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Listening Post: Dirty Loops, Kimbra, Smokey Robinson


Dirty Loops,Loopified” (Verve). Conventional wisdom suggests that there is music that appeals to musicians, and there is music that appeals to non-musicians in the general public, and never the twain shall meet. Such a theory makes surface sense, but is in fact intellectually lazy and inaccurate. Jazz, recall, was initially a popular music form, one that appealed to the layman and the virtuoso musician alike. And the best rock of the past 45 years or so has routinely been both musically adventurous and commercially accessible, though you might not glean as much from just a casual glance at the top of the pop charts. Enter into this perceived chasm a jaw-droppingly talented trio of young men from Sweden, who appear to be hell-bent on blurring the lines between pop appeal and the dizzying complexities of jazz harmony. Dirty Loops became an almost unwitting sensation two years back, via a YouTube interpretation of Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance.” That video, which found the three musicians – vocalist/keyboardist Jonah Nilsson, bassist Henrik Linder, drummer Aron Mellergardh – marrying Gaga’s dance-pop hooks to face-meltingly virtuosic instrumental performances and an uber-hip arrangement, went viral and eventually clocked 19 million views. Several interpretations of contemporary pop hits reimagined as in-your-face jazz-fusion tunes followed, and now, at long last, comes the U.S. release of “Loopified,” the Loops first full-length. Rarely does a debut album arrive with such a revolutionary take on the popular music of its milieu. The Loops’ hybrid of top-tier musicianship, harmonic sophistication and pop sensibilities is a complete game-changer, and flies in the face of the notion that music can’t be at once complex and accessible. The band gained its notoriety based on its ability to twist – or “Loopify,” in Loops parlance – pop hits, and this debut does feature radically reworked and reharmonized takes on Justin Bieber’s “Roller Coaster” and Avicii’s “Wake Me Up.” But the body of “Loopified” is comprised of Dirty Loops originals, and they are simply stunning. If Dirty Loops doesn’t win the “Best New Artist Grammy” next time around, there’s something seriously wrong. Outstanding and brave stuff. ∆∆∆∆(Jeff Miers)


Kimbra, “The Golden Echo” (Warner Bros.). In a year in which many big-ticket records have stressed brevity and focus, there’s something to be said for New Zealand pop iconoclast Kimbra’s “The Golden Echo.” Best known in America for her vocals on the smash “Somebody That I Used to Know,” the magnetic multi-instrumentalist on her second solo album moves through a strange and often surprising set of tones and approaches. A virtual layer cake of futuristic funk pop, contemporary R&B and maximalist Top 40 music slathered with the purple icing of Prince, “The Golden Echo” swaps styles with gleeful – and at times reckless – abandon, an apt pop offering for this pattern-on-pattern cultural moment. A remarkable chameleon, at various points Kimbra swings her voice to suggest Chaka Khan, Amy Winehouse, the xx’s Romy Madley Croft and Janelle Monae, and weaves her tone through music thick with structural experimentation. “Waltz Me to the Grave” is a hazy seven-minute jam suggestive of Erykah Badu; “As You Are” is a beguiling, richly composed ballad featuring arrangements by Van Dyke Parks. Bonus track “Sugar Lies” is like if Kimbra hitched a ride on George Clinton’s mothership. Mixed in, though, are enough squeaky clean ditties to suggest fiddling from label reps who heard the first draft freak-outs and demanded easier hits like “Love in High Places” and “Nobody But You.” The latter, a middling stab at pop ubiquity, drops the album’s IQ by a few points. A guest turn from John Legend shouldn’t be surprising, especially considering that by the time it rolls around, we’ve been prepared for some whiplash. ∆∆∆ (Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times)


Smokey Robinson, “Smokey & Friends” (Verve). Gather your hits and divvy them up among your pals: It’s a go-to move for musicians of a certain age, including Tony Bennett and Lionel Richie, who scored a No. 1 album in 2012 with “Tuskegee.” So it was only a matter of time until Smokey Robinson got into the act. But if the duets record is beginning to feel like a legacy-burnishing obligation, Robinson, 74, sidesteps that vibe on “Smokey & Friends,” a would-be museum piece with some real air in it. That’s partly because Robinson still sounds like a singer on active duty. He harmonizes beautifully with Mary J. Blige on “Being With You” and floats so effortlessly through “Quiet Storm” that John Legend comes off like an overachiever. Yet “Smokey & Friends” works, too, because Robinson appears to have given his guests carte blanche, gamely accompanying Elton John as the latter growls through “The Tracks of My Tears” and ad-libbing over James Taylor’s country-funk groove in “Ain’t That Peculiar.” Are we in need of a “You Really Got a Hold on Me” streaked with Steven Tyler’s screech? We are not. But Robinson’s song is strong – it can withstand the abuse. ∆∆½ (Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times)


Italian Opera Arias, Maria Luigia Borsi, soprano, London Symphony Orchestra, Yves Abel, conductor (Naxos). Soprano Maria Luigia Borsi is no stranger to Buffalo. She was here 12 years ago, but was seen by thousands – in what is now First Niagara Center, where she performed with Andrea Bocelli. I called her “appealing and emotive” then, and I stick by my judgment, hearing this charming bargain collection of arias. Most of them are mainstream. There is Puccini’s obligatory “O Mio Babbino Caro” – Renee Fleming is going to sing that at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s season-opening gala – and “Ebben? Ne andro lontana,” from Catalani’s “La Wally.” A few others are happily a bit more off the beaten track, if not very far so: “Senza mamma” from Puccini’s “Suor Angelica,” for instance. I applaud the inclusion of Respighi’s “Il Tramonto” – it means “The Sunset,” and its mournful words come from Shelley. This is Borsi’s debut solo album. ∆∆∆ (Mary Kunz Goldman)

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