Is “Blank Project” a jazz, soul, art or pop album? Listening to the disc attentively one could easily say all of the above, as the Swedish-born singer Neneh Cherry (known by mainstream music fans for her collaboration with Senegalese star Youssou N’ Dour) does her thing on her first solo release since 1996. Backed solely by Four Tet’s mix of percussion and electronic sounds, the music grabs you from the beginning with the Afro-inspired “Across The Water” and doesn’t let go until the very last track. Read the rest of this entry »
Electronic DJ duo Icona Pop make tracks that sound exactly the way pop music of today should. Run, leap and tumble beats soar through starry, energetic electro-synth melodies, and land on their feet in the foggy midst of a humid, glitter-coated dance floor. When Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo met at a party in the suburbs of Stockholm in 2009, a connection surged almost instantly as the two discovered they shared nearly identical tastes in music. Within a few days they were writing songs and booking gigs, and in that same year the two moved to London to cut their first studio record with TEN Music Group. There, they met London’s Charli XCX who shared a song written for her by another Swede, Patrik Berger. The three women collaborated and came up with the international hit, “I Love It.” The song was released as the second single from their self-titled album in May 2012 and again as the first single off of their second album, “This Is…Icona Pop” in September 2013. As for the time in-between, the song’s commercial success flourished. Read the rest of this entry »
In 2008, British soul singer Alice Russell caught the attention of critics and fans alike with her catchy “Got The Hunger” the lead single from her US debut, “Pot of Gold” (Six Degrees, 2008). She seemed to tag along with her country’s embrace of young female singers like the late Amy Winehouse and Adele, who capture the essence of American soul and use it in their own way—apparently drawing more inspiration from Motown than more current stuff made here.
On her new record, “To Dust,” Russell goes further by incorporating gospel sounds and more organic instrumentation instead of the previous disc’s predominantly electronic sounds. For instance, “A to Z,” is a powerful guitar-driven tune with smart vocals and a very catchy groove. Read the rest of this entry »
A decade after her smash hit “Thank You” put this English singer on the pop map and five years after 2008’s “Safe Trip Home,” Dido reemerges with this concise album that brings together all the nuances of her style, blending folk-rock, electronica and straight-ahead pop. The album opens with the acoustic ballad “No Freedom,” whose lyrics reflect on the necessity of allowing people to have freedom within the confines of a relationship. The title track makes a playful allusion to the lover “who got away,” the sort of utopian dream-like person who many of us were unable to keep by our sides. Read the rest of this entry »
The former child performer (and daughter of late producer and arranger Don Costa) shows on her new EP that she is in constant evolution as a performer. After dabbling in electronic and soul music on her previous efforts, Costa meets halfway by blending all her influences into a very personal musical form. The record opens with the bass-heavy “Head First,” a soul-inflected pop song that sounds ready for remixers and DJs to dabble with. “Never Wanna C U Again” shows her angry-girl side—it’s a female empowerment rocker about not allowing herself another lover’s deceit.
The title track is a bit unimpressive. Costa tries a bit too hard to mix a punk attitude with electronic elements, but the result is at least danceable even if it falls flat musically in comparison with the rest of the material on the disc. On the other hand, the downtempo “Chase the Thrill” has just the right blend of soul and psychedelics without sounding overproduced. The tune shift tempos towards the end, allowing for the instruments to take over and carry on its dreamy state—think of it as a cross between Alanis Morissette and the more trippy sounds of the late sixties in a well-balanced package. (Ernest Barteldes)
(Go Funk Yourself/Giant Step)
When Dengue Fever started out a decade ago, they researched a genre that had all but vanished: psychedelic, Beatles-inspired songs by Cambodian artists who were persecuted under the Khmer Rouge regime. They gradually began including their own songs, still sung in Khmer, and after their third disc, they started recording tunes in English while still keeping a firm footing in the style that made them known in US pop/alternative circles and abroad— including in the country that inspired them in the first place.
On their latest offering, “Cannibal Courtship” (Fantasy/Concord), they have more songs in English than ever before, and they’ve also started flirting with more jammy, Grateful Dead-influenced grooves. The band uses vocalist Chhom Nimol’s incredible range well, especially when it comes to more inventive tunes like the bluesy “Sister in the Radio” and the surf-rock-inflected “Kiss of the Bufo Alvarius,” where the guitar skills of co-leader Zac Holtzman also come to prominence.
Live, the band has great energy, charisma and chemistry. Nimol, who cut her teeth singing karaoke in Long Beach, California, commands your attention even if you can’t understand half of what’s going on in the first place. (Ernest Barteldes)
June 4 at The Empty Bottle, 1035 North Western, (773)276-3600, 10pm. $15.
On “Leave It All Behind,” New York-based indie singer-songwriter Jason Walker explores all the influences that make up his musical style with a clear focus on Gospel-inspired soul. Possessing a voice with an uncanny resemblance to Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall (he is no imitator, though), Walker kicks off the disc with the piano-based “I Am Changing,” an ode to believing in oneself and recognizing the past. The title track is clearly intended for the dance floor with its techno-inspired beats, but paying close attention to the lyrics Walker sings of living through a mutually satisfying love affair.
Another memorable moment is the Brazilian-inspired “Como Te Llamas” (“What’s Your Name?”), a bossa that features an awesome guitar and keyboard arrangement. The very hummable neo-soul ballad “The Song in My Heart” is another great highlight that showcases Walker’s broad range. The presence of strings augments the tune well, and makes this one of the most enjoyable moments on the disc. Give the live version of “Sad Eyes” a spin just for producer/pianist Rami Ramirez’ solid accompaniment. (Ernest Barteldes)
“Leave It All Behind”
On her follow-up to the well-received “Rockferry” (2008),Welsh singer Duffy moves a step forward from her trademark retro/soul sound. The single “Well Well Well” (recorded in collaboration with The Roots) takes her music to a whole new level thanks to the Philadelphia group’s fine arrangement, and the opening track “My Boy” is refreshing take on current Europop.
There are, however, a few misfires: the pro-life “I’m Keeping My Baby” sounds too close to Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach” in message and sound—even the hook has the same words. “Hard for the Heart” sounds misplaced with its weak lyrics and iffy arrangement.
That is no reason to dismiss her, though. There are many strong moments that make this a disc to pay close attention to: “Girl” is a fun uptempo tune in which she warns a rival to stay away from her man—or else (Duffy is not one to play an insecure, hurt lover). “Too Hurt to Dance” is a gentle sixties-inspired ballad in which a brokenhearted girl asks the DJ to “turn the music down” as she drowns her sorrows in alcohol.
Many British reviewers canned “Endlessly” because Duffy distanced herself from British soul in order to come closer to a more American R&B sound (journalists across the pond tend to be a bit vengeful), but this makes her sound even more approachable to international audiences. Now let’s just hope she takes this album on the road. (Ernest Barteldes)
Electric-pop sets have dominated this summer’s street fest stages, but no lineup has compared to Thursday’s Double Door electro-pop celebration. Led by remix golden boy Ben Plant, Australia-based Miami Horror has finally released their debut album “Illumination” and they’re here in the states to share addicting tracks and bouncy bass lines.
Chicago’s own DJ Codebreaker also takes the stage Thursday, pulling inspiration from the same timeless funk and jumping between disco, Italo, French house and more. These live sets will be like getting invited by Prince and Phoenix to a house party where ABBA is handing out the plastic red cups. I would go, wouldn’t you? (Dee Fabbricatore)
September 9 at Double Door, 1572 North Milwaukee, (773)489-3160, 8:30pm. $10
Copenhagen’s Efterklang is in town for the Adventures in Modern Music showcase presented by Empty Bottle and The Wire. Dubbed “Edition Sonar” for its overlap with the renowned Spanish festival’s first visit to Chicago, this impressive slate of shows aims to expose local ears to an array of diverse acts. Efterklang’s “Magic Chairs” (4AD) was released earlier this year and the “Raincoats” single hit shelves in August. The quartet employs the accompaniment of several musicians and deftly crafts vocal and string-driven pop that often explodes in majestic swells of horns, percussion and harmony. Comparisons to The Most Serene Republic and Sigur Ros are indeed logical, but Efterklang reserves a subtle twist of brooding restraint on their latest endeavor, seemingly keeping the grandeur under lock and key. Let’s hope they packed some of it for their visit to Chicago, where they share the stage with Rangda, Michael Zerang and Buke & Gass. (John Alex Colón)
September 10 at Empty Bottle, 1035 North Western, (773)276-3600. 9pm. $15.