Modern Tonic — a daily email that delivers gay-approved pop culture gems (before they've been co-opted by everyone else) — presents a weekly music update here on Towleroad.
Since we’re off next week for an end-of-the-summer blowout (or a very long nap, we haven’t decided), today’s column covers releases for both August 24 and August 31. We’ll be back September 7 for a fall preview so top secret we don’t even know what’s on it yet.
Just what kind of Teenage Dream is Katy Perry having on her follow-up to the platinum-selling One of the Boys? It’s unquestionably a wet one since Perry’s doing way more than just kissing a girl on these 12 radio-ready gems. On the Dr. Luke-produced “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” Perry gets kicked out of clubs, streaks in a park, skinny-dips, joins a ménage à trois, has a warrant put out for her arrest and conveniently blacks out. And that’s just one song! “Peacock” is a less-than-subtle demand for guys to show her their goods – ‘let me see your peacock-cock-cock!” – set to a beat that sounds like Toni Basil’s “Mickey.” Her hot sex life with comedian/actor Russell Brand gets epic treatment in the punk-pop thrasher “Hummingbird Heartbeat.” And she even has time for a set-closing power ballad “Not Like the Movies,” guided to an emotional peak by P!nk’s producer Greg Wells. Of course, being a born-and-bred California girl like the ones in her Snoop Dogg-rapping mega-hit “California Gurls,” Perry’s dreams are sun-kissed and casual. And who needs deeper meanings when the songs are this shiny, alluring and downright fun?
If Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream is the California id of the high school set, The Weepies’ Be My Thrill is its folksy older cousin – an easy rocking and effortlessly rolling set of clear-weather, smooth-sailing alt-tunes. The Topanga Canyon husband-and-wife duo of Steve Tannen and Deb Talan have had a bustling few years. They had a baby in 2007, released an album – Hideaway – in 2008 whose tune “Can’t Go Back Now” was prominently featured in an Obama-Biden campaign ad, then wrote and recorded this follow-up with an infant underfoot. Along the way, they’ve quietly amassed a hefty following with record sales in the hundreds of thousands, and it’s easy to hear why. The title track channels SoCal harmonies as breezy and joyful as classic Bangles. “Add My Effort” shuffles along like Rilo Kiley in Fleetwood Mac overdrive. And the quieter tunes – such as “Please Speak Well of Me” and “I Was Made for Sunny Days” – showcase Talan’s gorgeously direct vocals. Most new parents spend their precious free time catching up on sleep. These folks are planning a countrywide tour starting in October.
If you’re looking for the emotional carnage from Fantasia Barrino’s recent accidental overdose on her third album Back to Me, you’ll have to wait for season two of her reality show Fantasia for Real. The third-season American Idol winner’s third release is a mostly upbeat tour through R&B styles, from girl-group (the finger-snapping “Collard Greens & Cornbread”) to smooth-grooving 70s soul (“Teach Me”) through quiet storm balladry (“Bittersweet”) to Alicia Keys’ mid-tempo style of modern pop (“Who’s Been Lovin’ You”). She even includes a track from her critically acclaimed turn in Broadway’s The Color Purple (“I’m Here”). Her vocals are strong and controlled – the powerful sound of a woman falling in love. The messy fallout of discovering she was the “other woman” of a married man will either tear her apart, produce some fantastic future music or – most likely – both.
Annie Lennox has a new record label (Decca in the U.S.) and will release a holiday album, A Christmas Cornucopia, on November 23.
George Michael: Still making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Cee-Lo Green's (Gnarls Barkley) razor sharp revenge song "F*** You" (watch/listen here; VIDEO/AUDIO NSFW) is officially a YouTube sensation. The actual video debuts later this week; the single will be available October 4.
Brit band Hurts, whose single "Wonderful Life" has us feverish with anticipation for their soon-to-be-released debut album, Happiness, cover Kylie's moody classic "Confide In Me." Minogue herself provides guest vocals on album track "Devotion."
Eighties pop star and plastic surgery-aficionado Pete Burns (of Dead or Alive) has unveiled the cover art for his forthcoming solo single, "Never Marry an Icon."
Björk's new video and song for a Moomins (series of popular European children's books and comic strips) animated film has debuted.
Jane Wiedlin has released her new single "Big Gay Ice Cream Song," an homage to Doug Quint's roving soft-serve ice cream truck in NYC. The song premiered this past Sunday in San Francisco when Quint joined forces with local ice cream powerhouse Humphry Slocombe to unveil a joint "Tranny Smackdown" sundae.
NME's 50 best new bands of 2010.
Long-rocking sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson return on August 31 with Red Velvet Car, Heart’s 13th studio album and a return to the days of Dog & Butterfly and Little Queen, especially the “Barracuda” riff of the new “WTF.”
Bi-coastal jam band !!! (pron. Chk Chk Chk) release their fourth album, Strange Weather, Isn’t It? – today. With nine polished grooves like NPR-staple “AM/FM” and the scratchy Gang of 4 guitars of “Even Judas Gave Jesus a Kiss.”
Syracuse indie kids Ra Ra Riot drop their sophomore album The Orchard today – 10 tracks that split the difference between jumpy Vampire Weekend mania (“Boy”) and a lushly melodic strain of chamber-pop (“Foolish”).
One-man Belgian electronic act Styrofoam (aka Arne Van Petegem) follows-up his delightful album A Thousand Words with a stop-gap EP, Get Smarter taste of his forthcoming October release Disco Synthesizers & Daily Tranquilizers. The glitchy B-side “Kids On Acid” features former Sex Pistol Paul Cook on pounding drums.
The double-disc revue Sondheim on Sondheim is a consummate musical-theater primer and a paean to the master composer starring Barbara Cook and Vanessa Williams (both pictured). Featuring tunes from Gypsy, Follies and other classics, the August 31 release could be named Now That’s What I Call…Broadway!
Also out today: Margaret Cho – Cho Dependent; Randy Travis – I’ll Fly Away; Usher – Versus; Eels – Tomorrow Morning; Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan – Hawk; Mogwai – Special Moves; JP & Chrissie and the Fairground Boys – Fidelity!
Zarif ftrg. Mz Bratt – “Box of Secrets”
The British songwriter of Scottish-Iranian-Jewish descent is one happy lady on her snappy single from her debut of the same name. In the clip she dons male drag for a 40s-style card game/dance sequence and, at one point, looks like La Roux thrashing in front of lasers.
Kids of 88 – “Downtown”
The New Zealand New Wavers are colorfully geometric on this clip that’s like graffiti come to life. The tune’s as hyper and sweet as you’d expect from a debut called Sugarpills.
Rosanna – “Waterfall”
Let the Robyn influence commence! This Swedish singer sounds like her countrywoman while borrowing Siouxsie Sioux’s drumbeat from “Kiss Them for Me” for a billowy pop tune awash in, literally, heavenly clouds.
Alesha Dixon – “Drummer Boy”
This hyper video employs whip-fast editing for a drum-heavy R&B tune as rhythmic and pagan as Florence + the Machine. From Dixon’s forthcoming third release The Entertainer.