Food an appetising mix of flavours

Album of the week

Ninja Tune

Kelela, FKA twigs, Cassie, Phlo Finister, Jhene Aiko, Kid A and Jessy Lanza - these names may not ring a bell yet. But for pundits who have observed keenly the confluence of R&B, electronica and indie rock in the last couple of years, these soul sistas represent a rising brigade taking music to new frontiers.

Yet, in a sense, they could exist only because of the groundbreaking work laid by pioneers such as Kelis.

Yes, you heard right. Kelis, she of the 2003 Neptunes-produced hit Milkshake, promising that her "milkshake brings all the boys to the yard".

She may not be at the peak of fame right now, but a perusal of her discography - six albums which leap from R&B to neo soul to house to dance pop - shows this woman is a chameleon.

When Beyonce goes indie R&B - as in last year's aggressively weird self-titled missive - she makes sure everyone knows it. Not Kelis, she just is born left-field. Her latest album, Food, is one of those zingers you don't see coming.

Kelis, who kept a low profile since her acrimonious split from rapper Nas in 2009, is a certified saucier. She graduated from the famed Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in November last year.

She got her own show on the Cooking Channel called Saucy And Sweet and was last seen serving duck confit sliders to punters at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, in March.

Food is a U-turn from her 2010 album, Flesh Tone, in which she plays a sexy android gone electro-pop, working with the likes of David Guetta and Benny Benassi.

This time, she comes down to terra firma, an earth mama here to feed all humanity.

It's vintage soul, funk, Tex-Mex, gospel and Afrobeat, all sauteed deftly with future sass by producer David Sitek from TV on the Radio.

Floyd marinates slowly, horns and strings stirred gently. Change is an incendiary B-movie revenge missive as she lambasts someone who could not escape the "grips of desire" (Nas, are you listening?).

Lead single Jerk Ribs rides on an intricate syncopated riff as Kelis sings praises of her jazz-musician dad.

"He played the notes and keys/He said to look for melody in everything," she sings, an intimate rasp in her voice more pronounced than before.

That rasp, whether due to age or just sheer weariness from her personal baggage, is mildly shocking at first, but the more you listen, the more appropriate it is.

In the funky testimony Friday Fish Fry, she is magisterial.

"Give me all I want, give me all I need," she commands as the horns toot and the drums clatter and everyone echoes in a call-and-response.

She gets raspier and thirstier. If you could, you would hand her an iced tea.

Karmin Epic

Hey, look. Two mannequins on the cover of a CD. Oh wait. these two - Amy Heidermann and Nick Noonan - are actual humans who first made their name on YouTube covering folks from Nicki Minaj to Chris Brown. That's the problem: You keep hearing other people in their relentlessly busy pastiche. It's a carousel of tics cribbed from Minaj (that scary-femme quickfire rapping style) and Flo Rida (synth-dubstep-techno-trap-nonsense) in the title track. Elsewhere, they throw everything on the wall and see what sticks. Puppet pummels and Gasoline is a mutated reggae doozie about lighting something on fire. Run for your life.

Pop punk
We Are The In Crowd
Hopeless Records

The ironically named We Are The In Crowd are, alas, too straight for their own good. Their second album Weird Kids is exactly what they aren't. This band from Poughkeepsie, New York, dash out by-the-numbers pop-punk shtick blasted loudly on American tween dramas. Everything is slicked-up: Tay Jardine and Jordan Eckes belt out in boy-girl unison, and you wouldn't bother deciphering the lyrics, with bracketed song titles such as Remember (To Forget You) and The Best Thing (That Never Happened).

Alternative folk/country
New Bums
Drag City

Softly they kill. Meet a new Californian supergroup formed by two West Coast indie icons: Ben Chasny of psych-folk band Six Organs Of Admittance and Donovan Quinn of rock group Skygreen Leopards. Voices In A Rented Room is a dialogue between two kindred spirits, and you imagine the two pals shadowing each other under a full moon. The coyote pricks its ears and the Joshua tree will stand sentinel as the chaps strum and croon and maybe wink at each other. These gently eccentric ballads fray like the most careworn cotton tees. Your Girlfriend Might Be A Cop is sung hushed. Welcome To The Navy thrums with potent. Sequestered from the outside world, this bromance is a world unto itself.

Pop/pop rock
The Vamps
Mercury/Virgin EMI

This British quartet, who play musical instruments, put the "band" back into boyband. Well, they aren't exactly scary vamps, or anything sultry or shadowy - instead, they are normal, hormonal youth who sing about girls and television. Sure, they are versatile. Hear the now obligatory quasi-folk-rock touch (no thanks to the influence of Mumford and Sons) in Wild Heart; the mandolins in a beachy take on Simon & Garfunkel's Cecilia; and the electric riffs on a power-pop Smile. These vamps will do anything, but they remain bright and cheery.

This article was published on May 15 in The Straits Times.

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.