The Week In Pop

The Week In Pop: Kiesza’s The Full Package; Her Album, Not So Much

If the house-inflected Canadian pop singer Kiesza seems to have jumped on the post-Disclosure bandwagon a little late, consider that her “Hideaway” video — in which Kiesza and her posse pull off an epic one-shot dance routine on the streets of Brooklyn — premiered way back in February. So although “Hideaway” hasn’t been simmering toward success quite as long as “Latch” did, it’s not exactly something new either. Still, here’s what I wrote when I first posted the video last March:

Close your eyes and pretend it’s the new Disclosure single. Or open your eyes and enjoy some fully committed dancing.

The dance routine bears mentioning because it’s one of the ways Kiesza sets herself apart from the house craze that’s overtaken England ever since Settle set the world on fire. Unlike Gorgon City, who despite some jams to their name are basically Disclosure Jr., Kiesza’s very much an out-front kind of performer, a marvelously coifed pipsqueak capable of singing, dancing, and pulling off oddball fashion choices. She is the Saturday morning cartoon to Jessie Ware’s soap opera. Kiesza does good work behind the scenes too, crafting her own hits and even writing Gorgon City’s best song for them. She specializes in rubbery hooks sung from the deep recesses of her chest; they’re recognizable even when someone else is singing them, as with Jennifer Hudson on that Gorgon City track. She studied tap, jazz, and ballet as a child, learned to play guitar during a stint in the Royal Canadian Navy, and attended Berklee on a scholarship. Kiesza is the quintessential 21st-century musician, then: a charismatic world traveler with a multi-tiered skill set and a distinct artistic point of view.

So it’s frustrating that her Sound Of A Woman doesn’t quite live up to the promise of her singles, which have been uniformly strong. After “Hideaway” came “Giant In My Heart,” an equally powerful dance cut with a video just as memorable, but for different reasons. “Giant In The Heart” was infused with an incredible vocal sample that hearkened back to the early ’90s in a way that somehow still feels fresh long after nostalgia for that era has gone stale. “The Love” was bigger and bolder than most of her work, and it showed she has more than one trick up her sleeve. Even new single “Enemiesz,” despite coming off as a lesser retread of previous Kiesza hits (and being saddled with that annoying spelling tic, presumably as a nod to the spelling of her name), could easily pass as a signature song for many of her peers.

The trouble is not songs like “Enemiesz,” which stay safely in Kiesza’s wheelhouse. For the most part, the songs that venture outside her comfort zone are the ones that need work. Two young American rappers, Chicago’s Mick Jenkins and Joey Bada$$, lend verses to a pair of hip-hop-inflected tracks called “Losin’ My Mind” and “Bad Thing”; neither one jibes with the rest of the album, and both lack the sparkle that enlivens Kiesza’s best songs. Slow jam “So Deep” takes too long to get to its uptempo finale, though it really takes off once the beat drops. Mournful piano ballad “Cut Me Loose” pales in comparison to Adele’s “Someone Like You,” but it’s a masterpiece compared to the similarly dramatic treatment of Haddaway’s “What Is Love,” better known as the A Night At The Roxbury song. The attempt to pump a goofy song full of gravitas ends up coming off like a bad joke.

All of these songs could have probably been punched up and salvaged, but despite Kiesza’s rich musical background, she hasn’t mastered other genres like she’s mastered house. Deep cuts like “Over Myself” and “Piano” are a reminder that she can crank out excellent dance tracks in her sleep, and I hope she continues to do that for a long time. Still, it’s good that she’s toying around with a broader palette of influences even if it means a lesser album in the short term. She has the potential to make a tour-de-force LP eventually, and that will probably involve adding new moves to her game, especially as trends evolve beyond the brand of retro club music she specializes in. That’s going to take some practice; maybe her buddy Diplo can teach her a few things about sonic elasticity. If she never evolves, so be it; house has always been a singles genre anyway. But I think Kiesza does have a powerhouse album in her, and I look forward to it materializing someday. In the meantime, Sound Of A Woman offers no shortage of material for your next party playlist.

CHART WATCH

Florida Georgia Line, the barons of bro country, earn their first #1 album this week by selling 197,000 copies of Anything Goes. You simply must read this excerpt from their recent Billboard cover story:

What’s striking about Anything Goes is how closely it duplicates FGL’s previous records. One example: It’z Just What We Do, FGL’s 2012 digital EP, had a song that rhymed “party” with “Bacardi,” Here’s To The Good Times had a song that rhymed “party” with “Bacardi,” and now Anything Goes has “Sun Daze,” a song that rhymes “party” with “Bacardi.” The lyrics rely heavily on mentions of beloved musical acts, from Bob Marley to Shania Twain, and a barrage of alcohol brand names. Of the 12 songs on Anything Goes, two mention Friday, and three mention Saturday. Four mention whiskey, three include beer brands, and 10 use the word “night.”

Still, they are innovative in their own way.

Billboard notes that it’s the third straight country album to top the Billboard 200 following recent entries from Blake Shelton and Jason Aldean, the first time the genre has delivered back-to-back-to-back #1s since Zac Brown Band, Kenny Chesney, and Toby Keith did it in 2010. Aldean’s Old Boots, New Dirt, last week’s #1, sold 91,000 to finish #2 this week.

Next up is Bob Seger, whose #3 debut for 59,000-selling Ride Out is his best-ranking debut since Like A Rock in 1986. You+Me, the duo of Pink and City And Colour’s Dallas Green, debut at #4 with 50,000 for their Rose Ave. Barbra Streisand’s duets album Partners is at #5 with 40,000 in sales, and thanks in part to Sam Smith’s appearances on the Tonight and Today shows last week, In The Lonely Hour is back up to #6 with 37,000. The Game enters at #7 with Blood Moon: Year Of The Wolf, which sold 33,000, while Hoodie Allen’s debut album People Keep Talking moved 30,000 to start at #8. Despite appearing for free in every iTunes library worldwide, U2 sold 28,000 copies of Songs Of Innocence to debut at #9; 96 percent of those sales were CDs and vinyl. Rounding out the top 10 is Jessie J’s Sweet Talker, which eked out 25,000 in sales to debut at #10.

There’s not nearly as much turnover on the Hot 100. Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” stay at #1 and #2 respectively for an amazing seventh straight week. And with the Jessie J/Ariana Grande/Nicki Minaj hit “Bang Bang” at #3, Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora’s “Black Widow” at #4, and Tove Lo’s “Habits (Stay High)” at #5, this also marks a record seventh straight week in which women monopolize the top five singles in the country. Jeremih and YG’s “Don’t Tell ‘Em” and Maroon 5’s “Animals” hold at #6 and #7 respectively, while Smith’s “Stay With Me” is back up to #8. Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot Nigga” moves up one spot to #9, while Ed Sheeran’s “Don’t” makes a late-breaking leap to #10. “Don’t” becomes Sheeran’s first top-10 hit, which seems unbelievable. Although it’s not officially a single, Swift’s “Out Of The Woods” debuts at #18 by virtue of 195,000 in digital sales.

TRACK CITY

Bette Midler – “Waterfalls” (TLC Cover)
This is a beautiful cover, and this is a funny tweet:

Fergie – “L.A. Love (La La)”
Fergie is nothing if not trend-conscious: Here she jumps on a DJ Mustard beat and does her best Iggy Azalea impression, which is so 2014 but scans as so two-thousand-and-late. Also, she can’t be serious about every other city loving L.A.

Calvin Harris – “Outside” (Feat. Ellie Goulding)
On first glance “Outside” feels like a computer-generated blueprint of a Calvin Harris song, so stringently does it adhere to his formula. But by the end of it, those strings got to me. Take the orchestra away and this is verging on self-parody.

Cobra Starship – “Never Been In Love” (Feat. Icona Pop)
I can’t tell: Is this song sampling Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You,” or are they just ripping it off? If it is grand larceny, it’s for a half-decent cause. “Never Been In Love” is harmless fun.

Walk The Moon – “Shut Up And Dance”
Pretty decent tune here, and the video is an excellent sendup of early MTV, but I have three questions: (1) Are the head turns in this video specifically designed to show off dude’s haircut? (2) How can they possibly be trying to pass this off as “indie rock”? (3) Can you imagine how much money these guys could make writing songs for Maroon 5?

Chloe Black – “27 Club”
Definite Lana Del Rey vibes in this one, from the narco-noir atmospherics to the way Black aligns herself with legendary dead rock stars. But the popping, radio-ready digital production and Black’s soulful emoting on the chorus turns it into something different. It still feels more like a composite than a singular vision — Madonna’s celeb-worshipping “Vogue” monologue comes to mind, as do Adele, Banks, and at least one other singer who I can’t put my finger on right now. But despite the stitches showing and the high corn factor, “27 Club” feels like a hit.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • James Blunt has finally apologized for “Beautiful.” [NME]
  • One Direction announced a US stadium tour for next summer, so you have plenty of time to plan ahead. [Idolator]
  • Kelly Clarkson is one of the few singers who can make Sam Smith’s unexciting breakout hit “Stay With Me” sound like a classic. [Vulture]
  • Iggy Azalea and her boyfriend Nick Young AKA Swaggy P modeled for Forever 21’s holiday campaign. [Idolator]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME