Kylie Minogue, Kiss Me Once
You gotta feel bad for every non-gay American not currently enraptured by Kylie Minogue. Sure, they know the Aussie diva for “The Loco-Motion” and, if they’re at all conscious, her chart-ruling, early-’00s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” but post-Fever, Minogue’s been our best-kept secret. Sorry, straight world, but you’re missing out. Minogue’s been on a hot streak, constantly emerging without shedding her signature sound and without conforming to the zeitgeist. Madonna she ain’t. And though the performer’s 12th and best album is, at first glance, her most trend-grabby, mainstream-worthy work in a long time – songwriter-du-jour Sia executive produced Kiss Me Once, and other collaborators include Pharrell Williams, Greg Kurstin (Pink, Kelly Clarkson) and Enrique Iglesias – it never dramatically strays from the majestic cosmic-pop that delineates her from her contemporaries. In fact, despite hit-making hot shots, Kylie hasn’t sounded this Kylie, or this terrific, in a while. There’s the dreamy – “Into the Blue” and the futuristic ballad “If Only,” both stunning – and then, of course, the ultra-flirty (see “Les Sex,” a nod to campy Kylie, and the Sia-written “Sexercize,” full of amusing workout innuendo). Williams does his electro-R&B thing on “I Was Gonna Cancel,” and, shockingly, the Auto-Tune-heavy ballad with Iglesias, “Beautiful,” is like Wall-E and Eve singing to each other. It fits, and it’s beautiful and it’s ours. Well, until the rest of the world realizes what we already knew.
Kid Cudi, Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon
You know that album Beyoncé snuck out last year? Kid Cudi took note and, for his fourth LP, dropped it without anyone knowing … until there it was. Stepping off the shoulders of his big-brother rapper, Kanye West, Cudi’s prowess continues to evolve with an audacious thirst for the unconventional. Kid takes another cosmic leap on Satellite Flight, living up to his career creed of being in control of his sonic identity. And every spacey turn on the EP-turned-LP – a prelude to his third Man on the Moon release – demonstrates that as he stretches the hip-hop matrix into something otherworldly. At the very least, it’s intriguing. A wordless instrumental conjuring ’80s horror/sci-fi cinema is the gateway to the ethereal rocker “Going to the Ceremony” and “Too Bad I Have to Destroy You Now,” where a defiant Cudi raps about being “rejuvenated, recreated and rebooted” over some twinkling atmospherics. Both impress on an otherwise unimpressive effort. Cudi is certainly an eager boundary breaker, reveling in the progressiveness of the hip-hop genre, but it doesn’t just take ambition to thrive. It takes good music and, too often, Satellite Flight never takes off like you want it to.
Pharrell Williams, G I R L
You can look at Pharrell Williams and see sexy. You can also hear it. It’s the sweat running down the back of every beat he lays down on his long-anticipated G I R L, a flashy affair – so many late-’70s inspired grooves – with an overwhelming amount of pop-R&B pep. Who hasn’t just about exploded in glee every time they hear “Happy”? That feeling fills out this frivolous LP, where disco-era romps – 10 of them – are cut from the same cloth as Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake and the Bee Gees. It’s ear candy without the chewy center.
The Notwist, Close to the Glass
For all the synthetic glitchiness of the German indie quartet’s eighth album, there’s nothing artificial-feeling about its emotional lining. And actually, those disorienting tech sounds – the beeps, the snaps and, especially on “Lineri,” the static – actually drive the paranoia on Close to the Glass, yet another detour from the band’s ’80s grunge-punk. When “Into Another Tune” blurs folk and electronica with the loop of some beautiful strings, you know something remarkable is happening here.
Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com.