Lianne La Havas
– Is Your Love Big Enough?
Liane La Havas’ debut is the kind of globally appealing pop record that comes along so rarely. The title track has the funky bounce of a Meshell Ndegeocello
track with a big pop vocal that could land it on radio stations across the dial, while the catchy “Forget,” with its alternately belted and cool chorus, suggests a rockier Kelis
. It’s La Havas’ ballads, though, where she often shines brightest. On “Lost & Found,” her lyrics are so bleak that it’s almost shocking (“You broke me and taught me to truly hate myself,” begins the chorus), given how sprightly she sounds elsewhere. Shades of classic soul (“Au Cinema”), bossa nova (“No Room For Doubt”) and jazz (“Age”) color other tracks, while somehow it avoids becoming a mishmash of unmatched ideas — everything sounds ideally effortless and true to La Havas’ identity. It’s a dynamic and addictively listenable debut that poises the 22-year-old as one of 2012’s breakout stars and one who could deliver quality records for years to come.
Antony and the Johnsons
– Cut the World
Antony Hegarty’s latest release consists of live performances of his work with The Danish National Chamber Orchestra. As a collection it is a consummate summation of the incredible work put forth by Hegarty and his collaborators over the course of four albums, as well as some of the messages threaded throughout Hegarty’s music. The title track, which begins the album, is a stunning piece created for The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic
, a theatrical representation of the life of the renowned performance artist. Hegarty then launches into a speech labeled “Future Feminism” which puts forth ideas Hegarty has represented in his music — of ecology, queer identity and feminism, exploring the idea of matriarchal forms of government being the hope for a humanity, even with the rise of Sarah Palin, as it ties to the moon, menstrual cycles and religion. It’s a fascinating, sprawling discourse that provides a setting for highlights from Hegarty’s catalog, including “Cripple and the Starfish,” “Another World” and “I Fell in Love With a Boy,” the long pause of which grows more chilling given the song’s more lush presentation. It’s by no means a greatest hits selection — no “Hope There’s Someone” or “Aeon,” for instance — but it’s a great reinterpretation of material that actually calls for such orchestration. Antony’s quivering voice soars over ballooning strings, and we’re reminded of the healing power possessed by these songs of loss and hope.
Niki & the Dove
Niki and the Dove create a sort of fantasy pop on Instinct
. It sounds beamed in from an alternate futuristic universe of space tribes and robotic unicorns. In a more corporeal sense, the electronic pop duo drum out tribal beats electronically and unleash claustrophobic chants on “The Gentle Roar,” one of their strongest tracks. Vocalist Malin Dahlström sounds lost in the forest of metallically lush sounds created by keyboardist Gustaf Karlöf on “Mother Protect.” She comes on like one of Prince’s many protoges on the slow funk of “Last Night,” singing intoxicatingly, “last night we got married in a back seat.” Niki and the Dove share some qualities with their Swedish brethren — the warped, chirpy vocals of The Knife
; the space-age disco of Robyn
; the alternately dark and naïve introspection of Lykke Li
; and yes, the operatic drama of Welsh band Florence & the Machine
. However, lyrically and vocally, Dahlström harkens back to Kate Bush
and Stevie Nicks
in a truer sense than some of her contemporaries — when she’s left spinning through a digital wilderness among the lovely surroundings of “Tomorrow,” you feel like you’re out there with her.
– Perfectly Imperfect
Glossy yet classy pop R&B with some surprises — take the fiddle (!) running throughout “Refill.” That song and its refrain (“Can I get a refill of your time?”) are a lot of fun, while other tracks leave a more lasting impression, like the incredibly soulful “Sound Proof Room,” in which Verner’s vocals sound like they could burst through any sound proof that would hold her.