It is impossible to listen to Taiwanese band WonFu without a smile playing on your lips. Always full of sunshine and good cheer, their songs are just the ticket for these hazy times.
"If you dare to sing out loud, someone will listen/Use my voice to bring joy to people's hearts," they sing on the retro dance pop of the Minnan title track.
On I'm Shameless, they get a little cheeky, though it never gets more heated than PG territory: "The sunshine of summer makes you want to strip naked/A beer in one hand, an ice cream in the other."
PAPA I WANT TO BE A STAR
Since their last album WONderFU in 2013, there have been major life changes among the band's members. Lead vocalist Hsiao Min and bassist Twiggy got hitched and are now the proud parents of a baby daughter.
The lullaby Cuckoo is dedicated to the little one, as Hsiao Min coos to her: "Don't cry, don't cry, don't wrinkle your skin/Cradle you in my arms and rock you gently."
The arrival of a baby seems to have triggered greater introspection as well.
After the band coast through surf rock, bossa nova and funk, On And On finds them in a contemplative mid-tempo mood. Life is a giant central station and there are comings and goings, missed stops and slow trains. Through it all, "family always gives me strength" and it ends the album on a heartwarming note.
Ex-tween starlet Selena Gomez sets the tenor of her career on Revival, the slow-burn title track that introduces her latest album of the same name.
"The light inside me is bursting, shining. It's my time to butterfly," she sings, to the steady thud of drums and a pulsating beat.
In a year when her contemporaries such as Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus have wildly reinvented themselves, Revival marks the 23-year-old's long overdue metamorphosis, a moulting of the Disney trappings that shaped her early career.
The selection of tracks, mostly dance and R&B numbers that ape the dark, slick and sensual sounds popularised by The Weeknd, are a far cry from her peppy 2013 solo debut Stars Dance.
Yet, despite Gomez's declarations that this album would have her personal touch, Revival's curation feels disappointingly hodge-podge, with Top 40 bait jammed alongside confessional tracks, with little in common to thread them together.
Vocally, Gomez has long been the weakest among her peers, and Revival, while smoothing over that problem with savvy production, is not a step up.
On most songs, she murmurs and whispers breathily, with a lot of cooing and near-shouting in between.
That being said, there is much hit potential here, in particular, lead single Good For You guest starring rapper A$AP Rocky, a bewitching club slow jam in which Gomez compares herself to Midas and marquise diamonds.
Another hit with the stamp of its maker all over it is second single Same Old Love, written by British singer-songwriter Charli XCX, with a catchy refrain that echoes the latter's chart-topper Boom Clap.
Worthy of mention, too, is the gospel-inflected closing track Rise, where Gomez exhorts one to "rise with your mind and make your higher power proud".
But none of the slower numbers comes close to matching her career best - the understated, vulnerable 2014 smash The Heart Wants What It Wants, about her stormy on-off romance with pop star Justin Bieber.
Gomez coyly steers clear of naming Bieber, but tracks like Camouflage ("Fortress around my heart/You were mine just yesterday/Now I have no idea who you are") are littered with oblique references to him.
In the opening line to the album, she says: "I'm reborn in every moment, so who knows what I'll become."
Indeed, Revival only tells us Gomez has left her past behind. Problem is, we are not quite sure where she is headed yet.
Lee Jian Xuan
KAPUSTIN PIANO WORKS
Sukyeon Kim, Piano
Piano Classics 0082
The jazz-influenced piano works of Ukrainian composer Nikolai Kapustin (born 1937) are beginning to appear with regularity in concert and recital programmes, not just because of their novelty value. These are in fact some of the most sophisticated efforts in a genuine synthesis of classical forms and the jazz idiom.
As with J.S. Bach's compositions, every piece of Kapustin's is carefully notated and there is no room for improvisation.
This hour-long recital disc by young Korean pianist Sukyeon Kim distils some of his most popular pieces and makes an excellent introduction to Kapustin's style.
His free-wheeling Variations Op. 41, based on the opening bassoon theme from Stravinsky's The Rite Of Spring, is an ideal starting point. For contrasts between slow and fast, the Andante Op. 58 resembles an aria improvised, a musical striptease underway in a smoky nightclub, while the Toccatina Op. 36 is a tightly woven encore-like showpiece.
For sheer fireworks, a selection from the Etudes Op. 40 rivals those straight-laced numbers by Chopin. The longest work in this programme is the four-movement Second Sonata Op. 54, the best-known of Kapustin's 20something sonatas, while his transcription of the popular Aquarela Do Brasil (or simply Brasil) by Ary Bartoso is simply delicious. Kim performs with a light touch, which adds to the sheer spontaneity of these exciting performances.
Chang Tou Liang
RARITIES OF PIANO MUSIC AT SCHLOSS VOR HUSUM 2014
The week-long annual piano festival held every August in the northern German town of Husum has to be the world's most unique. It highlights piano works of obscurity and those of unjustly neglected composers. The pianists who get invited are excellent artists.
This disc of highlights and encores from the 2014 festival is as intriguing as it is wide-ranging. Even the Beethoven performed is hardly well-known: His Fantasia Op. 77, spoofed by Shostakovich in his First Piano Concerto, is performed with flair by young German Joseph Moog.
Japanese pianist Hiroaki Takenouchi chips in with the Nostalgia Waltz by Wim Muller and Prelude For Left Hand by Ernest Walker, both getting elegant readings.
Pierre Zimmerman's Variations On A Favourite Romance By Blangini could be better known if not for its cumbersome title, as could Elie Delaborde's Etude After A Petite Waltz Of Dolmetsch, which does not faze the Italian firebrand Vincenzo Maltempo. Andrew Zolinski plays ragtime, but who could have suspected Stravinsky and modernist Stefan Wolpe as the composers?
One gem not to be missed is Nikolai Medtner's Primavera, a lesser-known of his Forgotten Melodies Op. 39, from British pianist Mark Viner. To close, Cuban virtuoso Jorge Luis Prats offers Villa-Lobos' delightful Broken Little Music Box, infectious toe-tapping music in Felix Guerrero's Suite Havanaise and dance miniatures by compatriot Ernesto Lecuona.
Chang Tou Liang