Recordings | Sept. 11, 2014

Three albums we're listening to this issue

By Cait Brennan, Sept. 11, 2014.

Basement Jaxxbasementjaxx
Atlantic Jaxx | 3halfstars

House masterminds Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe, aka Basement Jaxx, have never sounded quite as joyous as they do on Junto, and there’s good reason. Since their last album, the duo relocated to the pulsing heart of London and broke from their label of 10 years.

Buxton witnessed a UFO from the studio window during the making of the album, and said it inspired him to “do something that felt more at one with the world.” According to Ratcliffe, “He talks about the UFO every day! He’s evangelical about it!”

“Power To The People” combines a life-affirming message and vocals from a singer Jaxx randomly met in the parking lot of their studio with a chorus of 5,000 fans recorded on tour, a children’s choir and the Recycled Orchestra of Catuera in Paraguay. And yes, you can dance to it.

“Unicorn” is about good vibrations, taking a ride and getting your body jumping. The drum- and bass-fueled “Buffalo” features down-and-dirty rhymes from trans rapper Mykki Bianco, and a beat that gets right to the point. “We Are Not Alone” is probably the most danceable, while “Never Say Never” is the catchiest, keeping the positivity going with great soul vocals by ETML and a chorus you’ll be singing for ages. Junto is a lot of fun, and a welcome return. We owe that spaceship a thank-you.

For fans of Daft Punk, Chemical Brothers and deadmau5.

Isabel Rosealmodovar-inspired-album-cover-christina-dangelo-lo
Trouble In Paradise
BDG/RED | 3halfstars

With all due propers to Messrs Bublé, Connick, et al, male big band singers are a dime a dozen.
A halfway decent suit, a fedora, some Sinatra on the karaoke and any Tom, Dick or Justin can pull it off. But too often, women are automatically relegated to showgirl status and shoved out of center stage. Not so for Isabel Rose. On Trouble In Paradise Rose gives a clinic on the American Songbook, fronting a full orchestra with style, showmanship and enough star power to light up the Vegas Strip.

Rose kicks it off with a cracking version of “Lot Of Livin’ To Do” from the musical Bye Bye Birdie. Her voice sparkles, while producer Bob Rock (Michael Bublé, Payola$, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi) combines a big orchestra with some most excellent monsters of rock guitars. Conrad Birdie, we hardly knew ye.

The covers fly fast and furious — from a faithful salute to 10cc’s “Things We Do For Love” to a staggeringly great take on Mancini’s Peter Gunn theme. Dance fans will love the Frankie Knuckles/Eric Kupper remix of “Reflections,” Knuckles’ last project before he passed away.

Rose is a woman of extraordinary depth; in addition to her musical gifts, she’s a screenwriter and film actress (2002’s wonderful Hollywood-musical tribute Anything But Love, a stage actress (Six Degrees Of Separation) and a novelist (The J.A.P. Chronicles). Here’s hoping for more.

For fans of Michael Bublé, Diana Krall and Imelda May.

The Violet FlameTheVioletFlame_FINALcover-lo
Mute | 4stars

Not long ago, people made fun of bands like the Rolling Stones for touring as band members were nearing the ripe old age of 40. They’re twice that age now and show no sign of stopping. By that standard, Vince Clark and Andy Bell are mere pups. The Violet Flame, their 16th studio album (second in less than a year). As a follow-up to the holiday-themed Snow Globe, Violet takes a distinctly moodier turn to the dance floor.

“Dead Of Night” sets the tone early, with a sinister synth rumble building to a thunderous beat. The first single, “Elevation,” continues the moody tone, but ends on a hopeful note, with a rising chorus singing “the love gets higher.” “Sacred” reaches out to a higher plane for redemption, while the desperation in “Smoke and Mirrors” is so thick you can cut it with a knife.

Bell’s voice still sounds amazing, and while the hooks don’t quite reach the dizzy heights of “Chains Of Love” or “A Little Respect,” the synths and beats are contagious and the lyrics tell a story that’s deeper and more soulful. On “Be The One” he celebrates having a partner who will “walk to the end of time, to the edge of the world and sky, come and stand in the setting sun, be the one.” Maybe those gray skies are clearing up after all.

For fans of Depeche Mode, Mesh and Pet Shop Boys.