Dig These Discs :: Sia, Jason Mraz, La Roux, Bright Light Bright Light, Robin Thicke
Aussie singer Sia drops her sixth album, and keeps her privacy by singing to the walls. There's no more 'blurred lines' for Robin Thicke as he tries to get his wife back with the new album "Paula." It's more of the same for Jason Mraz in "Yes!", but a completely new sound for singer La Roux. Openly gay singer Rod Thomas shows how "Life is Easy" with the second album as Bright Light Bright Light.
"1000 Forms of Fear" (Sia)
Aussie singer/songwriter Sia drops her sixth album, and her first in four years, since she went through rehab and rethought suicide. She is already getting some momentum around her lead single, "Chandelier," released in March. And she spent the time in between penning hit songs for artists including Flo Rida, Britney Spears, Beyonce and Rihanna -- "Chandelier" sounds like one that could have easily gone to RiRi. But this shy girl who formerly dated Le Tigre's JD Samson made sure her new contract didn't require any touring or press promos, and has enlisted a cadre of female stars in blond bob wigs to take center stage while she sings, hidden. It's a little quirky, but who cares? Critics are raving about the album, calling it her finest work to date. The style of music switches between pop, vocals, R&B, jazz and ska, but the subject matter is always the same: pain. She lays it out sing-song style with "Big girls cry when their heart is breaking," and pops it out in the rat-a-tat "Burn the Pages," singing, "don't worry I am here by your side, we're letting go tonight." She sings her pain out in great waves in "Eye of the Needle," and skas it out in "Hostage," which could be an early No Doubt track. "Put on my best dress, I wanted to impress/ put a bow in my hair, put on pretty underwear," she mournfully sings in "Straight for the K" singing, "You went straight for the knife and I prepared to die." When she sings, "someone found me swinging from the rafters," you know it's close to the truth. "Elastic Heart" doesn't sound like much for starters, with all its off-kilter effects, but it's one that grows on you. She gets R&B in "Fire Meet Gasoline," with that grungy Amy Winehouse feel. She closes with the shimmering, slightly creepy "Cellophane" singing, "look at me I'm such a basket case, why I fall apart and you hide all my pills again." The music industry owes Sia, (and LP, the artist we reviewed in the last Dig These Discs) a big debt of gratitude for churning out hit songs for the rest of the ladies.
(RCA Records/Monkey Puzzle Records)
"Paula" (Robin Thicke)
The summer of 2013 catapulted Robin Thicke, the son of celebrity sitcom dad Alan Thicke, into the celebrity stratosphere for his oversaturated single "Blurred Lines." He explained the song as being about those of us "living right in between those straight lines. And everything you thought you knew, the older you get, you realize, 'Damn, I don't know nothing about this." Everyone else in the world saw it as a song about consent verses date rape, an image that his raunchy duet with Miley Cyrus on the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards only cemented. Now he's back with "Paula," a collection of 14 love songs dedicated to winning back his estranged wife Paula Patton. And boy is he laying it on thick. He sings it out in sultry Latin bossa nova tones in "You're My Fantasy," singing, "my love is yours." He sings it over piano, Broadway standard style, in "Still Madly Crazy." All he wants to do is "Get Her Back," to "treat her right, cherish her for life." He gets all James Brown with it in "Lock the Door," begging her, "at least open the doggy door." Because nothing sends a woman running back like bald desperation. His "Whatever I Want" is a post-disco funk about freedom, and "Living in New York City" is pure Parliament funk, complete with a horns break. He sings his hopes that "Love Can Grow Back" in a sultry juke joint tune. He gets oddball like Frank Zappa with it in "Black Tar Cloud" and goes electronica in "Too Little Too Late." He tries it Elvis style with "Tippy Toes," but it ends up being reminiscent of that old Seinfeld episode. He gets deep a la Al Green in "Something Bad" and takes it light via that '70s style in "The Opposite of Me." Thicke tries to say it Stray Cats style in "Time of Your Life," and closes the album with a heartbreaking ballad, "Forever Love." But the end, he doesn't seem any closer to winning his love back than before. Maybe Coldplay's Chris Martin can take him out for drinks, and lend him a sympathetic shoulder to cry on?
(Star Trak/Interscope Records)
"Yes!" (Jason Mraz)
Singer/songwriter Jason Mraz drops his fifth studio album, and this honey-voiced crooner may be in line for some more Grammy nominations, like he garnered in 2012. This civic-minded social activist took time from his work liberating child slaves and being the straight face of gay rights to release 14 songs that showcase the lighter side of him. His breezy songs appeal to our "America's Got Talent" generation, as Mraz has a very likeable voice and sings about the mid-range emotions of love and regret. If you like Mraz, "Yes!" gives you more of the same to like. His first single, "Love Someone" features those mellow guitars fans love, and lyrics like "shiny stars all seem to congregate around your face." His "Hello, You Beautiful Thing," is a light romp, "this is what I've been waiting for." In the track "Long Drive," he sings, "Long drive, long night/ best night of my life," in "Long Drive," and "if I wasn't the snow, how could I fall for you," he croons in "Everywhere." He earnestly strums guitar and sings about understanding in, "Out of My Hands." "Thank you for all of your trust, thank you for not giving up," he sings in "Best Friend." Mraz goes for a gospel sound in the slow, "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday," and exercises the higher registers of his vocal range. In the quirky "3 Things," Mraz counts down the things he does when his world caves in. It's surprisingly upbeat. The guitar is great in "You Can Rely on Me," and the hand drums add a lot to the earnest "Shine," with its sappy lyrics, "You're the closest thing I'll ever get to knowing God." A cock crows in the beginning of "Back to the Earth," a tune with a bouncy ukulele island sound. "Let's leap over canyons and get lost in the hills," he sings in "A World With You." He recently announced a string of tour dates with Raining Jane, including San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, plus a slew of dates in Texas before hitting the East Coast, then Europe. Let Jason Mraz touch your soul; you know you want him to.
"Life Is Easy" (Bright Light Bright Light)
If you're a fan of electronic pop that evokes the sound of the '80s while keeping intact the rave vibe of the '90s, Bright Light Bright Light is the man for you. Openly gay Welsh singer Rod Thomas is the genius behind the one-man operation, bringing to life the nu-disco vibe, with tinges of synthpop, dance and house. He starts with the ambient opener, "Everything I Ever Wanted," then moves to the excellent "There Are No Miracles" a touching, pounding club track. Thomas teams up with the Scissor Sisters' guitarist Del Marquis on "Cry at Films," and Elton John for "I Wish We Were Leaving," singing, "one day you'll make somebody so happy, but it won't be me." He jams out in the Duran Duran-esque, "An Open Heart," singing, "nothing comes to someone who is too afraid to fight." His clamoring "Good Luck" churls out the beats in fits and starts, with an unexpected keyboard break. He promises, "if you took the time to know me, maybe you could see, you'd don't need anybody else." Thomas sings out clear and strong in "I Believe" as he works up and down the keyboard scales and builds up the bass until the break, singing, "now when I say I'm in love I mean it!" He layers electronic vibes over an earnest love song in "Lust for Life," and layers an upbeat love song over underlying keyboards in "More Than Most," one of the album's best. Thomas builds up mystery with "In Your Care," singing urgently, "life is easy sitting in New York, streets are loud so I never have to talk, days are long so there's time to forget." He's forgiving and forgetting in the cut "Too Much." Thomas closes with "Happiness," with a great pounding of keys and drums, singing, "Happiness hasn't left, it's just moved from my hands to somebody else's." There are countless electronica artists out there, but Thomas somehow finds his own special niche.
"Trouble in Paradise" (La Roux)
Elly Jackson, aka La Roux, drops her first album in five years, and turns the tables on fans with her mixture of electronic music and actual instruments like bass, guitar and piano. Her new tracks have a disco kitsch to them that is very welcome. Her fun "Kiss and Not Tell" has a real '80s vibe. She teamed up with BBC Radio 1's Zane Lowe to premiere her first single, "Uptight Downtown," which looks like the "after" picture to her electronica "before." The rhythm is tight, and the sing-song chorus brings you right back to your high school days. It could be the song of the summer. The Casio-keyboard intro of the excellent "Kiss and Not Tell" sets the mood for a fun song with lyrics like, "All I want is to come out of my shell." She whispers, "use me" in the lo-fi delight, "Cruel Sexuality," and shows those vocal highs that made her past hits such stunners. La Roux paints a scene of a Hawaiian beach before launching into her chorus, "Paradise is You" in one of her softer, teasing cuts, singing, "The palm trees make it feel like a paradise but without you here there's nothing nice." He's got money, and she wants to know how it feels to settle down in the toe-tapper "Sexotheque." "Tropical Chancer" is a song about a hit-it and quit-it bastard, and it's funky and lovely. Her fast-paced "Silent Partner" is also funky, and the slower "Let Me Down Gently" is a breakup song with lyrics, "I hope it doesn't seem like I'm young, foolish and green/ Let me in for a minute, you're not my life but I want you in it." She finishes up with "The Feeling," a disjointed ditty with an off beat. These pared-down songs are leagues away from the highly-polished electropop tunes like "In For the Kill" that served as the backdrop for video games like Bayonetta, but are much more accessible and enjoyable for it.