Saturday, April 29, 2006
ETC: ASTROGAL (DEMO)
A transcendental moment in Singapore pop history has taken place as Etc unleashes onto the unsuspecting modern rock world, Astrogal. Apologetically classified as a 'demo' it may be but be not fooled, as it is the kind of 21st century pop that deserves as much attention as it can get...
From the sixties-inclined "doo doo doo" intro to the Sonic Youth-wacked out guitar solo - from the insistent back beat to Ben Harrison's ambivalent vocals, Astrogal is an infectious stab at the heart of mediocre, cookie-cutter 'indie-pop'. The revolution starts here.
NEIL YOUNG: LIVING WITH WAR
I am listening to the new Neil Young album Living With War streaming from here. And it's a protest album against President Bush and the war in Iraq and it is probably Young's best album in years. Reminiscient of Young's Ragged Glory-era fuzztone guitar epics, Young has humourously described Living With War as his "metal-folk protest album". Without doubt, it will be one of the most significant albums of 2006. More later, people.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
POP CULTURE PRESS #62
Yes, kiddies, the new issue is out and I've got reviews of The Society of Rockets, The Happy Bullets & the Immaculate Machines featured. If that's not reason enough, then maybe the sampler CD with Tommy Keene, the Czars and cover artists Built To Spill will seal the deal. More info here.
Sunday, April 16, 2006
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
Random thoughts on a few albums (dating from 2004), I picked up cheap recently.
The Thrills – Let’s Bottle Bohemia (EMI)
“A classic debut album from a big talent to watch out for” is how I described The Thrill’s debut CD – So Much for the City. Yet, I just could not bring myself to purchase the follow-up when it was first released. For some reason, I dunno, maybe the sleeve artwork turned me off – it happens! Sad to say, my instincts were spot on. Let’s Bottle Bohemia is a pale shadow of the wondrous debut as if Conor Deasy and pals ran out of ideas the first time out. The songs all sound the same…well, that’s an exaggeration but what I do mean to say is that the concept of reviving the West Coast sound of the mid-70s is an ace one in my book, long as you have the tunes and arrangements to keep things interesting. No thrills here, not even cheap ones. Sad.
Friday, April 14, 2006
BLAST FROM THE PAST!
Here's a particularly nostalgic review - in fact, my very 1st published review (cheap thrill, eh?) ever in a 1992 issue of BigO (Before I Get Old) magazine. Still agree with its sentiments as well. Ride, sadly, was a one-trick pony and never did recover from the shoegazing majesty of the early EP and the Nowhere album. I mean, Andy Bell is now playing bass with Oasis.... Nuff said.
Going Blank Again
Ride have been hailed, in some quarters, as the true great Brit guitar hope. The Oxford-based quartet has been described as a marriage of the Byrds with Sonic Youth - sort of like '60s pop with a '90s crunch.
In truth, their sound is nothing new. Ride are no trend-setters.
Rather, they can be seen as developing the style that was initiated before them by their Creation stable-mates, The Jesus And Mary Chain and the House Of Love.
On Going Blank Again, their sophomore album, the band has clearly moved on and matured
from the jaded work evident on their last release, 1991's Today
Forever EP - The group has taken their formula - noisy guitars, staccato drumbeats and
indecipherable vocals - a bit further with the exploration of "new" guitar sounds (over the
hitherto solely employed, fuzzy-overdriven, feedback-laden grunge) by utilising synthesizer
The gritty sentiments of Leave Them All Behind, complete with Who-like keyboard intro, the
magnificent ambience of Chrome Waves and the jangly pop-sense of Twisterella are examples of the best this so-called "oceanic" rock genre can offer.
Make no mistake about it, Ride take aim for the heart and not intellect - their lyrics are, by
and large, psychodelic gooblygook, especially on Time Machine, and in that respect, they
truly deliver music that sweeps the unwary listener off his feet, emotionally.
And yes, Ride's Going Blank Again does have its drawbacks. The most serious of which is the
common accusation that they place undue emphasis on form over substance. While it may be
true that the songs are sonically appealing, there are times where the songs don't seem to have
much meat on the bones. Songs like Time Of Her Time, Cool Your Boots, 0X4 and the Today Forever EP are prime examples.
Worse still, Ride can be downright derivative like in Mousetrap wherein they lift wholesale the chord structure of The Beatles' You Won't See Me and even this feat was achieved
by The Jam 15 years ago on I Need You (from This Is The Modern World). All of which leaves Going Blank Again a mixed bag. (My head says 6 but my heart says 8 so I’ll give this a 7!).
Thursday, April 13, 2006
THE ESSEX GREEN
I have been digging the new Essex Green album, Cannibal Sea.From the powerpop rocker "Don't Know Why (You Stay)" to the countrified "Rue De Lis" the Essex Green prove that they possess the pop smarts AND the rustic heart to deliver a true pop-rock masterpiece.And yes, the rest of the review is at http://www.powerofpop.com/
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
P HUX - MILE HIGH FAN
Just got an email from the cool cool guys from Not Lame. Click on this link to find out about all sorts of free/no-cost stuff you can get from Not Lame for pre-ordering the new Parthenon Huxley CD, due out next month. Well, suffice to say that it is an amazing offer that needs to be seen to be believed. Fans of P Hux, powerpop and good music need not hesitate. I'm already there. Be sure to tell them Power of Pop sent you...
Monday, April 10, 2006
Saturday, April 08, 2006
BUCKETFULL OF BRAINS #69
The new BoB is out after an unusually prolix delay and it is worth the wait. The late Nikki Sudden is the cover artist and the issue features an interview with the man before his untimely death in late March. He will be missed. Issue #69 features the following reviews by me - The Afternoons - Rocket Summer, Billy Corgan - The Future Embrace, The Go-Betweens - Oceans Apart, Pernice Brothers - Discover a Lovelier You, Spoon - Gimme Fiction and Planet of the Popboomerang Vol. 2. More info at BoB HQ.
Friday, April 07, 2006
The classic pop album has made a serious comeback in the last couple of years. You know - the masterly crafted, wildly imaginative works of art pop that helped defined the mid-60s viz Pet Sounds, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Odessey and Oracle, The Who Sell Out, Forever Changes, The Piper At The Gates of Dawn et al.
An essential consideration in the lofty evaluation of the aforementioned platters lies in the ambition and ability to meld and fuse diverse forms and influences into something altogether fresh. Alchemy, almost.
Pop on an epic scale with heart and soul to match - such has been the achievement of stellar modern composers/performers as Supergrass (In It For the Money), Mercury Rev (Deserter’s Songs) and Spiritualized (Ladies and Gentlemen, we are floating in space…).
Now we have the latest release (their 10th) from Oklahoma’s finest - The Flaming Lips - and the bar is pushed up even higher. The Soft Bulletin, two years in the making with a reported recording tab in excess of US$ 1/2 million, is perhaps the album of the nineties - a lovely schizoid moment captured on digital tape to lead us into year 2000 and beyond.
The 14 tracks (2 of which, strangely enough are re-mixes) on The Soft Bulletin require proper examination for full appreciation because even though there are songs of sheer immediate melodic gratification contained within, its dense multi-layered brilliance is not so easily divined.
A perfect example of this idiosyncratic trait is the bizarre and eccentric The Spark That Bled (The Softest Bullet Ever Shot) that moves from Neil Young ballad with Brian Wilsonesque orchestral backing to psychedelic Pink Floyd riffing then on to an anthemic refrain 'I stood up and I said - YEAH! which transforms into a John Lennonish Leslie echo vocal and finally closes on a calpyso styled rhythm. Whew! All in the space of six electrifying minutes!
Such dizzying shifts in styles and consistent ambition is accomplished with as much aplomb as that witnessed on Todd Rundgren's classic A Wizard. A True Star.
Elsewhere, The Soft Bulletin touches heady heights with the charismatic A Spoonful Weighs A Ton (is Wayne Coyne singing about scientific pioneers or even the aforementioned trail-blazing 60s artists - 'The sound they made was love' - who can tell?); the fragile real life experience of Steven Drozd and Michael Ivins is chronicled in The Spiderbite Song - 'If it destroyed you/It would destroy me' is expressed in Disney-ish phantasmagoria whilst the infectious Buggin' hops and bops into a sugar high with profound lines like 'The buzz of love is buzy buggin' you'.
Hearing is believing - all I have are words and already reading back they fail to do justice to the magic and genius of the music on parade here. There is just so much at work and play here that it is virtually impossible to describe adequately. Suffice to say that this is perhaps the most important album of the decade (yeah, I said that already) as it succeeds in tying up the loose threads of the last forty years of pop music. Where we go from here is anyone's guess. For the time being, rest in the knowledge that The Soft Bulletin is one of those albums that is so often trumpeted but rarely justified - absolutely essential listening for all serious pop fans.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
How many bands in the last forty years can claim to be responsible for influencing at least five different musical genres and movements? Well, that is exactly what British band The Who had achieved when you consider the origins of "power pop", "hard rock", "punk", "new wave" and "Britpop". Throw in the "rock opera" and the feat is even more impressive.
With such seminal albums as "Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncy" (an early singles collection); "The Who Sell Out", "Tommy", "Live At Leeds" and "Who's Next", The Who remained on the cutting edge of the pop-rock frontier as the sixties crossed over into the seventies.
The first batch of singles - "I Can't Explain", "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere", "My Generation", "Substitute" - established The Who at the forefront of the burgeoning British Invasion and the mod movement of the mid-sixties.
The success of the band was based primarily on the unique synergy of its highly distinctive members. This fact was most evident in their "live" performances - Keith Moon's innovative albeit chaotic drumming; John Entwistle's thunderous and hyperactive bass lines; guitarist Pete Townshend's windmilling power chords and singer Roger Daltrey's thuggish presence and dynamic vocals.
Top this off with the artistic genius of Townshend's songwriting and the source of The Who's greatness becomes clear. Townshend continually pushed the band towards more ambitious territory, incorporating white noise, pop art and conceptual extended musical pieces into the group's style. Such was the dichotomy of the Who, especially when they were able to exploit brutally loud, macho music and explore textured song suites and vulnerable pop songs within the same context.
By the time of the singles "I'm A Boy" and "Pictures of Lily", Townshend had coined the term "power pop" to describe the vocally rich vibrant guitar pop The Who were then recording. But Townshend was still looking further. Townshend had begun to explore the possibilities of "rock opera". His first attempt was called "Quads." Set in the future, it concerned parents who requested four girls. When one turns out to be a boy, they insist on raising him as a girl. However, The Who's need for a new single caused this first rock opera to be compressed into one song - "I'm A Boy". When The Who's sophomore album came up short for material, Townshend wrote a mini-opera to close the album. "A Quick One While He's Away" is the story of a woman who is seduced by Ivor the Engine Driver after her "man" has been gone for "nigh on a year." The album was named "A Quick One" both for the mini-opera and the slight sexual innuendo.
Townshend would perfect his little experiments with "Tommy". Written during the period after The Who's third album - "The Who Sell Out", Townshend had become increasingly influenced by the teachings of Indian mystic Meher Baba. One such idea - those who can perceive earthly things are unable to perceive the world of God. From this Townshend devised a story of a boy who becomes deaf, dumb and blind and removed from earthly perceptions thereby allowing him to see God. When he is cured he becomes a messiah figure.
The Who worked on "Tommy" from the summer of 1968 through to the following spring. The album became a huge hit, earning positive reviews from mainstream publications as well as underground rock magazines. "Tommy" climbed into the American Top Ten as the group supported the album with an extensive tour, where they played the opera in its entirety, including dates at the London Coliseum and the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. A new medium had been created and would ultimately lead to the collision of the classical and rock worlds and pave the way for the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
"Tommy" had succeeded well beyond anyone's wildest dreams and Townshend wanted to go even further with its follow-up "Lifehouse" - a sci-fi rock opera with allusions to virtual reality (this was 1971!) and access to the latest electronic sounds. However, Townshend fell prey to his own ambitions and the project failed - with the salvaged recordings cobbled together to form the nucleus of "Who's Next" - ironically, The Who's finest hour. With its incorporation of synthesisers into the rock equation, The Who once more pushed the envelope with songs like "Baba O'Riley", "Bargain", "Behind Blue Eyes" and "Won't Be Fooled Again".
By the late 1970s, The Who was a spent force (Moon had died in 1978) but the nascent British punk scene was obviously touched by its influence (despite the protestations of the Sex Pistols and the Clash). The legacy of The Who would manifest itself with each succeeding generation of guitar bands - from The Jam's blatant cribbing of Who riffs to Nirvana's instrument smashing stage act.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
BLAST FROM THE PAST
Okie-dokie, here's one from 1995 (I think!)...
You would think that a band with a signature tune like Caught by the Fuzz would be singing the praises of The Who and The Jam. Instead, the biggest influence that Supergrass will confess to is JJ Cale! Whilst this odd reference would evoke impressions of Eric Clapton (ugh!) and Dire Straits, truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
However, this anomaly perfectly sums up the collective of Gaz Coombes, Danny Goffey, Mick Quinn (and 'unofficial' 4th member Rob Coombes) that is Oxford's finest pop combo.
This spanking new eponymous third album finds the 'Grass continuing the fine work of the last album, In It For the Money and is reassuring to their admirers that the latter's excellence was no fluke.
From the resplendent string drenched grace of new single Moving, through the easy West Coast vibe of Shotover Hill and the experimental shoe-gazing epic Eon, from the throbbing glamfest Pumping on your Stereo to the groove-laden riff-o-logy of Your Love - Supergrass is a stunning coup, a triumph of time-tested musical values over the bandwagonesque quick-fix formulas that plague the mainstream arena. At the risk of sounding corny, Supergrass is very much 'The Real Thing'. Where they move on from this point will be an intriguing proposition and challenge…
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Early this year, after browsing through various year-end "best-of" lists, I picked up Josh Rouse's Nashville on the strength of many recommendations and found to be a sumptous country-pop feast. Well, lo and behold, Rouse has released a new album called Subtitulo and it's even better - if that's possible. Check out the review to see what I mean.