Sleepy genius

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Mike Hadreas — aka Perfume Genius — has grown into an ethereal messenger since 2010’s Learning. Touching on themes that can apply to anyone, Hadreas is both a beacon of hope and a teller of dreamy tales on his new CD, Put Your Back N 2 It (Matador Records).

Hadreas starts the album on a sleepy, languid path with “AWOL Marine” and stays consistent throughout the 12 tracks. This can be a turn-off for someone looking for a more spirited album, but Hadreas is about depth and his lyrics reveal a major advance since Learning.

Finding inspiration from homemade basement porn never sounded so exquisite as it does in “Marine,” but the minimalist approach adds gravitas, not to mention beauty. He adds stunning emotions to “Take Me Home” (based on “hookerism”) and “Floating Spit” (about overdosing). Hadreas is fearless about turning out butterflies from such depths of social standards.

On “17,” Hadreas writes an ode to gay men who have issues with image. He admits the song is a “gay suicide letter” (and a short one, too, at 2:30) but it’s a shattering one. He doesn’t shy from abstract lyrics but they still bring enough poetic power to have a heartbreaking impact. When he quietly sings In the body of a violin/String it up on a fence/Cover it with semen/I am done, I am done with it, the words are piercing even through his simple delivery.

From suicide to romance, the title track is a love song that floats on a lush piano and brings to light the feelings of budding love and awkward gay sex. Hadreas is gloriously blatant, but decidely poignant. Lyrics like There is love with no hiding/Nothing you’ll show me I will never leave here/Let me be the one to turn you on whisper gently and before you know it, it’s already on your mixtape to your beau.

Put Your Back N 2 It is impressionistic in its package and addresses life as a gay man, but also life in general. He sings about his mother, holding his boyfriend’s hand and even death, all with a delicacy that speaks volumes if you listen closely.

— Rich Lopez

Three and half stars.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 24, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Teen-age dream

Imperial Teen sheds its skin (again) to reveal fresh genius on ‘Feel the Sound’

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IMPERIAL EFFORT | With two gay male members, Imperial Teen gets away with a lot of sassy lyrics without ghetto-izing itself as ‘queercore’ rock or Pride pop.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Spring comes early this year — at least it feels that way with Feel the Sound, the new CD from Imperial Teen. The disc dwells in a happy pop universe that is wonderfully tough to escape from. By the 11th track, Imperial Teen succeeds in conjuring up an aural place of magic that doesn’t skimp on deep lyrics.

Sound plays with the refreshing splash of a debut album, though it’s the band’s fifth. Optimism mixes with confidence and fun beats so brightly, it made me want to take the CD to everyone I knew to ask if they had heard of “this new band” … although the San Francisco quartet has been around for 15 years. But with each album, they seem to strip away a layer that brings up a newness that demands attention.

Imperial Teen’s 2007 album The Hair, The TV, The Baby and The Band had more hints of rocker attitude with a stronger emphasis on heavy guitars and acoustic ones amid a mod-pop landscape. Here, they haven’t lost their instrumentation, but the music shines without reliance on one over the other. They do love a stabbing beat, but the melodies rise up like a quilted blanket surrounding each member (all of whom sing vocals).

The opener “Runaway” plays like Mates of State with a rapid beat and falsetto-like harmonies. Nostalgia rings from the sound as if it might play over a Time/Life informercial for some ‘70s AM radio collection, but production is solid and it keeps a modern feel.

With two gay members (Roddy Bottum and Will Schwartz), there is a strong queer sensibility to the album without becoming distractingly Pride-crazy. Maybe it’s an unfair generalization, but really, who but a gay guy would write lyrics like Pumped up pecs and sticky skin / Floors unswept and walls are thin in the ridiculously enjoyable third track “Last to Know.”

Where the songs may sound simple and upbeat, the lyrics never falter in their hooks and every single track is a delightful listen. But the hand that feeds the bark / Affidavit after dark may not make sense in “Over His Head,” but they are interesting enough to keep you listening — that’s half the battle in any pop album.

For a band with strong alt-rock roots (Faith No More, The Dicks), Sound is a beautiful surprise. Their delivery goes from gentle in “All the Same” to sexy in “Out From Inside” surrounded by rich, up-tempo textures.

Imperial Teen somehow manages never to annoy, either. Usually, an album where song after song bleeds into each other seamlessly, the repetition can drown you. Here, the band tempers the breathing of its creation. Tracks ebb and flow with rapid-fire backdrops and easygoing grooves with variations on the same beat. They didn’t strive for the “album ballad” or “the dance song CD.” Rather, Feel the Sound succeeds magnificently as a strong idea that never veers from its intentions.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 27, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

The princess and the KING

Rihanna can’t seem to get from under that ‘Umbrella’, while Cirque du Soleil extends Michael Jackson’s legacy with ‘Immortal’

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STRAIGHT TALK | Rihanna returns with her strangeways in her sixth album ‘Talk That Talk.’

