Elle Varner's debut album is titled, "Perfectly Imperfect" (RCA Records), but she should have called it "Perfect." The newcomer's 11-track set is pure excellence, full of R&B gems that are silky, smooth and jamming.
Her voice -- raspy at times, soft at others -- is the focal point of the album as it glides over songs and adapts to the different beats, which include hip-hop ("Only Wanna Give It to You," "I Don't Care"), funk-soul ("So Fly") and contemporary R&B ("Welcome Home").
"Stop the Clock" is flavorful and addictive, thanks to its dramatic beat and the sound of handclapping dominating the chorus. "Refill," a Top 10 R&B hit, is velvety and could easily be a TV jingle.
Producers Oak & Pop, best known for their work on Nicki Minaj's "Your Love" and Big Sean's "Marvin and Chardonnay," helm most of the songs, though Varner's father, Jimmy Varner, co-writes and produces some of the tracks, and her mother, Mikelyn Roderick, works as a vocal producer and background singer. Varner, a graduate of Clive Davis' music school at New York University, co-wrote each song, and she's got a skill with the pen.
On "Not Tonight," the twentysomething is magically vulnerable, singing about being too scared to approach a man she's interested in. She starts off slow, building her vocals and words, and it makes for a touching track. She's also exposed on "So Fly," a perky outtake about being insecure about her weight and image. On the song, the big-haired, hipster-looking Varner -- in a beautiful tone -- asks: "How can I ever compete with 34 Double D's?"
With that voice, and with this album.
- CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: "Stop the Clock" is a future hit.
-- By Mesfin Fekadu, AP Music Writer
Two Door Cinema Club, "Beacon" (Glassnote)
Two Door Cinema Club blasted onto the airwaves in 2010 with its debut "Tourist History." The group's wistful and perfectly constructed ditties about youth and love lodged them firmly in the indie set and spread optimism through the hearts of losers and geeks with a positive love song, "Something Good Can Work."
With its second album "Beacon," the Northern Ireland trio keeps that flame alive. The band continues its shoe-gazing style but with added twists. There's an electro spin on some tracks, showing the boys are capable of concocting more than guitar riffs, and they've gained more swagger since the release of their debut.
Precision is key with Two Door Cinema Club songs and they never miss a beat throughout "Beacon." First single "Sleep Alone" pulsates with a steady drumbeat and is melancholic and full of yearning as Alex Trimble sings, "Hold me close/I've never been this far from home." And "Handshake" is interestingly punctuated with an electronic pulse throughout.
The record doesn't have as many standout songs as "Tourist History," but still sees the band heading in an interesting indie disco direction and shows they did not slip into the second-album doldrums.
- CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: "Next Year" is cleverly constructed, giving vocals, electronics and guitar space to breathe, and is lyrically optimistic. "I'll be home for next year darling," they promise.
-- By Sian Watson, Associated Press