Self-releases from Dallas’ Brandon Hilton, Laura Ainsworth, others show indies in a post-iTunes age
RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer
Two and a half stars
Followers love him; others love to hate, but Dallas-born Brandon Hilton backs up his faux-lebrity with some surprises in his second CD, Nocturnal. Although it’s not a concept album, Hilton keeps a proper tone befitting the title. The songs are dark, sometimes seedy, keeping true to his vision.
“Heartbeat” and “Heartbreaker” are catchy enough not to skip. Recalling ’80s New Wave sound, he has the earnestness of a modern Limahl from Kajagoogoo. (An obscure reference, maybe, but trust me.)
The beat kicks in on “Shadow,” but is completely overproduced and Hilton’s delivery is uninspired. Yet the track is the liveliest and sticks out above many of the other 14 tracks. The same is true with “So Ready,” though he feels more present here. The song has a silliness hovering with lyrics like your kiss is like a total eclipse / taking over my body/ makes me feel so naughty.
Despite those higher moments, the album misses marks on production and writing. The title track should have more impact, but is a key example of how the rest plays out. Hilton straddles a line between singing and talking and comes off lazy. He seems like he’s trying to skate by rather than let loose.
“Photoshop Friendship” and “Glamour Zombie” have nice ideas behind them with content, but despite pseudo high-energy beats, the songs drone. Hilton needs to work on not just building his songwriting, but painting the right picture musically to go with the words.
Production values are all but absent. What could have been a decent track, “Need Your Love,” suffers by putting Hilton’s voice slightly under the music levels. I don’t hear what he’s singing — a mistake that is really only forgivable on a debut.
Hilton has some ways to go before superstardom, but I am admittedly surprised by what he has in his back pocket in Nocturnal.
Three and a half stars
Recent OutMusic award winner Ariel Aparicio has opted to release Aerials on CD in August, following up positive response to his digital download album that dropped in March. A wise decision: Aerials wins with a lot of heart and clear talent and the more people know about it, the better.
A minute-long intro immediately takes the listener on a ride as he ventures into the U2-ish “Love Left Bleeding.” Aparicio can rock but with beautiful sophistication — he’s not trying to blow our ears out. The attention to detail on the guitars here tickles them instead.
The gentleness in “Flowers” mixes a bit of Paul Simon and The Doors into his sound, but doesn’t suffer by losing to it. He brings in his own ethereal quality with his mysterious, raspy voice and floating backgrounds.
He displays his Latin roots on “Amor Sangrando” which isn’t his highest moment here. Although it doesn’t feel forced (“Look at me singing in Spanish!”), it’s ill-constructed. The music works, but his lyrics don’t seem to fit and as a closer, it plays as a gimmick.
But the album succeeds on many levels. Aerials isn’t just an album, it’s a book of songs that had me longing for the next track.
Keep it to Yourself
Not so much queer as queer-based, Dallas’ Laura Ainsworth provides lush material for any drag queen. Her jazzy cabaret collection in Keep it to Yourself is a little kooky at times, but a unique gem by the local cabaret performer.
The title track opens and immediately transports us to a posh dinner and dancing club with fancy-dressed women and men with cigars. Ainsworth and band play gorgeously together creating a charming, classic sound that would fit in any ’50s film with that club scene. I expected Rosemary Clooney or Bing Crosby to appear somewhere.
Props to producer Brian Piper and mixer Kent Stump for tying up package that gives due respect to Ainsworth’s voice while never faltering on the instruments, either. The horns are crisp and each drumbeat or guitar pluck is as obvious as it is subtle.
But Ainsworth is clearly the star. What she does with Johnny Mercer’s “Skylark” and Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” is magic. She gets a little derailed with obvious tracks “La Vie En Rose” and “Personality,” but it lends to a whimsical charm rather than detracting from the overall feel.
With Ainsworth’s flair for the dramatic and a sexy, sultry voice, if I don’t hear any of these tracks in any of the umpteen pageants coming up, I may just have to do one myself.
Hercules & Love Affair
The one signed band in this round-up, Hercules & Love Affair, not only dropped the ball with their second release Blue Songs, they weren’t even looking at it. Songs is such a disappointment compared to their impressive 2008 self-titled debut. This is a collection of dancey tracks intended for the dollar bin at used CD stores.
After the smash of “Blind,” with its muscular beat counterbalanced by Antony Hegarty’s delicate voice, my hopes were high for what H&LA’s mastermind Andy Butler would deliver here. But instead of going forward, he looked way back to all the wrong inspirations. The first single, “My House,” sounds like the bastard baby of LCD Soundsystem and Technotronic as told through the talent of a teenager. With dated samples and rejected house beats, it’s simply sad.
Kim Ann Foxman’s vocals add nothing with a phoned-in performance of dullness. Even with guest vocals by Mark Pistel of Meat Beat Manifesto and gay singer Kele Okereke of Bloc Party, nothing is saved.
“Step Up” starts with a strong beat, but
Okereke’s usually sexy voice is lost on ridiculous lyrics and a repeated backing track. As if just pressing the play button, the song only frustrates.
This is repeated throughout the 14 tracks. The expired sound of Blue Songs brought nothing back from the glorious house music of a few decades back, but instead it just irks with its abundance of mediocrity.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 22, 2011.