Dig These Discs :: Jon Hopkins, Alpine, Quadron, Thirty Seconds To Mars, Matthew Morrison
Are you ready to rock? Headbanging hits abound from Thirty Seconds to Mars, and Aussie popsters Alpine, who drop their debut album. Get conceptual with Jon Hopkins musical landscapes, and slow things down with Matthew Morrisons’ collection of showtunes, and Quadron’s beautiful vocals and harmonies. It’s summer time, and things are heating up for Dig These Discs!
"Where It All Began" (Matthew Morrison)
As perpetually optimistic high school teacher Will Schuester on FOX TV’s "Glee," Matthew Morrison delights in pulling old chestnuts out of his bag of tricks and showing his dorky charges how they did things in his day. He’s up to more of the same with "Where It All Began," his new collection of Broadway standards like "West Side Story Medley" and "On the Street Where You Live." To be perfectly candid, collections of show tunes are my least favorite thing to tackle; how many covers of "Singin’ In the Rain" or "Send in the Clowns" does anyone, gay or not, need to hear? But Morrison got his feet wet in Broadway’s "Footloose," followed by "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," "Hairspray" and "South Pacific," so it’s only right that he should pay homage to his onstage roots. And what a tribute it is. Morrison’s got Old Blue Eyes covered with "The Lady is a Tramp," and "Luck Be a Lady," although he tempers it more than Frankie ever would. Morrison’s voice is smooth as a baby’s bottom, and the accompanying full orchestra and tinkling piano on "Singing in the Rain" doesn’t hurt matters any. He goes blue in "Come Rain or Come Shine/ Basin Street Blues," and follows it with the more upbeat "Younger Than Springtime." He swings in "It Don’t Mean a Thing," and slows things down for "As Long As She Needs Me." A tropical sound arises in "Hey There," and an unexpected modern twist in "West Side Story Medley," with Morrison singing the classic, "When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way/ from your first cigarette to your last dying day." Music legend Smokey Robinson joins in for "Ease on the Down the Road," the Broadway pop tune made famous in "The Wiz." And to really drive things home, on June 1, PBS will air "Matthew Morrison: Where It All Began -- Live From the Bushnell," a concert shot live in Hartford, CT. He’ll also be singing live with the Boston Pops this month, and with the National Symphony Orchestra in Kennedy Center in the fall. Now that’s something to be gleeful about.
"Immunity" (Jon Hopkins)
Singer, producer and expert film score composer Jon Hopkins releases his fourth solo album, "Immunity" on June 4, and critics are already calling it his most club-friendly music to date. This dramatic record opens with the sounds of a key turning into the lock of Hopkin’s East London studio, the door slamming and footsteps. The clipped rhythms and pulsing bass of "We Disappear" then take over. This is followed by his first single, "Open Eye Signal," hisses and burbles with rhythms of an express train hurtling through the landscape. "Breathe This Air," starts with a stunted beat, but has a graceful buildup and huge contrasts, highs from upbeat rhythms, followed by mournful piano keys and choral drones. Hopkins calls "Collider" the best song he’s ever written. This ten-minute techno extravaganza has pounding bass and a closed breathing sound, with a 4/4 beat giving it a huge twist halfway through. "Abandon Window" is a spare, piano-driven soundscape, and Hopkins plays with sound in "Form By Firelight," as the piano pedals provide the beat, and the strings are struck to create chime tones. Hopkins is an inventive percussionist, finding pleasing tones in everyday objects, like a cheap tambourine and salt-and-pepper shakers. He finishes the album with "Sun Harmonics," an almost 12-minute, rambling percussive dream that stops and starts back up about nine minutes in to merge with "Immunity," a slowly building, beautiful release. Hopkins is known as an elusive force in the industry. His extensive work with other artists has put his own material on the back burner, where it has simmered and gotten richer for it. In a day and age when people don’t make "albums" anymore, Hopkins has created a comprehensive album that works as an idealized soundtrack of a massive night out. It is meant to be listened to in order, as he adds layer upon layer of real-time depth in a world of cold, CGI electronica.
"A Is for Alpine" (Alpine)
Making their debut after a U.S. tour that included a stop at the SXSW Festival, Aussie outfit Alpine hopes that the U.S. will embrace their bold, twinkling, sophisticated pop music. The crew of vocalists Phoebe Baker and Lou James with Christian O’Brien on guitar, Ryan Lamb on bass, Tim Royall on keyboards and Phil Tucker on drums experiment with musical sounds and textures in this first album, to "represent the different sides of our music," said Lamb. "So there’s some sad moments, some dancey moments, some rocking out and lots of harmonies." Baker describes the new album as the band’s "innocent and not so innocent explorations through our twenty-something emotions." The album was recorded in Melbourne with producer Dann Hume, who James called "a bit of a musical genius," and the first single, the keyboard and drum-fueled "Hands" is already getting media attention. The album’s 12 tracks kick off with "Lovers 1" and "Lovers 2," which showcase Baker’s fine, high voice and the band’s infectious beats. Lambs’ bass rules in "Villages," with Baker piping out the lyrics, "Who’ll take my hand? I wanna show you something that you’ve never seen." The tune "Softsides" employs some extremely interesting percussion to a handclap effect, and soul-stirring electric guitar. A hi-hat introduces "Seeing Red," a mid-tempo pop song with a funky guitar arrangement. The quirky "Gasoline" is one to watch for possible radio play, as is the bouncy "Too Safe." The atonal beats of "All For One" give it a hypnotic quality, while the banging percussions of "In the Wild" and electric guitar breaks lend it an ’80s vibe. Reverb echo vocals give "The Vigour" something special, and the affable group effort "Multiplication" is a good place to end things. Alpine is not your run-of-the-mill Aussie pop band, but they may find their place among the indie bands populating the music scene today.