With its fresh jazz-pop sound, Taiwanese singer-songwriter Yen-j's (right) 2010 debut Thank You For Your Greatness is still my favourite among his albums, which subsequently drifted towards the middle of the road - less jazz and more pop.
Thankfully, there are sparks of that original playful inventiveness once more on his fifth album Thanks Giving.
The piano-backed Nothing Is Impossible would not sound out of place on Greatness.
A child-like sense of joy and wonder suffuses the opening track Coin-Eating Tiger (co-written with a mysterious Assistant A), which deftly uses humorous imagery about a coin-eating tiger machine (a phrase which refers to a slot machine) and the repetition of the lines "So love is like fireworks" and "So dreams are like planes".
Also making an impression is his buoyant duet Lightly with Taiwan- born, California-bred newcomer Peace, whose lightly husky vocals remind me of Kimberley Chen. She is definitely one to look out for.
Yen-j B’in Music International
3 1/2 STARS
I am less enamoured of his other love songs though. Tracks such as You Are My Everything suggest that he is a stronger writer than he is a singer, while Tacit Understanding flirts with being cutesy.
Still, it is nice to see him reaching for "something real" as he spells out on the track Something, even if it can sometimes be "Something empty/Something lost inside of me".
And there is nothing middling about that at all.
Carly Rae Jepsen
4 1/2 STARS
Carly Rae Jepsen, the emerald- eyed Canadian behind the 2012 exuberant, coquettish mega-smash Call Me Maybe, is back. But as the title of her latest album suggests, the 29-year-old singer-songwriter is seeking something deeper this time. And this collection of 15 tracks could be the album to cement her status as a bona fide pop star.
Recruiting hit-making writers and producers such as Dev Hynes and Sia Furler for the project, she has produced a compelling work of contemporary synth-pop tossed with splashes of R&B and retro. It is superior to her two previous albums (Tug Of War, 2008; and Kiss, 2012).
On the album's lead single, the syrupy, teasing I Really Like You, she channels shades of 1980s pop queen Cyndi Lauper's classic Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.
And while she lacks the power and soul of Lauper, she has mastery over her limited vocal strengths. On Your Type, a Kelly Clarkson-esque renunciation of a relationship, she starts off sweet and breathy before building into a wounded snarl in the chorus ("I'm not going to pretend that I'm the type of girl you call more than a friend").
She may never have a runaway hit again like Call Me Maybe. But with Emotion, she has put out polished songs that will keep listeners coming back for more.
Lee Jian Xuan
MAHLER SYMPHONY NO. 7
Symphony Orchestra/ Gustavo Dudamel Deutsche Grammophon 479 1700
Slowly but surely, Venezuelan superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel is putting out his own cycle of Mahler symphonies on the German yellow label, shared by the orchestras he directs, the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Mahler's Seventh Symphony (1905) is his third Mahler recording and, in certain ways, the best so far. Unlike the Ninth Symphony where he took an expansive view, his vision of the Seventh is relatively short-winded, clocking in at just under 79 minutes.
Although it is often considered the most problematic of Mahler's 10 symphonies, Dudamel is not bogged down by its details.
The opening movement is well-judged and one feels the tension only after it has been released, the detumescence being as breathtaking as it is hypnotic. The moods in the three central movements are varied enough to sustain interest, while the rumbling finale does not ramble but gets to the point soon enough.
Think that Dudamel is nothing but all flash and machismo? This sumptuous live recording shows he is a thinking and feeling maestro as well.
Chang Tou Liang
PROKOFIEV WORKS FOR PIANO
Abdel Rahman El Bacha, Piano Mirare 165
This is an excellent introduction to the early piano works of Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953), composed between 1912 and 1917 before his self- imposed exile to the West during the Bolshevik Revolution.
All the elements that defined his musical style are in evidence. These include the relentless motor-like, industrial juggernaut that is his fearsome Toccata Op. 11, to be distinguished from the searing dissonances and grotesqueries that is the Sarcasms Op. 17.
The Ten Pieces Op. 12 have titles which suggest a neo-baroque suite of dances, but each is coloured with Prokofiev's trademark wit as viewed through a kaleidoscope.
The two greatest works here are his Second Sonata Op. 14, which combines all these traits in four short movements, and the 20 gems that make up the Visions Fugitives Op. 22.
Like Chopin's preludes, these diminutive aphorisms are a microcosm of Prokofiev's drolleries, rarefied musical thoughts and unique sound world. Lebanese pianist Abdel Rahman El Bacha is a consummate virtuoso who balances technical virtuosity with an innate sense of proportion and poetry.
Chang Tou Liang