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Rihanna is a workaholic, pumping out albums faster than Black Friday shoppers busting out the pepper spray.

She was still finding her voice after 2009’s forgettable Rated R, but 2010’s Loud was a success.

She’s back in fine form with Talk That Talk, her new CD. But there’s more potential than perfection here; perhaps it could have been better if she took more time between releases.

Rihanna sings of naïve love with clichéd perspectives on this, her sixth album.

And while the lyrics work, the delivery doesn’t. Starting with “You Da One,“ she takes a page from Beyonce’s book a la 4.

There’s no onslaught, but instead a chill groove with some reggae touches on this decent opener. Although it instills an (unannoying) earworm, it gets messy in its structure.

Energy courses through Talk with “Where Have you Been.” It begins as a dance tune but veers into weird, house music tones. After discovering “da one,” she’s asking where have you been all my life. But producers Dr. Luke and Cirkut (Ke$ha, Flo-Rida) ruin the beat with a mish-mash of breakdowns pulling the song off its trajectory.

The album’s lead single, “We Found Love,” is addictively produced by writer Calvin Harris. The tone, while strong, feels like it would be more at place in the early ‘90s … but that’s not so bad. The keyboards are refreshing and even though the lyrics don’t stray far from the we-found-love-in-a-hopeless-place center; it’s the album’s strongest early offering.

Jay-Z doesn’t add much other than ego to the title track, but it’s here where Rihanna switches from blind love to an assertive woman eager to please. She submits to her lover with tell me how love to you, tell me how to hold you / I’mma get it right on the first try for you. The dancehall groove works and continues into “Cockiness (I Love It),” which leaves little to the imagination with lyrics like suck my cockiness / lick my persuasion. But she starts trying too hard, like Christina Aguilera on Bionic. It doesn’t help the song is poorly constructed.

The songs balance out Talk starting with “We All Want Love.” As straightforward pop, it adheres to a clean structure, which is a reprieve from the schizophrenia before. The lovey idealism returns more so with “Drunk on Love.” Feeling  hopelessly romantic, she’s also creepy-weird. When she moans about craving love, you think if you got in a relationship with her, a restraining order is not out of the question.

Still, the track stabilizes the album, as does “Roc Me Out,” the CD’s best track. Rihanna brings the intensity of her bigger hits. She may never have another “Umbrella,” but this one comes close.

She channels some Janet Jackson in the sexified flirtation “Watch n’ Learn,” but closes with the gorgeous ballad “Farewell.” She’s in broken-up stalker mode with lyrics like even though it kills me that you have to go / I know I’ll be sadder if you never hit the road. Talk about a no-win sitch. But it ends this chapter of Rihanna on a high note.
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Speaking of Jacksons, Michael makes a sort of return with Immortal, the soundtrack to Cirque du Soleil’s newest Vegas-style show celebrating the King of Pop. The album recalls his work from the Jackson 5 up to 2001’s Invincible, his last solo album. (Thankfully, none of the 2010 embarrassing posthumous release Michael is in this mix.)

While the majority of the songs are still by Jackson, they have been reworked, remixed or reimagined by Rihanna producer Kevin Antunes. The double disc of 29 songs is a gloriously clean listen to some of the biggest hits in music.

Where this could easily have been an exploitation of his work (and maybe it is), it only feels like respectfully updated versions of pop classics. When Fergie and Kanye West did their remakes for Thriller’s 25th anniversary, they were almost blasphemous; here, they are merely amplified with tweaks that never take away from that Jackson hit-making magic.

The subsequent tracks of “Gone Too Soon” and “Childhood” display his tender voice in crystal clarity and are tear inducing because they remind he’s no longer here. The added spoken word could have come across as cheesy, but it works.

Immortal reads like a greatest hits with all the obvious inclusions. “Smooth Criminal” retains its power but in shorter time; the “Beat It/State of Shock” coupling is just short of brilliant; and the “Immortal Megamix: Can You Feel It/Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough/Billie Jean/Black or White” belongs more on the dancefloor than onstage.

