Miley Cyrus, Bangerz
Goodbye, Hannah Montana; hello tongue-wagging, midriff-baring Miley Cyrus. Slipping out of her child-star skin, the infamous twerker leads a band of misfits to independence and self-empowerment on Bangerz, a fully realized breakout from Billy Ray’s former Disney-star daughter. She’s not so innocent anymore, and that’s the point. At 20, Miley marks each song on her fourth release – from the single that launched her reinvention, “We Can’t Stop,” to the “edgy” vulgarities on “Do My Thang” – with the same defiance of the tattoo she got without telling her mom. It’s actually kind of … liberating. It’s just not all that surprising of a girl gone wild: “Love Money Party” – a song so straightforward it makes Ke$ha look like a code that needs cracking – is exactly what’s expected of a collection that has derived its name from the British word for sausage. Thankfully, Bangerz takes some interesting detours: “SMS,” featuring Britney Spears, is rooted in delicious Euro-house; “Adore You,” a strange way to launch and really kind of drudging, is sweet-sounding Cyrus, who parts the hardcore image for this vulnerable slow jam; “My Darlin’” is a bizarre-but-not-bad, and shockingly moving, collaboration with rap emcee Future that works a “Stand by Me” sample into fuzzy synths and a booming bass line. Then there’s “4×4,” where old Miley lingers in the twang leanings of the track’s “Cotton-Eyed Joe” gallop. It’s weirder than watching her hold up a fat foam finger on the VMAs. And in the case of Bangerz and its coming-out celebration, weird is good – and sometimes, even damn inspirational.
Haim, Days Are Gone
The charm of sibling trio Haim – twentysomething hipster sisters inspired by all the best early ’90s music you’ve been missing – is just the half of it. The fast-rising California girl group obviously knows their way around a spirited easy-on-the-ears melody, and the ones on their outstanding Days Are Gone are ready to take over the charts. The blog-buzzed “Forever,” originally released on EP last year, features Danielle Haim’s whipped phrasing, a frenzied sound and a handclap breakdown, all coalescing into a thrilling pop piece. Percolating underneath these grooves are the throwback sounds of TLC, Prince and the Eurythmics, yesteryear’s heavy hitters who – along with Fleetwood Mac – have clearly laid the foundation for Haim’s R&B-tinged, classic rock-toned nu-folk. With the funkiness of a late ’80s jam, the title track – co-written with Jessie Ware, whose electro-soul presence just subtly shows up – sounds as awesomely old-school as it does new millennial. When the chorus comes, it’s as if Florence Welch went back a few decades and recorded one of the era’s biggest hits. A standout, certainly, is “Falling,” a punchy girl-power chant delivering an “if it gets rough, it’s time to get rough” mantra. And “The Wire,” with its vintage rock bop, is a sonic burst of divinity. Haim’s songs aren’t fussy, they’re not overproduced, and besides their obvious brilliance and infectiousness, what these girls do so well is make something new out of something old.
Lorde, Pure Heroine
Most 16 years olds are taking SAT prep and just getting their license, not knocking Katy Perry from the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and recording a debut as mature and captivating as Pure Heroine. “Royals” turned the New Zealand singer-songwriter into one of 2013’s most promising music stars, but this front-to-back gem – an ethereal-pop blend of gothic pop and Lana del Rey’s mysterious aura (see “Ribs,” a nostalgic standout) – proves she’s no fluke.
Glee, The Quarterback
Saying farewell to Finn – and the actor who played him, Cory Monteith – prompted the recent episode of grief-stricken musical catharses on Glee. Even more intimate than Adele’s version, Lea Michele’s deeply touching “Make You Feel My Love” is especially somber and painful considering her real- and TV-life relationship with him. The cast does an earnest version of “Seasons of Love” and Naya Rivera covers “If I Die Young” with affecting poignancy. The latter is a gut-wrenching elegy for a life gone too soon.
Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com.