Indie, airy

Self-releases from Dallas’ Brandon Hilton, Laura Ainsworth, others show indies in a post-iTunes age

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Nocturnal
Brandon Hilton
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.

music-1
ARIEL VIEW | Singer Ariel Aparacio drops an inspired collection of rocker tunes in his album ‘Aerials.’

Aerials
Ariel Aparicio
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.music-3

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
Laura Ainsworth
Three stars
Not so much queer as queer-based, Dallas’ Laura Ainsworth provides lush music-4material 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.
Not.

Blue Songs
Hercules & Love Affair
Moshi Moshi
One star

IN A BLUE MOOD | Hercules and Love Affair fall big time with sophomore album ‘Blue Songs.’ Even queer singer and Bloc Party frontman Kele Okereke couldn’t save the day with his guest appearance.

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 music-5and 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.

—  Kevin Thomas

Niles no more

David Hyde Pierce knows what it means to be a ‘Perfect Host’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

On television and onstage, David Hyde Pierce has enjoyed the rare perk of being a character actor who gets leading-man attention — and money. By the time he ended his 11-year run on the acclaimed sitcom Frasier, Pierce had become the highest-paid series regular not to headline a series in TV history. (Four Emmy Awards will do that for you.) In 2007, he added stage superstardom to the resume when he won the Tony Award for best actor in a musical (against tough competition) playing a sad-sack cop in Curtains. (That followed a hit run as one of the leads in Spamalot.)

On film, though, Pierce has always been the second banana, often giving memorable supporting in movies like Wolf or voicing animated characters in A Bug’s Life and others, but never being asked to carry them.
Not anymore. Pierce finally gets above-the-title billing — but keeps his character-actor cred — in the indie comedy-thriller The Perfect Host.

“These opportunities don’t come around a lot except for the Tom Cruises of the world,” Pierce admits. “When they first showed me the poster, I saw my name big and my picture all over it. I realized that’s what it means to be the star of the movie.”

Of course, Pierce knows the box office expectations aren’t as high for his film as its opening-weekend competition, Transformers 3. The Perfect Host, which got its local premiere in April at the USA Film Festival but opens in some cities for a commercial run this week (it was screened earlier this week at the Texas Theatre as well), is a quirky and enjoyable romp full of twists — so many, in fact, it’s difficult to talk about without spoiling some of the surprises.

On the surface, it’s about a career criminal named James (Clayne Crawford) who talks his way into the home of a sophisticated but meek suburbanite named Warwick (Pierce). James plans to kill Warwick, but then the tables are turned on him, as the evening spins out in ways that recall such thrillers as Misery, Rear Window, Psycho and A Clockwork Orange.

Only not. And with more humor. Well, you gotta see it to get it.

“It’s a movie where what seems to be is continually not,” agrees Pierce, trying not to give away any secrets. “People who seem benign are not and those you think are dangerous maybe aren’t. At Sundance, many people said seeing it a second time is a lot of fun, knowing what’s real and what’s not.”

“The most influential film was Joseph Losey’s The Servant, but also Polanski’s early work — Cul-de-Sac, Compulsion,” says first-time feature director and co-writer Nick Tomnay. “Warwick is doing [this] to satisfy his fetish. He’s actually quite a happy guy — he’s not conflicted about it. But the last note of the film is very dark.”

For Pierce, it was an opportunity to stretch but without veering too far from his screen persona. Warwick is as fastidious as Niles Crane but has a kooky side Niles never did. It’s a transition that he embraced.

“Especially when you’re seen on a TV show, you can’t pretend the past didn’t happen,” he says. But Warwick allows Pierce to be both the “perfect host” of the title and act out deep, id-like compulsions. And it also gave Pierce the chance to do something he rarely has done in public: Disco dance.

“I got a friend of mine who was a dancing coach to choreograph that,” Pierce says. “That was great to do.”

Theater remains a passion for Pierce, though; in addition to his performances in Curtains and Spamalot, he was in New York seeing La Cage aux Folles — once with his former co-star, Kelsey Grammer (whose performance he raved over), and once with the replacement cast of Chris Seiber in Grammer’s role and Harvey Fierstein as his drag-queen boyfriend.

“Harvey was great,” he says. “There’s an added layer because of course Harvey has lived it in a way.”

Pierce, who is gay and lives with his long-time partner in California, has been very active in recent years coming out in support of same-sex marriage. But he’s not definitive about Warwick’s sexuality.

“I think Warwick would be up for anything,” he says with a wink.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 1, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens