COLOUR THE SMALL ONE
Australian-born singer-songwriter Sia Furler tends to be flippant, even about her own music. She's called her second album, ''Colour the Small One," easy listening. In fact, it's born from a nervous breakdown she suffered after her early career laurels seemed to fade. But turning adversity into gorgeous, evocative pop music is nothing new for Furler. Her critically acclaimed 2002 debut, ''Healing Is Difficult," which included her Top 10 UK hit from 2000, ''Taken for Granted," was written after her first true love was struck by a car and killed. Amazingly, her songwriting turns even such tragic moments into transcendent music. And thanks to her sweet, smoky voice and knack for subtle, heartfelt, and soulful pop songs, her star is on the rise again. Her song ''Breathe Me," included on her new album, was featured in the final scene of the ''Six Feet Under" series finale, and Beck approached her about collaborating after seeing her with side project Zero 7. For her new album, he co-wrote ''The Bully," which has a likably lazy AM radio groove. Other songs are dabbed with electronic effects and swathed in robust orchestration, like ''Sweet Potato," which has an R&B sultriness leavened by playful accents, and ''The Church of What's Happening Now," which finds her bruised vocals elevated by lush, elegant strings. Sia proves she's adept at using her remarkable voice and personal story to fantastic effect.
SEXY, FREAKY, ELECTRIC
With each new year, the search for exciting, inventive artists begins, and for those who like some funk in their trunk, Tony Hussle is worth paying attention to. Hussle foreshadows his full-length debut -- slated for release in a few months -- with this seven-song EP, and it does exactly what it's supposed to do: whet your appetite for more, much more. Hussle, who hails from New Jersey, obviously kneels at the altar of the diminutive one from Minneapolis (that'd be Prince). His salacious grooves are funky and nasty, but he also has a sweet side that makes him eminently appealing. Singing in an insinuating falsetto and ripping off some tart Hendrix-inspired guitar leads, Hussle shows versatility and style on tracks such as ''In This House" and the lithe ''She's a Virgin Too." Yeah, the guy has sex on the brain most of the time, but he doesn't come off as a leering lothario out for nothing but the next score. Hussle wrote all the songs, plays most instruments, and coproduces, which makes for a potent triple threat. Throughout, he smartly textures the keyboards with his tart, tasty guitar work. And while he opts for the obvious on ''Come Again," mostly these tracks have an understated charm. If the full album builds on this, you may be looking at the dawn of a major artist.
Just a few months ago, television cameras were rolling on the set of the reality show ''Rock Star: INXS" as the veteran Australian rock band chose a singer to replace its former frontman, the late Michael Hutchence, who died nearly a decade ago. Capitalizing on the show's cultish popularity, the band and its newly minted lead singer, Canadian Elvis impersonator J.D. Fortune, have quickly released ''Switch." If they hoped to silence those skeptical about their ability to replace such a dynamic vocalist, they've done so with mixed results. Fortune has a sultry, emotive voice that recalls Hutchence without aping him, and backed by such seasoned musicians, the new INXS delivers some compelling alternative rock. But they've done little to update their sound, and offer up few songs that come close to touching their late '80s gems. There are some winning moments, however, especially compared to their musical stumbles in the mid-'90s. Album opener ''Devil's Party" is a flirty dance-rock number with bold, jangling guitars and splashes of sax. ''Perfect Strangers" boasts a strutting guitar riff and sexed-up crooning, and ''Hungry" is a catchy, Britpop-flavored rocker. The album's shining moment is its closing ballad, ''God's Top Ten," a weepy but gorgeous ode to Hutchence that suggests the band members haven't shaken his ghost any more than fans have. INXS plays the Wang Center Feb. 10.
LUDACRIS PRESENTS: DISTURBING THA PEACE
Only in hip-hop can a major artist get away with passing off a disc as haphazard and unnecessary as this one -- on which Ludacris rounds up a gaggle of acts from his label and allows them to strut their stuff. Can you imagine Pearl Jam assembling a slew of minor league acts and letting them rip over the course of a CD? Didn't think so. Here, Ludacris shows up on a few tracks and flies solo on the typically tart, funky ''Sweet Revenge," but most of the set is filled with, well, filler from the likes of the B-level hard-rock band Lazyeye, which offers the derivative ''Blood in the Air," or Shawnna, the female MC attempting to out raunch Lil' Kim. Her ''Gettin' Some" is stillborn while the solid Field Mob's Smoke teams up with Bobby Valentino for the slinky ''Table Dance." The Mob also teams up with Luda and Jamie Foxx, again channeling Ray Charles (enough already), for ''Georgia." Other tracks from vocalist Shareefa or the overextended group cut, ''Family Affair," barely register. Ludacris's many fans will no doubt drop hard-earned dollars on this, but buyers will be wary if 'Cris tries to peddle studio leftovers again (this is the second DTP set). Let's just say that ''disturbing" is the operative word here.
THE MAN WHO ATE THE MAN
Like an iPod on shuffle, electronic duo Magnetophone return with a collection that looks far and wide for its influences. Combining the considerable talents of Matt Huish Saunders and John Hanson, ''The Man Who Ate the Man" condenses pure pop and unbridled rock into an electronic format, and also co-opts blues, psychedelic, gospel, and techno. Traditional song structure adds cohesion to this second full-length release, where a musky, shadowy atmosphere is created by found sounds, analog synthesizers, Stylophone, and Casio. ''Rae and Suzette" includes the ambient, hypnotic pop of a gun firing, and a dark industrial clang repeats in the hazy ''Kodiak." Guests include the Breeders' Kim (also of the Pixies) and Kelley Deal adding guitars and drums on the infectious, fuzzy electro-boogie ''Kel's Vintage Thought." But the stunner in all this wonderful aural clutter is the spacey, electronic ballad ''A Sad Ha Ha (Circled My Demise)," which is led by a sublime vocal courtesy of Scottish artist King Creosote. Magnetophone's broad scope makes for a challenging listen. But, as the title of the mind-expanding, crystalline electronic intro says, ''Let's Start Something New." Yes, let's.