The Sounds make beautiful ones, Jason Antone does Dr. Seuss

By Chris Azzopardi

Hear Me Out

The Sounds, 'Crossing the Rubicon'

The Swedish quintet's crossing the Rubicon ... into the '80s? "Underground" and Beatbox," with their mad-crazy synths - and the rap-tastic latter cut featuring a delectably cheesy "let's-go-roller skating!" vibe - sound straight out of that era. And if the hooks didn't stick like peanut-buttered bread to the roof of someone's mouth, it'd be easier to give up on them and spin some Blondie. But don't. Surrender to these synth-fueled punk-pop pleasures, even with sometimes-corny New Wave swooshes reminiscent of Debbie Harry and Co. It helps that the band sprinkles in catchy quirks, like the sing-along "uh!" on "My Lover" and handclaps on "Beatbox," but much of the collection's distinguishably charismatic quality is Maja Ivarsson's affecting, ever-changing yelp, a Tegan and Sara hybrid. She's at her strongest during "The Only Ones," which shows a defiant, mature sound progression as they Coldplay the lament, giving it an epic, instrument-erupting mid-section before it falls back to a piano-only outro. It's the 12-song set's most melancholy moment, of which there are many. But their third LP also manages to be exhilarating, danceable, and practically irresistible.

Grade: B+

Jason Antone, 'Start to Move'

Elementary school students could learn something from Jason Antone - like how to churn out some of the simplest couplets in the English language. That's his debut's worst offense, utilizing every hard-rhyme in every children's book ever made ("say" with "day," "erase" with "place" with "face," "heat" with "beat" with "feet") - though his corny sexed-up sound is almost as big a turnoff. His intentions (does he want to be taken seriously, or is he banking on being another novelty artist?) are hazy, but who cares? The disc is ill-fated dreck from the get-go, even if he can carry a tune. Drenched in '80s house beats, his come-on lyrics come off as tacky as the fashion trends of that decade: the "Holiday" sampled "Ooh Ooh Ooh" contains a chorus that comically conjures a kid with a playground boo-boo. Not "love." He's a desperate ex on "How's Anybody Gonna Love You Like That" and tries being a one-man boy-band on the ballad "More Than Friends." Then there's the cover, and - finally! - something not inspired by Dr. Seuss. On it, his voice mimics the Tears for Fears original "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" - dude has a thing for the '80s - but, Jason, baby steps. Music first, then the world.

Grade: D+

Kristine W, 'The Power of Music'

The blond belter who can turn a note into a thunderous cyclone is rarely grouped with Kylie or Madonna. They've got the mainstream shimmer; she's got the wave-propelling voice. And it sparkles, swoops and seizes on her fourth LP, a peppy self-empowerment booster produced by industry kahunas that dances its way into your soul. Sometimes too go-get-'em-tiger - and cheesy with guitar riffs, rap and misplaced ballads - the dance-club diva's musings still feel more authentic than some of the heavyweights hogging the limelight.

Green Day, '21st Century Breakdown'

Patience is a virtue, they say. Whatever the hell it is, five years away paid off for the Green Day fan-gaggle. An extension of "American Idiot," the eighth Billie Joe Armstrong-headed LP - a rock-opera, if you will - is dynamically strewn with punk-pop power and sociopolitical themes that goes full-throttle from the morphy title track to the anthemic radio-ready "21 Guns." And they're all almost 40. Take that, Fall Out Boy.

Swing Out Sister, 'Beautiful Mess'

The Euro duo's latest couldn't be more completely routed in la-la-land - unless, of course, it came with some rainbows, unicorns and a yellow-brick road. Rife with aural dreamscapes that paint a unique reverie of escapism, the title couldn't be more dead-on: Gorgeous retro-soul melodies, icky issues. It always looks on the bright side, though - and with song names like "Butterfly Lullaby," fey choruses and jazzy tones, it'd be impossible not to.

Chris Azzopardi isn't a beautiful mess in the morning. Just a mess. Reach him at chris@pridesource.com.

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