(Photo by Karl Simone)
THE PAST COUPLE YEARS, YOU HAVEN’T BEEN able to turn on the radio without hearing the soaring work of Sia Furler, whether as featured vocalist (for example, David Guetta’s ”Titanium”) or as lead writer (Rihanna’s ”Diamonds”). Soon enough we’ll hear new work, recorded on Britney Spears’s forthcoming album.
But if there’s any justice in the world, next on the radio will be one of the three tracks the bisexual Aussie co-wrote with her gay pal Cheyenne Jackson. Yes, the handsome stage and screen actor, probably best known from Glee and 30 Rock, has ventured into pop music, with his strong debut set I’m Blue, Skies.
”Lend me a hand today,” Jackson pleads on ”Don’t Look at Me,” my pick as the best of the three tracks Sia co-wrote with Jackson for the set. It’s a very Sia-esque minor-key dramatic ballad, with vocal lines that soar and showcase in fine fashion Jackson’s serious pipes. Chances are it will also remind you of old Elton John with its stark piano accompaniment.
I’m Blue, Skies mostly traffics in uplifting sentiment, with buoyant pop songs that draw as much from folk, country and ’70s-era rock as Broadway — yet most of it seems custom-built for today’s pop chart. The set launches with ”Before You,” a sweet ukulele-driven ditty that might be too cloying for some, but would certainly appeal to Jason Mraz fans. Meanwhile, fans of Maroon 5, even Justin Timberlake, would find favor in ”Drive,” a pure pop song with a sweet, soaring melody and lilting guitar lines. Tacked on to the end of the set is a very good, very Avicii-like remix of ”Drive,” from an up-and-coming fellow Swedish dance producer — and Avicii collaborator — Conaire.
In other words, if you don’t hear Cheyenne Jackson on the radio in the near future, it will be a serious oversight.
DOWNLOAD THESE: ”Drive,” ”Not Ready to Let You Go,” ”Don’t Look At Me”
IT’S ALL BUT A GIVEN THAT YOU WON’T HEAR the artist Beach on the radio — but then the lesbian pop provocateur’s aim, like Le Tigre and JD Samson & MEN before her, is decidedly not mainstream success. Which doesn’t mean even mainstream pop lovers, especially those of the queer variety, shouldn’t seek out her appealing new set In Us We Trust.
Just who is Beach? Until this year you might have known the woman born Karen Mould only as Bitch, as part of the Ani DiFranco-promoted folk-rock duo Bitch & Animal, or as a self-released solo recording artist. She also starred as herself in John Cameron Mitchell’s cult favorite Shortbus.
Mould has not only publicly revealed her birth name for the first time this year, she also adopted the moniker Beach because it better represents her sound, which is a bit more electro-pop than the angsty folk-rock she made as Bitch. (It’s also, of course, easier to say in mixed company.) Mould has always been impressive for the way she couches pointed messages and heavy sentiments in melodic tunes with rich instrumentation. If anything, In Us We Trust is her best work yet, featuring her singing and talking/rapping as well as playing her standard, sharp, electric violin as well as other exotic string instruments. Co-produced by Roger Paul Mason, the new set also benefits from its mix in tempo and sentiment, with several songs moving at a club clip, most notably the title track, partly inspired by the ”occupy” movement. It’s a progressive — and feminist — call to arms, but one that puts the party before the fight. Two songs later comes the playful ”The Debbie Gibson Song,” written after Mould verily played a show with the ’80s teen pop queen. There’s nothing bitchy about it.
DOWNLOAD THESE: ”In Us We Trust,” ”The Debbie Gibson Song”
MARQUES TOLIVER IS A CLASSICALLY TRAINED VIOLINIST, and while his striking debut Land of CanAan echoes other R&B artists’ output, both old school and neo-soul, it’s in large part the primacy of violin and other classical instruments in his music that helps him stand out. You just haven’t heard much that sounds like the gay Toliver, who weaves his chamber music background into a soul-pop base. He first came to attention as a busker — or a performer playing for tips — in the New York subway, and you can hear that influence too. Sometimes the music is a bit too jarring, wild and feverish and demanding of attention. But you never doubt Toliver’s sincerity or skill, and truth be told, you can’t stop listening to him. Pop star Adele was an early champion of the 26-year-old Toliver, and you just know you’ll be hearing more from him. And you want to.
DOWNLOAD THESE: ”Magic Look,” ”Find Your Way Back”