Dig These Discs :: Brandi Carlile, Grass Widow, Emeli Sande, Scissor Sisters, 2:54
Summer is here, so dig into this heaping portion of new music, with hot new albums by everyone’s favorite gays, the Scissor Sisters, and several new albums by sisters of a different sort. From British sisters Colette and Hannah Thurlow to singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile, Scottish dame Emeli Sandé and the trio that makes up Grass Widow, these ladies will keep you rocking, whether you like pop, soul, country, or emo.
"Magic Hour" (Scissor Sisters)
The deliciously queer mélange that is The Scissor Sisters are back with their fourth studio album, again earning dibs on the label of "the best pop group in the world," as U2’s Bono has called them. Jake Shears, Ana Matronic, Babydaddy, Del Marquis and Randy Real have dropped a dozen of their trademark bouncy pop/club tracks all about "magic moments and magic friends." They kick things off with "Baby Come Home," a piano-heavy pop song that smacks of early Wham! hits. It’s half past four, but Shears sings, "I can’t sleep unless you’re laying beside me, no doubt you’d be fine living without me, I just can let you start it tonight." The Sisters capture an Egyptian pop sound in "Keep Your Shoes," rife with electronic beats and lots of "gotta getcha going" gitcha-gitcha vocalisms. They slow down with "Inevitable." Shears’ strong vocal stylings and a subtle bass-driven back fuel this slow pop/rock song that Sister Sisters are known for, with a surprise Bee-Gees style chorus. Their first track, "Only the Horses," written in July 2011, is a more modern pop song, very "Beach House" style with a steady club beat. Shears sings, "Only the horses can find us tonight," in this radio-ready track. "The Year of Living Dangerously" is a slow, sad song about taking risks and finding what sets one free. Every Scissor Sister’s album deserves one truly off-beat track, and "Let’s Have a Kiki" fits the bill. It follows the classic phonecall intro format, with a drama queen fussing that "you know that MTA stands for mothafuckas touching my ass." The slow train has made her late for the club, where the NYPD has shut down the party, so the crew decides to have a "kiki," a cute little party of their own. To fingers snaps and bass beats a la Grace Jones, they sing, "dive, turn, work," finally declaring the whole thing, "cunty." High praise, indeed. In "Shady Love," they take on the rapid-fire style favored by Nicki Minaj, meshed with the soaring, club-style tracks of Deborah Cox. Ana Matronic lays down vocals, with white-boy rap breaks. In a turn of diversity, light calypso surfaces in "San Luis Obispo," a rolling, light song that has a very ’90s Hedwig sound, with the lyrics, "I spend my life deciding if happiness is just a phase." A pounding bass track lights up "Self Control," with Shears singing, "Just keep staring at the ceiling, got to learn to fight the feeling/ don’t let go, no no, of your self control." A taunting chorus asks, "Who has to know?" Hot beats surface again in "Best in Me," with Ana Matronic and Shears singing that this may not be a song you hear on MTV, but "you keep bringing out the best in me." The Sisters seem to be channeling fellow gay singer Rufus Wainwright in "The Secret Life of Letters," with pianos behind heartfelt sotto voce lyrics. It ends up with a sweeping, melancholic chorus of voices. The album closes out with "Somewhere," a pop/dance track that has an ’80s Billy Idol vibe, ending with the inspirational lyrics, "All these tears of mine will fly away."
"Bear Creek" (Brandi Carlile)
Thirteen is a lucky number for singer/songwriter/guitarist Brandi Carlile, who drops an indie country classic in the making with "Bear Creek." "Wish I could find a soul to steal/ I could be the engine and you could be the wheels," sings Carlile in "Hard Way Home," a tune about life lessons. She channels Bonnie Raitt in her banjo-backed song, "Raise Hell," a country blues song that has Carlile singing, "Come on, ring that bell." Carlile counts folk, pop, country, rock, gospel and blues among her musical influences, and "Bear Creek" puts them all on display. Her acoustic chops shine in "Save Part of Yourself," a love song that mixes hand-claps, call-and-response, and a gospel music feel. Her first single, "That Wasn’t Me," hit the radio in April, and features soulful piano that showcases the warmth and power of Carlile’s vocals, as she sings, "Did I cause you to stumble on your feet, did I bring shame on my family...Whatever you’ve seen, that wasn’t me." In "Keep Your Heart Young," Carlile reminisces on her childhood self, the wheat penny her grandpa gave her and the games she played with her brother, singing, "And keep your heart young, don’t go growing old before your time is come/ you can’t take back what you have done, you’ve gotta keep your heart young." In "100" she bemoans the forgetting that comes with an love’s end, and extends the them in "A Promise to Keep," another soft acoustic love song. Strings add a touch of class to the melancholy "Whatever Did I Come Here For," and in "Hearts Content," she sings, "Maybe you thought I hung the moon, maybe we thought we were Johnny and June/ maybe we thought it was just us two, maybe we spoke too soon." "Rise Again" is a steady-rocking tune about rage, and "In the Morrow" is about overcoming obstacles, with the lyrics, "I gave it everything I had for so long, save your sorrow for your song/ don’t we always find a way to carry on." She closes out the album with "Just Kids," an ethereal, sparely electronic-backed tune that spans for nearly seven minutes, ending in the chirping of crickets. Carlile has already worked with some of the best names in the business, including T Bone Burnett, the Hanseroth twins and Trina Shoemaker, and counts among her fans Elton John, who appeared in a track on her 2009 album. She has sold more than 800,000 albums and played more than 700 live shows. If you’re a fan of other indie country artists like LeAnn Rimes or Faith Hill, you’ll love Carlile. Look for her during her U.S. tour, starting in New Jersey in June, and hitting Colorado by July.
"Internal Logic" (Grass Widow)
The San Francisco-based trio of Hannah Lew, Raven Mahon and Lillian Maring drop a new 11-track disc of their haunting electronic-fueled songs this month, on their own label, HLR. The band shares vocal duties as easily as they share their personal stories in their metaphor-rich, narrative-fueled songs. They kick things off with "Goldilocks Zone," which opens with spacey electronic sounds and moves into spindly guitars. In "Hang Around," an electric guitar backbeat hums discordantly over harmonious vocals. A more traditional guitar rock sound is captured in "Milo Minute," a fast-moving break-up song in the style of early Violent Femmes tunes. A similar old-school surf rock guitar/drums combo follows in "Under the Atmosphere," with the ladies sweet soprano voices rising to the top in a chorus of harmonies. The ladies of Grass Widow are all about equality, shying away from having a front person, and striving to make all of their shows age- and gender-inclusive. "Disappearing Industries," with its fast punk chords, sounds like Sleater-Kinney lite. Sultry Spanish guitar lures the listener in to "A Light in the Static," a beautiful instrumental piece. Shock is waiting on the other end in "Spock on MUNI," a fast-moving electric guitar song that lets us in on the joke. Grass Widow is clearly an intellectual outfit, weaving metaphor and allusion in their songs, and not without a sense of humor. The only complaint is that the between the rock guitar and breathy, high-toned vocals, these lyrics are not always easy to distinguish. This fast-moving, spindly guitar sound with overlapping ethereal vocals is found in "Advice" and "Cover You." Among the best in the lot is "Whistling in the Grass," a peppy, fun tune that closes with some classic axe-grinding. They end the album similar to how it started, with a piano picking out the chords this time, in "Response to Photographs," a slow-moving instrumental song. Grass Widow is unabashedly democratic in form and function, and will certainly appeal to a similarly minded fan base. (HLR)