Dig These Discs :: Jilette Johnson, Empire Of The Sun, Sylvester, CSS, India.Arie

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Monday Jul 1, 2013

Pride was a blast, so keep the spirit alive with the greatest hits of gay icon extraordinaire Sylvester, including his seminal hit, "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real." Newcomer Jillette Johnson sings pro-gay anthems in her new release, and stunning stalwart Indie.Arie releases another exception album of R&B hits. Aussies outfit Empire of the Sun drops a nice set of futuristic electro grooves, as do the Sao Paulo quartet of CSS, who blend electro/dubstep with humorous lyrics for a one-of-a-kind sensation. Sink into summer fun with Dig These Discs!

"Sylvester Mighty Real: Greatest Dance Hits (Sylvester)

If not for Sylvester, would anyone today even be gay? Hyperbole, you might say, but it’s hardly overstepping to say that the music of disco icon Sylvester was a sweeping force in creating how the LGBT and drag communities currently exist. Without Sylvester, there would be no Prince, no Boy George and certainly no Ru Paul! He rocketed to number one on the dance charts in 1978 with his dance-floor anthem "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real," and kept making hits that spanned genres like gospel, blues, glam, R&B, rock and jazz. Over the course of his career, he racked up 24 top 40 singles, many of which can be found on this greatest hits album. It all starts with the title track, which rocks out at almost eight minutes. Even longer is the second track "Dance (Disco Heat)," a fast-moving but lesser-known disco hit. "Everybody is a star," Sylvester sings in "Stars," a super hot dance tune that is the "Born This Way" of the ’70s. His percussive-heavy hit "Can’t Stop Dancing" is a love song for the dance floor, and "Changes" uses the same drumbeat with a spare intro and a message of maturity. Sylvester drives the shimmering, funky sound of disco intros home in "Over and Over," a fun song that ends with clap tracks and the sounds of a wild party. The funk gets deep in "I Need Somebody to Love Tonight," a cruising song if there ever was one. The use of distortion synthesizers was a watershed moment for the crazy ’80s. The ’70s porn shimmer sound comes to the top in the sassy, "Body Strong," and Sylvester finishes the album with a remix of the title song. Sylvester was a proud gay icon, refusing to be anything but himself. He was subversive, sassy and inarguably authentic. His life was cut short in 1988 when he died from AIDS at the age of 41, but his contribution to the pantheon of gay icons is everlasting.
(Fantasy/Concord Music Group)

"Water in a Whale" (Jillette Johnson)

The Big Apple’s little treasure Jillette Johnson has been performing live venues in NYC since she was 12, and even turned down a spot on NBC’s "The Voice" to focus on her career. The effort was worth it, as she releases her debut album, "Water in a Whale." Johnson has been compared to Adele for her vocal stylings, and to Fiona Apple for her confessional style of songwriting. Together, it’s a great package. Timpani drums roll in her first track, "Torpedo," with Johnson defying tragedy to do its work, singing, "I will not lay down in the road/ I will not make it easy." It is very much in the vein of Dido’s "White Flag." She channels Tori Amos in "Little Earthquakes" in her track "Flood the Ocean," and the piano work resonates like tunes of that era in "When The Ship Goes Down." Her breathy voice gets harmonic echo distortion in "Last Bus Out," yet another addition to the recent onslaught of "sweater" songs. She goes dark with her last-ditch effort to save a relationship in "Pauvre Coeur." "We don’t get drunk on Tuesday nights anymore," she bemoans in the growing-up song "Peter Pan," and sings, "Love me, love me not, I’m under the wheels of your juggernaut," in the unrequited love song, "Basset Hound." She looks for support in "Heathen" and croons, "you are the only color" in her B-side track "Box of Crayons." Johnson is also an activist, supporting the anti-bullying campaign Hey U.G.L.Y. (unique, gifted, loveable you) and has written the song, "Cameron" for this new album. With lyrics like, "Cameron’s in drag, makes his father mad/ since he was a little boy he always felt more comfortable in lipstick," the song lends support to transgender and gender variant kids, letting them know that they are human beings, worthy of love. Johnson launches her career as a recording artist with an ambitious lineup of 14 songs. Lucky for her, she makes her mark.
(Wind-up Records)

"Ice on the Dune" (Empire of the Sun)

Sounding a bit like Depeche Mode on Xanax, the cool synth sounds of Empire of the Sun are equally suited for chilling next to the pool or moving around the dance floor. In a dozen carefully constructed songs, the Australian electronic duo of Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore builds on their international success, found on their award-winning 2008 debut, "Walking on a Dream." "This time, we set the bar pretty high: We wanted every chorus to have a zing," Steele told Rolling Stone. "The songs would go through many sets of clothes. We kind of became a bit like Steely Dan: Ship out a chorus, bring in a new chorus, we’d all love the chorus, then swap out the verse. We’d approach it like George Martin, talking to Lennon/McCartney. It was a new process for us, being that strict on how much the song could cut through." "Lux" opens like a score for an Arabian Nights film before segueing into the pulsing track "DNA," which strikes a perfect balance of vocals and instrumental. The band recorded it at L.A.’s renowned Westlake Studios. The lead single, "Alive" was released mid-April, and is already a hit in Australia and New Zealand. It is a poppy, radio-ready dance single with high female vocals to lighten it up, singing, "loving every minute cause you make me feel so alive." The accompanying video is a cool, futuristic sci-fi fantasy that makes the most of their natural landscapes. The band moves toward old Ric Ocasek/ Cars sound in "Concert Pitch," as they sing, "I don’t want to go, I just wanna ride with you." The harmonies soar in the title track, "Ice on the Dune," and "Awakening" has a beat-driven, disco feel to it. "You can bet on your life, I’ll be around for a while," Steele sings in the spacey, jazzy "I’ll Be Around." And they go full-tilt for the funk in the addictive jam "Old Flavours." They reach back into their bag of tricks in "Surround Sound," one of the bands’ earliest electro-pop jams, featuring a shuffling drum groove. They finish up with an R&B slow jam, "Keep a Watch," reminiscent of Elton John or the Scissor Sisters. Empire of the Sun is relatively new to the game, but unleashes both barrels on an unsuspecting crowd.

"Planta" (CSS)

Sao Paulo-based girl quartet CSS drops their fourth full-length album this month with a sense of excitement to be part of the U.S. music scene. With Lovefoxxx on vocals, Ana Rezende on guitar and keyboard, Luiza and guitar/keyboard/bass and Carolina Parra on guitar/keyboard bass, the girls drop their unique blend of pop, dance and punk. Their first single, "Hangover," is a bouncy, mariachi-inspired tune with a cheeky sense of humor, equating hangovers with heartbreaks and "glitter in a sea of rocks." Written with Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, the song is "about being young and having fun," said Rezende. "We hooked up with Tim, and talked about how much we love reggae and reggaeton. It doesn’t necessarily sound like that, but we came up with something that anybody can move to." Their opening track, "Honey" is a shimmying, electro track, with the lyrics, "I get insecure, I get all confused but when I see you it’s all good/ I don’t like myself with anybody else." A mock intensity suffuses "Into the Sun," a keyboard-heavy tune. The rockabilly "Girlfriend," is a quirky song that makes the most of Lovefoxxx’s vocals and funky guitar licks. The techno/dubstep feel of "Sweet" is very au courant, and "Too Hot" is a forbidden love song, with the lyrics, "Mama doesn’t like it, she says you’re not too good for me." The girls growl in the silly song, "Teenage Tiger Cat," and bongo-like percussives make a mark in the throwback, "Frankie Goes to North Hollywood." "Faith in Love" makes good use of the tambourine, and the fast-moving alt-rock hit "Dynamite" features Hannah Blilie of The Gossip. And "The Hangout" is a ridiculously funny pickup song with a lot of spoken word elements to it. "We share a sense of sisterhood and family," said Luiza. "I hope you can feel that in the music. We wanted to make a record where every song is part of the whole story." CSS will hit the open road this summer, heading from the West Coast to the Pacific Northwest before crossing over to the Rust Belt, into Canada, through the New York metro area and back to Texas. Catch them while you can!
(SQE Music)

"SongVersation" (India.Arie)

Multi Grammy-winning singer/songwriter India.Arie drops her fifth studio album this month, produced with Shannon Sanders, with help from David Ryan Harri and Michael Ruff in Atlanta and L.A. Her first release in four years has already seen the success of her sultry single, "Cocoa Butter," and that looks to be just the beginning. This ambitious collection of 16 hits puts listeners in that familiar groove Arie struck in 2001 with her hit debut, "Acoustic Soul," followed by three more critically acclaimed releases. It is no-holds-barred as she launches into the swinging, strident, "Just Do You," with the lyrics, "Somebody’s gotta be a star/ somebody’s gotta raise the bar." She throws down the gauntlet and demands you take a chance on success. Piano and drums come together for a slow R&B sound in "This Love," as she sings, "at times we’ll try and a times we’ll fail, it could be heaven or it could be hell." She compares the love for her man to the lyrics of a Stevie Wonder song in "Nothing That I Love More," and finds warmth in a cold world in "Flowers," with alluring Middle Eastern woodwind effects. She exercises her honeyed voice in the love song, "Moved By You," a soft-spoken stunner about a love that baptizes by fire. Fine acoustic guitar keeps "Life I Know" understated, and moves the story along in "Break the Shell," that tells of a fortune teller warning against the power of pain, with the lyrics, "life’s gonna hurt but it’s meant to be felt." Arie looks at religion and the many incarnations of the savior in "One," which features nice hand-drum work, and rolls out the welcome mat as she sings of "a man with a husband or a woman with a wife." Among the best of the lot is "I Am Light," an ethereal song that really allows Arie to shine as she extols inner virtues over looks. Gramps Morgan chimes in on her album closer, the reggae cut "Thy Will Be Done." "The making of this album has been one of the most important experiences of my career," said Arie. "It was a process of many journeys all happening at once, culminating in not just a fertile ground, but a fertile ground on a different land." Arie’s album is a rootsy, funky collection of songs that will leave you feeling very rooted indeed.
(Soulbird/Motown Records)

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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