Dig These Discs :: Mika, A Fine Frenzy, Ellie Goulding, Wallflowers, Diana Krall
This installment of Dig These Discs takes you on a magical journey through the redwoods with A Fine Frenzy’s "Pines." Award-winning jazz pianist Diana Krall goes vintage with her collection of hits. The Wallflowers are back after an extended hiatus, English singer Ellie Goulding follows up her debut success with a strong sophomore effort, and honey-voiced singer Mika teams up with an all-star lineup for another round of hits.
"Pines" A Fine Frenzy
Alison Sudol, aka A Fine Frenzy, releases her third studio album, "Pines," a 13-track tribute to the redwood forests and dramatic landscapes of Northern California and Washington’s Cascade Mountains. Drawing on the success of her 2007 debut "One Cell in the Sea" and her sophomore hit, "Bomb in a Birdcage," A Fine Frenzy drops the newest in her collection of electro-pop hits on October 16. She supplements the album with both a North American tour from Seattle to New York and back to L.A., and a companion book and short stop-animation film. The film tells the story of a pining tree, who is given the chance to make a life of her own choosing, crafted "in response to our accelerating pace of life in the 21st century." Frenzy’s first track, "Now is the Start" has already been picked up for an ad for American Eagle Outfitters, and American Greeting’s Wink cards. The faintest brush of bow on cello intros the first track, "Pine Song." It morphs to acoustic guitar, accompanied by Frenzy’s melodic, melancholic voice delicately setting up a story-song of a tree with dreams. "Drowsy afternoon, in green grass yellow flowers bloom/ The heart beats slow and I will close," sings Frenzy clear and high in "Winds of Wander." As bird sounds populate the background, she ratchets up the drama to a peak, and then back down to a whisper. "We found ourselves the top of a mountain peak, the air was thin and bittersweet," she sings in "Avalanches," telling the listener not to be afraid, assuring that, "I will keep you safe." "I laid down by the river’s edge, and I woke up in the riverbed" she begins in "Riversong," singing slowly and gently of the flowers in her hair. As Frenzy works her way around this mountain, fish kiss her feet, trees bend and dance, and the very boulders urge her to find where she belongs. In "The Sighting," she describes connecting with a tall evergreen with roots that reach out to the sea. "Dream of the Dark" has a childlike appeal to it, the tinny ukulele sounds coming across like an evening lullaby. "Sailing Song" has a faster, upbeat sound, as Frenzy sings "see the bright face of the new day as the darkness fades away," as sea birds play. The sea is always changing, rearranging, notes Frenzy as an emotional storm rises in the following track, "Sad Sea Song," which meanders, but is marked by nice use of chimes and lonely whale songs at the end. These sounds resurface in "Dance of the Grey Whales," a nice instrumental piece. She does a 180 turn and brings the noise in "They Can’t If You Don’t Let Them." Perhaps the most pop-friendly tune on the album is "It’s Alive," with a catchy clap-track beat, followed by another light tune, "Now is the Start," that has Frenzy singing, optimistically, "it’s the sound of a new start." A chorus of female voices and electro-pop flourishes keep this tune upbeat. The album ends with "Grasses Grow," as she sings sadly about the river wide, with melancholic piano backing her. A Fine Frenzy has a fine voice, even if it tends toward the baby-doll whisper at times, and her thematic album is interesting, sure to be embraced by every tree-hugger in town.
