The Banshees are smiling.
“Do it With a Rockstar” is a swaggering, taunting glam rock anthem, while “Melody Dean” is catchy New Wave with a spectacular, horn-burnished instrumental interlude.
The downbeat “Grown Man Cry,” in which Amanda skewers an overly needly and maudlin male friend, is a scornful albeit atmospheric answer to The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry.”
The classically arranged punk-rock instrumental “A Grand Theft Intermission” reveals why Amanda’s band is called The Grand Theft Orchestra. The song would have fit well on Muse’s The Resistance.
“Bottomfeeder” seems to be both a wry indictment of spotlight chasers and a bizarre and lovely tribute to those lurking in the shadows. Amanda abandons her signature frantic playing for a beautifully sprawling piano melody.
Amanda Mair is one to watch. The seventeen year old, Swedish singer and multi-instrumentalist will release her self-titled debut on June 5th. Amanda puts a refreshingly twist on girl with a piano ballads and summery Swedish pop. Her label is offering three of the album’s standout tracks as free, legal mp3s, all of which you can download below. “House” grows from quiet, heartfelt Birdy-like verses into full-fledged, ethereal piano pop that hints at early Kate Bush. “Sense” and “Doubt” are purely catchy, somewhat ’80s-influenced pop numbers.
Wilson Phillips are back with Dedicated, a tribute to The Mamas & Papas and The Beach Boys. Despite my fondness for all three bands (Wilson Phillips’ self-titled debut is tied to many a childhood memory), I expected this to be a disappointing, overtly sentimental album. Yet this homage to their respective parents – Beach Boy Brian Wilson is father of Carnie and Wendy Wilson and Chynna Phillips’ parents were Mamas & Papas’ John and Michelle Phillips – is actually quite good. Wilson Phillips may be better known for their reality show antics now than for their music, but their harmonies are as lovely as ever and very reminiscent of the two bands who spawned them. Dedicated is a pleasant, melodic and fun soundtrack for summer.
Highlights on the album include the uptempo, true-to-original covers of “California Dreamin’,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Don’t Worry Baby” and “Monday Monday.”
Other favorites are the pretty ballads “Dedicated To The One I Love” (featuring Cass Elliot’s daughter, Owen) and “God Only Knows” as well as the mellow Mamas & Papas song “Twelve-Thirty.”
The only tracks I find a bit irksome are “I Can Hear Music” and “Fun, Fun, Fun,” but I feel the same about the original songs.
The a capella finale “Good Vibrations” is another standout. The use of multi-layered vocal hums as instrumentation reminds me of a capella groups like Sonos.
Overall, Dedicated is a sunny, summery, very catchy and surprisingly well orchestrated collection of classic pop covers.
I wasn’t granted permission to share an mp3, but you can stream the entire album at AOL.
Brendan shares his enamour with Eliza Doolittle’s self-titled album below…
Eliza Doolittle is the stage name of Eliza Sophie Caird, who comes from an arty London family. Her father, musical writer and director John Caird, recently worked with André Previn on Brief Encounter, and her mother won a Tony award for her performance in Les Misérables.
Eliza’s self-titled album was released in the UK in 2010, in the US in 2011, came to my attention through her performance on the Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson last month, and is plumb full of perfect pop hits! Perhaps my status as a recovering pop addict makes me more susceptible to this sort of thing – yes, I was the proud owner of cassettes by Take That and many issues of Smash Hits magazine in the 1990s – but this has quickly become one of my favorite albums of recent years, and is one of few I can listen to all the way through repeatedly.
Every day, a different song from this album comes to mind and I can’t wait to hear it again. One standout track is “Pack Up,” which features a superb guest vocal from British Gospel singer Lloyd Wade. The fact that he’s sampling a song published in 1915 is one of many reasons why I love this album.
More reasons? Hand clapping, mandolin, maracas, melodica, glockenspiel, whistle, cello and ukulele are among the many instruments used on the album. A toy drum kit is used on one track (“Rollerblades,” currently featured on a Toyota commercial), and on another, Eliza tweets – as in makes sounds like a bird (‘bird’ as in ornithology, not as in slang for chick). Also, Eliza co-wrote all the songs on the album.
If you need music that will make you happy, and I know you do, you need to seek out Eliza Doolittle.
Escort are offering another free, legal mp3 from their debut self-titled album (click for my rave review). I love their fun lil disco-pop confection more with each listen. You can download the new mp3 of “Love in Indigo” as well as the two older mp3s below…
Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah Slean has long been a favorite of mine and I’m happy to say her ambitious new double album, Land & Sea, is her best work to date. The two-disc set is grand in scope and beautifully complex, yet one of the most irresistibly accessible collections I’ve ever heard. This magnificent new song cycle finds Sarah taking pop, folk, rock and classical to places they’ve never been before.
