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.
"Love Lust Faith + Dreams" (Thirty Seconds To Mars)
Los Angeles rockers Thirty Seconds To Mars drop their fifth studio album this month. The brother/sister team of Jared Leto and Shannon Leto pair up with Tomo Mili?evi? on lead guitar and keyboard to create their interesting alt rock/emo music, which has been compared to Pink Floyd for its experimental nature and spiritual lyrics. The title track became their first single back at the end of February, and the release became the first commercial album to go into space when it was sent to NASA and packed upon the Dragon spacecraft on SpaceCX CRS-2 for their March 1 space mission. Earlier in May, they released the head-banging hit "Conquistador," their second single, with an accompanying short film by VEVO. "We are the children of the great empire, we will rise again," Leto sings, merging into a chorus. "This short film is quite unlike anything we have ever done before. With contributions from Damien Hirst, Dita Von Teese, U.S. Olympic gymnasts McKayla Maroney and Jordyn Wieber, Maxwell Snow, Neil Strauss, a lion, wolf, a snake (and yes some zebras), we take an epic, bizarre and hallucinogenic journey through a incredibly surreal landscape," said Jared Leto. "It was exciting to explore new territory and once again work with the maniacal Bartholomew Cubbins at the helm." The album launches with the single, "Birth." "Love," says Shannon Leto, and a crisp compliment of horns backs her up as her brother takes over vocals. The song grows in intensity, ratcheting up the suspense to its denouement. The band meshes electronic instrumentals with emo lyrics in "Up in the Air," pondering, "is this the end?" Shannon goes on to intro "Lust, Faith and Dreams" before other tunes on the album. Many of the songs open with a repetitive beat; scathing electric blips in the title tune, muted ambient bleeps in "City of Angels," blending good old drum solos with piano to create a song reminiscent of ’80s hits. This sound resurfaces in "Bright Lights," one of the albums’ best tracks, and again on "Do or Die." In "The Race," these intro beats come in the form of light bow strikes on violin, before devolving into the maudlin lyrics, "You saved my life, with blood and through sacrifice." Slow piano strikes intro "End Of All Days," and Leto’s voice gets a chance to shine at its grittiest, heartfelt best. The drama is on full tilt in the wonderfully named "Pyres of Varanasi," and ratchets up to hair-band size in "Northern Lights." They wrap things up with "Depuis de Début," another gritty, guitar-backed tune with Leto growling, "I danced with a million devils, died from a life of sin, made love to a million angels, murdered a million men/ There will be blood." The spectacle ends with haunting music box chimes. Thirty Seconds will appeal to those folks raised on heavy metal, whose tastes now run toward rock and electronic emo.
Also from Los Angeles (via Denmark), the soulful, funky duo Quadron drops their latest dance-pop album for your enjoyment. Vocalist Coco O. and multi-instrumentalist/producer Robin Hannibal have already raised eyebrows this spring with the video for their first single, "Hey Love," a bouncy, radio-ready pop tune available on VEVO and featured prominently in "Grey’s Anatomy" and "Mob Wives." The poppy island beat could make this song the breakout hit of the summer. Quadron also has a track on Baz Luhrmann’s "The Great Gatsby" soundtrack, and critics across the board are raving about Coco O.’s "angelic" voice. Their sound in the first track "LFT" is ’70s porn film funky, and will have you dancing despite yourself. "Crushes don’t come with warnings," she sings in "Favorite Star," and muted drums pound out a similar message in "Crush," as Coco emotes until she reaches almost Adele-like levels. "Befriend" has the sound of the beguine in it, with wood blocks and lux vocals. The duo rocks out in the infectious dance track "Neverland," with its steady percussion and horn accents. "It’s Gonna Get You" features great female vocal harmonies, and "Sea Salt" is a rhythmic delight. Coco O.’s voice truly is heaven-sent, and Hannibal gives her an ideal platform for displaying it. Kendrick Lamar chimes in on "Better Off," a funky pop/rap tune. Catch the band as they tour the East Coast in June, going from Boston to New York to D.C. to Philadelphia. You won’t want to miss this hot new music sensation.
(Vested in Culture/Epic Records)