"Glad Rag Doll" (Diana Krall)
Bust out the Victrola, because Grammy-winning jazz pianist Diana Krall is going back to her childhood spent listening to 78 rpm records in her parent’s basement in her new album, "Glad Rag Doll." Teaming up with producer T Bone Burnett and engineer Mike Piersante, Krall said, "We all just went in there as if these songs were written yesterday. I didn’t want to make a period piece or nostalgia record." And with new instrumentation and a sense of humor and mischief, the songs come across as alternatively swinging or sad, full of longing and regret. In "We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye," Krall envisions the house coming alive during a lover’s quarrel, with the couches crying, and the curtains waving for her to get out. The effect is very old-timey. She goes for the dirty blues with the electric guitar-fueled "There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth the Salt of My Tears." "Why are my wings so weary, I can’t fly anymore," she laments in "Just Like a Butterfly That’s Caught in the Rain," as a plinky ukulele accompanies her. The uke comes back as Krall sings flirtily, "What is the dark for? What is the park for? What are shady lanes?," in "You Know -- I Know, Ev’rything’s Made for Love." There’s a very Depression-era feel to Krall’s music, acknowledged by her as "’20s or ’30s songs as imagined for the 21st Century." The title song is a sad affair, slow and lonesome, made even more so by the exquisite guitar accompaniment. She moves to an upbeat country bluegrass feel in "I’m A Little Mixed Up," singing, "Listen here baby to what I have to say/ if you don’t want me I’ll be on my way." She rounds up the little doggies in "Prairie Lullaby," a sleepy cowboy tune, and gets gritty in the sauntering "Here Lies Love." "It’s all over town how you put me down/ you shouldn’t let that kind of talking go round/ you had your chance, now it’s all over," she sings in "I Used to Love You But It’s All Over Now." She makes Gene Austin’s "Let It Rain" her own, with slow pacing and deep, sonorous vocals. And she ramps up the sex in the Doc Pomus classic, "Lonely Avenue," first recorded in the ’50s. The crashing piano and deep bass drum mirrors her mournful lyrics, "Well my room has got two windows the sunlight never comes through I’m so sad and lonely since I broke up baby with you." She turns her sad eyes toward heaven in her touching rendition of Buddy and Julie Miller’s ballad of spiritual longing, "Wide River to Cross." She ends on a vaudeville note with "When the Curtain Comes Down," complete with busking calls from the ringmaster.
"Glad All Over" (The Wallflowers)
If ever there was a misnomer, this is it. The L.A. outfit of Jakob Dylan, Rami Jaffee and Greg Richling (plus newcomers Stuart Mathis and Jack Irons) are a hard-rocking outfit that has gone through a lot of changes since they started in 1992, but powered through to release five studio albums and win two Grammy Awards. After an extended hiatus, the group reformed, with Dylan telling Rolling Stone Magazine, "We all felt we were losing the plot a little bit and we needed a break...and before you know it, five or six years go by pretty quickly. I can’t do what I do in the Wallflowers without them. I miss it." Their first single, "Reboot the Mission" was released for free on July 24. It features Mick Jones, has a banging drum intro, and challenges the listener to keep still, with a bouncing pop line and as they sing, "eyes on the prize, reboot the mission/ I lost my sight but not the vision." It might as well be an anthem for the band, including a shout-out to every member of the band, including Irons, with lyrics, "Jack our new drummer, he jammed with the mighty Joe Strummer." The album’s 11 tracks are equally infectious, starting with "Hospital for Sinners," the deliciously wicked electric-guitar fueled song that has Dylan singing, "It’s a hospital for sinners, ain’t no museum for saints!" and later, "If it’s a comeback you want, then get your hands raised." The same gritty, nasty vibe comes through in "The Devil’s Waltz," with the lyrics, "There’s poison in the arrows they come across, no, you don’t leave your post at any cost." Jones chimes in again for "Misfits and Lovers," a rocking song looking back at school days, a "Jack and Diane" for our time. In "First One in the Car," the band seizes a real Bruce Springsteen vibe of kids out cruising. "Moonlight shining on the Lincoln’s hood, I’m fulla smoke and your perfume/ you’re thinking you might, I was hoping you would/ do just what your mother doesn’t think you should." This same feel rises in "Have Mercy on Him Now." "It’s a Dream" has a new country feel to it, and "Love Is a Country" has a gritty, industrial feel, with its steam engine imagery. They end strong with "One Set of Wings," declaring that, "I’ve been rocked and now I’m ready, I’m only trying to get this thing down." The Wallflowers fill a gap in the "gritty American rock" category that has been open since John Cougar Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen ruled the roost. The Wallflowers kicked off their 22-city tour early this month in San Antonio. Do yourself a favor and check them out.
