Dig These Discs :: The Puppini Sisters, Sharon Van Etten, Blue Water White Death, ARP, Alexis Houston
This week it's a mixed bag of music, from experimental albums from artists that would have been better left in the studio to singers who show more than a passing resemblance to other, big name singers. Only one (Alexis Houston) stands out, head and shoulders above the rest, with a debut album that is sure to get noticed.
The Puppini Sisters - Christmas with the Puppini Sisters
The Puppini Sisters are a throwback to the close harmony singing groups of yesteryear. While not actually related the group does sound like they could very well be sisters. For their latest offering, Christmas with the Puppini Sisters, the women are able to show off both their vocal abilities and their limitations.
Where the group excels is singing the more traditional Christmas carols. Their version of "White Christmas" is enchanting, but more modern tracks like "Last Christmas" are lacking in some of the fun that made the originals great. One example is in "Santa Baby," which is lacking the come hither appeal that made both Madonna and Eartha Kitt’s songs classics.
The Puppini Sisters prove a valuable lesson that not all carols can be done by all musical groups. The Puppini Sisters would have delivered a real present for listeners if they had kept things to just the more traditional songs.
Sharon Van Etten - Epic
Other than its name, there’s nothing Epic about Sharon Van Etten’s second album. At a mere 32 minutes and consisting of just seven songs, the title seems to be a play on expectations.
It’s surprising that Van Etten wouldn’t have been able to notice the unevenness of the album’s contents, given that she’s worked at a music label. The short seven song set doesn’t leave much room for error.
Carving a niche in the indie world shouldn’t be hard for the singer. Her sound--filled with anger like early Hole mixed with Florence and the Machine--should endear her to many fans. However, she will need something more than this uneven offering.
Things bounce around until the singer finally hits her stride on "Don’t Do It." Unfortunately, with only seven tracks, "Don’t Do It" arrives a bit late in the game; after that, there are only two remaining tracks. For the remainder of the album is a solid collection, there just isn’t much left at that point.
Blue Water White Death - Self Titled
Blue Water, White Death is a duo comprised of Jamie Stewart and Jonathan Meiburg. The pair, taking a break from their existing groups Xiu Xiu and Shearwater, respectively, has recorded an album that is stark in its composition. This is exemplified with "Grunt Tube," which seems to show that the pair isn’t able to even multi-task to allow vocals and music playing together.
Recorded in just a week’s time might have put the duo under pressure. In doing so, they sound as tortured as it is to listen to this album. The self-titled disk is fractured and a little too sprawling.
Taking their name from a 1971 documentary about looking for sharks, and including art work for the set is mutated fish of various kinds actually explains a lot about the expansive nature of the album.
While most of the songs are kept short, the duo does meander into territory of needing an editor on both "Song for a Greater Jihad" and "Death for Christmas." "Jihad" is a song so expansive in its presentation that it’s hard to tell if it is all one track or multiple pushed together.
Rather than settling for the musical version of a fishing expedition, just rent the movie in which the group got their name.
ARP - The Soft Wave
There is music that gets into your face and makes you take notice that it is being played. ARP’s new album The Soft Wave is not one of those albums. It is surprising on how non intrusive the album is--so much to the point that if you weren’t paying attention it would be easy to forget that it was even still playing.
Alexis Georgopoulus recorded the album over the course of a year, and "The Soft Wave" is a little bit too soft sounding, almost as if afraid to interrupt whatever might be going on in the listener’s life. "From the Balcony Overlooking the Sea" actually has crashing waves in it that could put you to sleep. There’s easy listening, and then there is this.
Georgeopoulous has taken it a step further by seemingly afraid to bother anyone with his music. Perhaps it’s a little too soft.
Alexis Houston - Speak Love-Life Lessons
From the very beginning of Alexis Houston’s intro on Speak Love-Life Lessons, the singer brings a sultry welcoming vibe to the album. Over the course of the 16 tracks, she jumps between poppy dance songs and slower jams.
"I’m Ready Now" is a nice piece of brain candy, as it is a throwback to the disco era. Houston is able to switch seamlessly between the dance tracks and ballads thanks to her silky smooth voice. This is quite a debut for Houston, who has worked with a handful of hitmaking (and Grammy winning) producers like Ivan & Carvin, Jake Ridley, and The Insonmniax.
There’s also a family tree of musical expertise that includes Dionne Warwick and Whitney Houston that helped shape Houston from a young age.
One of the few missteps on the album comes in the form of "My Heart Won’t Move On." Sounding like a cast off from an early Backstreet Boys album, Houston’s vocal abilities are wasted on the track, and the song ends up just being filler for an already jam-packed collection of songs.