Dig These Discs :: Brandi Carlile, Grass Widow, Emeli Sande, Scissor Sisters, 2:54
Summer is here, so dig into this heaping portion of new music, with hot new albums by everyone’s favorite gays, the Scissor Sisters, and several new albums by sisters of a different sort. From British sisters Colette and Hannah Thurlow to singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile, Scottish dame Emeli Sandé and the trio that makes up Grass Widow, these ladies will keep you rocking, whether you like pop, soul, country, or emo.
"Magic Hour" (Scissor Sisters)
The deliciously queer mélange that is The Scissor Sisters are back with their fourth studio album, again earning dibs on the label of "the best pop group in the world," as U2’s Bono has called them. Jake Shears, Ana Matronic, Babydaddy, Del Marquis and Randy Real have dropped a dozen of their trademark bouncy pop/club tracks all about "magic moments and magic friends." They kick things off with "Baby Come Home," a piano-heavy pop song that smacks of early Wham! hits. It’s half past four, but Shears sings, "I can’t sleep unless you’re laying beside me, no doubt you’d be fine living without me, I just can let you start it tonight." The Sisters capture an Egyptian pop sound in "Keep Your Shoes," rife with electronic beats and lots of "gotta getcha going" gitcha-gitcha vocalisms. They slow down with "Inevitable." Shears’ strong vocal stylings and a subtle bass-driven back fuel this slow pop/rock song that Sister Sisters are known for, with a surprise Bee-Gees style chorus. Their first track, "Only the Horses," written in July 2011, is a more modern pop song, very "Beach House" style with a steady club beat. Shears sings, "Only the horses can find us tonight," in this radio-ready track. "The Year of Living Dangerously" is a slow, sad song about taking risks and finding what sets one free. Every Scissor Sister’s album deserves one truly off-beat track, and "Let’s Have a Kiki" fits the bill. It follows the classic phonecall intro format, with a drama queen fussing that "you know that MTA stands for mothafuckas touching my ass." The slow train has made her late for the club, where the NYPD has shut down the party, so the crew decides to have a "kiki," a cute little party of their own. To fingers snaps and bass beats a la Grace Jones, they sing, "dive, turn, work," finally declaring the whole thing, "cunty." High praise, indeed. In "Shady Love," they take on the rapid-fire style favored by Nicki Minaj, meshed with the soaring, club-style tracks of Deborah Cox. Ana Matronic lays down vocals, with white-boy rap breaks. In a turn of diversity, light calypso surfaces in "San Luis Obispo," a rolling, light song that has a very ’90s Hedwig sound, with the lyrics, "I spend my life deciding if happiness is just a phase." A pounding bass track lights up "Self Control," with Shears singing, "Just keep staring at the ceiling, got to learn to fight the feeling/ don’t let go, no no, of your self control." A taunting chorus asks, "Who has to know?" Hot beats surface again in "Best in Me," with Ana Matronic and Shears singing that this may not be a song you hear on MTV, but "you keep bringing out the best in me." The Sisters seem to be channeling fellow gay singer Rufus Wainwright in "The Secret Life of Letters," with pianos behind heartfelt sotto voce lyrics. It ends up with a sweeping, melancholic chorus of voices. The album closes out with "Somewhere," a pop/dance track that has an ’80s Billy Idol vibe, ending with the inspirational lyrics, "All these tears of mine will fly away."
"Bear Creek" (Brandi Carlile)
Thirteen is a lucky number for singer/songwriter/guitarist Brandi Carlile, who drops an indie country classic in the making with "Bear Creek." "Wish I could find a soul to steal/ I could be the engine and you could be the wheels," sings Carlile in "Hard Way Home," a tune about life lessons. She channels Bonnie Raitt in her banjo-backed song, "Raise Hell," a country blues song that has Carlile singing, "Come on, ring that bell." Carlile counts folk, pop, country, rock, gospel and blues among her musical influences, and "Bear Creek" puts them all on display. Her acoustic chops shine in "Save Part of Yourself," a love song that mixes hand-claps, call-and-response, and a gospel music feel. Her first single, "That Wasn’t Me," hit the radio in April, and features soulful piano that showcases the warmth and power of Carlile’s vocals, as she sings, "Did I cause you to stumble on your feet, did I bring shame on my family...Whatever you’ve seen, that wasn’t me." In "Keep Your Heart Young," Carlile reminisces on her childhood self, the wheat penny her grandpa gave her and the games she played with her brother, singing, "And keep your heart young, don’t go growing old before your time is come/ you can’t take back what you have done, you’ve gotta keep your heart young." In "100" she bemoans the forgetting that comes with an love’s end, and extends the them in "A Promise to Keep," another soft acoustic love song. Strings add a touch of class to the melancholy "Whatever Did I Come Here For," and in "Hearts Content," she sings, "Maybe you thought I hung the moon, maybe we thought we were Johnny and June/ maybe we thought it was just us two, maybe we spoke too soon." "Rise Again" is a steady-rocking tune about rage, and "In the Morrow" is about overcoming obstacles, with the lyrics, "I gave it everything I had for so long, save your sorrow for your song/ don’t we always find a way to carry on." She closes out the album with "Just Kids," an ethereal, sparely electronic-backed tune that spans for nearly seven minutes, ending in the chirping of crickets. Carlile has already worked with some of the best names in the business, including T Bone Burnett, the Hanseroth twins and Trina Shoemaker, and counts among her fans Elton John, who appeared in a track on her 2009 album. She has sold more than 800,000 albums and played more than 700 live shows. If you’re a fan of other indie country artists like LeAnn Rimes or Faith Hill, you’ll love Carlile. Look for her during her U.S. tour, starting in New Jersey in June, and hitting Colorado by July.
"Internal Logic" (Grass Widow)
The San Francisco-based trio of Hannah Lew, Raven Mahon and Lillian Maring drop a new 11-track disc of their haunting electronic-fueled songs this month, on their own label, HLR. The band shares vocal duties as easily as they share their personal stories in their metaphor-rich, narrative-fueled songs. They kick things off with "Goldilocks Zone," which opens with spacey electronic sounds and moves into spindly guitars. In "Hang Around," an electric guitar backbeat hums discordantly over harmonious vocals. A more traditional guitar rock sound is captured in "Milo Minute," a fast-moving break-up song in the style of early Violent Femmes tunes. A similar old-school surf rock guitar/drums combo follows in "Under the Atmosphere," with the ladies sweet soprano voices rising to the top in a chorus of harmonies. The ladies of Grass Widow are all about equality, shying away from having a front person, and striving to make all of their shows age- and gender-inclusive. "Disappearing Industries," with its fast punk chords, sounds like Sleater-Kinney lite. Sultry Spanish guitar lures the listener in to "A Light in the Static," a beautiful instrumental piece. Shock is waiting on the other end in "Spock on MUNI," a fast-moving electric guitar song that lets us in on the joke. Grass Widow is clearly an intellectual outfit, weaving metaphor and allusion in their songs, and not without a sense of humor. The only complaint is that the between the rock guitar and breathy, high-toned vocals, these lyrics are not always easy to distinguish. This fast-moving, spindly guitar sound with overlapping ethereal vocals is found in "Advice" and "Cover You." Among the best in the lot is "Whistling in the Grass," a peppy, fun tune that closes with some classic axe-grinding. They end the album similar to how it started, with a piano picking out the chords this time, in "Response to Photographs," a slow-moving instrumental song. Grass Widow is unabashedly democratic in form and function, and will certainly appeal to a similarly minded fan base. (HLR)
"Our Version of Events" (Emeli Sandé)
Scottish-born singer/songwriter Emeli Sandé releases her debut album this month, after debuting at number one on the UK Album Chart in late February. This soft-voiced chanteuse drops a collection of 14 soulful hits that reveal her sophisticated grasp on songwriting. Sandé channels a retro-futuristic feel that is easy to love. She kicks things off with "Heaven," a fast-moving song about good intentions that features rapid-fire techno-style drum tracks and hot brass breaks, but slows down for chanting choral breaks, very similar to the sound embraced by Florence + The Machine. "My Kind of Love" is a radio-ready blending acoustic guitar and percussives with an electronic edge, with Sandé singing, "You won’t see me at the parties, I guess I’m just no fun/ I won’t be turning up the radio singing, ’baby you’re the one.’ But don’t ever question that my heart beats only for you." In addition to winning the 2012 Critics Choice Award at the BRITs, she was nominated as this year’s breakthrough British artist. After a June 4 show at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom, Sandé will tour the U.S. with Coldplay, for whom she opened in the UK. A muted clap-track intros, "Where I Sleep", another stellar love song. In "Mountain," keyboard and strings backs Sandé’s whisper-thin vocals that affirm that love will overcome all boundaries. Sandé teams up with Naughty Boy for "Daddy," an R&B song very much in the vein of an old Mary J. Blige track about trying to keep love in the face of a double-timing no-good man. The album also features the new song "Wonder," another collaboration with Naughty Boy, which is not available on the UK version. The song is an ode to personal self-empowerment, a marching track with choruses of chants backing up Sandé’s strong vocals. In "Maybe," Sandé bemoans a love that is on the way, singing, "Maybe you could stay a bit longer, I could try a bit harder, we could make this work." And she captures a country-western feel in "Suitcase," with its acoustic guitar intro, and the time-honored tale of a waking up to find your man has gone. She puts her money where her mouth is in the sparely arranged, "Breaking the Law," singing, "I’ll never stop helping to pull you through/ whatever it takes to get what you need." She rocks in her U.S. debut single, "Next to Me, a song about a man who never lets her down. She returns the favor in the next song, "River," singing, "I can make the load much lighter, I just need you to confide in me, but if you’re too proud to follow rivers how you ever gonna find the sea/ so follow me, I’ll be your river, I’ll do the running for ya." She lives for the moment in the poppy, "Lifetime," and closes out the album with "Hope," her shout-out for a better future. With chops like these, it’s practically guaranteed.
British sisters Colette and Hannah Thurlow release their highly anticipated debut album, a collection of epic, goth-tinged mood rock songs accented by the ladies sultry, smoky voices. The Thurlow sisters taught themselves to play guitar as teenagers, but it wasn’t until the closing moments of 2010 that the very first lo-fi home demos leaked onto the web, prompting a flurry of critical acclaim that’s grown. The 10 tracks on this album smack of early Shirley Manson Garbage tunes, with a little more mood and a little less angst. Their first single, "Creeping," is a catchy slow rock song fueled by bursting electric guitar chords and a steady backbeat, and the chorus "a thousand miles away." "Suddenly surrender, give in to you," Colette sings in the album’s first song, "Revolving," a dark tune with instrumentals that recall the moody, moping melodies that Robert Smith and the Cure released in their later days. It would be a fitting accompaniment to a David Lynch film, providing the musical darkness needed to offset his onscreen awkwardness. A slow bass intro sets the mood in "You’re Early," and rolling guitars keep "Easy Undercover" moving, with Colette singing, "If you go, you’ll never know." The "witchy" aspect that many critics have noted when writing about 2:54 is aided by Colette’s ethereal "wooo-wooo-woos," as seen in their track, "A Salute." Among the best is the rolling "Scarlet," with Colette singing, "Mother she said you put the beat in my bones, it’s all right here in my head, you make it easy to see." "Sugar" is a sultry track full of ominous portent, as is the needling "Watcher." Distorted electric guitar makes "Circuitry," with Colette opening with the almost accusatory lyrics, "and they stop and sigh and smile to kill the time." And drums give a needed lift to "Ride." Returning to the UK from a stretch in the U.S., which included SXSW, the band is set to play their biggest ever headline show yet at London’s legendary Scala venue in June. Following that, 2:54 will return to North America for a 13-date headlining tour with support from Widowspeak. Check your local venues to catch this tantalizing duo.
(Fat Possum Records)