THIS WEEK'S SINGLES
SKYLAR GREY FEATURING Eminem
C'Mon Let Me Ride (Interscope)
Up to this point, Skylar Grey has been mainly a featured vocalist, providing the chorus for the likes of Diddy's Coming Home and Dr. Dre's I Need a Doctor. This lead single from her forthcoming debut is an oddly catchy slice of musical satire that sees Grey mocking overly sexualized pop, while Eminem twists Queen's Bicycle Race with an added Pee-Wee Herman laugh. Peculiar and probably polarizing. 'Ö'Ö'Ö
SNOOP DOGG FEATURING THA DOGG POUND & SOOPAFLY
That's My Work (Gangsta Gangsta Online)
It's been mostly diminishing returns for Snoop since about 2005, including most recently, a rather questionable reggae experiment under the guise of Snoop Lion. This new single from his latest mixtape does very little to buck that trend. The echoing keyboard and clackety drum are decent, but the raps are entirely forgettable. 'Ö'Ö1/2
STEVE AOKI & ANGGER DIMAS FEATURING MY NAME IS KAY
Singularity (Dim Mak Inc.)
The recently Grammy-nominated DJ and producer's latest is taken from his It's the End of the World as We Know It EP and features more or less exactly what we've come to expect from him: crunchy beats, energetic electro, and occasionally directionless dubstep. 'Ö'Ö'Ö
-- Reviewed by Steve Adams
-- POP & ROCK
JUNO award winner Serena Ryder's new album, the revelatory Harmony, drives past her customary singer/songwriter style to land her comfortably in the world of intense, modern soul belters. With her warm, inviting five-octave range, a great set of songs and excellent production, Harmony is a pretty incredible listen. Producers Jerrod Bettis and Jon Levine handle the bulk of the instrumentation here, with Ryder dedicated to using her awesome voice to send chills.
For You is a sample-derived take on Nina Simone's version of the Screamin' Jay Hawkins chestnut I Put A Spell On You and it's particularly haunting and evocative. It gets better too. Stompa burns fervently with a persistent repeated piano figure and heavy rhythm that sticks with you. When she hits the bridge on this song she sings as well or better than any of her contemporaries. Don't let the hippie-chick cover art fool you: this is Serena Ryder hitting it hard on urban terrain and it's a mighty hot time in the city. ****
DOWNLOAD THIS: For You
-- Jeff Monk
Automaton (My Favorite Robot Records)
FROM his roots as a techno DJ in Toronto to his time in post-rock act Uncut, to his electro-influenced solo work as Jake Fairley, Automaton feels like a natural progression for the former producer from the Big Smoke. Under his alias Fairmont (first full-length album since 2007's Coloured in Memory), Fairley has created an intriguing batch of tracks that is heavily indebted to the past without being too nostalgic. From the slow-burning Waiting, whose 303 acid undertones work well with druggy, shoegazer feel to the more vocal driven Last Dance, whose soft pads and '80s underpinning could have fit nicely on the soundtrack to Drive, Automaton has familiar elements, but doesn't get stuck looking back. The underrated Canadian producer's return as Fairmont streamlines influences from the indie pop world, modern techno, '80s synth bands, electro, EDM and shoegazer rock into something that continues to hint at something grander. ***1/2
DOWNLOAD THIS: Waiting
-- Anthony Augustine
Erin Propp with Larry Roy
Courage, My Love (Independent)
WINNIPEG singer Erin Propp's voice can be sweet and gentle, ideally suited to a spare instrumentation, or forceful and dramatic, ideally suited to a full band.
Her debut recording showcases both over a dozen songs, seven of which she wrote in collaboration with guitarist (and CD producer) Larry Roy.
Propp's strongest song, He Cries (The Breathing), is a dramatic tale of love, performed with a full band, but more of the pieces here are performed with a sparer accompaniment, sometimes just guitar and bass, that so suits her subtle voice and lyrics.
She does a great job on a couple of chestnuts. The CD opener, Skylark, is a wistful rendition, and Propp nails the bossa fun of O Barquinho (Little Boat).
Courage, My Love, a Propp composition, is a poetic look at heartbreak. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For is a more forceful song highlighting the singer's range.
Roy is a key ingredient to the success of this disc for writing music with Propp, arranging all the tunes and for his exceptional guitar playing.
Propp is a wonderful singer, a talented songwriter and a musician to watch HHHH 1/2
DOWNLOAD THIS: He Cries (The Breathing)
-- Chris Smith
Finally Rich (Glory Boys/ Interscope)
THIS year Interscope Records has a little surprise for us under the tree: Arriving amid the good cheer, the carolling and the mistletoe comes gangsta rapper Chief Keef's studio debut, Finally Rich.
Landing a week before the big day, the album from this 17-year-old Chicago thug offers infectious odes to nihilism and tirades against haters that are as simple-minded and catchy as they are brutal. Musically, however, the album shimmers with power, which makes the dozen songs feel even more dangerous.
Apparently unintentional is Keef's placement of a song called Hallelujah near the beginning of his album in the week leading up to Christmas. The track's not an interpretation of Leonard Cohen's gem; rather, Keef's track, produced by fellow Chicago artist Young Chop, is an offering filled with venom. Supported by bass-heavy exclamation points and the crunk-suggestive skittering high-hat runs, the track features an opening couplet -- "Bitch I'm cooler than a cooler/ Bitch shouts out to my jeweler" -- that suggests about as much effort as he probably put into freshman biology. Rather it's about how, at 17, he's "finally" rich. **1/2 stars
-- Randall Roberts / Los Angeles Times