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Shakedown 2 (2CD)
Freemasons - CD
Following on from their first mixed album, 'Shakedown 2' once again showcases the Freemason's uncanny ability to cut to the very heart of a track and blow it up into a melodramatic disco house stormer. Whereas some remixers 'flatten' a track, reducing it to its bassline and cutting up the vocal, Freemasons actually increase the melody, boost the vocals and often find new hooks that entirely transform the track. They give an injection of urgency, with stabbing strings and spacey sound effects ramping up the tension. Old favourites like Ultra Nate's 'Free' and Eurythmics 'Here Comes the Rain Again" are given a new lease of life, their tunes still very much in place but given surging new basslines. I wondered if they'd pushed things way too far by remixing Marvin Gaye's 'Heard It Through the Grapevine' . I needn't have worried as its actually a highlight - maintaining the integrity of the original vocal but creating a fantastic new synth hook, pulsating bassline and 70s disco feel. Must also mention the inclusion of two of the greatest pop records of the last few years - the criminally overlooked 'The One' by Kylie and the fantastic 'Heartbreak Make Me A Dancer' featuring Sophie Ellis Bextor. It's a mixed album but don't let that put you off - tracks segue seamlessly and the majority of each song is played. The Freemasons are at the top of their game and have created a stunning pop dance album.
Samantha James - CD
A relaxing, chilled-out collection of songs from the California-based Samantha James (who co-wrote the album). It can be listened to all the way through, as the sequence of tracks feels exactly right - all sitting within a dreamy house music template but exploring different moods and beats (including influences from Brazil). 'Rise' is the most immediately catchy and has uplifting lyrics that draw you into the album. When things slow down a little ('Enchanted Life', 'Come Through', 'Right Now') the warmth of Samantha's voice stands out. The lyrics can seem a little hippy-ish in places but it makes a stark change to the usual focus on romance. Standout track is 'Send It Out To The Universe', which has a lovely uplifting message - it feels a little like a platitude ("what will be will be...") but it is nonetheless good to hear. If you want to enjoy positive lyrics and positive vibes, this album is the perfect place to start.
Kaskade - CD
13 New from
Excellent album that delivers icy progressive house production but contrasts this with warm bursts of melody throughout. Similar in style to Ryan Raddon's Late Night Alumni side project, the tracks are very light and use ethereal, slightly detached vocalists. Surprisingly strong songs across the whole album, without resorting to the kind of bland identikit filler tracks that so commonly get included in dance albums. Standouts are 'Move for Me', 'Angel On My Shoulder' and 'I'll Never Dream' - all of which manage to be both cool electronic house yet also emotionally engaging. Final song 'Your Love Is Black' brings the tempo right down and is a delicate comedown track that finishes things off perfectly.
Hed Kandi: Disco Heaven (2CD)
Various - CD
11 New from
After some very disappointing disco compilations, Hed Kandi return with a satisfying selection of melodic funky house. Highlights include the Solitaire Club Mix of Donna Summer's hitherto uninspired 'I'm A Fire', which is transformed into an epic, uplifting anthem that demands to be played again and again. Similarly, the ever-reliable Freemasons fashion Moby's 'Disco Lies' into a storming club track that builds and builds. Unusually for Hed Kandi these days, there are even some gems amongst the lesser-known tracks (Dab Hands' 'Something Come To Nothing' is particularly inspired). There's very little filler, the tracks are included in full (not mixed) and the warm happy vibes flow across both discs. The packaging is is the usual high quality and has great artwork. Excellent return to form.
Christmas Collection (2CD)
Carpenters - CD
22 New from
This is ideal music to accompany you when wrapping the presents, enjoying a family meal or perhaps just taking time out to reflect on the year gone by. Karen's uniquely emotive vocals give Christmas standards (eg 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas') even more of a bittersweet quality whilst instrumental tracks fill out this fantastic double album with festive cheer. Like Christmas itself, it's this combination of celebration and reflection that makes this album one you'll cherish throughout the years. Personal highlight is 'Merry Christmas Darling', in which Karen's vocals feel timeless and emotional. It's the kind of album that acts as a barometer to your own mood - you'll find joyful seasonal celebration across the two CDs but, if you're looking for it, there are plenty of melancholy moments too. Beautiful album.
Dance Love Pop (2CD)
Agnes - CD
Currently ony available on import, this is a fantastic album that contains the hit of the summer in 'Release Me'. With it's urgent, nagging piano riff, melancholy lyrics and huge bassline, 'Release Me' is a classic pop moment and is the standout moment on this collection. Yet there are a number of other tracks that run it very close. Next single 'On & On' has a slightly harder-edged Euro dance sound but again has a killer chorus and great vocals. 'Love, Love, Love' is fantastic - a glitterball of a song that starts all 'cabaret style' and then explodes into joyous disco campness. Elsewhere, there is the 'How Will I know'-ish 80s styling of 'Look at Me Now' and the Latin pop influenced 'Don't Pull Your Love Out'. It's everything that you hope a pop album will be - melodic, uplifting and instantly catchy. Additionally, the album artwork is beautiful.
Alcazar - CD
2 New from
This album will appeal to anyone who enjoys pure pop with a modern dance production sheen. Imagine Tight Fit taking part in Eurovision and you get the general idea of what to expect. Alcazar really 'sell' these songs - there's clearly a love for the genre and their enjoyment is infectious. Cleverly referencing the best bits of 70s disco (including the masterful Chic), the album feels more like a greatest hits collections that a debut. Standouts include 'Sexual Guarantee' and the hilariously melodramtic 'Crying at the Discotheque'. If your criteria for great pop is strong melody, amusing lyrics and uplifting chord sequences then this album is most definitely worth purchasing.
Fierce Angel Presents: Fierce Disco (3CD)
Legendary producer Frankie Knuckles once said that "house music is disco's revenge" and this fantastic album certainly provides ample evidence of that. If you are a fan of the Salsoul / sound of Philadelphia style of disco then you are likely to love the majority of tracks on CDs 1 & 2. In particular, Bob Sinclar's 'Champs Elysees Theme' and Hi On Life's 'Goodbye' are perfect examples of how the warmth and melody of disco can be ramped up with a house bassline without losing any of the disco magic. Most of the tracks here are heavy on disco strings, have uplifting lyrics and powerful female vocals. Standout is the stunning 'Love Is The Music' by FR featuring Jenny - which is the best example I've yet to hear of how to incorporate gospel, disco and house into a coherent whole. Fierce Angel have put together an excellent collection of tracks and the packaging is, as always, stylish (and should be congratulated for being celebratory as opposed to the cheap, arguably misogynistic images used by other compilations). Any fan of tuneful, positive dance music should purchase this album.
Confessions On A Dancefloor
Madonna - CD
36 New from
My favourite Madonna album by far - huge slabs of bassline, melodic hook-laden pop and superb production from Stuart Price. Whilst 'Hung Up' is the biggest hit of the album, it is surpassed by the filter house perfection of 'Sorry' and the space age disco of 'Get Together'. The clear standout is 'Jump', which is like a self-help manual's worth of positive thinking distilled into a surging, uplifting dance anthem. Tracks segue into one another and yet each has its own distinct role to play in creating what to my mind is one of the best dance music albums of all time.
Kleerup - CD
6 New from
Kleerup is best known in the UK for his hit single with Robyn ('With Every Hearbeat') which is included here. Also included is an instrumental version of the track he contributed to Cyndi Lauper's 'Bring Ya To The Brink' album. However, these are by no means the most impressive moments on this excellent album. Standout track is the next UK release, 'Longing For Lullabies', which is an emotional reflection on coping with loss that is likely to bring a tear to your eye. Elsewhere, there is a sensitive contribution from guest vocalist Lykke Li and melodic progressive house flows across this collection to leave the listener with a calm, mellow feeling. An emotionally engaging, intelligent dance album that deserves to be a huge hit.