Hot Tracks

New albums by Alfred Sim (left) and Charli XCX.

Project SuperStar winner Alfred Sim has turned heads for his debut EP because there are pictures of him in the buff on the cover and in the lyric booklet.

The songs, unfortunately, are not exactly revealing - there are fewer singer-songwriter confessionals and more middle-of-the-road songs with titles such as Lover and Glimmer.

At least the rock-tinged ballads showcase his slightly raspy, powerful pipes.

His voice soars with optimism and idealism on My Friend: "Insisting on the right and ordinary can also be resplendent/Carved on our hearts is a kind of strength."

On the duet, Proud Of Love, he splits lyric-writing and singing duties with his singer-songwriter wife, Tay Kewei, and it sounds tailor-made for the weddings they have performed at over the years.

At the same time, it is also a sweetly personal track as the title in Mandarin combines characters from both their names.



    Alfred Sim

    Cross Ratio Entertainment

    3/5 stars

It would have been a stronger debut if there had been greater variety to the music.

Sim should definitely expose himself to more genres.

Boon Chan

Known for her bubblegum pop exploits in mainstream music, bad- girl pop singer Charli XCX has started her label, Vroom Vroom Recordings, which shares the same name as its first release - a four-track EP.



    Charli XCX

    Vroom Vroom Recordings

    3.5/5 stars

Compared with her Billboard- friendly offerings of the past, the new material is far more left field, rave-friendly and borderline tacky, but still fascinating.

She raps on opening track Vroom Vroom - or attempts to - but it is her trademark British accent and charming bratty attitude that win you over.

The braggadocious rapping continues on Trophy - which samples the line "I want that trophy" from the 1994 movie Pulp Fiction - contains infectious synths, hand claps and an electronic dance music-style drop before the chorus.

Paradise employs Alvin And The Chipmunks-style voice effects on her vocals throughout, over a trancey build-up. The weirdness is almost immediately negated by a sweet, melodious verse from fellow Brit Hannah Diamond ("You give me butterflies, when we touch I feel the rush").

Album closer Secret (Shh) finally slows it down after all the high-tempo predecessors, but it does not feel as convincingly weird or as intense as the other tracks.

It might take a few listens to get into it, but her unabashed take on pop is refreshing in the world of manufactured popular music.

Anjali Raguraman

British pianist James Brawn continues on his labour of love with the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas and reaches the halfway mark.



    James Brawn, piano MSR Classics 1467 & 1468

    4.5/5 stars

While keeping the mature and more profound utterances to later instalments, the earlier and nicknamed sonatas benefit from his direct approach, that of Beethoven as a fearless communicator.

Volume 3 begins with Sonata In A Major (Op. 2 No. 2) and continues with the "Tempest" Sonata In D Minor (Op. 31 No. 2). Both possess a sturm und drang (storm of stress) temperament that was to make Beethoven such a rudely fascinating character. The "Les Adieux" Sonata In E Flat Major (Op. 81a) was his only programmatic sonata, with an abundance of joy, sorrow and exhilaration thrown into the mix.

The longest sonata in Volume 4 is the "Pastoral" Sonata In D Major (Op. 28), so named because of its bucolic quality and movements recalling country dances. Its counterpart is the "simple" Sonata In G Major (Op. 79), another work with German folk influences.

The balance is filled with short sonatas such as the late E Minor (Op. 90), with its glorious Schubertian song-like finale. Brawn plays these beautifully, imbued with the quintessential Beethovenian spirit that is hard to resist.

Chang Tou Liang

Music in the 20th century saw a multiplicity of styles and -isms.



    Emma Johnson, clarinet

    John Lenehan, piano Champs Hill 084

    4.5/5 stars

Atonalism and serialism were embraced by the academic and compositional establishment, but alienated casual listeners.

This survey of 20th-century clarinet music written from the 1930s to the 1950s by British clarinettist Emma Johnson steers clear of those, keeping tonality close to her heart.

Already familiar to listeners is the music of Sergei Prokofiev's Flute Sonata (1943, also his Violin Sonata No. 2), which sounds totally idiomatic and lyrical for the clarinet in her arrangement.

There are fascinating contrasts to be found in the Sonatas of Paul Hindemith (1939) and Nino Rota (1945), the astringency and counterpoint of the German juxtaposed with the more melodious and commercial style of the Italian, better known for his film music.

Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski's Dances Preludes (1955) makes the best case for folk-inspired modernism, while the spirituality of Olivier Messiaen's Abyss Of The Birds from Quartet For The End Of Time (1941) and Vocalise-Etude (1935) elevate music to a higher and more ethereal plain.

Johnson has a rich, mellow sound and performs with true feeling and sympathy, which are well captured in the marvellous recording.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2016, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe