Hot Tracks

POP

ABOUT JESS

Jess Lee

Warner Music Taiwan

3 stars

Malaysian singer Jess Lee has been dubbed the "Iron Lung Queen" for her impressive vocal prowess.

But on her fourth album, About Jess, she seems intent on reining in the aural fireworks, which is not such a bad thing after the emotional wringers on earlier records such as Love Storm (2016) and Heaven/Cliff (2014).

For example, Fan Pai Qing Ren (Antagonist Lover), which sounds like the title of a bitter love ballad, turns out to be anything but. Over a breezy synth pop melody by Taiwanese singer-songwriter Hsiao Yu, Singaporean lyricist Xiaohan plays with the idea of opposites and Lee gives the song a light, bouncy touch as she sings: "Your kiss hides a bite mark/The colder I am, the hotter you burn."

There seems to be a change in attitude that is encapsulated in the upbeat Jiao Kuai Le Lai Zhao Wo (Ask Happiness To Look For Me), with the lyrics: "Instinct is calling me/I won't stand in its way/Ask happiness to look for me."

Even on love ballads such as Yi Yang De Shi (Still The Same), the winner of the televised singing competition One Million Star in 2010 appears to be pulling her punches.

The more light-hearted fare in this album has opened a broader music path for the 30-year-old singer.

Boon Chan


DANCE POP

PALO SANTO

Years & Years

Polydor

4 stars

There is a confidence about British electro-pop band Years & Years' sophomore effort - and plenty of sensuality as lead singer Olly Alexander explores his sexuality on the 14-track album.

The anthemic pop songs of their debut album Communion (2015) have made way for a noticeably heavier 1990s R&B pop influence and also feature all-star producers.

The track Hallelujah, for instance, benefits from the Midas touch of Greg Kurstin, who produced songs such as Adele's Hello. Vocally, Alexander taps on Michael Jackson-type inflections on the 1980s-inspired track with racing electronic percussion.

Again, on piano-led number Hypnotized, there are bits where he sounds uncannily like the King of Pop.

But under the veneer of dance pop, there is a vulnerability that tells of Alexander's journey - from the search for "somebody like you that I could move to this to, until our bodies are singing hallelujah" on Hallelujah, to petty jibes at an ex on Lucky Escape ("From all of the pictures I've seen of the two of you, is he a model? I'm not surprised, you're so vain").

If You're Over Me, which also features in a 15-minute short film that accompanied the album release, is a shimmering pop number whose bubbly exterior belies pain-ridden lyrics like "Oh, one minute you say we're a team, then you're telling me you can't breathe, well you should set me free, baby, if you're over me".

The self-awareness from the first record remains, but this time around, Alexander has fully embraced the spotlight and is unafraid to express himself.

Anjali Raguraman

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2018, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe