Disc-appointing

Panic! at the Disco, Sia, Elton play it safe

HMO021516SIA

Sia, This Is Acting. Before she rebranded herself as a behind-the-scenes scribe for mainstream pop giants, Sia reveled in authenticity. Every feeling was pure — and even if it didn’t reflect her life, you believed it could. (Remember “Breathe Me?”) There was a big sigh, and then she broke you into a million sad, empowered pieces as she came clean one key change at a time. These days, having constructed a persona that’s distant and vague, that same Sia hides behind actual veils so as not to reveal too much of herself, generating hits for radio heavyweights like Adele and Beyoncé.

So what happens when they and other pop stars pass on your songs? If you’re Sia, you record them yourself. Once again, Sia, following 1000 Forms of Fear, is larger than life. It’s a role she’s fine at playing — her distinctive warble packs a powerful punch — but it has become apparent that the same mask concealing her face is also obscuring the fact that Sia is a gifted storyteller full of things to say about herself. So if this is, indeed, acting, the bump-and-grind windup “Move Your Body” is either an Oscar winner… or a Razzie contender, depending on how you look at it. Same with “Sweet Design,” a very Bey-during-B’Day banger, with Sia singing contrived lines like, “Word travels fast when you’ve got an ass like mine.” Not that Sia doesn’t have a great ass, but it’s a hard, silly sell for an artist not known for such boasts.

Her strengths lie in underdog anthems like “Bird Set Free,” where she pushes through the cage door and unleashes herself, singing, “I find myself in my melodies.” There are 11 other songs after “Bird Set Free,” none of them great, leaving you thinking: If only they, too, could find her essence again. 2 stars

HMO021516PANICPanic! at the Disco, Death of a Bachelor. You know how it goes with pop bands: Eventually the frontman becomes this red-hot superstud star whose spotlight-stealing ways make everyone forget the names of the other band members… or that they exist. Just ask Adam Levine … or better yet, ask his bandmates. Unlike Levine, though, Panic! at the Disco’s most delicious dish, Brendon Urie, knows it’s time to seize his solo status and move on. So with Death of a Bachelor, he has. On his own, but still under the Panic! moniker, Urie doesn’t reshape the band considerably, at least not for now, while he establishes himself as the Brendon Urie Band. It’s clear from this solo release, though, that all his shameless pop dreams are coming true … which is to say, Urie is fixated on being your power-pop god.

Boisterous rock booms throughout the album’s front-end, but so much of it is empty-calorie ear candy that fans will be longing for days of yore, when Ryan Ross and the rest of the band’s pre-breakup lineup were also a part of the creative process. With Death of a Bachelor, where’s the ambition that once set Panic! apart from other dude bands? The band’s delightfully wonky wordplay? Not on “Victorious,” the album’s first cheapshot of a single, a glossy grab stuck on a sound that’s highly commercial and mind-numbingly insipid. It rolls right into the grungy piano-interrupted “Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time,” better but typical. “Crazy=Genius” at least breaks the been-there-done-that mold with a fun old-timey swing sound, and it’s good to hear Urie take it down several notches on “Impossible Dream.” Still, though, Death of a Bachelor is a backwards evolution for a man still conceptualizing what it means to be on his own. 2.5 stars

EltonJohn-WCN-WEB-1500pxlElton John, Wonderful Crazy Night. No, Elton John hasn’t had one too many — that face of his, all blithe and framed by pieces of an erupted rainbow to further emphasize the piano man’s state of euphoria, is just his face. It’s the face of a married man. It’s the face of love. It’s the face of “I have nothing to prove.” And so on Elton’s 33rd album, Wonderful Crazy Night, he doesn’t. He’s Elton John, and, at this point, isn’t that enough? A unicorn of an album, Elton lets himself go, jetting back to his beginnings for a blissed-out, ’70s-inspired rock ’n’ roll romp where he beams and bounces. From the ebullient title track to the coda’s lovey-dovey lyric “you’re an open chord I’m gonna play all day,” Elton’s shine is affected and infectious. 3 stars

Lucinda Williams, The Ghosts of Highway 20. Lucinda Williams is living. You can hear it in her voice, wrinkled and drunk. But death looms on the alt-icon’s latest, soused in the smoky Americana sound she’s forged for more than three decades. She’s knocking on the “Doors of Heaven,” riffing her way to the finish line with a surprisingly not-macabre Southern-rooted rollick. It’s a striking contrast to “If There’s a Heaven,” a pained elegy. Death evokes childhood nostalgia on the wistful memoir “Louisiana,” as Williams recalls growing up and experiencing both the “sweetness” and the “rough.” Now 63, Williams comes to a powerful understanding on The Ghosts of Highway 20 that you can’t have one without the other. 3.5 stars

— Chris Azzopardi

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 12, 2016.

—  Dallasvoice

Bird and the Bee: The gay interview

BirdandBee2Greg Kurstin and Inara George, collectively known as the Bird and the Bee, are standing at the doorway of Webster Hall in New York City, where they’re about to take the stage. Kurstin, 46, raves about the free chocolates he’s about to take full advantage of, and George, 41, will probably have a glass of wine. “I’m the booze bag of the group,” she readily admits.

Best known for their 2006 dance hit “Fucking Boyfriend,” Los Angeles-based Bird and the Bee is on tour to promote their first album in five years, Recreational Love, yet another synthpop pleasure from the duo that will have you wishing you were sipping a summer cocktail in the sun.

Dallas Voice: You’re about to hit the stage — do you expect there to be a big gay turnout?  Inara George: What we love about our shows is we have people from all over the place, and yeah! I feel like we do have a pretty good gay following.

Greg Kurstin: Hey, we’re happy if anyone shows up! We’ve been away for five years, so we’re just happy that people are still coming out. When you go away for that long, you just hope people remember you.

When in your career were you first aware of a gay following?  Inara: I just had a flashback. I remember having an interview with a gay magazine right after “Fucking Boyfriend” — the dance track version — and thinking, “Oh my god, that’s amazing.” I’ve always felt like the gay community has pretty good taste, so I was obviously excited about it. The Bird and the Bee [in 2007] was the first record where I kind of got it.

What’s the significance of the title of your new album, Recreational Love? What does “recreational love” mean to both of you?  Inara: I came up with the title of the record before I really knew what it was about. I think of it as a play on words: recreational drug / recreational love. As a young woman, I always have the sense that I could have recreational love; for me, it really exists without some emotional attachment.

Greg: I can’t say that I have a lot of recreational love now that I’m married. I’ve definitely done my share of dating, and I’m just happy that I don’t have to date anymore because it’s so nerve-racking. But I’m married, and so it’s like, “Ahh, finally; I don’t have to worry about it.” It was a lot of stress for me! But yeah, the song is a fantasy song in a lot of ways.

Inara: It’s not like that’s what I’m doing anymore; it’s a commentary on how I miss it.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

9 unmissable CDs of 2014 (so far)

No. 2: Against Me!

1. Sia, 1000 Forms of Fear. Sia’s come a long way since “Breathe Me,” a song so emotionally vulnerable it borders on overwhelming. No wonder premier pop starlets have been knocking on her door, hoping for a piece of her songwriting genius (ask Rihanna and Beyoncé). Luckily, though, Sia held onto some of her gems for her first release in four years. The moving-on mantra “Burn the Pages” is a glorious circus of sounds, while soaring ballads “Big Girls Cry” and “Eye of the Needle” take her to new heights. A stunning full-blown pop achievement, this album should do the same.

2. Against Me!, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Against Me!’s sixth release is a deeply personal outpouring, a disc as necessary — both to now-frontwoman Laura Jane Grace and the band’s fans — as it is empowering. An open diary exploring internal and external struggles with identity, but also acceptance and love, fear and loss, the complex, often-tremendous Transgender Dysphoria Blues triumphs at acknowledging one’s differences and the power that can be had when we embrace them.

No. 5: Mariah

3. Miranda Lambert, Platinum. While Lambert’s restless peers stray from the purity of the country genre to achieve mainstream acclaim, the Nashville Star alum (and reigning queen of country) has stuck to her guns and been rewarded for it. She’s known for slipping one in her back pocket should she need to pop an abusive lover, but what’s more, Lambert’s not leaving the house that built her. At least not any time soon, as demonstrated by yet another feather in her cowgirl hat with the irresistibly witty, hit-heavy Platinum.

4. Lykke Li, I Never Learn. It’s hard not to wish eternal sadness upon Lykke Li — her gloom inspires greatness. Thankfully, the Swedish songstress is in a bleak place on I Never Learn, an emotional reflection of fragility and isolation that abandons almost all sense of hope – and also almost all sense of pop. Li is better for it: The intimacy she strikes on this album is a portal into her broken heart.

5. Mariah Carey, Me. I Am Mariah … The Elusive Chanteuse. The title is insane; the retouched album art, even more so. So how is it that Mariah Carey’s latest album — her 14th! — defies expectations, making for one of the diva’s best? Simply put: She. She is Mariah. And from the surprisingly low-key lead-in, “Cry,” to the glass-shattering gospel stunner “Heavenly (No Ways Tired / Can’t Give Up Now),” Carey affirms that when you’ve survived Glitter, anything is possible.

6. Sharon Van Etten, Are We There. Affecting without any of that sentimental preciousness, there’s a transparency to Sharon Van Etten’s latest that daringly exposes the visceral emotions of the end of a relationship. A stunningly sad truth-telling about two hearts that have grown apart, “I Love You But I’m Lost” cuts deep. “I Know,” too, is simple poignancy told potently. This fourth album from Van Etten is a work of soul-baring genius.

No. 7: The Antlers

7. The Antlers, Familiars. An enveloping soundscape of crescendos and thoughtful literary reflections, the Brooklyn band’s fifth album is, at its core, concerned with catharsis — particularly having to do with mortality. That universal certainty is threaded throughout Familiars. Void of singles, its intention is to be heard as a full narrative. Conjuring one endless dream with its majestic lacing of twinkling pianos and wistful horns — on “Palace,” particularly, it sounds like the sky is opening up — The Antlers know that even in death, there’s life.

8. Tori Amos, Unrepentant Geraldines. Tori Amos is reinvigorated on Unrepentant Geraldines, a compelling return to the back-to-basics sound of her ’90s zenith. “Invisible Boy,” an obvious standout, wouldn’t have sounded out of place on any of Tori’s earliest works. Then there’s “Promise,” an inspiring conversation with Amos’ daughter that sweetly embodies the lifelong bond between mother and child. (Read our interview with Tori, who performed last night at the Winspear, here.)

9. Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence. Lana Del Rey’s follow up to her claim-to-fame, Born to Die, is such a convincing piece of mainstream-defying art that it’s easy to write off that Saturday Night Live flub. Fleshing out the persona introduced on its 2012 predecessor, Rey’s follow-up feels like a hallucinatory acid trip — it could levitate you to the sky on its feathery sound pillows.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Heart and beat

David Guetta delivers the same ol’ dance shtick while Chad D surprises

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

………………

1 out of 5 stars
NOTHING BUT THE BEAT
David Guetta
Capitol Records

……………….

DJ and producer David Guetta is smart at handling hip-hop and rap artists on top of dance beats. He creates a flow that is easy to dance to and the songs aren’t anything more than a party in the space of three to four minutes. But that formula repeats itself in Nothing But The Beat, which shows no real imagination.

Nicki Minaj and Flo Rida bring their talents to the opener, “Where Them Girls At.” The beat is distinctly Guetta but that formula is already showing. Minaj comes up short here, ripping off a TLC flow and playing more as an accessory.

That changes with “Turn Me On.” Minaj goes into Rihanna territory, singing and rapping. There’s no surprise that she can carry a note, but she proves she can hang with any singer out there. This ends up being one of the better tracks.

With “Sweat,” Guetta re-imagines Snoop’s “Wet” single against a sampled beat to amazing effect. Guetta shines here — not with hip-hop generics over a disco beat, but working magic with Minaj and Snoop to create something exciting. His innovation is off the charts.

It’s too much for the last track to save the album, but it’s a glorious attempt. Guetta teams with Sia on “Titanium.” Collaborative lyrics elevate this song to a higher level than any previous track, as Sia brings her clever writing to the table and ends up with as much a voice in this song as Guetta does.

But so much is wrong with Beat that it ends up being a beat down. What Guetta is good at is producing listenable disco. It’s never too obscure or techno, but it’s always the right sound to get a good jog to or sweat it up on the dance floor.

His collabs with Taio Cruz, Chris Brown and Usher are fine but forgettable. He handles Cruz and Ludacris well in “Little Bad Girl,” and Brown and Lil’ Wayne’s skills make “I Can Only Imagine” work as a song and not just a mix. Although Guetta did help Usher lose a lot of R&B cred on “Without You,” it’s embarrassing to hear Usher reduced to this Coldplay/Keane/OneRepublic styled track. This is where Guetta’s mistakes happen. He keeps masturbating to hip-hop and R&B stars, and he’s missing vital aspects that would make his own songs sound better.

He remembers his gay boy listeners with equally unimpressive diva-esque tracks save for Sia. You would think that wouldn’t happen with Jennifer Hudson on “Night of Your Life,” but the song is amateurish and never lives up to her talent. Guetta gives Jessie J the chance to shine in “Repeat;” she doesn’t.

When Guetta isn’t embarrassing himself, he goes way obnoxious on the Will. I. Am track “Nothing Really Matters,” which is more of a yawner than the Black Eyed Peas’ last album. And “I Just Wanna F” with Timbaland and Dev is an exercise in stupidity.

Even with the stronger tracks, this Beat is a dud.

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2.5 out of 5 stars
THE HUMAN LINK
Chad D
Independent

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Chad D is an indie musician based out of New York who’s 2011 release The Human Link garnered him two OutMusic Award nominations. He’s party pop and rap with a message — a whole lot of them. But his ambition makes up for the rough edges.

In the first four tracks, D lays down energetic beats with different stories. “The Story Begins” opens the album in high-energy synth mode with one of the deepest bass beats. The lyrics could graduate a level, but D throws in surprises such as a guitar solo that comes out of nowhere.

“The Human Link” and “Ask and Tell” lean more to his rap stylings, which need some fine-tuning. In “Link,” he’s choppy, but gets more fluid with “Ask.” I don’t even think he’s trying to be Eminem, but he’s clearly the white-guy rapper and a much better singer. “Ask” seems to be the epitome of his intentions with an in-your-face tune about gay issues. But the platitudes are a bit obvious which makes the song miss its mark.

It would be easy to dismiss “T.G.A. (The Gay Anthem)” as drivel. He raps quickly over what sounds like a sampled “Under the Boardwalk” beat. His Michael Jackson “whooos” are misguided and yet he creates a reliable hook and runs with it.

He hits his stride in “Ocean Blue Love.” The song is crazy catchy and his vocals overlap with note maturity. While I don’t mind his rapping so much, “Ocean” is proof that vocalizing is a better forte for him. He could still refine his voice, but he’s more emotive when singing.

D lost me at the title of “Life is a Ride,” which reminded me too much of “Life is a Highway,” a song I loathe. I muddled through rap stanzas like dance with me/ touch my body/ getting’ naughty but OK, my head bopped along. The chorus burst in and Chad D pulled me in. I don’t get into intentionally cheerful songs but the chorus earwormed its way into my head and I was fine with that.

Chad D isn’t afraid to give his strong queer perspective. As he matures, his songwriting should become more refined, but it’s his heart that drives The Human Link and he’s put all of it here.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Queer Music News: George Michael to go way gay on new album, but with whom?

The word is out that our favorite former sometimes-Dallasite George Michael is working on an album collaborating with a specific group of musicians. NME reported that “The singer, who is due to tour the UK in the winter with a 41 piece symphonic orchestra, had previously revealed that his next studio album would be made with a collective of gay artists, in an effort to ‘correct the damage’ his recent behavior had caused in ‘letting young gay kids down.’”

