Dig These Discs :: Stars, Alanis Morissette, Raveonettes, Blaqk Audio, Pet Shop Boys
Everything old is new again, as the Pet Shop Boys and Alanis Morrisette drop new releases. Their work has inspired Blaqk Audio and Stars, respectively, to their own success. And The Raveonettes, a Dutch band with country twang, celebrates 10 years together with their new album, "Observator."
"Elysium" (Pet Shop Boys)
The English duo of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe drop their new album, "Elysium," a collection of twelve new songs featuring a deep, warm electronic sound, plus orchestral arrangements by Joachim Horsley, Andrew Dawson and Ben Leathers. Veteran singers Oren, Maxine and Julie Waters, and singer/songwriter James Fauntleroy provide backing vocals on many of the tracks, giving the album a more polished sound than many of the band’s previous releases. "Elysium" is the Boys’ first album recorded in America, produced by Andrew Dawson, who has won three Grammys for his work on Kanye West’s albums. "It was inspiring to make an album in Los Angeles, and to work with a producer from a different musical genre, who has brought a new dimension to our music," said the Pet Shop Boys. They start things off with the album’s best track, the snappy, electronic crescendos of "Leaving," singing, "You’ve had enough time to decide on your freedom, but I can still find someone to believe in." Plaintive echoes punctuate "Invisible," as Tennant asks, "can you hear me, can you see me, am I really even here?" "This is the moment we’ll remember for the rest of our life," it’s the day we arrived, they sing in their first single, "Winner." The whisper intro of "Your Early Stuff" could be a story of the band itself, as Tennant sings of an artist who’s been around but doesn’t look too rough, commenting, "I still quite like some of your early stuff," especially those funny-looking old videos. They channel their own early stuff with the ’80s-vibed "Face Like That," evoking memories of the days when one had the brains, and the other the brawn. The slow-moving, louche, "Breathing Space" provides an interesting dichotomy, book ended as it is with the frenetic "Ego Music," with its repetitive string of "me me me me yes yes yes yes." A chorus of voices introduces "Hold On," an odd song about all the seasons melting into a single moment. More successful is "Give it a Go," with its ’70s, soft surf-rock vibe and accordion flourishes. "It’s taken me all of my life to find you," croons Tennant in "Memory of the Future." They look for meaning in "Everything Means Something," and finish the album off with "Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin," a catchy dance tune with a ’70s disco lounge vibe. The band has sold more than 100 million records worldwide, making them one of the world’s best-selling music artists. Through hits like "West End Girls," and "Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)," the Pet Shop Boys have created their legacy. With "Elysium," they will cement it.
"Bright Black Heaven" (Blaqk Audio)
Inspired by the Pet Shop Boys, Devo, Skinny Puppy and Depeche Mode, Jade Puget and Davey Havok launched Blaqk Audio, an electronic outfit that hearkens to the electro-industrial wave. The duo releases their sophomore album, "Bright Black Heaven," a collection of 12 news quality songs. "The album title perfectly captures the tone of the record. The songs shift from high-energy dance anthems to mid-tempo pop to dramatic ballads that focus on transcendence and escape through the shadowy corners of bliss," said Havok. This current of darkness that infuses their work comes courtesy of Dave Bascombe, mixer of their first album, "CexCells," who has collaborated with Depeche Mode and Erasure. The sweeping intro orchestration of their first track, "Cold War," has the drama of a Depeche Mode track, with synth grooves. Havok sings dramatic confessions like, "I’m running at you with a gun in my hand," ending with "I’ll never forgive you." The vintage electropop influences rise to the surface in "Fade to White," with Havok singing, "You blush like the ingénue but I have seen you lead so, all that is done tonight, of this we cannot speak, so don’t say another word." Their intense track, "Faith Healer" really captures the dramatic vibe of electronic music of the early ’90s, as does their catchy, "Let’s Be Honest." "Love comes quickly and I’m indisposed and what I can’t describe is what I wanted most," sings Havok in the haunting "Deconstructing Gods." Journey back to the days of pounding after-hours beats sessions with "Everybody’s Friends," as they sing, "We could be so discreet, living fiction." Someone from somewhere can show you how to care, the duo sings in "With Your Arms Around You," a slightly sad tune with great electronic bones. In "Bliss," the darkest track on the album, electronic growls build the drama like a sinister movie soundtrack. "Bon Voyeurs" is a more optimistic, lithe tune that sparkles like Depeche Mode tunes, with Havok singing, "Let them say, who cares who’s watching you." The orchestral outro only adds to the drama. It segues to "The Witness," a stadium-ready tune that provides a nice showcase to Havok’s impressive vocal range, as he sings, "Who needs forgiveness when we all speak fluent lies." "Say Red" is a fast-paced, frenetic stunner. The album closes with "Ill-Lit Ships," a slower song getting added clarity from a deliberate keyboard intro, then building up to a heartbreaking crescendo, as Havok sings, "It’s your smile that hurts me so."
