Recordings | Oct. 9, 2014

Three albums we're listening to this month

By Cait Brennan, Oct. 9, 2014.

Mary Lambert | Heart On My Sleeve | Capitol Records | 4halfstars

“I’ve got bi-polar disorder, my s–t’s not in order, I’m overweight, I’m always late, I’ve got too Mary-Lambert-Heart-On-Sleeve-2014-1200x1200many things to say,” Mary Lambert sings on “Secrets,” the irresistible opening track of her debut Heart On My Sleeve. It’s a bold, very fun anthem about refusing to hide who you are. From her breakthrough on Macklemore’s “Same Love” to her own “She Keeps Me Warm,” Lambert has always been fearless and that shines through in each and every track.

Eric Rosse, who produced Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes and Under The Pink, handles production here, and it’s a savvy choice; while Lambert has a lot more contemporary pop influence than Amos did (okay, there’s always Y Kant Tori Read), Rosse does an excellent job letting Lambert find her own voice on “Secrets” and the title track or stark ballads like “Wounded Animal,” the perfect soundtrack for the dark night of the soul.

She’s not above some fun surprises, either. Midway through the album, as Lambert pours her heart out over a woman she can’t have, you’ll soon realize you’re hearing the most left-field cover ever: Mary Lambert is singing Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl,” and it is spectacular.

On Heart On My Sleeve, Lambert serves up a mix of highly radio-friendly pop and intimate confessions songs, while always remaining true to herself.

For fans of: Tori Amos, Sara Bareilles and Regina Spektor

Yelle | Complètement Fou | Kemosabe Records | 4stars

Yelle just might be the most fun electropop group in the world. Their new album, Complètement YELLE-COMPLETEMENT-FOU-SEP-30Fou, which roughly translates to “completely crazy,” is jam-packed with hyper-saturated neon synth goodies and bouncy fun, with soaring vocals and production from Katy Perry, P!nk and Ke$ha hitmaker Dr. Luke and his team.

The title track is a relentlessly catchy weapons-grade club hit, and it’s just one of many; with sweet analog synth riffs and vocal choruses, after about two minutes, you’ll be singing along whether you speak French or not. Dr. Luke keeps ’em coming with sugary soda-pop fizz and disco-ball shimmer, like the glorious “Un Jour Viendra.”

But don’t be fooled by the candy-colored club coating and the Hollywood sheen. It’s easy to miss if you don’t grok French, but lyrically, things get much darker as you go. “We will all die, all this flesh will rot,” Yelle sings on the opening lines of “Dire Qu’on Va Tous Mourir.” Now that’s French. “Bouquet Final,” fittingly, ends the set in a swirl of clockwork synth clicks and harmonies, with a quirky, singularly Yelle touch.

Since the French combo’s debut in 2005 as an unsigned band on Myspace (wow, that entire sentence makes us feel old), Yelle has only released two other albums, 2007’s Pop Up and 2011’s Safari Disco Club, making a new Yelle album something of a rare treat.

For fans of: Little Boots, Basement Jaxx and La Roux

Leonard Cohen | Popular Problems | Columbia | 5stars

It’s happened so often it’s almost a cliché: the aging music legend has his entire fortune stolen by Columbia Records Leonard Cohen Popular Problems coveran unscrupulous manager and is left with nowhere to turn. Thankfully, Leonard Cohen has never tolerated clichés. When something similar happened to him in the early 2000s, he revived his career and produced some of his finest work. His latest, Popular Problems, is a seductive, bluesy tale from a man who’s seen it. 

On “Slow,” he wryly mocks his age: “It’s not because I’m old, it’s not because I’m dead,” he sings, “I always liked it slow, that’s what my mama said.” And “Did I Ever Love You” finds the lion in winter, ruminating over his choices. “Born In Chains” is a rising song of liberation and “You Got Me Singing” proves there’s a lot of hope and joy in the old fella yet.

The stripped-down production frames Cohen’s earthy voice perfectly, with a tight rhythm section and fierce slide guitar on gritty, honest tracks like “My Oh My.” Leonard harks back to his I’m Your Man-era techno roots on the tense, pulsing “Nevermind” with admirable power and subtlety.

According to the calendar, Leonard Cohen is 80 years old this year. But he’s more vital than most men half his age, and Popular Problems is a work of rare beauty. It’s one of the years best.

For fans of: David Bowie, Rufus Wainwright and Jeff Buckley