There’s more wisdom in the iris bud
than all our centuries of words
see as the flower opens
what is there to say?
The collection of songs on the first disc, Land, are pop-driven, but Sarah incorporated elements and instrumentation from several other genres to add strength and substance.
Despite its title and choral embellishments, “Amen” is somewhat of a love song…in the sense of longing to be accepted and loved just as you are. A standout track on the album, the melody is anchored by a down-tempo beat in the verses and soars with a timeless pop chorus.
The sprawling piano melody “I Am a Light” rises and falls with the gentle waves of Sarah’s voice.
“The Day We Saved the World” and “Set It Free” make for a buoyant, inspirational pairing, while “Everybody’s on TV,” “Girls Hating Girls” and “Society Song” take clever jabs at the vapid and backbiting nature of the modern era.
“Society Song” is a supercatchy pop number carried by Gospel-influenced handclap percussion.
The second disc, Sea, is a much softer, somewhat somber affair. The influence of Sarah’s classical training, past collaborations with various composers and affinity for poetry, symphonies and Broadway musicals are all evident in the lovely orchestral arrangements of the songs. I was impressed to read Sarah did most of the string arrangements on herself.
The cinematic instrumental intro to “Cosmic Ballet” is especially beautiful.
The haunting, gorgeous “Napoleon” and the sweet melancholia of “Attention Archers” are the stand outs on Sea.
The lyrics of the delicate ballads “The One True Love” and “The Right Words,” which gives Sea its title, are poetic and moving.
Sarah Slean’s Land & Sea is sure to be on my best of the year list come December.
London-based singer-songwriter Julian Velard’s piano pop sophomore album, Mr. Saturday Night, will be released in the U.S. on November 1st. It may not be an artistic masterpiece, but it’s one of the catchier albums I’ve heard this year.
The influence of 1980′s Elton John and Billy Joel are evident in the ready-for-radio piano pop opener, “Me & My Mirror On A Saturday Night” – the mp3 of which you can download below.
“Love Again for the First Time” has shades of Gavin DeGraw and The Fray. The rest of the album alternates between solid, lackluster and somewhat annoying, but “Soundtrack of My Life” is waiting to be a hit pop single.
Julian Velard – Me & My Mirror On A Saturday Night (mp3 expired)*
*mp3 provided by & posted w/ permission of artist’s PR rep
2Cellos are twenty-four year old, Croatian classically trained cellists, Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser. The duo quickly rose to fame after a YouTube video of their dueling cello cover of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” was viewed by millions. 2Cellos soon signed to Sony Masterworks, were invited by Elton John to join his European tour and appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres show. That infamous “Smooth Criminal” performance is just one of the many pop and rock covers featured on 2Cello’s new self-titled debut album, which also finds the two musicians transforming hits by U2, Muse, Nine Inch Nails, Guns ‘N’ Roses and Nirvana into cello instrumentals.
2Cellos is bookended with U2 covers – opening with an atmospheric, somewhat foreboding “Where The Streets Have No Name” and closing with a gentle “With or Without You.” Say what you will about U2 as a band, their songs are undeniably distinctive and instantly recognizable. The two covers are among the highlights of this album.
Sulic and Hauser then explode from a soft, understated intro to Dick Dale’s “Misirlou” (best known as the theme of Pulp Fiction) into a frenzy of strings.
2Cello’s aforementioned blistering rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” reveals previously hidden intricacies in the song’s melody.
Granted, you could probably play the title track from Muse’s brilliant The Resistance (one of my Best of the Decade) on spoons and the song would still be magnificent. This classical rendering is so lovely, though, replacing the defiant excitement of the original with a feeling of wistful determination.
The covers of Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody,” Sting’s “Fragile” and Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” are lackluster without vocals, but the fault lies in the arrangements, not the instrumentation.
Judging from the liner note credits, 2Cello covered Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” here rather than the Nine Inch Nails original. Regardless, they do an excellent job of capturing the song’s melancholic beauty.
Their version of of the Guns ‘N’ Roses hit “Welcome To The Jungle” is probably very impressive live, but the recording is a bit shrill and grating for my taste.
Their take on Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is much more successful and by far the stand out track on the album. 2Cello’s exotic, moody interpretation stays true to the original’s rock edge, but adds a classical depth and shows off the complexity and innovation of Nirvana’s songwriting.
Sony + all covers means I’m not permitted to share an mp3 or even a stream from the album, but you can hear samples at the links below…