Given all the hits on here, there is a surprising omission with “Rock With You.” As big of a song as that was, it doesn’t get its own redux. But Antunes clearly has a love for Jackson and this collection lifts the singer far above any controversy or strangeness that plagued him and instead reminds of both his genius and his legacy.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Gary Floyd, then and now

Gary Lynn Floyd killed a few birds with one stone last night. First, he helped celebrate the Interfaith Peace Chapel’s one-year anniversary. Second, he shot footage for his upcoming reality series slot on Troubadour, TX. Most importantly, though, he reminded us all why we love listening to him sing.

His concert Sunday night, which also served as a release party for his new CD Then+Now, featured Gary on piano, voice miked, singing solo: Songs from his long career, some from his days in Christian music (including his only No. 1 hit as a songwriter), moving up to his current output. He joked that people may still detect a bit of the church in his voice; ain’t that the truth. Listening to Gary is sort of like your own private sermon — he seemed to be connecting directly with me as he sang. (Of course, I was sitting behind his mother, so maybe he was just singing to her.)  But I bet all of the 80 or so attendees felt that same connection. That’s what good singing is all about.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

BIG Lang theory

K.D. Lang, on her new CD, Lady Gaga and her burgeoning butchness

KD-Lang

BUTCHING IT UP | Lang, nearing 50, is embracing her inner ... daddy?

K.D. Lang is manning up, thanks to the likes of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and other sexpots of pop who shoot whipped cream from their chests and ride disco sticks. The longtime gay activist, who turns 50 in November, made a rebellious decision to boost her butchness, evident in the video for “I Confess,” the lead single from her disc Sing it Loud.

She comes to the Meyerson on Tuesday with her band the Siss Boom Bang, but before the show, she dished about the album’s evolution, why being the first out country star doesn’t matter and her work with Glee.

— Chris Azzopardi

Dallas Voice: Why did you approach Sing it Loud with a fuller sound and, for the first time in 20 years, a band?  Lang: It just seemed to be the right thing to do. It was just what I was feeling. I was working with Joe [Pisapia], writing songs, and it came time to record them and I just felt like the band was the right way to approach it — very live and spontaneous. We put the band together and it was beyond my wildest dreams what transpired.

On “I Confess,” you sing the lyric I’ll be your daddy. How do you think that line would’ve been received had you recorded this song 20 years ago when you first came out? Probably the same as now. I think there’s going to always be people who feel uncomfortable with it and there’s always going to be people who are titillated by it. You just have to know that’s going to be the case for a long time.

Would you say you’re embracing your butchness more than you used to? Yeah, this music really asks for it. I also think that the aesthetic nature of today’s music, with people like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry — not that it’s new, it certainly isn’t; I know better than that — is being very exaggerated I thought, I can exaggerate, too!

What do you make of the way the music business has shifted in the way it sells music? I think it’s boring because everything is so overexposed. But it’s fine; it is what it is. In terms of music, there is always going to be a place for someone who can sing and someone who can communicate with an audience.

Did you ever feel pressure to conform in your career? That would depend on what I wanted to reap from my music. I’ve always been quite sure that I wanted to have a more artistic career and a career of longevity, so in that respect, no. I’ve made decisions that have nurtured my art rather than my public awareness or my celebrity. That’s been self-determined. So no, I never felt the pressure.

If you hadn’t come out, how do you imagine your life and career now? I can’t imagine, because I was always out and coming out wasn’t really a big deal for me. But it certainly made things easier. I can’t imagine what it would be like, but at the same time it’s definitely made my life easier just because it kind of stripped away the question marks in the audience’s minds. It took away any pretense or question.

There was a big hoopla when Chely Wright came out as the first gay country star, because some argued that you beat her to it. What did you think about all that? I don’t know who Chely Wright is, but I don’t care. I mean, to a whole generation of people who know Chely Wright, they probably don’t know who I am. So to them it is the first country star to come out. I don’t really care who’s the first, who’s the last, because before me there were a lot of people that helped get me to a place to feel confident and comfortable with coming out.

Last year you lent your voice to a song on a Glee soundtrack. Would you ever do the show? I don’t really watch Glee, but I know it’s very popular and gay-friendly, which is great. And Jane Lynch is hilarious! If they asked me I would consider it, but I’m really happy that I could be a part of something that’s supportive and promotes alternative and varying lifestyles.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

‘Holidazzle Act II’ readies for Christmas release

Two years ago, a cabal of five gay North Texas theaterfolk, calling themselves DFW Actors Give Back, gathered their friends and colleagues in a recording studio and laid down tracks to seasonal carols like “O, Holy Night” and frigidly fun songs like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” all sung, played, arranged and produced by the area’s significant local talent. The album, called Holidazzle, was sold during the Christmas season in theater lobbies throughout the Metroplex, will all proceeds raising money for Jonathan’s Place.

We don’t wanna sound ominous, but … they’re ba-aaac-k! And bigger than before.

A total of 40 singers and musicians appeared on Holidazzle; the new CD — called, surprisingly enough, Holidazzle II: Dazzle Harder (not really — I made up that last part; it’s really called Holidazzle II: Electric Boogaloo … No, I lied again; it’s really called Holidazzle Act II) — gathers 150, including a children’s chorus, on just one track, Carly Simon’s “The Night Before Christmas.”

If you can imagine it, they were doing all this work during the stifling heat of summer; as of today, Holidazzle Act II is in the can, with people like Doug Miller, Denise Lee and Bob Hess, pictured, doing their best work, and all for free.

Once again, sales — which start in November at area theaters and performing arts venues — will benefit the charity Jonathan’s Place. But you don’t have to wait till then; you can pr-order now at DFWActorsGiveBack.org. Yeah, it doesn’t feel much like Christmas to me, either, but give retailers a week — they’ll be decking the malls with boughs of holly before your first pumpkin pie.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

GIVEAWAY: Win Kristin Chenoweth’s new CD ‘Some Lessons Learned’

On Tuesday, singer/actress Kristin Chenoweth drops her fourth studio release Some Lessons Learned. She goes a little bit country this time and has said that this album is inspired by music legend Dolly Parton. Which would explain the track, “What Would Dolly Do.” She’s already previewed the album with the single “I Want Somebody (Bitch About),” and you might know the title track from Carrie Underwood’s debut album.

But Chenoweth likely will turn in her own cheerful spin on things in this album produced by Bob Ezrin and exec-produced by Dianne Warren.

Want one? OK. We’ll snail-mail you a copy if you can help us with this question. Chenoweth is up for an Emmy this Sunday. She already has one on her mantle. What show did she win for and what show is she nominated for this weekend?

We’ve got five copies of the album, so good luck. Just email your response here to win.

—  Rich Lopez

Final bets at the finale of Team DV’s P-P-P-Poker Tourney

Ante up to the table

Team Dallas Voice and Pocket Rockets Dallas are raising money for the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS by holding a P-P-P-Poker Tournament at clubs across town. After three weeks, the event has come to the grand prize final.

Because this is Dallas, not Vegas, the game play is free, so if you want to contribute to the LSR cause, bring cash to enter the raffle. Among the prizes available or that have been won are tickets to see Dolly Parton (we’ll resist the urge to call this one a “booby prize”), Ke$ha and Chelsea Handler,  tickets to the Texas Rangers and Lone Star Park horse races, Starbucks coffee, a set of poker chips, books, grooming supplies and much more … and the final grand prize: Two tickets on American Airlines anywhere in the contiguous U.S.

DEETS: Check out the Facebook event page here for details.

—  Rich Lopez

Tickling ivories

Eric Himan trades his guitar for a piano to revisit his musical catalog

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

3 out of 5 stars
OUT WITH THE OLD
Eric Himan
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Proof that Eric Himan has an astounding amount of determination is found in his new CD, Out with the Old. Himan challenged himself to learn the piano and then reinterpreted some of his own tunes into an altogether different sound on this collection of 12 songs — 11 covers of his own stuff and one new track. The results are a valiant effort that, even with some lulls, comes out on top.

He recorded the album live, though not in front of an audience. Instead, these takes were captured at his piano instructor’s home. This approach works nicely and conveys a strange intimacy, though sometimes he would have benefited from adjusted levels of his voice and piano.

Opening with “Until the Road Unwinds,” Himan gives no hint that he’s a piano novice. He must have magic hands because his work here is sublime. The ballad starts off the CD slowly, but opens up the mind and ear quickly to his new sound. The song itself holds up well in this interpretation, but immediately we hear that while Himan can play nicely, he doesn’t show off. The CD is a bold move, but Himan knows he isn’t Billy Joel — yet. Although if that’s the direction he’s headed it, it’s not a bad one.

Eric Himan
TOTALLY VERSATILE | Tulsa-based Eric Himan makes a bold move by stepping away from the guitar to show off his new piano skills in ‘Out with the Old.’

Then “White Horse” happens. Despite showing shades of Jerry Lee Lewis, Himan misses here, and badly. The lyrics feel rushed as if he’s squeezing in words to fit the rhythm. On its own, the song is the equivalent of ill-fitting shoes, losing the rockabilly fun from its original form. Himan needs to master the pace between the piano and his faster songs.

But on his slower tunes and ballads, the music shines. “Clyde” plays with tenderness and he works the keys in both complex and moody fashions. Then we start hearing him stretching out his vocal runs as if the new translation is setting him free. He’s not only putting his piano playing to the test, but his voice as well.

