CD reviews: Kina Grannis, Duran Duran, The Weeknd

Jackie Dosmanos

Posted at Sep 27 2015 06:03 PM | Updated as of Sep 28 2015 02:03 AM

Kina Grannis

CD reviews: Kina Grannis, Duran Duran, The Weeknd 1

Kina Grannis is a singer/songwriter who built a strong fan base online. Her decade-old career has been sustained by over a million followers and subscribers to her YouTube page. She won Best Web-born artist at the MTV O Music Awards in 2011.

 Like her five previous albums, Kina’s latest one "Elements" is several degrees away from contemporary tech-savvy pop. Kina belongs to the folk pop wing instead which endears her to fans of KT Tunstall, Christina Perri and Tegan and Sara.

As the recent folk-pop tradition goes, "Elements" attracts attention with midtempo indie folk and brooding ballads. The sweetness of Kina’s delivery and her deft work on guitars, backed by a three-piece band, are major parts of the attraction. Curiously, the dark edgy “The Fire” is the album’s best bet to mainstream cross-over.

Ms. Grannis sings of timeless themes in the folk tradition. She reflects on her grandfather’s death in “Forever Blue”, the ticklish drama of a love triangle that ends well in “Dear River,” and on sad junctures in her personal life in “Maryanne.”


Duran Duran
"Paper Gods"

CD reviews: Kina Grannis, Duran Duran, The Weeknd 2

Perennial new wave poster boys Duran Duran stay relevant splashing into today’s pop music backed by old reliable Chic’s Nile Rodgers plus a posse of collaborators from producer Mark Ronson to soul star Jannelle and former Chili Pepper John Frusciante. The overall effect is ‘80s nostalgia getting bumped up to present-day mash-up of post-new wave sounds and beat.

The original gang of Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, , and Roger Taylor are back for their 14th release and their first since 2011. Given the looming presence of Nile Rodgers as player and producer, funk-laced disco sets the tone for" Paper Gods."

David Bowie circa “Let’s Dance” and the band’s own “Notorious (c. 1986) are major reference points although it must be said that disco hysteria never left the scene having had its most recent resuscitation in the electro of The Strokes and The Killers. What’s new with Duran Duran this time around is plugging into EDM. Conceptually, it’s an iffy proposition until you listen to “Last Night In The City” in which EDM, streetbeat and ‘70s disco do a blistering re-connection.

The ballads “What Are The Chances?” and “The Universe Alone,” are just as enjoyable bearing the imprint of their 1992 hit, “Ordinary World.” These slow songs also reveal a mature perspective on life and love.

In the upbeat “Sunset Garage”, Simon Le Bon claims, “Whatever happens, we’re still here.” They’re really back high on ‘80s charisma and post-new wave dazzle.


The Weeknd
"Beauty Behind The Madness"

CD reviews: Kina Grannis, Duran Duran, The Weeknd 3

The oomph of the late Michael Jackson spills from The Weeknd’s (aka Abel Tesfaye) power ballads and dance pop maneuvers. It’s there in the catch of his voice and the cadence of his singing. Even when he tones down to a near whisper in “Losers,” he cries out with M. J.’s patented purring falsetto.

It’s the surface charm of The Weeknd’s new record which is the second best-selling release on the Billboard charts this year. Michael Jackson fetishists certainly accounted for a significant portion of album sales.

Ace producer Max Martin prettifies the proceedings with polished and richly melodic sound sculptures. Opener “Real Life” starts with bleating horns but works its way to a stylishly arranged pop song Ne-Yo could have written. Produced by Kanye West, “Tell Your Friends” drops like a lost Stylistics smoothie. “Earned It” from the "Fifty Shades of Grey" soundtrack touches the sky in cinematic surroundscape.

The solid hooks drape tales of deprivation and depravity in the search of love. “Real Life” hints of the coming exorcism of personal demons with this couplet: “Tell ‘em this boy wasn’t meant for lovin’/Tell ‘em this heart doesn’t stay to one.” Later on in “The Hills,” he admits ”When I’m fucked up, that’s the real me”.

It’s a wild ride on the sins of the flesh from the start to finish. You can say the same for the wickedly attractive music that hides a nasty sensuality underneath.