Sunday, January 26, 2014

FRESH OUT THE BOX: Alpines, ASTR, Sophie Ellis-Bextor & A Great Big World

With the end of January (and the musical conclusion of self-congratulations via the Grammy Awards), we can finally start our sink our teeth into Q1 of 2014 as the cycle of new releases really starts to heat up. This past week was a pretty good one, giving us a lot to talk about...

SOPHIE ELLIS-BEXTOR - "Birth of An Empire"
Wanderlust, the long-awaited fifth album by UK dance artist Sophie Ellis-Bextor, hit shelves this week and was a bit of a 180 flip-flop from her previous style of glittery disco (a la "Murder On the Dancefloor", "Bittersweet" or "Heartbreak Make Me A Dancer") via a lot of piano and orchestral-based arrangements. Perhaps we really have reached the push-back of the mainstream dance trend. The role reversal is taking some getting used to for yours truly but I immediately gravitated to album's opening cut "Birth of An Empire" simply for the sweeping, grandiose, decidedly almost-Celtic string sounds predominately featured. I love me a good string solo.


ASTR - "Blue Hawaii"
Make no mistake -- ASTR's brilliant new Varsity EP is not to be missed and it is now available for your perusal and purchase. Their very Brooklyn, smoky-sexy-meets-cold-electro sound is finally on full display and listening through the EP is a glimpse into their stage show I saw back at CMJ (complete with the gorgeous cover of Drake's "Hold On We're Going Home"). Catchy singles in "Operate" and "R U With Me" are included along with fresh tracks like "Blue Hawaii" that are the perfect symphony of bass-heavy electronica that you feel deep in your belly rounded out with a dark slinky vocal. In my opinion -- it's the first official must-get of 2014.

ALPINES - "Oasis"
Continuing this dark-pop duo trend, this Brit group gained a lot of momentum after opening up on the road for Florence + The Machine. Their latest single, "Oasis", saw release this week and it's a doozy with a tropical meets jazz lounge feel that wouldn't feel too out of place on a Jessie Ware record. Vocalist Catherine Pockson's vocal is very clear and crystallized -- clearly R&B-influenced but part-and-parcel made for this type of sound that is both unassuming and lyrically bright.


A GREAT BIG WORLD - "Rockstar"
Stripped-down(-to-earth) duo A Great Big World broke through the mold big time with their heart-breakingly honest "Say Something", a bonafide hit on Top 40 both with and without the surprise addition of Christina Aguilera. Their debut album, Is There Anybody Out There?, hit shelves this past week and I'm pleased that the vast majority of it is a lot more uplifting than the super-sad "Say Something". Much of it is reminiscent to me of the sound-style featured in the musical Avenue Q -- it's something in Ian Axel's voice, I guess. There's something so human and beautiful to A Great Big World, especially in peppier cuts like "Land of Opportunity" and "I Really Want It" -- perhaps it's the grounding in piano-based arrangements rather than the laser-synth I'm so keen on. Here's to hoping they will be more than a footnote on the musical history of 2013-2014.

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