"Halcyon" (Ellie Goulding)
After the breakthrough success of Goulding’s debut studio album, "Lights" and the title single, which reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100, this English singer/songwriter became a household name. This month, she releases her second album, "Halcyon," to critical acclaim. Her first single, "Anything Could Happen," reached the top five in the UK, and its infectious beat is hard to resist, as she sings, "Stripped to the waist we fall into the river/ Cover your eyes so you don’t know the secret I’ve been trying to hide." The second single, "I Know You Care," has already been picked up for the feature film "Now Is Good." It opens with an angelic chorus of voices, as Goulding picks her way through it, with slow piano backing. The title track pairs slow instrumentals with lyrics that are laden with urgency and sadness, as she sings, "I know you’re a fighter but you never fought for me." It ends on a high note, as she promises, "It’s gonna be better." Goulding lines up 18 tracks in this album (among the, the single version of her popular track "Lights"), and some of them are predictably just okay, including, "Only You, ""Figure 8," and "Without Your Love." Goulding vacillates between upbeat, poppy tracks and slower, somber ballads. "Don’t Say a Word" starts slow and haunting, with eerie organ backing, and Goulding’s breathy voice. It jumps alive with electronic flourishes, and the lyrics, "Here it is, in my hands, in my veins and over lands/ It spreads like fire seeking air, and pulls me in my own funfair." She channels Tori Amos in "My Blood" and "Hanging On," and runs her high voice up and down the scale in "Explosions," as she sings, "I left my soul bleeding in the dark so you could be king." Her more upbeat tracks include "In My City," "Ritual," and "Atlantis," which, to be fair, starts as a love story but devolves into a lost love story. "Dead in the Water" is of a similar bent, as Goulding croons, "You’ve seen this all before a life left on the shore/ but smiling all the same, you sail away again." More solidly a love song is "I You’re your Love," an electronic dance track featuring Calvin Harris. And teetering on the cusp is "JOY," a song with an upbeat feel, but sad lyrics as Goulding sings, "I’ve figured out that joy is not in your arms/ I know I’ll always ache with an empty heart." And although she stripped down to her pink bra while playing at G-A-Y, and sports a triangle tattoo on her right wrist, she is currently dating dubstep DJ Skrillex. Oddly enough, she teams up in a remix of "Hanging On," featuring English rapper Tinie Tempah who, along with Goulding, was rumored to be singer Jessie J.’s lover. Regardless of her orientation, Goulding’s reputation as a hit maker is firmly cemented in our collective conscious at this point. Best to just relax and enjoy the tunes. (Interscope Records)
"Origin of Love" (Mika)
Cautiously gay but certifiably handsome pop star Mika releases his third album "The Origin of Love" this month. With the success of his smash "The Boy Who Knew Too Much," Mika was spurred to create this two-year, DIY labor of love about "crazy love songs and tolerance." He solicited the help of Nick Littlemore, Pharrell Williams, William Orbit, Benny Benassi, Fryars, Greg Wels, Klas Ahlund and some new musicians he discovered online to get just the right sound. The single, "Celebrate" has already been critically hailed as "destined to be a global summer soundtrack." In the video, he sits at the piano of a city apartment working through the lyrics of this bouncy pop hit. Mika’s voice is fine, moving up and down the scales effortlessly. "Written by me, Pharrell and Fryars and produced by Nick, this kind of collaboration is only possible when everyone throws themselves into it wanting to have fun and without any ego," said Mika. The album was recorded in Miami and London, as well as Fryar’s north London bedroom studio. And out of it came Madonna’s allegedly favorite "MDNA" track, "Gang Bang." The title track "Origin of Love" represents to Mika what it feels like to fall in love for the first time, noting that he wrote at a rapid pace the lyrics "Like stupid Adam and Eve they found their love in a tree, and God didn’t think they deserved it/ So he taught them hate, taught them pride, gave them a leaf, made them hide/ But let’s push that story aside, the origin of love is you and you are the origin of love." The lyrically-charged track "Heroes" looks at the ravages of war that soldiers take back home with them, including emotional trauma. "The kids in their hundreds tomorrow will march through the door, fighting someone else’s war," inspired by A.E. Housman’s poem "The Lads in Their Hundreds" about the destruction of a generation from WWI. Although people say the song is too dark, Mika admits it is one of his favorites. He wrote "Step With Me" a comforting, short, sweet, summery song that pairs an island beat with by-the-numbers instructions for love, at a songwriting camp in a castle in France. "Popular" is inspired by the song of the same name from the Broadway play, "Wicked," and "Stardust" is a shiny pop song written in about an hour about love at first sight, with beautiful highs in Mika’s voice. Inspired by Elton John’s work, Mika’s "Underwater" is a lush musical landscape meant to feel like a long-ago Levis’ commercial featuring mermaids and the song, "Underwater Love." Mika describes "Lola" as Fleetwood Mac with a touch of "Billie Jean," with electronic bass, spare piano chords and a vintage sound. After spending the past two years touring, Mika hopped back on the live show circuit with Oct. 15-16 shows at New York’s Webster Hall, before moving on to shows in Chicago and L.A.