(Big Death/Superball Music)
"Havoc And Bright Lights" (Alanis Morissette)
Isn’t it ironic? Alanis Morissette has teamed up with Guy Sigsworth and Joe Chiccarelli to drop her first release in four years. "This record is a snapshot of what I currently obsess about, care deeply about and what strikes me at 4 in the morning in my most introspective moments," said Morissette. This Canadian-bred artist has raised hell ever since her 1995 debut album "Jagged Little Pill" made waves for her rage against the man who left her in "You Oughta Know," singing the NSFW lyrics, "And are you thinking of me when you fuck her?" She’s older now, but continues with her deeply expressive music in "Havoc and Bright Lights," a collection of a dozen songs recorded in LA. The album’s first single, "Guardian" was released on May 15 on iTunes, and actually hearkens to her early work, with its shredding guitar and profound lyrics, delivered determinedly. "I’ll be your keeper for life...I’ll be your angel on call," sings Morissette, taking a protective track, perhaps inspired by motherhood. She sings about the vilification of our mothers, lovers and sisters by women-haters in "Woman Down." She spins her wheels in "’Til You," sings about her convictions in "Lens" and deals with shame in "Spiral." The beat is dark and oppressive in "Celebrity," as Morissette reveals her lust for VIP status, singing, "nothing but my name in bright lights called to me." She goes even darker in the creeping, "Numb," as she sings of her frustration and alludes to drug use. "Empathy" is a more upbeat song, with the lyrics, "Thank you for getting me, I’m fueled by your empathy." She slows things down in "Havoc," one of the best tracks, as she croons, "I have no defense, I’m wreaking havoc and consequence." "We are eye to eye, we are equal to each other," she sings in the sweet, harmonious, "Win and Win." She finishes up with the electronic flourishes in "Edge of Evolution," a touching song that has Morissette leaving behind the story of who she is for a new indoctrination. It may not be the "Jagged Little Pill," but it’s more of the same of what won Morissette seven Grammy Awards.
(Collective Sounds/Sony RED)
"The North" (Stars)
Hailing from Canada, like Morissette, is Stars, the north’s best-kept secret indie outfit. With their sixth full-length album, they continue to drop their incisively sharp, beautifully orchestrated pop music. And this album, a culmination of all they have learned and lost, showcases the skills of all the band members alike. "This is the five of us attacking each song and turning it into something that is all of ours," said Amy Millan, one of the lead vocalists, with Torquil Campbell. The band secreted themselves in a beautiful old house in the hills outside of Montreal to write the songs, and headed to the historic RCA Victor studios to record it. The result is a dozen great songs that distill all the band’s influences together. They kick things off with a spoken word intro via "The Theory of Relativity," a tune that pulsates with deep electronic bass, as Campbell sings, "you call it luck, I call it tragedy." They employ the spoken word intro again in "A Song is a Weapon," one of the best tracks on the album. In "Backlines," Millan’s voice rises and falls as she sings this anthem, calling out, "I see it in your eyes." The title track packs a real punch, as Campbell sings sweetly, "The only way to last, the only way to live it, is to hold on when you get love, and let go when you give it." It is reminiscent of the emo love songs of the ’90s, as is the quiet "Lights Changing Colour," which is reminiscent of the Cocteau Twins sound. In "Through the Mines," Stars sets on a Cowboy Junkies vibe, all twang and alt-country stylings, with Millan singing high and sweet, "quick on the draw, we’ll fight til they’re raw, til the bully has had enough." This turns to a ’50s sound in "Do You Want to Die Together," evoking Buddy Holly. "I may look alive but I’m dead inside," sings Campbell, to which Millan replies, "Let’s make it true." The band is known for twisting dual themes of sex and death together, and in this album, revisit this formula that made their 2004 album, "Set Yourself on Fire" a hit. Campbell and Millan go back and forth with vocals in "The Loose Ends Will Make Knots," an ethereal calla and response song, with Millan pleading, "Don’t say it’s all been lost." The complex banger "Progress" is hard to love, and "The 400" is a slow, spare, straight-shooting song. The album ends with "Walls," an enthralling, achingly sweet tune that is among the albums’ best. Stars will hit the road in September, going from Boston and New York to Kentucky, Texas, Oklahoma, and California, and ending up home in Canada by Thanksgiving. Catch them when they hit your town.
With a country twang straight out of Nashville, one would be hard-pressed to peg that The Raveonettes hail from the chilly landscape of Denmark. The duo of Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo share duties on guitar and other instruments. They also share vocals, modeled on the two-part vocal harmonies popularized by The Everly Brothers, with a hard-edged electric guitar overlay, a la The Jesus and Mary Chain. And fittingly, they sing about the same hardscrabble topics immortalized in country music. Although their sixth album, "Observator" only features nine songs, do not mistake quality for quantity. They kick things off strong with the twangy, "Young and Cold," a song about the callousness of youth. They follow it with "Observations," their first single. It paints a bleak musical landscape with surprising piano interludes. Wagner said it was inspired by his feeling that he was out there observing other people and what goes on around him. The band recorded this album in L.A., at Sunset Sound in Hollywood, in commemoration of their 10-year anniversary as a band. In "Curse the Night," a slower, boy-girl harmony with Wagner’s voice coming through as a baby-soft whisper, backed by a slow electric guitar. She comes through in a full voice as she sings, "You make me feel like I’m ’The Enemy,’" one of album’s best tracks. Their tendency to chart dark topics, like one of their influences, The Velvet Underground, comes out in the track, "Sinking With the Sun." But although tracks like "She Owns the Streets" is about drug addiction, it is also surprisingly upbeat, as the duo sings, "She’s dancing, dancing in the street." They race through the track "Downtown," and follow a slow and steady beat for "You Hit Me (I’m Down)," which is enriched by the addition of percussive bells in the chorus. The Raveonettes finish things up with "Till the End," a respectable rock and roll song.