This continues on “Kinda Hard.” He can handle the instrument for these steadier tunes but his earnestness is etched into the song. When he sings the line, I mean nothing to you, nothing sounded more painful. “One Less Person” and “One Night Stand” fare the same beautiful fate with share the right delicacy and proper musical approach. You could say this album is a bit narcissistic if he just wants to show off what he’s learned, but if it’s gonna sound like this all the time, then by all means, show off.

The original track “Gonna Make it Work,” somehow misses all the marks. Himan starts intently but he begins to ramble. The song builds to an uneven chorus. Himan has a uniquely high-pitched voice but he needed to downshift registers here — either that or slow the song down.

It’s unfortunate to end on a sloppy note, because up to this point, the albums play with nice cohesion regardless of its couple of stumbles. But props to Himan for trying something new — at the very least, it keeps him interesting, and listeners interested.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 12, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

A velvety smooth Suede

Out jazz singer Suede combines standards, trumpet and comedy for Fort Worth show

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer stevencraiglindsey@me.com

SUEDE IN SILVER  |  The queer singer’s tour, which comes to Fort Worth Nov. 6, celebrates 25 years as well as her new CD, ‘Dangerous Mood.’
SUEDE IN SILVER | The queer singer’s tour, which comes to Fort Worth Nov. 6, celebrates 25 years as well as her new CD, ‘Dangerous Mood.’

SUEDE
With Julie Bonk.
Youth Orchestra Hall,  4401 Trail Lake Drive, Fort Worth.
Nov. 6. 8 p.m. $20–$40.
OpenDoorProductionsTx.com.

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When jazz singer Suede hits the stage in Fort Worth next weekend, the audience will be in for a show where just about anything can happen. After all, what other lesbian do you know that can quickly shift from singing a beautiful ballad, to crooning a sassy jazz number to breaking out with a raucous trumpet solo? (Yes, trumpet.) Throw in some comedy and you get a pretty good idea of what this singular sensation is all about.

Simply put, Suede delivers a show as unique as her name.

“Suede is actually my middle name. It found me when I was in third grade. My last name is one of those that starts with a small ‘de’ and the rest of it is one of those where you want to cry out, ‘May I buy a vowel please?’” she laughs. “I haven’t used my last name in forever. My given first name is Suzanne, which got shortened to Sue. It got too close to the small ‘de’ at the beginning of my last name on a reading paper in third grade and my teacher started calling me Suede and I’ve been going by that ever since.”

She even had the foresight to copyright it, which came in handy in the early ’90s when Sony tried to bring a band over from England called Suede.

“We asked them nicely to stop using my trademarked name, but they sort of looked at me like, ‘What is she really going to do? We’re Sony Corporation,’” she says deepening her voice into a threatening tone. “We ended up suing them and won the case, but it took two years. So yes, there’s a great deal of integrity and importance with this little name of mine.”

After nearly 30 years in show business, she has had the good fortune to make music a full-time career — “No waiting tables, no giving guitar lessons. Just touring and performing,” she says. “It’s such a cliché but I absolutely owe it to my fans. They keep showing up and bringing new people and I’m just astounded by their loyalty.”

Suede started her own record label 26 years ago and released her latest of four solo albums, Dangerous Mood, to celebrate her 25th anniversary of performing professionally.

“Since I was a little kid, I had a dream of performing with a big band and I just went for it. It was an insane project. I recorded it in Tony Bennett’s studio and it was just amazing,” she says.

Many of those songs will be in her show. And just because she’s gay, don’t expect it to be a totally queer affair.

“I have a mainstream jazz following, but I’ve also been an out lesbian performer since the beginning of my career. That was a choice of mine long before it became a good boost for a career like those coming out late in the game today. Having done this for so long, it absolutely was not safe, let alone a good career move, when I made that choice. It was kind of interesting because that certainly had an impact with me trying to get mainstream gigs.”

Ironically, it was the gay community that stereotyped her.

“They’d say, ‘Oh she’s a lesbian folk singer and we know what that means.’ And that’s just not true. I’m a popular jazz singer — always have been. So I really didn’t fit any place, but my fans kept showing up and none of them cared about categorization.”

The formula of jazz meets pop meets big, bawdy trumpet solos, however strange it may sound, has worked and she’s so confident people will love it, she’s got a money-back guarantee.

“I’ll even go so far as to say, take the chance. No questions asked, if you want your money back at the end of it, I’ll personally give it back. I really think you’ll love it because it’s just a whole lot of fun,” she says with a laugh.

And I tend to think she’s telling the truth.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas