International acts put new spins on music

Christine and the Queens — ‘Chris’
French singer/songwriter Heloise Letissier (she IS C&TQ) returns with her second international release.
THE BAD: All good.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “The Queens” moniker comes from the drag queens who used to back up Letissier at her early Paris gigs. The ensuing years found her progressing musically, personally, sexually, etc. The new album, simply titled “Chris,” now sees the artist shedding past personas while gaining both strength and more confidence as a musician. Letissier wants to put the boys in their place, and she’s completely unapologetic about it.
The record itself is a mix of electronic, modern soul and indie pop. Letissier always releases her songs in both English and French. Take your pick. In the past, she’s toured with Marina and the Diamonds. Their styles are very similar — big melodies, popping beats, a dramatic vocal delivery and a hint of the sultry. Just unique enough NOT to cross over big time, “Chris” breaks boundaries and remains highly accessible at the same time.
BUY IT?: Sure.

Peach Kelli Pop — ‘Gentle Leader’
Female Canadian pop/punk outfit Peach Kelli Pop goes from a solo do-it-yourself project to a proper band on its fourth album.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: In the past, PKP always consisted of singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Allie Hanlon … and pretty much no one else. Even touring band lineups shifted often. Now, PKP is a dedicated four-piece group, and it’s all the better for it.
“Gentle Leader” easily is its most polished record to date. But that doesn’t mean the group has lost any spontaneity or fierceness. Here we get 10 tracks in just over 23 minutes, each one a razor-sharp slice of ear candy. Humungous hooks, jagged riffs, crashing backbeats, spunky harmonies — yeah, it’s just the good stuff.
Punchy tunes such as “Hello Kittie Knife” and “Don’t Push Me” can’t help being both aggressive and too damn happy at the same time. When the band takes it a little easy, as it does on more tempered pieces such as “Parasomnia” and “King Size,” the rawness remains.
BUY IT?: Definitely.

The Joy Formidable — ‘Aaarth!’
Welsh indie rock trio Joy Formidable gets even more independent and more creative on its fourth.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Aaarth,” the title a variation on the Welsh word for “bear,” is the band’s second record after leaving major label Atlantic. And it finds the group taking more musical chances while still retaining the fierce rock muscle it’s flexed since day one.
Softer bits aside, songs such as “All in All” before it builds into a cacophony of thunder or the gently swirling “Absence,” “Aaarth” is a mostly heavy indie album blurring the lines between post-modern experimentation and metallic crunch. Guitarist/frontwoman Ritzy Bryan remains the band’s driving force and main focus, whether she’s leaning in close and whispering or shouting from across the room.
A tense back-and-forth rhythm carries “The Wrong Side.” “What For” burns bright over crashing drums. “You Can’t Give Me” sneaks up from behind, with dramatic melodies eventually soaring over multi-layered riffs. As usual, it’s all full-bodied and razor sharp.
BUY IT?: Yes.