Now I’m a fan of Michael, but you know, I was let down too by his behavior and I KNOW his music. Our 19 year-old intern didn’t know much about Michael post-Faith. Come on, George. Us older fans want some of your attention, too.

ANYWAY, with his new vow to work with “either gay or gay friendly artists – possibly unknown ones,” I wondered who would be a good match. Minus bigger queer stars, I went from mid-range down:

  • Uh Huh Her — Sort of like the Pet Shop Boys of the lesbian crowd, this duo has cool pop chops and bring their own brand of sexy to match Michael’s. Vocally, he’d probably own them, but altogether, I’d predict a hit.
  • Big Freedia — I’m not sure if Michael could handle Freedia’s big booty bounce, but it would be fun to see him try to keep up. Michael may be the veteran, but Freedia would shine more.
  • Adam Lambert — This might be an easy call, but I think these two could be phenomenal together. There are enough similarities and differences and each would boost each other to different levels. Lambert’s big but still not huge so I think he’d fit in fine.
  • Diamond Rings — I think Michael could win with Diamond Rings writing his songs. It would bring him to an edgier level. Michael could use that without going overboard and Diamond Rings would know how to do that.
  • Sia — As much as I’d want to say yes to this, I think any collab between them would be a little odd. He’s too polished, she’s too eclectic, but vocally, they could be nice together.

That’s just what I think. Who would you pick?

—  Rich Lopez

WATCH: Sia at the Granada on Sunday night

Did you make it out to Sia? Tell us about it. The out singer hosted a sold out show at the Granada Theater on Sunday. With two solid openers, Oh Land and Ximena Sariñana, the night was a strong one for female artists. We found a few videos of her performing her signature song “Breathe Me,” which was great, but we’re glad someone also caught “Clap Your Hands.” Watch it below.

—  Rich Lopez

Sia tonight at the Granada Theater

‘Clap your Hands’ and say yeah

Even though Sia hasn’t quite made into the big time on the pop charts, she’s developed a strong following. The lez singer recalls the vein of Robyn, with smart pop music that keeps us coming back. She’s sold out here, but the venue has been releasing tickets so keep an eye out.

DEETS: With Oh Land and Ximena Sarinana. Granada Theater, 3524 Greenville Ave. 8 p,m. $24. GranadaTheater.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Concert Notice: Sia at the Granada in August

Sia will forever be known for her song “Breathe Me” at the series finale of Six Feet Under. Yes, it was the perfect song for that perfect moment. But Sia is a whole lot more than that one tune. Her latest album, 2010′s We Are Born, is a swell collection of pop tracks that ranges from feel-good charmers to dance-ready songs with her brooding ballads.

The out singer comes to Dallas this August playing at the Granada with openers Oh Land, which is one of the more ideal matchy-match bills of the summer. As Britney, Rihanna and Katy all dot the concert calendar on the grander pop scale, Sia will fill in the other end of the spectrum just nicely.

The show is set for Aug. 7 and tickets are on sale now. Get a sneak preview below.

—  Rich Lopez

New videos from Sia and The Superions

Sia grabbed most people’s attention with “Breathe Me,” that unforgettable song from the final episode of Six Feet Under. The lesbian singer released her fifth album, We Are Born, this year and premiered her newest video just last week. It’s a bit on the slow side so it may not rev your Monday up as you’d like. But she does that dreamy, melancholy sound so well. Watch it below.

Meanwhile, Fred Schneider from The B-52′s went with his side project band The Superions for the holidays. The trio released the awful album Destination…Christmas! The album should have been funnier, but instead was just song after song of idiocy. A couple of songs did stand out and one was Santa Je T’aime. The video isn’t hardcore but is probably NSFW. Men in drag with big fake breasts might just throw off your boss or snooping IT person. It’s also ridiculous (as have all their videos been for the album) and loses the humor of the song. I just want to take Schneider and shake him for releasing such bad work. How could this be when he’s so much fun with The B-52′s? It’s distressing, but I am kinda loving their T-shirt for sale which is also a title of one of their songs:

Watch both videos after the jump.

—  Rich Lopez