Tag: 2014

Sia – 1000 Forms of Fear

ARTIST: Sia  220px-Sia_-_1000_Forms_of_Fear_(Official_Album_Cover)

TITLE: 1000 Forms of Fear



SINGLES: Chandelier (#8 US, #6 UK), Big Girls Cry (#103 US, #77 UK), Elastic Heart (#17 US, #10 UK), Fire Meets Gasoline (#193 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Burn the Pages, Cellophane.

LINEUP: Sia and Greg Kurstin. Jessie Shatkin and Nick Valensi helped on a track each.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After taking a break (or retiring) from performing because of mental health issues, a surprise hit led her back to the studio after a while and she released her most focused album yet.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After writing “Titanium” with hopes of it landing with Alicia Keys, and finding it released by David Guetta with her demo vocals on it, Sia became more famous than she had been, especially in the US. So having stepped back from recording to write songs, she found herself in the studio again with Greg Kurstin and delivered this set of passionate, bombastic pop songs.

While over the top at times, the production fits Sia’s intent on the tracks, especially on the smash “Chandelier”. Yet the album touches on a lot of subjects and touches on them well. Sia’s songs are personal, and at times heart-rendering, as she was fighting demons upon demons in her life, which led to her original retirement.

The deep cuts, like “Hostage” and “Straight to the Knife”, are where the meat of the album lives. She poured everything into all of the songs, telling a story and not just gunning for hits or radio play. But with her natural ability for hooks and melody, she got them. This is a much better record than her earlier efforts, and improves with multiple listens.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: It was at this time where Sia decided to cover her face, and let her art speak for herself.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, acoustic piano cuts and other mixes.

 GRADE A-: This is a modern pop album that grows on you.

Ex Hex – Rips

ARTIST: Ex Hex                          Ex_Hex_Rips_artwork



CHART ACTION: #170, #24 Alternative, #46 Rock

SINGLES: Hot and Cold


LINEUP: Mary Timony, Laura Harris, Betsy Wright

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Mary Timony’s new project is a straight-ahead (relatively) rock-and-roll trio. It’s impressive.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: If you’ve been a fan of the underground, true-alternative music scene since the 90’s, you know Mary Timony as the leader of Helium and of her solo work. (One of her albums was called Ex Hex, BTW). She also was a ringleader in Wild Flag, a super-group of female alt-rockers that got fairly popular.

That last experience may have spurred her to abandon the minor key, weird tuning, and oddly structured music she was doing for almost two decades, and move towards the mainstream, albiet the alternative mainstream. The trio she formed kicks up a racket without ‘selling out’ – whatever that means now.

Tweleve tight songs, (10 by Timony and two by Besty Wright), a straight forward sound, and guitars to the fore make this debut a logical add to any alt-rock playlist. The simple pleasures are sometimes the best.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Famous producer Mitch Easter engineered this record.


 GRADE A-: Good songs, tight arrangements, and rockin’ guitars. Yeah, yeah, yeah.


Sonny Knight & the Lakers – I’m Still Here

ARTIST: Sonny Knight & the Lakers                          sonny knight

TITLE: I’m Still Here




OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Obscure, so no. Yet powerful.

LINEUP: Sonny Knight, Blair Krivenek, Bryan Highill, Calvin Knight, Casey O’Brien, Cole Pulice, Eric Foss, Sam Harvey-Carlson, Tony Beaderstadt

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Old school soul man (formerly of Haze) and a group of soul-drenched revivalist get together and burn it up.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It’s been a trend that old-school obscure soul singers find sympathetic current bands and release albums that just cook. That’s the case with this from Sonny Knight and the Lakers.

This Sonny Knight was in Haze, and had gigged without much traction in the 60’s, but when he got together with the Lakers in the 2010’s, it was magic. The horns and arrangements by the band fit in with Sonny Knight’s hard-soul voice that has power and some surprising finesse.

All in all, this is a damn fine soul record that sounded like it could have been made in 1968, if not for the better production values. Quite a find!

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Vietnam was the main reason for Knight to stall out in the 60’s


 GRADE: A: It’ll burn up your digital memory!

Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour

ARTIST: Sam Smith                       sam_smith_-_in_the_lonely_hour_official_album_cover

TITLE:  In the Lonely Hour



SINGLES: Money on My Mind (#107 US, #1 UK), Stay with Me (#2 US, #1 UK), I’m Not the Only One (#5 US, #3 UK), Like I Can (#99 US, #9 UK), Lay Me Down (#8 US, #15 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not on the radio

LINEUP: Sam Smith and a boatload of session musicians, producers, etc.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Angelic voiced English singer-songwriter breaks out big time as a solo artist after collaborating with Disclosure, and his voice and material meld effortlessly.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: He’s kind of a throwback, in a way. Not really a crooner, because he’s got a high tenor, but he’s definitely one that is more of a love song / torch singer. What is appealing about Smith is that his songwriting is on par with his vocal ability.

Unlike some other pop stars, the album’s deep cuts are just as well-crafted and thought out as the singles. Even though there are a lot of producers and engineers, the album just sounds good, and that’s important. The arrangements are fitting, not forced, and while it sounds great on the radio, it’s not built especially for that medium. file-sam_smith_-_in_the_lonely_hour_drowning_shadows_edition

Smith’s debut showed that there’s still good musical craftsmanship in today’s pop music.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Yes, that’s right, he did unwittingly plagiarize “I Won’t Back Down” for “Stay with Me”, but just a little, and Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne get a 12.5% cut of that song. Well, that’ll help the bank account a bit.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, at nine: Deluxe, European, Google Play, Target, three in Japan, a special deluxe and a Drowning Shadows edition. $$ on the prize.

GRADE: A-:  I really like this. There aren’t many negatives, and it’s well done.

Little Red Wolf – Junk Sparrow

ARTIST: Little Red Wolf        a3576190281_16

TITLE:  Junk Sparrow




OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: In Wisconsin, you betcha some know these songs.

LINEUP: Meghan Rose, Kelly Maxwell, Emily Mills, Laura Detert.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second record from Madison-based quartet varies up the styles for good effect, mostly.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Great music isn’t always by national acts. Sometimes, they’re made my artists who can’t really get out and tour very far afield due to day jobs and other commitments. Little Red Wolf is based in Madison, and the four women who make up this group are versatile artists. It shows in this, their second album.

They change up their sound a little bit, adding for flavors like alt-country and gospel to their mix. Still, the emphasis is on song and harmonies. The latter are strong, and the former shows they have great ears for structure and melody.

The one issue I have is sequencing. A couple of tracks with similar ‘breathy’ vocals are stacked back to back. Maybe that’s my personal taste, but I’d have like them broken up. Still, if that’s the only real quibble, what we have here is a fine record to hear.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Rose and Maxwell collaborated on the musical Held, premiering at the NYC Fringe Festival.


GRADE: A-: A talented quartet that should be heard outside of the upper Midwest.

The Preatures – Blue Planet Eyes

ARTIST: The Preatures                      The_Preatures_-_Blue_Planet_Eyes_album_cover

TITLE:  Blue Planet Eyes



SINGLES: Is This How You Feel?, Somebody’s Talking, Two Tone Melody, Cruel

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Maybe something else on college radio.

LINEUP: Thomas Champion, Luke Davison, Isabella Manfredi, Jack Moffitt, Gideon Bensen.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Australian band releases nice pop album with some rock and some electronic elements, and it’s pleasant but maybe a little too safe and nice.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: This Australian band hit it pretty big down there with “Is This How You Feel?”, which gave them the momentum and means to record a full album. The result is a record that’s pleasant, and poppy with enough rock elements to keep it somewhat energetic.

The whole mood is one of a nice, safe album. The hooks are there, but there’s nothing edgy or revealing about these 10 songs. All of the rough edges are sanded off, for better or worse. They’re catchy, though, thanks to the hooks.

The Preatures are a band to watch, especially if they can work out more duet vocals, as Manfredi works well against another voice. The songwriting is there for more hits; I just prefer a little more grit is all.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Bensen has left the band just recently. He was the one who sang with Manfredi on the duets.


GRADE: B+: It’s catchy, and the more you hear it the more the hooks sink in.

Nick Jonas – Nick Jonas

ARTIST: Nick Jonas Nick_Jonas_-_Nick_Jonas_(Official_Album_Cover)

TITLE: Nick Jonas
SINGLES: Chains (#13 US, #1 US Dance, #79 UK), Jealous (#7 US, #1 US Dance, #2 UK), Teacher (#13 US Dance)
LINEUP: Nick Jonas, Nolan Lambroza, Jason Evigan, Pierre-Luc Rioux, Nick Ruth, Nick Seely. Guest appreances by Demi Lovato and Angel Haze. A whole buncha producers and writers who may or may not have played on the record itself. I looked for ‘instrumentation’ and credited them above.
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Hooky pop songs that are ear candy for this generation.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Nick Jonas seems to be the one Jonas Brother really trying to establish himself as a respected solo artist in the pop music world. (Joe is trying, sorta, and Kevin is just Kevin and a reality TV guy now.) He’s doing all the right things – assembling a team of writers and song craftsmen to churn out radio-friendly pop hits and asking some friends to sing some key tracks alongside him.

The result? A pop-music confection that goes down easy and has hooks galore. In five years, this stuff will be on all of the nostalgia streaming radio stations as in “Remember the 2010’s!” or something. In 30 years, this will probably be some of the featured songs on the Jonas Brothers stage show in Branson or wherever. Nick_Jonas_-_Nick_Jonas_X2_(Official_Album_Cover)

Not to say that it isn’t enjoyable as pop music. It is. I exiled only a few tracks (I don’t like the ballads – I think they’re maudlin and sloshy) but kept the rest because they don’t offend and are good to hear when you’re making pasta carbonara and you don’t want to focus on the music because you want to make sure the eggs don’t scramble when you add it to the pasta and the bacon.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He’s released a solo album before in 2005, which, no. He also released a ‘band’ album called Nick Jonas & The Administration. No again.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes a deluxe edition highlighted by a collaboration with Mike Posner, and Nick Jonas X2 with remixes and a new single called “Levels” (#44 US, #1 US Dance, #46 UK) and a great remix of “Jealous” with Tinashe

GRADE: B-: No one’s going to exalt this as one of the best albums ever, but for what it is, and what it’s trying to do, it’s decent enough, with stuff like the remix of “Jealous” on X2 darn good.