Fiercely forelocked electro goddess Elly Jackson of La Roux took a risk waiting almost five years to release her second album, the aptly named Trouble In Paradise (Cherry Tree/Interscope). Regardless, few second albums have been worth the wait and the payoff with this one is substantial. “Upright Downtown” is the hottest `80s Bowie homage ever recorded. “Kiss and Not Tell” is so infectious it may as well be the flu. “Cruel Sexuality” makes being cruel to be kind an inviting option. “Sexotheque” is the soundtrack to horizontal dance instruction and “The Feeling” feels good all over.
The female version of Owl City, electro evangelist Lights (aka Canadian-born Valerie Poxleitner) is about as subtle as Pat Robertson. On “Portal,” the opening track of Little Machines (WB), she rhymes “immortal” with “your portal.” Can you guess whose portal she’s singing about? The daughter of missionaries (oy vey), Lights doesn’t hesitate to preach to both the converted and uncoverted on songs such as “Same Sea,” “Don’t Go Home Without Me,” “Slow Down” and “How We Do It.” Queer heathens may also dig “Running With The Boys,” “Speeding” and “Muscle Memory.”
Kiesza wails and belts like an old-school house music diva on her aptly titled full-length debut Sound of a Woman (Island/4th & Broadway). “Hideaway” is the kind of house music jam that has been missing from DJ booths and airwaves for years and we have Kiesza to thank for, well, bringing it out of hiding. “No Enemiesz” is another direct-to-the-dance-club cut that qualifies Kiesza for instant disco diva status. But instead of maintaining the momentum, Kiesza takes a few detours that lack the same firepower. One that is surprisingly effective, however, is her reinvention of Haddaway’s “What Is Love” as a dramatic ballad. Thankfully, she gets back to the business at hand on “The Love,” “Giant In My Heart” and “Over Myself.”
Charli XCX has been perfecting her trademark brat-pop on her own records (her 2013 full-length debut True Romance, for instance) as well as via her collaborations with others (including Iggy Azalea and Icona Pop). Kicking things up, while not losing her sneering edge on Sucker (Atlantic), Charli collaborated with Rostam Batmanglij (the gay member of Vampire Weekend) on the solid album closer “Need Ur Love” as well as Rivers Cuomo of Weezer on “Hanging Around.” The Charli we’ve come to know and love can be heard loud and clear on slamming dance numbers such as “Break The Rules,” “Sucker,” the bombastic “Boom Clap” and the new wavy “London Queen.”
You don’t have to speak French to understand that Yelle wants you to dance to the songs on her new album Complétement fou (Kemosabe). Collaborating with the over-extended Dr. Luke (ugh!), of all people, on unexpectedly decent cuts such as the title track and “Coco Sans Bulles,” Yelle (aka Julie Budet) may be making an effort to expand her reach. “Jeune Fille Garnement,” “Moteur Action” and “Un Jour Viendra” are also worth a listen.
As Swedish dance divas go, Tove Lo is no Robyn. But those are some big and funky shoes to fill. Nevertheless, Tove Lo holds her own on her full-length debut album Queen of the Clouds (Island). Some of the songs are too repetitive, but “Timebomb,” “My Gun,” “Got Love,” “Not On Drugs” and the QOTC Edit of “Run On Love,” manage to hover over the rest.
Paloma Faith takes a more organic approach to her sound and style on A Perfect Contradiction (Epic). Belting in a retro fashion, like a sober Amy Winehouse, Faith is as comfortable at the disco “Impossible Heart,” the dazzling Pharrell tune “Can’t Rely On You” and the soulful “Mouth To Mouth” (which she co-wrote with Raphael Saadiq) as she is spinning out like a vintage jukebox angel on Diane Warren’s “Only Love Can Hurt Like This” and “Taste of My Own Tears” (co-written with Stuart Matthewman of Sade fame). Faith deserves to be better-known than she is and this album is a good place to get acquainted.
If you had never heard Devotion, Jessie Ware’s strong 2013 debut album, then her second disc, Tough Love (Interscope), is perfectly serviceable. But the trouble with the disappointing Tough Love, aside from the fact that it’s so low energy that it’s virtually comatose, is that Ware not only doesn’t live up to expectations, it’s as if she didn’t even bother trying. Ware was by no means expected to replicate the mastery of her first album, but nothing on Tough Love comes close to the vigor and spirit of songs such as “Wildest Moments,” “Imagine It Was Us,” “Running” or “Still Love Me.” However, Ware does make good use of electronic elements on “Keep On Lying,” “Want Your Feeling” and “Cruel.”
The Sia of 1000 Forms of Fear (RCA) is about a million miles away from the same inventive queer woman who released amazing albums such as Some People Have Real Problems, We Are Born and Color The Small One. There is literally nothing on 1000 Forms of Fear that can compare to “Breathe Me” (from Color The Small One), “Little Black Sandals,” “Day Too Soon,” “You Have Been Loved,” “The Girl You Lost To Cocaine” (all from Some People Have Real Problems), “Stop Trying,” “Clap Your Hands” and “You’ve Changed” (all from We Are Born). To be fair, artists must evolve, but 1000 Forms of Fear actually sounds like a step backwards for Sia. It’s as if she intentionally chose to record an album of songs rejected by Rihanna, Xtina, Britney and Celine. There are a few exceptions, such as “Hostage,” “Straight For The Knife,” and “Free The Animal,” but on the whole listeners are better off seeking out the Sia of old.
By Gregg Shapiro