First great album of the year

McMorrow's second effort is a yin-yang balance of passion and chill Sound Bites Album of the week ALTERNATIVE R&B/INDIE FOLK/SOUL POST TROPICAL James Vincent McMorrow Vagrant Believe Recordings.

Here it is, the first great album of 2014: Post Tropical, the second studio effort by 31-year-old Dubliner James Vincent McMorrow, released when the northern hemisphere is still in the throes of winter and North America is barely recovering from the brutal assault of the Polar Vortex.

And what an apt preposition "post" is for the record title .The mesmerising album is "post" so many things, signposting the coming together of various strands of genres, a confluence of influences, from Frank Ocean to Drake to Bon Iver.

The beardie McMorrow was initially pegged as a Justin Vernon look-andsoundalike for his 2010 debut, Early In The Morning, and rightly so. With the self-penned and produced Post Tropical, he's coming majestically into his own, alchemising nu-folk, alternative R&B and soul, all channelled through a fastidious bedroom-DJ sensibility.

It's a rarefied terrain subsisting on its own; a yin-yang balance between passion and chill, much like the postcard artwork done for the CD sleeve by his artist girlfriend Emma Doyle. It features a polar bear adrift on a block of ice while a flamingo walks and palm trees sway in the foreground.

Get lost in the single Red Dust. It takes one's breath away, as it proceeds with the precision of a James Blake ballad. Unlike Blake, though, McMorrow can really belt out, his falsetto husky yet crystalline and slicing through hearts.

Try resisting a cavalry of McMorrow's cooing amid dolorous plinks of a piano and stark percussion keys. (Live, his voice has drawn audible gasps and whoops from the audience.) Starkness and richness come to a head in Gold, a resplendent twister that cribs Vernon's predilection for 1980s-style soft rock and amps up synths and splashing cymbals.

Elsewhere, songs shimmer as if awakened from hibernation. Look Out blooms in a one-man electronic orchestra, while All Points rides on a skeletal beat and confident brass to redemption. When he strips away, as in the opening track Cavalier, the results are equally staggering.

Left amid a few sparse handclaps and plangent synths, that soulful voice reaches an airless point beyond Everest as he ends on a killer line: "I remember my first love." You'll clap if you're still alive.

Indie rock PEDESTRIAN VERSE Frightened Rabbit Atlantic Glasgow-based Frightened Rabbit sweep down the Scottish highlands like the next coming of U2, or Arcade Fire, hearts pinned on sleeve and voices bellowing like Braveheart's William Wallace.

Okay, that's a tad overdramatic, but the blokes' fourth album does have a way of getting you into a tizzy. Frontman Scott Hutchison's beguiling brogue comes through in a set of stadiumlit epics which will get you fist-pumping and tearing slightly like real men do.

You'd want to hug your companion when Hutchison moans about "a broken elevator anthem" (State Hospital) or spits out "the blue minor misery" (Nitrous Gas). It's the kind of record which people's hero Bruce Springsteen would approve of.

Frightened Rabbit perform at the St Jerome's Laneway Festival at the Meadow, Gardens by the Bay on Jan 25.Pop DAMI IM Dami Im Sony.The South Koreanborn, Brisbane-based piano teacher won the fifth season of The X Factor Down Under and calmly knocked down stereotypes along the way.

She belts out like Celine Dion/Patti LaBelle yet dresses like Bjork's kooky Asian sister. Her debut, though, is strictly diva land. "Roar… roar …roar! I've got the eye of the tiger," Im swallows the Katy Perry hit Roar and elevates the Simon & Garfunkel folkie Bridge Over Troubled Water into a gospel ode.

Studiously, she hits every note. She comes in hard for Miley Cyrus' Wrecking Ball and ululates like Mariah Carey in Hero and Whitney Houston in Saving All My Love For You. You cheer and yet you wonder: Who is Dami Im? Pop/Dance pop WANDERLUST Sophie Ellis-Bextor EBGB's/Love Da Music *** BRITNEY JEAN Britney Spears RCA ** These pop-disco queens have been peddling their trade for more than a decade, and the likes of Katy Perry and Lady Gaga are snapping at their heels

. English rose Sophie Ellis-Bextor takes the high road, and saunters way out east, specifically, Eastern Europe. On her fifth album, Wanderlust, co-penned and produced by Ed Harcourt, she's transformed into a Waltzing Matilda.

In Young Blood, she swoons, as if waxing lyrical about her last disco days, violins rising to envelop her. You halfexpect Jane Seymour to step out of the 1980 sepia-toned classic Somewhere In Time.

When she picks up the pace, as in Little Dolls, it's a pop-spin on a Russian kalinka or a Polish mazurka - it's so ridiculous it works. Comparatively, Britney Spears is stuck in a groove. Peddled as her "personal" album, Britney Jean is neither memorable nor revealing.

Blame it on the offensively banal production work - guilty parties include will.i.am and David Guetta - Britney squeals like a still baby-voiced hologram. Sure, Work B**ch thumps effectively, a slave driver getting down to crass business, but there's so much you can take. Synths stab, and you're dead.


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