Recordings | January 2016

Three albums we're listening to this month

By Cait Brennan, January 2016 Issue.

MUSIC_troye-sivan-blue-neighborhoodTroye Sivan

Blue Neighbourhood

EMI/Capitol | 3stars

At age 20, Troye Sivan has already led several different lives. He originally found fame as a teen actor in such movies as X-Men Origins: Wolverine, before becoming a hugely successful YouTube star (nearly four million subscribers and over 200 million views). That fame translated into a major label record deal in short order, and Blue Neighbourhood is the result, a warm and agreeable debut which finds the gay Australian pop star’s winning voice (mostly) carrying the day.

MUSIC_troye-sivan-blue-neighbourhood-cover-413x413“Wild” kicks off the Blue Neighbourhood suite with a smooth neo-soul/electro vibe and tender lyrics talking about forbidden love and sublimated desire. The production, though, kind of sabotages itself, with a weird, shrill children’s chorus in the background (but by no means far enough in the background). The world is ready for many things, but a super-sexy song with a children’s chorus is not one of them. Try to imagine the Kidz Bop kids singing Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” only please, please don’t do that. If somebody could just get in there and remix that choir right on out of there, that’d be great. Thanks.

“Bite,” on the other hand, is just right. Subdued, tense, with an urgent lyric and some sweet vocal harmonics, and no kiddie choir in sight. Songs like “Ease” and “Fools” are equally rewarding, rhythmic and catchy and intimate. Sivan’s voice lends itself to a sense of intimacy, unpretentious and warm and very at ease. He tends toward straightforward, gently confessional lyrics that occasionally drop a few f-bombs in the service of his point. All this is served over lush electropop soul sounds that are very of the moment. The casual acceptance of his sexuality is a plus, too; in Sivan’s world, same-sex love is not anthemic, it’s just life. Cheers to that.

MUSIC_WrecklessEricWreckless Eric


Fire Records | 4halfstars

Let’s just go ahead and get this out of the way: Wreckless Eric wrote the greatest rock song in history. “Whole Wide World” will never be duplicated by mere humans, and all we can do is stare in awe and be grateful he exists. In addition to those three minutes of immortality, he’s blessed us with a whole career full of great songs and fantastic albums, but it’s been too long – nearly a decade, in fact – since he’s given us a new LP. The wait is over and AmERICa is not just a welcome return, it’s a dynamite high-water mark in a career full of brilliant moments.

“Several Shades Of Green” kicks things off, promising he’d “do it all again” if he had to, with a raunchy guitar riff and wry, razor-sharp wit. “Sysco Trucks” lays a moody, lonely, weirdly sympathetic air of romance to the workaday deliveries of one of America’s most ubiquitous restaurant food-service companies. There’s a bit of an I Often Dream Of Trains-era Robyn Hitchcock vibe here (no, wait, Wreckless Eric did it first).

“Transitory Thing” is wistful and weary, all seen-it-all cynicism and suitcases full of dirty clothes, lamenting the loss of easier times and worrying that “you’d have to be bulletproof just to survive” modern life. “I sometimes wish that I was somebody else, and I’m sure that you do too.” If you can identify with that statement, this is your record.

“Boy Band” is hilarious and acid-tinged, chronicling the tabloid fall of former child/teen stars as the band goes to hell. It’s worth the price of admission just on its own. On most of the songs here, Wreckless Eric brings a merciless observer’s eye to aspects of modern life, with a sardonic wit and a subtle hint of sympathy for his subjects. He also waxes philosophical on the meaning of it all with the depth and skill that only a veteran artist can provide. He’s long been one of our greatest rock artists, and it’s fantastic to have him back. AmERICA is beautiful indeed.

MUSIC_A-Great-Big-WorldA Great Big World

When The Morning Comes

Epic | 4stars

Ian Axel and Chad King are Echo faves from way back; their cheerily pro-LGBTQ first album, a strong interview and a great Pride appearance earned them a place on our cover last time out. Their duet with Christina Aguilera, “Say Something,” was a single for the ages, and a tough trick to repeat. But A Great Big World have always aimed high, and with their winning combination of outsized pop melodies and up-close and personal lyrics, they’ve done it again on When The Morning Comes.

“All I Want Is Love” is gunning for big radio success, but it manages the neat A Great Big World trick of sounding as big as a mountain and yet keeping it personal, earnest, accessible. “End Of The World” hangs its shingle on that timeless us-against-the-world apocalyptic passion that sort of radiates around young love. The punchy, swinging beat adds drama and power to the lyric and strengthens the delicate vocals.

Strip away the huge, soaring choruses and production, and these guys are at their heart great songwriters, living somewhere between Elton John/Bernie Taupin and the Broadway tradition (by which I mean Cole Porter, not Andrew Lloyd Webber). While the pop-radio ambitions of songs like “Oasis” and “Come On” are blatant (and likely to be successful), the duo especially shines when the song is up front, like on “One Step Ahead,” stripped of artifice and hit-single sheen, taken straight to the heart of things. They’re sophisticated songwriters who’ve mastered the deceptively simple pop hook. Axel and King remain two of our finest contemporary pop artists and When The Morning Comes is another joy-filled pop treat.