CD reviews: Dan Deacon; Kelly Clarkson; Imagine Dragons
As many Clockenflappers will attest, electro-pop composer Dan Deacon’s live shows are legendary for their insanity. The classically trained party prince creates colourful, playful tunes that crave to be experienced. It’s hypnotic music for psychedelic dancing lemmings.
Gliss Riffer is the Baltimore musician’s 12th album and takes a different approach to his recent large-ensemble recordings. Here Deacon self-produces and selfperforms, and returns to the more buoyant pop compositions of his 2007 breakthrough album, Spiderman of the Rings.
The eight bright and sunny tracks here are more concise than the lush orchestral electronica of 2012’s America, and they bounce with a similar vibe to that of his earlier material. The cascading patterns and layered instrumentals feel less claustrophobic; the chaotic waves of synth and robotic sounds suggest a blissful mania. There’s a stronger vocal presence, too: both the heavily treated male and the soft female vocals on the electro-disco lead single, Feel the Lightning, are Deacon’s. There are enough magical hooks to drag you to the next party.
Piece by Piece
The kaleidoscopic cover art of Piece by Piece, the seventh studio album by Grammy Award winner Kelly Clarkson, drops a pretty hefty hint as to what to expect from the follow-up to 2013's Wrapped in Red. Having sold more than 25 million albums worldwide, the first American Idol winner is clearly in no mood to jump off the lucrative 1980s pop wagon.
Slick and shiny lead single Heartbeat Song kicks things off in upbeat radio-friendly fashion, interchangeable with any of her previous mega-hits, before the Sia-penned empowerment anthem, Invincible, soars into inoffensive mediocrity. Take You High begins with a slow melody before the club beat drops and the vocals go all ravey for a few seconds, with Clarkson belting out another huge chorus: "When your angels fall out of the sky/ I'll be the wings that make you fly/ When you come down/ I'll take you high."
Although there's no denying Clarkson's vocal prowess, these bubblegum pop tracks - except for Run Run Run, a stand-out duet with John Legend - blend quickly into a sanitised blandness. For music, the 1980s were never this forgettable.
Smoke + Mirrors
For the past two years Imagine Dragons have won the American Music Award for favourite alternative artist. Now, alternative to what I'm not sure, as their brand of inoffensive rock couldn't be more commercially middle of the road if it was covered in asphalt and had a double white line painted down the middle of it.
What the Las Vegas quartet are, are a chart-topping, sell-out stadium success, their 2012 Night Visions propelling them to mega-stardom with an album crammed with arena pop anthems and rousing choruses. This is rock'n'roll drawn up in the boardroom and Smoke + Mirrors is indeed much, much more of the same unit-shifting slickness.
Hit single I Bet My Life tries to out-twee the Mumford family, the bloated hip-hop swagger of Gold sounds exactly like a white '80s rock band trying to rap. On the opener, Shots, frontman Dan Reynolds sings: "I'm sorry for everything, oh, everything I've done." Maybe he's referring to the insipid chain gang track, Polaroid. Maybe the excessive hand claps on Smoke + Mirrors are just the record execs cheering. Apparently you can polish a turd.