Two of my long-time favourites refuse to make a crap album six and five releases into their careers respectively; a Peruvian-American queen of exotica with a crazy vocal range.
Sarah Blasko – Depth of Field
Sarah Blasko’s remarkably solid run continues with more excellent chamber pop. I wouldn’t say that she’s ever made a truly great album, but there’s no denying the sheer songwriting talent and graceful off-kilter arrangements she’s been able to display over and over again. Depth of Field is rather more on the melancholic side than usual with a lovely mix of electronica, piano and lush strings. She never exactly pumped out party anthems, but you’re left to wonder if some personal dark times have inspired this album. As always, Blasko’s sublime, vulnerable vocals, somehow simultaneously clear and husky, are the main attraction.
St. Vincent – Masseduction
St. Vincent is a magnificent weirdo and her fifth album could be my favourite thing she’s done yet. It’s easily her poppiest release; her past albums haven’t lacked memorable melodies and choruses, but Masseduction is chock-full of big, glorious instant hooks, and her trademark guitar is pushed to the background to make way for some fabulous electro-pop and stark piano balladry.
Lyrically, some of the songs are achingly sad and dark: Happy Birthday Johnny is dedicated to an old friend on a downward spiral; New York is about a loss of a friend or lover – “New York isn’t New York without you love” – and Young Lover hints at suicide. Other songs, such as the maddeningly catchy Pills, poke fun at the modern society: “pills to wake, pills to sleep, pills pills pills every day of the week; pills to walk, pills to think, pills pills pills for the family.” It’s the best kind of record you can listen to over and over and find new things to love every time.
Yma Sumac – Queen of Exotica
And now something completely different, a collection from a soprano singer who, during the 1950s, was one of the most famous performers in the genre of exotica. According to wikipedia, exotica is basically a form of easy-listening lounge music that draws on world music, especially of South Pacific, but aiming at fantasy rather than gritty authenticity. Nevermind the music though, here it’s mostly an agreeable background for Yma Sumac’s truly outstanding voice, which spanned at least four and a half octaves (thanks again wikipedia), going from death-metal growl to the high pitch that could probably shatter glass. Her singing is probably not to everyone’s taste, but I like the sheer unpredictability of her trills and her voice has a nice warm quality to it. Musically, some songs are more memorable than others, but a few wouldn’t be out of place in an old-school Bond movie as James Bond walks into a bar.