Wild Beasts’ synthy new album Boy King is out now and is a breath-taking alt pop masterpiece. It’s the sort of record Radiohead might be making if they weren’t so abstract these days. From the opening one-two punch of “Boy King” and “Tough Guy” through closer “Dreamliner,” there isn’t a bad song in the bunch. Not even close. It’s one of those albums that might take you a few listens to get fully absorbed in, but if you give it the time it worms its way deep inside your head and proves itself to be quite rewarding. Seriously, if you don’t “get it” the first time you listen to it, stick with it and you’ll see what I mean. At the very least put one of its tracks on repeat and listen to that a couple of times and see if it doesn’t wind up grabbing you. Even if you’re not crazy about their previous output, you still might like this one; it’s their magnum opus, the only trouble with it being that it’ll be impossible for them to ever top it.
The album I couldn’t stop listening to this past weekend was Tarja’s just released, The Shadow Self. Although she’s a popular symphonic metal artist, I think the album has more in common with Sarah Brightman than Nightwish, her former band that put her on the musical map. The three octave singer unleashes her operatic self even more than usual, hitting many piercing notes that stick with you for hours after listening to it. In a sense, you could argue that some of the songs are just vehicles for that, excuses to hit the high notes, but I would disagree because I’m finding the songs overall to be infectious and memorable. A powerful album in every sense of the word. (Arch Enemy fans should check out “Demon’s In You,” her collaboration with their growling vocalist Alissa White-Gluz. It’ll bite your head off.)
While I’m talking metal, I should mention that Witherscape’s excellent new album The Northern Sanctuary was released a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps it’s because I was just thinking about Nightwish, but I would describe their music as symphonic metal with death metal vocals instead of symphonic. (Their songs also feature some clean vocals as well.) Lots of sweeping strings, keyboards, acoustic guitars and heavy metal playing result in a progressive sound that doesn’t come off standoffish like most progressive music does (at least to me).
In the K-Pop department, HyunA’s A’wesome more than lives up to its name. Hard to believe it’s her fifth solo mini-album already. I’m still bummed that 4Minute was disbanded, but HyunA certainly proves herself to be a solid solo artist with this one. Well, OK, she proved herself to be a sturdy solo artist with the release of her very first mini-album, but if you had any doubts A’wesome should put them to rest. Opener “U & Me” might take a few listens before you’re sold on it, but “How’s This,” track two, should hook you the first time you hear it. Ditto for “Morning Glory” featuring Isle Qim and “Wolf” featuring HANHE. HyunA reunited with producer Seo Jae Woo on this one and wrote the lyrics for most of its six tracks herself.
Stellar’s CRY is one of the strongest K-Pop single albums released this year. Its three tracks – two songs and an intro – find them collaborating with producer Brave Brothers, Electroboyz member ChaKun and composer Two Champ with exquisite results. Even the “Intro” is contagious. If you don’t love this release, then I dare say you’re not much of a K-Pop fan.