Carly Rae Jepsen's album 'Kiss' is sweet
Carly Rae Jepsen, "Kiss" (604/Schoolboy/Interscope Records)
The challenge for Carly Rae Jepsen following the monster success of "Call Me Maybe" - arguably 2012's biggest pop culture moment - was to steer clear of one-hit wonder status. She did that with another pop smash, the anthem "Good Time," and Jepsen shows she has even more hits on her second album, "Kiss."
The Canadian singer, brought to our attention by country-mate Justin Bieber, delivers what fans are probably looking for with the help of Max Martin, Toby Gad and others: More effervescent pop, unencumbered by a plot too thick or societal issues too weighty. Bass lines and hand claps, please and thank you.
"Good Time" features electro-pop singer Owl City, aka Adam Young, and is the heir apparent to the radio-overkill throne. "Hands up if you're down to get down tonight," goes the refrain as Young shares microphone time with Jepsen against a heavy backbeat and an echoing chorus of "Ohhhh ohhh ohhh."
"Call Me Maybe" is here, of course, and remains the catchiest song of the year. This impossibly cute tune from this impossibly cute singer is all hook, sugary lyrics and lure-the-boy posturing. It's everything pop hit-makers strive for, delivered to near perfection.
The duds on "Kiss" include "Turn Me Up" and "Tonight I'm Getting Over You." They're both boring ditties about getting over someone by hitting the town. Light toe tapping may ensue, but these are forgettable tracks.
Jepsen redeems herself with the upbeat "This Kiss," co-written and co-produced by LMFAO's Redfoo. Her slow duet with Bieber, "Beautiful," is also a fine track, delivered smartly in a less-is-more production approach that humanizes them both.
CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: "Curiosity," which originally appeared on Jepsen's EP earlier this year, gets a soaring remix and it's the most club-ready song of the bunch.
British quartet Alt-J rides 'Wave' to US
Alt-J, "An Awesome Wave" (Canvasback)
Alt-J defies genres. Often categorized as trip-hop by those who want to pigeon hole, the band prefers not to be labeled at all.
The indie quartet's debut album "An Awesome Wave" is out now in the U.S. after having delighted listeners in its native England and earned the band a place on the prestigious Mercury Prize shortlist.
"Wave" is structured with precision and is meant to be listened to as a unit. The album opens with "Intro," a somewhat melancholic combination of piano and guitar that links perfectly to "Interlude I," an a cappella song that introduces you to Joe Newman's vocals.
But the band really shines on songs like "Tessellate," a track whose spine is formed by an interesting drum concoction, and "Breezeblocks," which introduces yet more vocal range and melancholia.
However, not all songs are somber and tug at the heartstrings. "Dissolve Me" is an alternative lullaby - dreamy, sleepy and more optimistic with beautifully whimsical lyrics - and "Matilda" is positively a love song.
"Wave" is innovative and holds interest throughout, and Alt-J is a band to watch.
CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: "Fitzpleasure," the band's first single for the U.S. release, again combines a cappella singing with a pounding, almost hip-hop bass line - so, go on, try to categorize them!
Sian Watson, Associated Press
Corbin aims for escapism on latest album
Easton Corbin, "All Over The Road" (Mercury)
Country singer Easton Corbin radiates exuberance throughout his second album, "All Over The Road." The album is high on catchy guitar riffs and bouncy rhythms, and light on emotion or drama.
"It's all right to keep it light now mama," Corbin sings in his current country radio hit, "Lovin' You Is Fun." The Florida native follows that advice, perhaps too faithfully, through these eleven new songs.
The lighthearted theme carries through a variety of love songs. In the title cut, Corbin kids with a police officer that he's driving erratically because of the woman in the seat beside him. "Hearts Drawn In The Sand" equates a short-lived summer romance to a fading beach tan. And "That's Gonna Leave a Memory" suggests the singer will miss his former lover - but the pain won't last long.
Corbin gets compared to heavyweight country traditionalists, including George Strait and Alan Jackson. His voice features their casual masculinity, and he delivers a hummable tune with their laid-back ease.
But those singers didn't become legends by only serving dessert. Corbin piles on the sugar on "All Over The Road," but he needs to bite into something meatier to achieve the impact of his heroes.
CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: On "Dance Real Slow," Corbin croons a softly swaying love song about how an intimate turn on the dance floor with his lover helps him escape the speedy hustle of daily life. It's one of the moments when Corbin's escapism sounds true-to-life.
Michael McCall _____
Yoakam shows how it's done on '3 Pears'
Dwight Yoakam, "3 Pears" (Warner Bros.)
Dwight Yoakam's new album "3 Pears" reunites the veteran Los Angeles musician-actor with Warner Bros. Records, his label home from 1986 to 2001. But the songs continue to look forward and to challenge Nashville's version of contemporary country music.
Yoakam has focused more on film than music in the last dozen years. But the inventiveness he displayed on mid-career albums such as "This Time" informs his new work as the singer-songwriter blends innovation and traditionalism on "3 Pears" in ways no other country artist does.
Not every experiment works. The psychedelic whimsy of "Waterfall" floats off into free verse and loses its anchor. But the muscular kick Yoakam gives a honky-tonk classic by Joe and Rose Lee Maphis - which he renames "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, Loud Music" here - rocks as hard as anything by the young bucks currently ruling country radio's airwaves.
Rock innovator Beck co-produces two tracks: the echo-laden1960s throwback "A Heart Like Mine," and the soulful, stripped-bare acoustic tune "Missing Heart." Those songs fit perfectly alongside the rest of this wide-ranging album, all produced alone by Yoakam, who remains one of the most consistently interesting country music visionaries of his time.
CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: The first time "Long Way To Go" surfaces on Yoakam's album, it's as a mid-tempo tune that mixes '60s guitars with a modern-rhythm arrangement. Later, he presents it as a moody piano ballad. Both versions are stunningly good, setting two different stages for Yoakam's expressive tenor as he instills a lonesome yearning into lyrics about the ongoing search to fulfill one's dreams and goals.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.