Almo recording artist Imogen Heap played the Park West in Chicago a couple weeks ago in support of her album I Megaphone. The disc was released last year and sadly sunk without a trace — this reviewer only heard it because of her concert date. But while the album is essentially dead at this point (she’s already off the road and starting to work on new material) I mention it here because Tori Amos fans will want to own it. If you or a friend is a Tori fan, find this CD — Heap’s vocals are amazingly reminiscient of Amos, though she doesn’t wail in the high end as much. She’s not lyrically as elliptical either, but several songs on I Megaphone stand up easily next to Amos’ high energy work on From The Choirgirl Hotel. Like Amos, her work is piano-based, though you have to listen harder to hear the ivory beneath these rockin’ pop arrangements. Seek it out...

 

Mocean Worker - Mixed Emotional Features Mocean Worker
Mixed Emotional Features
(Palm)


Mocean Worker is actually just one guy named Adam Dorn, who apparently spends a lot of time in recording studios piecing together synthesizer melodies, small bits of incidental noise, vocal samples and percolating rhythm tracks. The result is an album of 10 basically instrumental bits of dancehall mixing fodder. But Mocean Worker isn’t just about beats; there are some intricately mixed melodies and soundscapes conveyed in Mixed Emotional Features. In fact, this is one of the best ambient instrumental dance albums I’ve heard. It’s quiet enough for background contemplative listening, but there are enough chunky-drum rhythms and oddball warbling synthesizer fragments that, while it’s often repetitive given its dancebeat nature, the CD includes some pretty interesting stuff if you turn the volume up and actually pay attention.

Punchy James Bond horns color “Detonation” and computer sound blobs punctuate “Jello Dart.” And for Star Wars fans, the disc ends with a sci-fi sounding low-end synthfuzz and nervous snare song called “Boba Fett.”

 

Muzzle - Actual Size Muzzle
Actual Size
(Reprise)
½


There’s an inexplicable magic that happens when a band combines just the right amount of pounding drums and guitars with sugar sweet well-phrased harmonies and melodies. After just seconds of hearing the chorus, you’ll find yourself nodding and singing along.

Muzzle has that magic.

Achingly beautiful and yet strongly anchored in rock, the band’s second album is a celebration of power pop. Echoing the well-drawn rock of The Posies, who also hail from Seattle, Muzzle kicks out solidy pounding songs layered with intertwining guitar lines and lots of ooh-ooohs in the background. They don’t hit any particulary lyrical breakthroughs on Actual Size — mostly songs of the dumped and in love type — but the warm wash of the vocals and guitars will leave you smiling whether you pay attention to what they’re singing or why.

The album closes with its quietest — and best — moment, the deceptively simple “Thanks To You.” A Beatlesque love ode with langourously soloing bass notes, band leaders Wesley Nelson and Ryan Maxwell play a perfect Lennon-McCartney as they sing in harmony “don’t put the light out tonight/I’ll turn it off when I get home to you.” It’s a beautifully drawn quiet moment on a deliciously crunchy album.

 

Tina Arena - In DeepTina Arena
In Deep
(Epic)


An Australian TV child actress, Tina Arena achieved international acclaim in 1996 with Don’t Ask, her debut album of bouncy pop songs, and drew comparisons to fellow Aussie Olivia Newton-John for her sensual, angelic vocals and catchy songs like her hit single “Chains” and “Heaven Help My Heart.” In Deep continues in the same vein as that debut LP, though it suffers occasionally from overproduction. Huge arrangements of strings and layered vocals backup nearly every track here, sometimes to the detriment of the simple melodies they try to complement. But Arena’s vocals are still as clean and clear as ever, and the result is a warm easy listening album of light pop songs.

Mick Jones of Foreigner helps out on several tracks, including her faithful big ballad cover of his band’s “I Want To Know What Love Is,” as does Celine Dion/Mariah Carey producer Walter Afanasieff. The disc also includes her European hit duet with Marc Anthony from the Mask of Zorro soundtrack, “I Want To Spend My Lifetime Loving You.”

Arena shows the world that sweet pop singles are still viable in this age of growling grunge vocalists and Marilyn Manson shock rock. This is a refreshingly celebratory disc.