Sia, "This Is Acting" (Inertia/Monkey Puzzle/RCA )
A year and a half ago, Sia transformed a serious liability into an undeniable asset. So why does her new album seem to make waste of her success?
An Australian singer-songwriter who fits confessional lyrics to sleek electronic beats, Sia built a respectable following as an artist at the turn of the century. Eventually, though, she grew tired of the demands of modern pop stardom and switched gears to write songs for others. The hits — sung by Rihanna, Beyoncé and Christina Aguilera — racked up quickly, making Sia a sought-after collaborator.
Inevitably, her track record also reignited interest in her as a solo artist, which led to 2014's "1000 Forms of Fear," her first album in years. Yet rather than wade back into the celebrity culture, Sia deflected attention even as she made the promotional rounds. In photographs, she hid beneath elaborate wigs; for TV performances, she hired dancers to act out her songs.
The gambit paid off, too. "1000 Forms of Fear" debuted at No. 1, and its lead single, "Chandelier," scored several Grammy nominations. Sia's reticence helped her music speak louder than ever — a pretty neat trick.
Unfortunately, Sia stumbles in what appears to be a simpler task on her follow-up. Given her accomplishments last time — and the weirdness at work in even her biggest hits — Sia should've taken this opportunity to venture even further out now that we're all paying attention. Think Beyoncé on "Beyoncé."
But in almost every way, "This Is Acting" feels safer and more ordinary than "1000 Forms of Fear," with familiar (if sturdy) melodies and lyrical cliches about houses on fire and footprints in the sand. Where Sia vividly urged a lover on the previous album to "detonate me/ Shoot me like a cannonball," here she just wants him or her to "take me to the heavens now."
And where she previously emphasized the frayed edges of her unique singing voice, here she too often streamlines her delivery, smoothing out the quirks that made "Chandelier" feel so powerful and vulnerable at the same time.
Sia's said that "This Is Acting" consists of songs she wrote for other artists to sing and that she recorded them herself only after they were rejected. And indeed you can hear her self-consciously adapting her style to the perceived needs of Rihanna (in "Cheap Thrills") or Lana Del Rey (in "Space Between") or Adele (in "Alive," which she co-wrote with the British singer).
In other words, her thinking might've gone, putting too much Sia in these songs would've prevented them from doing what they were designed to do. But that's a problem she's solved more inventively before.
Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times
Ty Segall, "Emotional Mugger" (Drag City)
"Emotional Mugger" neither abandons Segall's penchant for classically raw rock 'n' roll attitude nor does it find him resting in place. The record makes adjustments toward more sophisticated compositions, with sudden shifts in tempo, more varied guitar effects, and unexpectedly complex drum patterns taking a more forward position in Segall's previously slim arsenal. It's also his messiest, most caustic album yet, taking the grit of his beloved garage rock to extreme new levels even he has never played with in his extensive discography.
Colin Fitzgerald, Popmatters.com