Sound Bites

Album review: Blood Orange reveals the emotional lives of those in New York's underbelly in Cupid Deluxe

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 21, 2013

Earlier this year, prolific actor James Franco paired up with documentarian Travis Mathews to release Interior. Leather Bar, a reimagining of what went on behind the controversial 1980 film Cruising, starring Al Pacino.

Prurient curiosity aside, their docu-fiction approach is fascinating in how it attempts to unlock the process of creating the atmosphere of the late 1970s/1980s gay S&M and leather bars of New York - with varying degrees of success.

Dev Hynes also shares a similar interest in recapturing the underbelly of the Big Apple of the same era - but bringing it to these present times.

For Cupid Deluxe, his second album as Blood Orange, the Texan-born Brit-raised polymath continues to show comradeship with the city's vagabonds, including prostitutes, gays and transgender denizens - but by zeroing in on their emotional lives.

Like singer Antony Hegarty, a Brit-born New Yorker, he flirts with gender and lends voice to the disenfranchised.

"If giving left me lonely/If giving was my friend… I keep in all the sense/But now you're feeling empty," Hynes purrs over Chamakay, switching between a fragile tenor and an airless whisper over music best described as lo-fi disco.

Slick saxophones pervade minor chords. Machismo has been replaced by androgyny. Prince, Fleetwood Mac and Hall And Oates are thoroughly deconstructed.

As in numerous call-and-response dialogues that pepper the album, Caroline Polachek of Boulder, Colorado, synth-pop group Chairlift echoes Hynes' words, a fairy godmother who's waltzed in from Tony Kushner's play Angels In America.

In No Right Thing, David Longstreth, of Brooklyn indie-rockers Dirty Projectors, goes for the jugular. "I've been, you've been my everything, and I've seen your worst baby/This is what it comes to/Knowing we're broken," Longstreth confesses over skittering drums and what might well be a riff cribbed from Mike And The Mechanics' ode-to-fathers classic The Living Years.

Heartburn and redemption underpin such moving R&B duets as It Is What It Is. Hynes and girlfriend, Samantha Urbani, frontwoman of Brooklyn dance- punk band Friends, support each other come what may.

"Time will tell if you can figure this and work it out/No one's waiting for you anyway so don't be stressed now/Even if it's something that you've had your eye on, it is what it is," Urbani sings gently to her boyfriend, who has been suffering from panic attacks since he was a child.

Such is the wisdom of Hynes' velvet- smooth aesthetics: Life may be tough, but we'll get through it together.


  ST 20131121 KCSOUND21VANDET 3929537m

SINGAPORE TREATS

R&B/Electronica

VANDETTA

Vandetta

Syndicate

****

Who: Vandetta is the stage name of Vanessa Fernandez, once a member of Urban Xchange and Parking Lot Pimp, and now one half of a duo with Jason Tan called Octover.

What she actually sounds like: Lovely. Could Vandetta be Singapore's answer to the parade of thrillingly modern, ethereal trans-Atlantic R&B singers such as SZA, FKA twigs and Jhene Aiko? Based on this debut EP, you expect exciting things to come from her.

She allows her soulful voice to be splintered and restitched in a magically spectral way. Myne is a masterclass in vocal shading, squelches and synths burbling, while Fly lifts off into the ether with wisps and glitches.

Advice: Do the thing you do and you'll be just fine.

Vandetta is available on iTunes, Juno, Deezer, Amazon and eMusic.


ST 20131121 KCSOUND21LIZZ 3929544m

Dance pop

YOU GOT ME SPINNIN' ROUND

Lizz

Self-released

**

Who: You heard her drippy folk-pop ballad Perfect Dream on YouTube, and so this comes as a shocker: Looking at the big Afro and towering disco stilettos for her new single, the Singapore singer has transformed herself into Donna Summer.

What she actually sounds like: You Got Me Spinnin' Round is David Guetta- meets-Black Eyed Peas electro-house shtick with an arch eyebrow. The beats go thump-thump and you jiggle.

Slickly produced by Peter Lee Shih Shiong and arranged by Martin Tang, the track is executed to a T, and there's nothing more to it.

Advice: Identity crisis aside, Lizz clearly has plenty of drive. Just direct it towards solid songwriting with a unique point of view.

You Got Me Spinnin' Around is available on iTunes, Amazon and on lizzmusic.com


ST 20131121 KCSOUND21ALCHEM 3929539m

Worldbeat/Neo-soul

DREAMS & ALCHEMY

Ootini!

Wa! Music Records

***

Who: A home-grown collective comprising mainly sessionists, these folks flit from tango to prog-rock to dangdut with head-scratching ferocity. And yes, they named themselves after an exclamation by the Jawa, those rodent-like beings from Star Wars.

What they actually sound like: A 21st-century update of Culture Vulture, but more globalised. Dream & Alchemy, pitched as a soundtrack to an unmade movie, sounds like a deadly mix of fairground carousel (Lotus Hunt), Cirque du Soleil and the off-time doodling of neo-soul goddesses Erykah Badu or Janelle Monae (The Alchemist Dream).

Advice: The songs meander rather than lift you up. Arising has moments of clarity, as singer Charmaine Pelaez gamely rides tricky guitar grooves with sheer elan. More of these, please.

Dreams & Alchemy is available on CD Baby, tiny.cc/ootinimusic and ootini.bandcamp.com


 ST 20131121 KCSOUND21UNCOVE 3929525m

A cappella

UNCOVERED: A TREASURE TROVE OF ORIGINAL WORKS

Key Elements

Jasongs Music Service

*** 1/2

Who: Local a cappella stalwarts Key Elements fine-tune their craft after more than a decade.

What they actually sound like: Perfect harmony - like the cast on American sitcom Friends, they genuinely sound like they love to hang out with one another.

(When The Storm Is Over) The Sun Will Shine is such a beatific singalong - alto, baritone, bass, soprano, tenor and vocal percussion glide along in a luxurious caress - you wonder why the National Environment Agency hasn't snapped up this tune for its next campaign.

Advice: Their easy, breezy personas belie their professional ethic. Don't lose it.

Uncovered is available on iTunes, CD Baby and Amazon.

kaichai@sph.com.sg


ST 20131121 KCSOUND21BLOODC 3929538m

Album of the weekCUPID DELUXE Blood Orange Domino****