Album of the Week: Sia's 1000 Forms of Fear

Sia's 1000 Forms of Fear is an important pop record for 2014. Sia has a big reputation, shaping the pop landscape penning hits and creating music with emotional weight. Some of her best tracks over the past year include Beyonce's "Pretty Hurts," Britney Spear's "Perfume," and Lea Michelle's "Cannonball." These tracks present female pop stars as complicated people battered by the world but vibrant in their perseverance--a vision of feminine power cemented by Sia's collaboration with David Guetta on "Titanium." 1000 Forms of Fear takes Sia's empowerment aesthetic further. It is a dark record from which the singer/songwriter soars with the best vocal performances we've heard in the last six months.

Because she does not shy from heavy subjects, Sia's new album explores alcoholism ("Chandelier"), cultural pressures placed on women ("Big Girls Cry"), and, of course, romance. She's not afraid to use striking imagery--case and point: "Straight for the Knife," a harrowing almost-suicide tune about ill-fated love and lust. These are all excellent tracks with crisp lyrics and textured production, and they are songs kept alive via Sia's performance.

She has an elastic  voice that she stretches for the listener, showing its peaks and cracks. Though layered drum machines dominate these power ballads, the singer's vocal pushes out of that rubble, making every song feel like a triumph. Take "Elastic Heart"--a track that deserves the full single treatment--during which the singer declares "You did not break me. I'm still fighting for peace... You won't see me fall apart, 'cause I've got an elastic heart." Such lyrics can be difficult to deliver, but Sia picks them up and runs hard through the song, and her conviction is nothing short of impressive.

There some lighter moments too, including "Fire Meet Gasoline," which Rihanna or  Lea Michelle would beg to sing," the lust anthem "Free the Animal," and the beach rock "Hostage." Though these songs have softer touches, Sia attacks them with the same earnestness of every other piece, unifying her record.

By the time she wraps the album up with the epic ballad, "Dressed in Black," she creates a world in which she never shows her face--something she avoids during rare live performances--but bravely shows her heart. Ladies and gentlemen, we have heard the best pop record of the year.


   

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