Forget Christmas or “Christmas in July”, most of the year’s top new albums arrive this month to a record store (way to go!), digital retailer (sure why not?) or streaming service (you are killing the music industry) near you.
Sarah Cracknell • Red Kite
Her name might not ring a bell, but her voice will flood your memory holes with 20 years of effervescent post acid indie house dance pop singles dreamily sung through her day job in Saint Etienne. For the second time in as many decades, Cracknell leaves bandmates Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley in the train station to cut off on a solo holiday. 1997’s Lipslide (and companion EP, Kelly’s Locker) were charming if unmemorable affairs, but Red Kite (out this week on Cherry Red) is much more lush and ambitious and easily ranks high among her best work (for the record, I am more of a Finisterre man than team Foxbase Alpha).
The dreamy waltz, ‘On The Swings’, whisks you out of London into the English countryside, Oxfordshire to be exact, where Red Kite was recorded in a barn adjacent to Sarah’s home with multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Carwyn Ellis (Colorama/Edwyn Collins).
“I’ve always thought I could do something spacious and pastoral,” says Sarah via the Cherry Red press room. “Although I adore the pop records we’ve made, I find myself having to sing in a very disciplined way – especially live. When I set out to make this record, I was very keen on doing something that would create more space to sing in.”
While sounding sunny, crisp and modern, the album evokes the Swinging 60’s, baroque pop, Nancy Sinatra, go go boots, Marianne Faithful, B-movies, mini skirts, Left Banke, Pet Sounds, Megan Draper, Ennio Morricone, ‘Strawberry Fields’ — a period that Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles also nailed quite nicely on her recent solo affair, Someday.
Nicky Wire of Manic Street Preachers pops in for one of the album’s many peaks, ‘Nothing Left To Talk About’. “There’s been an entwined Etienne/Manics history for so long,” said Sarah, “And I’m pretty sure we’re the two most dedicated feather boa wearers in pop music.”
‘Take The Silver’ totally folks up a perfectly good orchestral pop song, courtesy of a lovely duet with folk duo, The Rails:
F•F•S / Franz Ferdinand Sparks
When you take two great things that are just fine on their own, you can either wind up with a delicious Reeses’ Peanut Butter Cup or that Metallica/Lou Reed train wreck. Franz Ferdinand and Sparks seems like an unlikely pairing: the former wrote one of the quintessential guitar anthems of the Aughties, ‘Take Me Out’, and the latter wrote one of the essential new wave anthems of the Eighties, ‘Cool Places (featuring Jane Wiedlin)’. Naturally, both careers have had peaks and valleys since, but both came into this project on the upswing; Franz Ferdinand’s previous album, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, was a stylistic return to form and Sparks absolutely stole the show on Beck’s Song Reader compilation.
The album isn’t just good, it’s F•F•S’ing brilliant, loaded with soon to be classic singles, packed with earworm hooks, left field arrangements, dry wit, and ingenious creative bursts at every turn.
What’s amazing here is just how seamlessly FFS honors the hallmark sounds of both bands while sounding like a truly original new voice. If any album is on track to unseat Blancmange’s thrilling Semi-Detached as my 2015 album of the Year, it is this one.
The standard CD ends on a truly cathartic note with pub brawl-inducing ‘Piss Off’:
The Deluxe edition keeps on trucking with four more songs, each essential to the listening experience so why the hell they just didn’t release a single, definitive version is beyond me.
In the spirit of collaboration, read Popdose contributor, Annie Zaleski’s, much more insightful and detailed review on the AV Club.
Adam Lambert • The Original High
Anyone waiting for Adam Lambert to put out the blistering, metal/broadway vocal workout that seemed inevitable during his American Idol run will have to wait a little longer. Good thing, with The Original High, he promises to be around for a long, long time.
On the theatrical side, it’s a quieter affair, but that doesn’t mean you can’t dance. The album title likely nods to producers Max Martin and Shellback who produced the hits on his first album, For Your Entertainment. Imagine the vibe of “Whataya Want From Me” spread out over an entire album and that’s about what you have here.
It’s a beautiful listen — Adam is in fine form and complete control. Adam is carving out his career for the long haul, the songs show dramatic artistic prowess and a flawless vocal range.
And when I long to hear him rock out a bit more, I can always turn to Beg For Mercy, the unauthorized, highly controversial, legally-contested (and resolved), sadly overlooked and moderately fun hard-rock pre-fame album (the one he co-wrote the songs on) that is not to be confused with the utterly forgettable other pre-fame album, Take One (featuring work for hire vocal performances).
The Original High just came out today, so it’s gonna need a few months for all of its delicious flavors and nuances to be revealed.
The Deluxe Edition comes with three bonus tracks, ‘After Hours’, ‘Shame’ and ‘These Boys’, it is well worth the extra buck or two. ‘Shame’ is a surprisingly joyous affair with Adam harmonizing with himself as a strummy acoustic guitar intertwines with Japanese melody. ‘These Boys” recalls four decades of pop hits from Rupert Holmes, New Radicals, Owl City and fun.
Giorgio Moroder • Deja Vu
The 21st century has seen more than a dozen 70’s and 80’s acts roar back to revisit the peak of their heydays while pushing forward with this century’s best new music (see Popdose’s round-up of the Most Awesome New Wave Comebacks Ever). Whoda thunk we’d be adding Giorgio Moroder to the list, but as his new song says, ’74 is the new 24′. On Deja Vu, the man behind just about every Donna Summer smash — and a few by Sparks (see above) — pulls a Santana and enlists just about every working dance floor diva in the industry to bring his throbby disco beats to life. Sia, Kelis, Britney Spears, Charli XCX, Kylie Minogue — they’re all here, and they’re all fabulous — but even some of the lesser known names (Mikky Ekko, Matthew Koma) have winning moments under the glitter ball light. Moroder is just fine flying solo, his scruzzy dance floor packers bring to mind peak era Daft Punk and Felix da Housecat. Spears’ needless update of ‘Tom’s Diner’ could have derailed the album but Moroder’s sweeping EDM surge mid-way through gets it back on track.
If you need to keep the party moving, Deja Vu pairs up nicely with Jimmy Somerville’s recent disco opus, Homage (read our review here), not to mention Moroder’s previous turn on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.
The Winter Tradition • Lumi
Popdose was quite obsessed with Gradients, the late 2012 album by Edinburgh’s The Winter Tradition (read our review here); loving it for it’s mixture of the big, epic, sweeping guitar rock we loved (and missed) from the likes of peak Editors, Franz Ferdinand, Big Country and U2. We’re happy to say the recently released follow-up, Lumi, jumps right back in and elevates their sound even higher. Easily the best alternative rock album of 2015 so far.
Don’t just take my word for it, take off with the majestic ‘Departures’
Even when the synths come out, the results are utterly brilliant:
Just when you think your feet are on the ground, The Winter Tradition pull the rug out with inventive twists and higher highs, all crisply produced to crackle out of your speakers. This is one to play loud all summer long.
Spectacular Spectacular • Blur
Popdose recently interviewed guitarist/actress/trans advocate Isley Reust about her debut album, Blur, with hew new band Spectacular Spectacular. The album is out June 30 and the trio (Reust, Jessica De Grasse and Millie Chan) is about to hit the road for a string of dates in the US and Canada.
Blur explores a wide variety of lush, romantic, gothic, underground, pop, dance and rock textures. Otherworldly vocals, shrieks, harmonies, synths, guitar, bass and orchestral strings swirl together in the lush mix — its a very ambitious and winning start for the band.
For tour dates and album info, follow the band on Facebook.
Other notable recent releases:
Bryan Lee Brown • Sonic Highways (Original Score)
One of the nicest touches of Dave Grohl’s masterful HBO series, Sonic Highways, was the pensive, chilling, beautiful and meandering music cues that underscored various establishing shots and images of icons in deep thought. I just assumed Grohl and his crew crapped them out inside the editing room – we’ve already heard his brilliant theatrical score for the Skeet Ulrich dud, Touch. Alas, Grohl handed the reins to Bryan Lee Brown whose work finally stands on its own as a companion album to the landmark Foo Fighters LP.
Peter Ulrich • Tempest Fugitives
Percussionist Peter Ulrich, formerly of Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil, returns to the stage this Saturday (June 20) at Webster Hall’s Marlin Room in New York City to perform songs from Tempus Fugitives and The Painted Caravan, the first two albums in a planned trilogy of mystical, gothic, steampunk, folk albums featuring a variety of guest musicians and singers.
Tempus Fugitives isn’t easily digested in a single listen — it reveals new layers and textures with every spin, deftly unraveling dark tales and exploring the far reaches of our world and others.
This Way To The Egress • Great Balancing Act
Gypsy ska, steampunk, tango, reggae, you name it and you’ll likely hear it on This Way to the Egress‘s winning new album, Great Balancing Act. Produced by Roger Greenwalt (The Pierces, Ric Ocasek), the album trades off singers (Taylor Galassi, Sarah Shown) and styles (Gogol Bordello, Weird Al, Abney Park, Tom Waits, Lene Lovich) but never slows down like a madcap carnival ride possessed by ghosts — this promises to be one heck of a live show.
Listen and download two tracks right here.