Aaron Lee Tasjan

Album: “Karma for Cheap”

Grade: B

When performing on a cruise ship, Aaron Lee Tasjan has been known to play New York Dolls music that sends listeners fleeing for the exits. The amusing lesson: Don’t try to pigeonhole this guy.

The one-time glam rocker has dabbled in Americana, and on tour does a hilarious Dylan-style talking blues. Now he’s into ear candy.

“Karma for Cheap” is a 10-song pop potpourri heavy on hooks and memorable melodies, with pounding piano and plenty of air guitar invitations. There’s a slightly druggy haze to the whole thing and the album echoes classic rock, from ELO (“The Rest Is Yet to Come”) and The Traveling Wilburys (”Heart Slows Down”) to Elliott Smith (“Dream Dreamer”) and Tom Petty (”Set You Free”). Bits of The Beatles abound.

But there’s nothing stale about the material because it’s so well-crafted and joyfully performed by Tasjan and his touring band, which includes standout guitarist Brian Wright. It also helps that there’s a topical bent to the lyrics, which stress the need to overcome the negativity of creepy times.

This album should improve anyone’s world outlook, and it captures the considerable charms of Tasjan’s live performances, even without any New York Dolls covers.

–Steven Wine, Associated Press

Troye Sivan

Album: “Bloom”

Grade: A

On Troye Sivan’s debut album in 2015, he admitted he was “just a lost boy/ready to be found.” The Australian singer-songwriter was often shy, anxious, almost quivering. When asking his lover for a kiss, he begged him not to bite. Sivan is back this year and, wow, what a difference three years makes.

A confident, in control and very knowing Sivan returns with the aptly titled “Bloom,” an addictive 10-track collection of unrushed, synth-rich pop songs from a man now not afraid of love bites.

The actor-model-You Tube star reunites with some of his main songwriting partners – Brett McLaughlin, Bram Inscore and Allie X – but the result is more adult, atmospheric and assured than his impressive debut album “Blue Neighbourhood.” That portrayed a young man coming to grips with his sexuality and a new world of sensual experiences.

Nowhere is Sivan’s maturity more apparent than on “Dance to This,” his fantastic, spacy duet with Ariana Grande that is perfectly calibrated and features voices melding beautifully.

Sivan also shows off his confidence and ability in a stripped down “Postcard,” with Gordi offering her vocals. “What a Heavenly Way to Die,” which takes its name from The Smiths’ “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” initially sounds like a risky move but ends up quite beautiful and perfectly executed. The only real misstep on the CD is the lyrics to “Plum,” which has so many fruit-based references that it seems forced.

The album ends with the slow-burning, turgid “Animal,” which may remind fans of “Wild” from his debut. Both songs – about lust – are curiously contained. There’s a strange coolness there, belied by primal lyrics. It’s wonderful, but here’s hoping Sivan lets loose a little on his third album. So far, he’s bloomed into a pop force to be reckoned with.

–Mark Kennedy, Associated Press

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