The ubiquitous Lady Gaga and the swiftly gaining Owl City represented the opposite ends of the electro/dance music spectrum in 2009. As might be expected, they have inspired others to follow them.
Lights, performing Jan. 28 at the Majestic, 115 King in Madison, is the female equivalent of Owl City, right down to the religious affiliation. Silly moon/spoon/June rhymes aside, Lights (AKA Valerie Poxleitner), can carry a simple tune. The Christian imagery is subversive: “break off the chains” in “Saviour; the “road” that “drives” a soul in “Drive My Soul”; the water imagery and being taken over in “River”; the “crusade” and “faith” in “Lions!” and so on. So, while opportunities for dancing are plentiful, the whole experience feels less like a nightclub or party than a tent revival.
Elly Jackson of La Roux is closer in spirit to Lady Gaga and she probably has more fun — at least in this world — than Lights on the duo’s eponymous debut. Along with Ben Langmaid, Jackson gives voice to a dozen songs (including hidden bonus track “Growing Pains”) that dabble in new wave revival and modern dance-pop. La Roux seems intent that listeners worship at the altar of the DJ booth and get off their knees and on their feet on “In For The Kill,” “Quicksand,” “Bulletproof,” “Fascination” and “Growing Pains.”
When you find a successful formula, it’s usually safe to stick with it, and that’s precisely what mono-monikered Mika has done with his second album. From the colorful Peter Max-like album graphics to the Scissor Sisters/Elton John/Queen-inspired tunes and Mika’s refusal to commit to a Kinsey Scale number, “The Boy Who Knew Too Much” knows how to make listeners move. “We Are Golden,” “Blame It on The Girls,” “Rain,” “Good Gone Girl,” “Touches You” and “One Foot Boy” will keep feet busy.
What Erika Jayne lacks in originality, she makes up for in energy. I can’t be the only one who thought of the suggestive 1984 hit by Vanity when I first came across the title of the Jayne’s “Pretty Mess.” What’s more, Jayne sounds like she’s trying to replicate the godmothers of modern dance music — gay divorcee Madonna and Kylie Minogue. “Everybody Wants Some” borrows from Depeche Mode and Dee-Lite. “Give You Everything” and “Beautiful” could be lost Madonna tracks. “Roller Coaster” rides the Kylie rail. The addition of Sheila E. on “Time to Realize” proves the high priestess of percussion still has it, while the Prince-penned “Sex Shooter,” featuring Pepper Mashay, shoots blanks.
Nadia Ali works an exotic vibe along the lines of Nelly Furtado on “Embers.” There’s a Middle Eastern element woven into the fabric of “Crash and Burn,” as the persistent beat of “People” leads listeners to believe that Ali is sincere when she sings “I won’t stop.” The loping “Be Mine,” the house-y “Fine Print” and the vintage disco clapping beat of “Love Story” sound like Ali is most at home on the dance-floor.
A supporter of the disco cause for nearly 20 years, Ultra Naté serves up a steaming six-song platter. A “Baltimore club album,” “Things Happen at Night” is a stew of samples, rapid-fire beats, nasty lyrics and an all-around excuse for working up a sweat long between the time when the sun sets and rises. Collaborations with DJ King Tutt (“Faster Faster Pussycat”), DJ Class (“Hey DJ”) and “Hero” (disco legend Jocelyn Brown) are all the proof listeners need that Ultra Naté plays well with others.
The multi-Grammy Award nominated “The E.N.D.” solidifies The Black Eyed Peas’ transformation from pseudo-hip hop act to pseudo dance act. Poseurs without a purpose for more than 10 years, BEP appear to have found a safe space amid the club-goers, and tracks such “Boom Boom Pow,” “I Gotta Feeling” (did someone say “mazel tov?”), “Rock That Body,” “Out of My Head,” and “One Tribe” guarantee that the Peas will be in the black for a long time to come.