Welcome back, Erasure! We sure have missed you. Following the dismal and disappointing Tomorrow’s World, an unfortunate production collaboration with the tired Frankmusik, Andy Bell and Vince Clarke have come back burning hotter and brighter than they have in years on the vivid The Violent Flame (Mute). After almost 30 years, openly gay vocalist Bell and synth-pop legend Clarke (also of Depeche Mode and Yaz fame) sound audibly re-energized. Teaming up with bootleg pioneer/producer Richard X, Erasure has created an album that is as timeless as it is thoroughly modern. The first four tracks – “Dead of Night,” “Elevation,” “Reasons” and “Promises” – refresh Erasure’s electronic dance legacy and contributions to the genre. All three of these songs deserve to be hits, in clubs and elsewhere. “Be The One” is the kind of dramatic ballad Erasure does so well and Bell sounds strong and in command of his instrument. The nice thing about The Violet Flame is that it never flickers, maintaining its heat on songs such as “Sacred,” “Stayed A Little Late Tonight,” and “Under The Wave,” which recalls both vintage Erasure and the best of Yaz.
On his luminous and diverse third album Too Bright (Matador/Turnstile), Perfume Genius (left) aka Mike Hadreas has released his most radiant album to date. Maintaining some of the sonic elegance of Put Your Back N 2 It on songs such as “No Good,” “Don’t Let Them In,” “All Along” and the title tune, Perfume Genius demonstrates that he is fearless when it comes to exploring new and daring territory. The modern glam of “Queen,” with the fragrant lines “No family is safe/When I sashay,” is one such as example. Others include the multi-layered “Fool” and the Suicide meets Nine Inch Nails of “Grid.” Too Bright is truly brilliant.
Encyclopedia (Minor), the second album by electronic dance duo The Drums, featuring gay member Jonny Pierce combines ‘80s influences (think Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark or New Order-ish) with a present-day sensibility. Opener “Magic Mountain” comes across as more jarring than what we’ve heard from The Drums before, with vocals that sound like a tribute to Perry Farrell. You can work up a sweat to breakneck numbers such as “Kiss Me Again,” “Let Me” and “Deep In My Heart,” while slower paced tunes such as “I Can’t Pretend” (can you hear OMD, too?) and “Wild Geese” allow you to slow down and catch your breath.
Clear across the spectrum from Pentatonix, Judas Priest, a British heavy metal group that also features one openly gay member – in this case the legendary Rob Halford, returns with its 17th studio album, Redeemer of Souls (Epic). The metallic mayhem of “death, doom and destruction” raining down on the “forsaken” in songs such as “Halls of Valhalla,” “Sword of Damacles,” “March of the Damned,” “Down In Flames” and others are brightened by the arrival of the titular redeemer asserting “metal’s deliverance.” We’ll see about that, won’t we?
Bob Mould’s Beauty & Ruin (Merge) is the sound of a man in mourning, following the loss of a parent, beginning, fittingly enough with the dirge-like “Low Season.” But it doesn’t take long before Mould (and his band, including Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster) kick into rapid-fire rock mode on furious tunes such as “Little Glass Pill,” “I Don’t Know You Anymore,” “Fire In the City,” “Tomorrow Morning” and the blistering “Kid With Crooked Face,” which at just over two minutes is one of the album’s highlights. The gentler “Hey Mr. Grey” is also outstanding.
Kele (Okereke), the openly gay front-man of Bloc Party, has returned with his second solo studio album Trick (Lilac). Maintaining the electronic flair he began to explore with Bloc Party and continued to embrace on his 2010 solo debut, Kele remains plugged in on Trick. In other words, you can dance if you want to. And who wouldn’t want to dance to pleasingly beat-driven cuts including “Humour Me,” “First Impressions,” “Doubt,” “ My Hotel Room” and “Silver and Gold.”
A cappella group Pentatonix, featuring out member Mitch Grassi, was prolific in 2014, releasing both a holiday album and the seven-song EP PTX Vol. III (RCA). For its major-label debut, Pentatonix wisely didn’t verge from the formula of previous releases for which it earned its reputation. Covers of current hits and familiar tunes, including Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be” and Ariana Grande’s “Problem,” as well as a medley of Sam Smith’s “La La La” and Disclosure’s “Latch” sit alongside originals such as “Standing By,” for a captivating listening experience.
By Gregg Shapiro