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Monday, December 24, 2007

JON AUER
Songs from the Year of Our Demise
Pattern 25

After the successful Posies comeback that was Every Kind of Light, Jon Auer releases his very first full length solo album. After the high of Light, Auer has decided to make his solo statement with a come down album.
The opening “Six Feet Under” sets the tone for this somewhat somber collection that obsesses over the end of love and life. Presumably inspired by the television series of the same name, this song possesses a slight operatic stance wrapped up in Auer’s trademarked pop-rock trappings as he sings –
The rest of Songs from the Year of Our Demise shares this reflective atmosphere. Not that the songs are downers, by any means, as Auer imbues his recognizable pop savvy prowess into this rather grave subject matter.
No shiny Beach Boys pastiches or Kinks-like rave-ups this time round, as tracks like “Bottom of the Bottle” with its wistful power and helpless plea for a second chance, “Four Letter Word” with its incongruent goose-stepping and its visceral bitching, “Angelita,” a forlorn love song with its sense of regret, “You Used to Drive Me Around” with wailing violins announcing the unfortunate death of a relationship, ‘Song Noir” with its downbeat naivety and the Big Star evoking “Cemetery Song” with its sad ruminations of the demise of a loved one.
I guess you could call this find solo debut a mature work, right off the bat. Of course, Auer is not new to the game but Songs from the Year of Our Demise confirms the depth of Auer’s compositional gifts. Certainly highly personal, Auer brings his listener on a journey through the heartbreaks that so often litter the path that is life.
Much to consider and to reflect upon here and ultimately, yes to celebrate and savor. A
ROBYN HITCHCOCK & THE VENUS 3
Olè Tarantula
(Yep Roc)

By now, if you’re a regular visitor to the Power of Pop, you’d realize that one of the feathers in my rock journo cap was interviewing Robyn Hitchcock over the phone, back when he was still with Warners, promoting Moss Elixir (1996). During the course of the interview, Robyn appeared to have given up somewhat on the rock music he had been writing and performing for the last decade or so (with the Egyptians) – which shocked me, cos I’d loved them all! And wanted to do more folky acoustic stuff.
That said, the next couple of albums Robyn delivered were full rock band affairs viz. Jewels For Sophia (1999) & A Star For Bram (2000). In between the two, he left Warners, released a couple of low-key acoustic folk albums independently viz. Robyn Sings (2002) & Luxor (2003), not to mention a Soft Boys reunion in Nextdoorland.
2004 witnessed Robyn surprisingly signed with vaunted indie label Yep Roc and Spooked emerged, a country folk-blues collaboration with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.
As great as these releases were, there was a gnawing feeling amongst Robyn watchers that a return to the psychedelic folk rock blues for which Robyn is legendary was around the corner. Well, here it is!
With the likes of Peter Buck (REM), Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows), Bill Rieflin (Ministry) – all of whom also serve in The Minus Five – together with Kimberley Rew & Morris Windsor (Soft Boys), Ian McLagan (Faces) and Sean Nelson (Harvey Danger) on board, Robyn has seen fit to fully embrace his musical history – every facet – to produce a collection of songs that may just be his strongest since Perspex Island and Respect.
So is Olè Tarantula the album rabid Robyn fans (like meself) have been waiting for? Most definitely! Savour the psychedelic rave-ups (“Adventure Rocket Ship”), the dynamic pop wonders (“Underground Sun” & “’Cause It’s Love (Saint Parallelogram)” – co-written with Andy Partridge), sleek & smooth oddities (“Museum of Sex,” “Red Locust Frenzy” & “The Authority Box”) and rustic Dylanesque folk-rock (“Belltown Rumble,” “(A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs,” the title track & “NY Doll” – a tribute to the late Arthur Kane).
Lyrically, Olè Tarantula finds Robyn broaching his usual topics – love, sex, strange insects (or even arachnids) and his own acute observations on life at large.Personally, I want to thank Robyn (& Venus 3) for giving us fan boys what we’ve been waiting for – psychedelic folk rock blues – nobody does it better! A+
YO LA TENGO
I Am Not Afraid And I Will Beat Your Ass
(Matador)

Regular visitors to the Power of Pop will be aware that eclecticism is a prized trait. I simply adore albums that jump from genre to genre from track to track, and sometimes within the track itself! Guess I love it when recording artists go out of their way to confound and surprise expectations.
So, based on this preference alone, this glorious smorgasbord of sounds and styles from those indie pop stalwarts Yo La Tengo becomes a surefire favorite around PoP central and a strong contender for album of the year.
These 15 tracks of unnerving brilliance and uncompromising quality deserve every possible accolade. With songs ranging from psychedelic freak-outs (the bookending “Pass the Hatchet, I’m Goodkind” and “The Story of Yo La Tango”), Kinky musichall (the Decemberists-channeling “Beanbag Chair”), chilling baroque pop (“I Feel Like Going Home” & “Black Flowers”), bossa nova ditties (the Todd Rundren-evoking “Mr. Tough”), 12-stringed Rickenbacker-tinged folk rock (“The Race Is On Again”), offbeat oddities (“The Room Got Heavy”), lounge pop (“Sometimes I Don’t Get You” & “Song For Mahlia”), impressionistic ambient (“Daphnia”), driving power pop (“I Should Have Known Better”), pub rock (“Watch Out For Me Ronnie”), alt-country (“The Weakest Part”) & psych-garage (“Point and Shoot”).
Whew!
Perhaps the album should have been titled The History of Rock but that would have been too obvious for a band as contrary as Yo La Tengo. This is an astounding achievement, one that will have pop-rock lovers hypnotized for years to come. A+
PERNICE BROTHERS
Live a Little
(Ashmont)

Every two years or so, the Pernice Brothers deliver yet another mini-classic that promises to enthrall serious pop-rock enthusiasts everywhere. Like clockwork, you could almost bet your mortgage on the consistency of Joe Pernice and co.
Unlike its predecessor, Discover a Lovelier You, Live a Little eschews the (forced and trendy) allusions to the 80s new wave (basically New Order) and marks a welcome return to pop classicism.
That said, the album does take a little time to get going with “Zero Refills” – the fourth track – registering as one of the best songs to come out of Joe Pernice’s fecund creativity as it melds Brian Wilson keyboards, 70s pop-rock guitar histrionics and Hall & Oates soulful strings.
“Microscopic View” offers a backward glimpse at a chamber pop innocence that announced the arrival of the Pernice Brothers’ debut, Overcome by Happiness, “How Can I Compare” continues in this orchestral vein, with the rustic romanticism of Alex Chilton thrown in for good measure and the spellbinding “High As A Kite” with its Spectoresque majesty and hints of 60s Bee Gees, heightening its beauty.
Elsewhere, the breezy folk-rock simplicity of “Somerville,” “PCH One,” “Conscience Clean (I Went To Spain”) and “Lightheaded” all suggest the echo of Teenage Fanclub, as Beatlesque melodies blend with Big Star melancholic vulnerability.
Which leaves us with the closing ballad – “Grudge Fuck (2006)” – with the choral lyrics borrowed from classic Bread songs viz. “Make It With You”& “Everything I Own” (yes, Joe, I noticed) – as the singer pleads for one last roll in the hay, for the road, so to speak. Isn’t that what the best pop ballads have been about, from time memorial?
Whilst not rising fully to the early Pernice Brothers albums or even Chappaquiddick Skyline, Live a Little comes pretty close to reminding all pop fans of the immense talent that is Joe Pernice. A
BEE GEES
The Studio Albums 1967-1968
(Rhino)

I love the Bee Gees! They were my number two band after the Beatles when I was a teenager and their songs were frequently sung whenever an acoustic guitar was present. Unfortunately, in this day and age, because of their mega-success in the late 70s with their disco phase, the Bee Gees have a bad rep and have lost almost all credibility with so-called serious rock listeners.
So this six disc boxed set collecting the first proper Bee Gees albums (discounting the earlier Aussie releases) is an absolute delight and hopefully should go a long way of restoring the Bee Gees to the status they richly deserve.
Basically covering Bee Gees First and Horizontal (both released in 1967!) and Idea, each album set compiles stereo and mono mixes of the original records and a disc that features singles, outtakes and demos.
Those who recall the Bee Gees as a chart band in the late 60s would not doubt be familiar with such classics as “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” “To Love Somebody,” “I Can See Nobody” (off First), “World,” “Massachusetts,” (off Horizontal), “Let There Be Love,” “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You” and “I Started A Joke” (off Idea).
But the real significance behind this box set is the re-discovery of the Bee Gees as the archetype chamber pop, of which modern proponents include Pernice Brothers, Andrew, Cardinal, Divine Comedy etc.
In that respect, songs like “Turn of the Century,” “Cucumber Castle,” “And the Sun Will Shine,” “Really and Sincerely,” “In the Summer of His Years,” “The Singer Sang His Song” and so on, certainly define the genre like not many other similar acts can.
One caveat though, why the necessity of including the mono album tracks as well, seems like too much filler to me.
That said, Studio Albums is essential – not only for Bee Gees fans – but for every student of this very special era of pop music.
With the understanding that the entire back catalogue of the Bee Gees will be getting the Rhino box treatment, it looks like it is going to be an exciting couple of years for Bee Gees fans and music lovers everywhere. A+
JOANNA NEWSOM
Ys
(Drag City)

Why is it, when folks are discussing the relative merits of the music of Joanna Newsom, the debate (and it will turn into a debate) invariably will center on her rather unique vocals?
In my humble opinion, she has a special voice and whilst it is true that it has certain affinity with the likes of Kate Bush. Bjork and Tori Amos, this quality sets her apart from the scores of female singers out there. Especially the way she squeaks (yes, squeaks) before she emphasizes a word or emotion. Amazing!
More than that, of course!
I mean, and the fact that she utilizes the harp as her main instrument and employs delightful, wondrous ornate and orchestral music to frame her whimsical and graphic lyrics.
“The meadowlark and the chim-choo-ree and the sparrow/Set to the sky in a flying spree, for the sport over the pharaoh/A little while later the Pharisees dragged comb through the meadow/Do you remember what they called up to you and me, in our window?”
These are the words that begin the opening “Emily” and if anyone out there in cyberspace has any idea what Joanna is singing about, please let me know. Don’t matter to me as the lush strings and that voice combine to make this 12-minute epic beauty a pleasure throughout.
This 55-minute album contains only five songs but each track is an adventure buoyed by Newsom’s ambition, the elaborate arrangements of Van Dyke Parks and the symbiotic production of Steve Albini/Jim O’Rourke.
Not your typical pop fare by any means, Joanna – together with likeminded artists like Sufjan Stevens and Daniel Smith – forms an intriguing axis of what may be loosely terms as neu psych-folk where old-world patterns are invaded by modern day sensibility.
Thoroughly enlightening, Ys is proof that pop and rock music isn’t dead, it continues to evolve and I am certain that Joanna Newsom will be at the forefront. A+
BOB DYLAN
Modern Times
(Columbia)

Modern Times, Bob Dylan’s 31st record, has been a critical and commercial success. Feted by reviewers worldwide and well-received by consumers (the album debuted at pole position on the Billboard Album Charts), Modern Times may be viewed as the third part of Dylan’s resurgent trilogy of albums which also includes 1997’s Time Out of Mind and 2001’s Love and Theft.
Comparisons to Dylan’s classic mid-60s hat-trick of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde abound but to do so, in my estimation, is unfair, considering the world and Dylan have changed so much in the intervening forty years.
At 65, Dylan has seen and done it all, musically, and definitely the last three albums are more reflective especially about his own mortality and on Modern Times, the music is less visceral and less melancholic with one eye firmly focused on God.
“Some sweet day I'll stand beside my king/I wouldn't betray your love or any other thing,” he declares (and vows) on the rock and roll ditty that is “Thunder on the Mountain.” He recalls the opening verses of Genesis on “Spirit on the Water.”
Dylan expounds on the Christian life on the resplendent “Nettie Moore” where Dylan asserts that “Today I'll stand in faith and raise/The voice of praise/The sun is strong, I'm standing in the light/I wish to God that it were night” and the heartfelt “Ain’t Talkin’” where Dylan states “They say prayer has the power to heal/So pray for me, mother/In the human heart an evil spirit can dwell/I am a-tryin' to love my neighbor and do good unto others.”
Interspersed with these religious overtones, Dylan touches on his favourite subjects – evil women, evil authorities and the evil world in general. Whether the personas described in these ten tracks express Dylan’s intimate thoughts can only be the subject of speculation and argument amongst Dylanologists. Suffice to say that this is a pleasing album that Dylan fans will enjoy. Nothing particularly ground-breaking (no one expects that surely) but it is comforting to know that Dylan still has sufficient inspiration in his heart, mind and soul to deliver a work that intrigues, provokes and yes, reveals. A
DAVID MEAD
Tangerine
(Tallulah)
www.davidmead.com

It has taken me ages to review this wonderful album. Here I am on New Year’s Day and grooving to the cool rhythms, jiving to the gorgeous tunes and overall being blown way by the sheer pop power of the creative juices of David Mead (and co-producer Brad Jones – when’s the next solo album coming?).
I mean how can any card-carrying member of the pop underground resist the charms of the funky “Chatterbox,” the elegiac “The Trouble with Harry,” the moving “Reminded #1,” the jazz balladic “Hunting Season,” the disco-reviving “Hallelujah, I Was Wrong” and so on?
To put it simply, if you like your pop music dense and textured, erudite and intelligent, reflecting the melodic influences of Paul McCartney, Elton John, Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach and Billy Joel, then Tangerine is the album you need to procure at all cost. Now. A
RODDY FRAME
Western Skies
(Redemption)

The singer-songwriter genre remains as vital in the 2000s as it was when it first emerged in full flower in the early 70s. Case in point – Scotsman Roddy Frame who dropped his better known ‘Aztec Camera’ moniker a decade ago to trade under his own name.
Frame appears on the sleeve of his new album, lines on his slightly weathered face as he approaches his mid-40s, no longer the fresh-faced boy that took the UK pop scene by storm in the 80s. However, his talents remain firmly intact on this, his third official solo album.
With his virtuoso guitar picking, Spanish flamenco leanings and strong pop mellifluence, Frame comes across as a very Euro-centric Lindsey Buckingham, which is an intriguing prospect!
Some may complain that the music on Western Skies is effectively AOR and too mellow for artistic significance. All of which is rubbish of course. Sure, the instrumentation is spare, consisting as it does purely of Frame on guitar/voice backed by the basic foundation of Jeremy Stacey on drums and Mark Neary on upright bass. But the songs are mature, erudite and resonating.
On “She Wolf” performs the role of country-blues troubadour with intense conviction, as Frame sings – “The rhymes and drones of the first real big blues boom/Shake the cones and fill the room/Blind and alone it hides and licks its wounds/Haunts the city, howls at the moon/She wolf, birthing inside of me/Cold rain, never be the same again.”
Then there’s the superb commentary of “Rock God” – “Hippy glam intruder crept past the towers where children slept/And scattered stardust trails between the blocks/Clashing swords in city streets/To a double drummers' beat/As on the corner lovers meet/And kiss just as the power stops, beneath the chemist's frozen clock” as engaging a description of the 70s rock phenomena as any.
Finally, on “Dry Land” Frame reminiscences on his past journeys and regrets his current dryness – “Going through my treasure chest of memories I've stored/I found some eight by tens of the band all looking bored/But the bar was amazing/Two types of chocolate and raisins/If life could taste that good again/I swear I'd never complain.”
Personally, I abandoned Aztec Camera after the magnificent Knife, when Frame eschewed the folk-rock sound for something more akin to American R&B, thus it is refreshing to hear Frame return to his ‘roots’ – especially on the lovely breezy final track, “Portastudio” as Frame warbles “everything’s changed/nothing has changed.”
Isn’t that always the case? A
DON MCGLASHAN
Warm Hand
(Arch Hill)
http://www.donmcglashan.com/

Best known for his work with seminal New Zealand band the Mutton Birds, singer-songwriter McGlashan finally delivers his debut solo album. A record of shimmering guitars, deep instrumentation and thoughtful lyricism, Warm Hand is a potent statement of artistic intent.
With music drawn from various sources, from the Beatles, Neil Young and 70s Californian rock, Pink Floyd, sophisticated 80s jazz-pop, early 90s British shoe gazers, film scores, McGlashan and his crack band provide a wondrously diverse musical palette from which McGlashan concocts his wide-eyed stories and tall tales.
The opening “This Is London” is a great beginning as it recalls Let It Be-era Beatles – with its shining chorus, as McGlashan pays tribute to “the city of his birth.” “Toy Factory Fire” is exactly that, a tragic country ballad that remembers the Kader Toy Factory fire as McGlashan intones, “And the familes from the countryside come to take their daughters back.”
The rest of Warm Hand maintains this quality of combining heartfelt and pointed lyrics with equally emotional soundtracks.
The driving and breezy “Harbour Bridge” describes a prominent landmark in colourful language – “Why are you so gray?”, the ominous “Courier” details the experience of a drug smuggler, the epic “Miracle Sun” exults the dolphin & the melancholic “Queen of the Night” weaves the account of a ship’s carpenter whose idyll time in paradise has come to a close.
Fans of the resurgent singer-songwriter genre must add Warm Hand to their burgeoning collection. A
THE HOLD STEADY
Boys and Girls in America
(Vagrant)

How is possible to listen to the Hold Steady and not think of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band? Even though the Hold Steady is signed to Vagrant, a noted Emo label, the raucous bar-rock that the Hold Steady delivers is nothing less than unabashed 70s rock! Especially with the sound of the rock piano (shares of Roy Bittan) and the occasional accordian (not an Emo instrument!).
Like Springsteen, singer-songwriter Craig Finn writes vivid character studies except that Finn’s focus is firmly on kids who seem to have nothing else to do but drink, party, do drugs and get laid. And intriguingly, Finn peppers his song with odd religious references.
“Lost in fog and love and faithless fear/I've had kisses that make Judas seem sincere” from “Citrus” ostensibly about alcohol and “then last night she said words alone never could save us/and then last night she cried when she told us about Jesus” from “First Night” make the point.
With three albums in as many years under their collective belts, the guys in the Hold Steady certainly have a handle on their music and their audience. Should not be long before Craig Finn and the Hold Steady become rock stars like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. If there’s any justice left in this cold world, that is. A
LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM
Under the Skin
(Reprise)

A man and his lone guitar. For his fourth solo album, Buckingham has decided to eschew a backing band and let his considerable guitar skills and his voice flesh out his dreamy personal songs.
Since this is Lindsey Buckingham we are discussing, the eleven songs on Under the Skin are skillfully embellished with layers of textured vocals and highly deft guitar work. The man is obviously at the top of his game and despite the austere presentation, each track rings round with Buckingham’s customary attention to detail and artistic flourishes.
And just because the main instrument is an acoustic guitar does not necessarily mean that the mood is folky. Take the opening “Not Too Late” with its much quoted “Reading the paper saw a review/Said I was a visionary, but nobody knew/Now that’s been a problem/Feeling unseen/Just like I’m living somebody’s dream” as Buckingham lays bare his soul in visceral tones as the distorted vocals spit out his confusion, “What am I doing anyway/Telling myself it’s not too late.”
Here is a prominent member of one of the best-selling rock bands of all time (in his late 50s, mind), confessing his dilemma of not being able to stand out on his own – apart from his identity as the guitarist of Fleetwood Mac. Intriguing.
The rest of Under the Skin adopts this confessional tone but emotions get less frayed and melancholy and the music lightens up considerably the longer the album plays. The warm country tune “Down On Rodeo” even features Mick Fleetwood & John McVie (and naturally sounds like a Fleetwood Mac song), the pensive “Someone’s Gotta Change Your Mind” and the gorgeous breezy “Flying Down Juniper” all make for a nice resolution to this significant work.
Buckingham has promised a more conventional rock album ‘soon’ – we hope it certainly does not take another 14 years! In the meantime, savour the wonders and joys of Under the Skin. A+
GRAM PARSONS
Fallen Angel DVD
(Warner Music Vision)

One of the best rock DVDs of 2006 was this loving documentary of the life of Gram Parsons. Directed by Gandulf Henning, it’s the first ever film about Parsons and I cannot imagine how it will ever be surpassed.
Despite the lack of video interviews with Parsons himself and the paucity of any video records of Parsons, period, Henning has done a tremendous job of fleshing out the man that was Parsons mainly through the words, facial expressions and body language (and tears) of family members, friends and ex-band colleagues.
Musically, of course, Parsons was a pioneer and a trail-blazer in the country-rock arena and Fallen Angel gives this angle its due but it’s Parsons, the person that touched individual lives (positively or negatively) that gets the most focus here.
In particular, regarding Parsons’ untimely death and the strange circumstances that followed i.e. the abduction of his body and subsequent “cremation” in the desert by Phil Kaufman. Juxtaposing Kaufman’s account of the deed and the reactions of Parsons’ family members, Henning provides a hitherto unexplored perspective to the episode and it is hard not to feel the emotions of Parsons’ family members - even after more than 30 years. Well, I cried.
Also illuminating are the reminiscences of ex-band colleagues like Chris Hillman, Bernie Leadon, Chris Etheridge and Sneeky Pete Kleinow who, whilst marveling at Parsons’ talent, were appalled by Parson’s self-destructive tendencies. Fallen Angel is a great achievement by director Henning. He gives Parsons due credit and tribute for his contributions to rock music but never once, does he glorify or romanticize Parsons’ addictions and ultimate demise.
Highly recommended. A+
GARFIELDS BIRTHDAY
Deaf in Venice EP
(Pink Hedgehog)

Part of the fun of running your own reviews site is being able to showcase lesser known music you personally um… dig.
Pink Hedgehog Records has been supporting Power of Pop for years now with regular packages of great power pop every now and then.
The man behind Pink Hedgehog – Simon Felton – is the same person behind Garfields Birthday and like Jeremy Morris (of Jam Recordings) favors the Beatles-Byrds jangle folk pop that conquered the planet in the mid-60s – now more than 40 years ago. Imagine that…
So I hope you will forgive me if I give this spanking new Garfields Birthday EP a little more attention that would be normally accorded to three-tracked discs.
“We Know Your Name”- opens with a gorgeous 12-string (Rickenbacker?) guitar and Simon Felton channeling the late Gene Clark. That 60s vibes permeates every aspect of this lively song – from the memorable tune to those McGuinn-Crosby harmony backing vocals. Traces of R.E.M. and Teenage Fanclub abound as well.
“Take A Ride” – a driving catchy ditty – sung by Shane Felton – is similarly 60s-fueled but reminds one of The Kinks with its off-kilter, roughly hewn quality. Relentless in its own way, as the slightly repetitive verse burrows deep into your consciousness. Snatches of psychedelic rock filter through in waves.
“Cocaine Joe” – a little downbeat rocker finds James Laming singing rather low in his vocal range. The song moves ahead of its colleagues bearing strong resemblance to the Paisley Underground scene of the 80s viz. Rain Parade, Dream Syndicate and yes, R.E.M.
A fine sampler for the upcoming new album – “Let Them Eat Cake.”
Can hardly wait. A
ALVA STAR
Down Escalator
(Princess)

John Hermanson is perhaps best known as one half of Storyhill, a folk duo that has achieved minor commercial success – the press release boldly proclaims that Storyhill has sold more than 35,000 CDs. Personally, I am not sure if such a statement is a pro or con in respect of promoting Alva Star. Whatever.
Alva Star is to all intents and purposes, not Storyhill. Alva Star is a rock band, which has already released a solid pop-rock debut in Alligators in the Lobby (2001).
Down Escalator is Alva Star’s sophomore effort and certainly qualifies as an undiscovered gem of 2006. Together with Erik Appelwick, Darren Jackson and Ian Prince, Hermanson has concocted an intelligent work of pop-rock art that also serves as a scathing commentary of the fickle music business.
In that sense, much of Down Escalator bears the strong influence of The Kinks in its delivery and outlook. On tracks like the opening atmospheric “Escalator” where Hermanson complains, “I was confused/And then abused” and the pleasing “Comeback,” Hermanson rather sardonically remarks, “Everyone loves the new sound/And everyone needs a new soundtrack for the record.” Could Hermanson be referring to anyone specifically?
This sense of bitter betrayal (not to mention the shattering of dreams) colours the rest of Down Escalator even as the music gets more polished. “Downsides” is blissful chill-out soul that almost comes across like a lament whilst “Curtain Drops” is a gorgeous soft-rock ballad that is a wistful study of life’s disappointments.
So Down Escalator is a bittersweet pill of sorts, you just have to admire the potency of the melodies and performances but there are times that the melancholy vibe can be a turn off. Not by too much, mind you, to make Down Escalator an essential modern pop-rock purchase. A
THE WALKMEN
A Hundred Miles Off
(Record Collection)

I have been listening to Dylan circa mid-60s recently and came to the Walkmen a little late with their third album, A Hundred Miles Off and all I can hear is more Dylan! To be fair, singer Hamilton Leithauser does not merely mimic Dylan’s rasping larynx but rather uses it as a basic foundation to set off a fireworks of possibilities.
Unlike the previous two Walkmen albums, it’s guitars to the fore on A Hundred Miles Off, with the formerly ubiquitous keyboards now kept to a bare minimum. And the guitars provide a jagged majesty to the songs – a visceral quality that compliments Leithauser’s ragged vocal posturing.
Musically, A Hundred Miles Off comes off like a punky Band with the adrenaline pumped up to the max. I mean, there are no rustic ballads here, and “Tenley-Town” is pure punkabilly. So much of this album is full-on “in the face” that it may be difficult to take for those with genteel sensibilities.
To me, it’s a brilliant kick up the arse for anyone who believes that sixties rock is redundant and irrelevant, it just requires the occasional updating. The Walkmen have done just that with A Hundred Miles Off and the modern rock scene is better off. A

Sunday, November 04, 2007

THE GREEN AND YELLOW TV
Sinister Barrier
(Records)

Too much music, too little time.
I said it before and I will probably say it again.
And again.
This album has been sitting in my “must listen” pile for months now and for one reason or another, never got taken out of the jewel case.
My bad.
So here I am kicking myself (well, figuratively) because Sinister Barrier is definitely one of the best albums of 2006. Alas, I only got to hear it in 2007.
In any case, let me attempt to put the record straight.
Ever hear music that delicately balanced the past and the future? Y’know, a song that sounded so futuristic but you could easily pick out the inspirations at the same time?
Yes, welcome to the Green and Yellow TV, a trio of smart musicians viz. Michael Regilio, Todd O’Keefe and Justin Rocherolle, that possesses the uncanny knack of referencing the best influences and yet remaining edgy and fresh throughout.
Enough hyperbole! Here is the album…
In many ways, The Green and Yellow TV remind me of Spoon and Nada Surf – that similar indescribable quality, mercurial & magical like listening to the early Beatles or Dylan circa 1966. Well, something like that.
I mean, the moment the Beach Boys vocal of “The Wolves Are Out Tonight” rises out of the phased-out rhythm guitar, I’m sold. Then it turns into a detuned psychedelic Nirvana workout… huh?
So, check those preconceptions at the door – there are no rules whatsoever – anything goes. Isn’t that what great pop music is all about?
Underpinned by lovely harmonics and unerring musicianship, Sinister Barrier is a joyride over seldom traveled pop highways that is always intriguing. A+
THE PASSING SHOW: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF RONNIE LANE DVD

Life is hard and then you die, so goes the old saying.
The late great Ronnie Lane had an intimate knowledge of the vague truth behind this saying. Yet, it appears that while life indeed was hard for him, he lived it to the fullest, the best that he knew how, even in the face of a crippling disease.
One could say that Lane was a touch naïve, that he never let the darker side of life get to him but cantered through his life in blissful ignorance of sinister elements. Perhaps that is why, despite all his prodigious talent and being part of two successful bands viz. the Small Faces and the Faces, Lane lived on the edge of poverty and never enjoyed the financial rewards of his efforts.
All this is captured vividly in this documentary which highlights an aspect of Lane, not too well known amongst rock music enthusiasts, that is, Lane’s ‘escape’ from the glamour of 70s rock into the pastoral, rootsy existence that he carved out for himself as a solo artists, with his band, Slim Chance.
The first part of the DVD documents Lane’s ‘popular’ phase when as part of the Small Faces and the Faces, he enjoyed fame and success, though unfortunately little economic benefits.
This would be due to dodgy contracts in the former case and disenchantment with the rock scene in the latter case.
Which would lead Lane into the ‘new’ acoustic, rootsy direction and the Passing Show – an ambitious grass-roots tour of the smaller towns and villages of the UK, in which Lane and band, accompanied by a troupe of dancers, clowns, jugglers and fire-eaters, played in a big top and traveled in a fleet of antiquated trucks – which was a commercial train wreck.
Tragically, around this time, Lane would be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis which he carried with him until his demise in 1997.
The Passing Show tells Lane’s story through interviews with Lane and good friends like Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Ian McLagen, Kenney Jones and many others and of course, live performances.
It’s a lovely documentary that will touch your heart and open your eyes and hopefully, lead people to discover Lane’s wonderful music post-Faces, the back-to-basics style that has influenced many musicians to this day.
But through it all, the highs and lows and incredible hardships, you get the sense that Lane accepted the life that was dealt to him and with zest and vitality. And in the words of that classic Faces song – “Ooh La La”… A+
GILBY CLARKE
Self-titled
(Spitfire)

Gilby Clarke?
Guns ‘n’ Roses. Supernov- I mean, Rock Star Supernova.
Hmm, should have quit while I was ahead!
Okay, so anyone vaguely familiar with popular culture would have some inkling of who Clarke is. So, a new solo compilation album is pretty timely, don’t you think? Think of it as an opportunity to cash in on the new-found fame (or notoriety).
And knowing Clarke’s current reputation as part and parcel of the corporate rock monster, it’s no surprising that the first three selections viz. “Cure Me … Kill Me,” “Tijuana Jail” and “Black” (remixed to feature Rock Star runner-up Dilana – did I spell that right?) highlight all the standard hard rock clichés, that Rock Star fans would clamor for.
Heavy riffs ripped out of a Metallica song, unimaginative functional tunes and the ultimate killing stroke – the slow rock ballad with the sludgy chorus. All predictable, right?
Not exactly, because under the skull-emblazoned scarf and usual decadent styling, a country boy’s heart beats to the rhythm of classic 70s rock.
Kinda like Clarke’s obvious inspiration, Keith Richards.
Thus, tracks like “Skin n’ Bones,” “It’s Good Enough For Rock n’ Roll,” “Bourbon Street Blues,” “Can’t Get That Stuff” and “Dropping Out” are reminiscent of the Stones’ majestic Exile on Main Street, all country-folk bluesy, with a hint of Mott the Hoople, along the way.
Not only that but on “Kilroy Was Here” and “Judgement Day,” Clarke comes across as (White Album) Beatlesque as any pop underground luminary you could care to name.
Lay aside your prejudices, I say, this “greatest hits” album contains a few of the better Stones-inspired stuff you’re gonna hear in the 2000s and if it takes a dodgy reality show to get this deserving music a fair hearing, then I say, more power to Gilby! B+
CAMERA OBSCURA
Let’s Get Out of the Country
(Elefant/Fruit)
To be honest, I’ve always found Camera Obscura too much twee and not enough rock, which I suppose is absurd, cos twee is what Camera Obscura is all about. And, when Let’s Get Out of the Country lands into too many “best of” lists of 2006, it does make you wonder.
So, it was rather convenient when Singaporean indie label picked up the distribution rights for the album in my neck of the woods and voila! Better late than never, eh?
With Belle and Sebastian effortlessly worming its way into my albums of the year, I guess, it was about time to give Camera Obscura a chance as well.
What can I say?
Camera Obscura never rocks (not even once) bit does come close to rollicking, once or twice. But that’s forgivable, when this Scottish band manages to create a great melancholy country ballad like “Dory Previn” or a shimmering waltzing ditty like “The False Contender” or a fragile yearning like the title track and so on.
And what about Tracyanne Campbell’s heart-rending larynx on tracks likes the lively “If Looks Could Kill,” the revealing “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken” and the Spectoresquely Irish “Come Back Margaret.”
This Singapore edition features two bonus tracks – the Everly Brothers’ tribute “Phil and Don” (remember Wings’ “Let ‘Em In”) and the jazzy “Roman Holiday” - try not to think of Audrey Hepburn! Not essential perhaps but something Camera Obscura completists may want to investigate.
All right, so maybe Let’s Get Out of the Country won’t get into my albums of 2006 but it warrants a honourable mention any way. A-

Sunday, July 29, 2007


BAYBEATS 2007

MERCURY REV
Deserter’s Songs
V2

The breakthrough album – although, possibly predecessor See You On the Other Side marked the Rev’s true change in direction – where the Rev applied its avant garde, psychedelic sensibilities to country-folk rock blues to deliver a rich, textural – albeit left field – masterpiece which together with the Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin heralded widescreen rock, building on the foundations of classic influences like John Lennon, Brian Wilson, the Band, Van Dyke Parks, Neil Young et al.
Songs like Holes, Tonite It Shows, Endlessly, Opus 40 deliver a ghostly Lennonesque presence aided and abetted by choice use of violins, double basses, flues, horns, whistles and saws. On the other side of the spectrum tracks like Goddess On A Hiway, The Funny Bird & Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp provide the upbeat pulse of the album and the balance that make Deserter’s Songs a thrilling ride throughout.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

SMS SPOTLIGHT
The Fire Fight

I had the privilege of meeting up with guys from the Fire Fight and thoroughly enjoyed the two hours spent jawing with Josh, JBarks, Iain and Jon. As the interview proper is still in the works, I thought I'd publish the questions and answers exchanged with the band prior to meeting up.

Why music?

Music engagages people on a emotional level, which allows us to
connect to them personally.

In a cultural wasteland like Singapore, why not sports or studies or
misbehavior? And is music a passionate life calling or a casual hobby?


All the members in the band has a strong passion and dedication to
music . We don't believe that the artistic setbacks and obstacles
should be discouraging us from pursuing a career in music. No doubt
its a difficult journey where we have to find a balance in our daily
commitments and our basic financial needs. But we still believe in
what we are doing this for.
Well maybe we just don't excel in those areas (sports, studies, misbehaviour).

Is music a passionate life calling or a casual hobby?

Music is definitely a passionate life calling. We don't believe why we
should spend so much energy and time on meeting the benchmarks of
worldly requirements when we know that there is something bigger to
fight for in our lifetime.

Do you see yourselves still playing your music say in 5, 10 or 20 years time?

Of course! We hope that the fire fight will build a name in the local
music scene and hopefully still be musically active when we are all
60. Haha

Why play live?

That's where we can forge an experience with our listeners and be
physically available to relate with them. We love meeting new people
and friends and its only possible when we are around. There's plenty
to learn from others and we hope that we can inspire them in return.

What do you think people get out of watching you perform?

Woah, That's quite a difficult question to answer, maybe you should
ask someone who has experience the fire fight!

Is it about you or about them?

Its about all of us.

Who are you playing for?

No one in particular. We're playing for our hopes and future, for a
cause to inspire at the same time motivate and entice ones
emotions (positively) and outlook in life.

Who are you trying to please?

We don't write/perform solely to please anyone, but we definitely want
to send out a positive message through our musical craft. What matters
most to us is to see that our music has inspired others positively.
More importantly to instill hope for people to believe in.

How serious are you about songwriting/performing?

We are very particular about our songwriting and perfomance. The
entire proccess is a meticulous one which requires tons of commitment
and sacrifice individually.

Where does it stand in your priorities of life?

Below our priority of God, family and loved ones.

What do you have to say in your songs?

The context of our songs may vary. But ultimately, they are meant to
inspire hope and positive values.

Does your environment impact or influence your songwriting or is it
simply something you churn out - like a routine?

Our songs are not fully susceptible to environment or social changes
as we place high regards in the responsibility of our song writing.
Our songs are not meant to gratifying our own emotional or social
needs.

What does it feel like when a song comes together?

Its a feeling of fulfilment that you can get only from working as a
team fuelled by each individual's unique creativity and character.

You call yourself the Fire Fight - it implies a battle - to conquer or
to rescue?

To conquer and to rescue. Definitely serves both purpose of conquest and aid.

Does the Fire Fight have a mission? Is there a purpose or a plan - or
is it just something to do? Where does the Fire Fight stand in the
scheme of things - the Singapore music scene?

Yes we do have a mission. We together as a band hopes that our music
brings is able to bring about a positive change both in others and
ourselves.This definitely involves both a purpose and a plan. Missions
do not succeed without these essential trades.
Its still too early right now to be entirely certain where we stand in
the local scene. But we are definitely delighted to be part of it and
to be pushing its frontiers.

What does it mean to you to play Baybeats 2007?

We have been really blessed with oppurtunities so far. Baybeats marks
one of the highlights so far in our rather young journey as a band.

Does it signal arrival or take off?

Baybeats signals a prominent declaration of our arrival."The fire
fight has landed".

Do you guys see an album in your future - is it worth the time and
effort in Singapore?
We have plans to release an LP next year. Its definitely worth our
time and effort because its quite evident that there is a growing
support for local bands(more and more people are listening to local
bands). To maximize our effort further we would definitely want to
take our music overseas
.

How far would you go to become a success at music?

As far as it takes as long as it doesn't jeopardise our relationship
as a band, friends,family and values.

What is success anyways?

Success is measured not based on how much we achieved but on how we
have gained both individually and as a band. This not only refers to
our music as a whole, but it also includes issues such as our
individual character and conduct.

The Fire Fight seems quite prominent in the local indie scene at the
moment - how did that happen?

We ourselves are rather overwhelmed. We didn't expect our band to be
that prominent at such a short amount of time, unlike other bands
which had to go through a tough tedious journey before breaking out in
the scene. Maybe its because we went through about a whole year of
songwriting and rehearsals in the studios and when the time came at
the baybeats auditions, the final product blew the judges away some
how.

We had no plans or intentions of 'exploding' in the local scene
through the auditions. We just wanted to see where we stood as a band
and just have fun at the same time. The outcome was really a big
surprise to all of us.

Hard work or good fortune?

Hard work.There is no such thing as fortune/luck when it comes to
music. We are all really tight on schedule as all of us are currently
serving our national service. Time is always not on ourside especially
when your entire weekends are spent rehearsing as a band and playing
shows. Not forgetting friends family and church commitments.
Occasionally we end up rather drained physically and mentally, but we
all know that through hard work,perserverence and dedication, we will
see results.

How would you describe your music to the uninitiated?

Our music is fresh, a unique form of indie music accompanied by great
amounts of energy and excitement!

Do you wanna inspire or entertain?

We want to do both. Music is meant to entertain. Inspiring people
comes from the message which we send out through our music.

If you could emulate one band, who would it be? And why?

There's no ideal band that can be emulated. There are many bands and
artists that have influenced and inspired us. We want to develop our
own sound and identity, at the same time meeting our goals.
There you have it, keep your eyes peeled for the interview piece to come. In the meantime, don't forget that the Fire Fight will be playing at Baybeats 2007 on 5th August at Nokia Arena from 7.30pm.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

THE ENEMY
We’ll Live and Die in These Towns
(Warners)
http://www.theenemy.com/

Finally! Apart from the Arctic Monkeys, it’s been a long long time since I’ve come across an album from a British band this strong. This is the Enemy, three teenagers hailing from Coventry who, like many of their peers, take their cue from the fecund post-punk era from 1978 to 1984. In particular, there’s no escaping a debt owed to the Jam, the Undertones, the Clash, the Buzzcocks et al.
However, unlike their peers, the songs on the Enemy’s debut album contain melodies that stay with you and a passion that shakes you. Anthems like Away From Here, Had Enough, You’re Not Alone and It’s Not OK will get you hopping and singimg along in full voice. The influence of Paul Weller cuts through most significantly on the title track where front man Tom Clarke sings, “You spend your time in smokey rooms/Where haggled old women/With cheap perfume say/It never happens for people like us you know” in a manner reminiscent of the Jam’s classic That’s Entertainment. Riveting stuff. All together now – “Away away oh oh oh away from here…”

Friday, July 13, 2007

FALL OUT BOY
Infinity On High
(Island)

Generation gap be damned! What are the kids listening to in 2007. Well, indie is fimly the new mainstream – though I am not sure what “indie” means anymore. Fall Out Boy is one of those new-fangled bands that have successfully translated alt. rock into stadium appeal by injecting the right amount of blue-eyed soul, hip hop & heavy metal chops into its basic emo structure. With hooks galore – “The Take Over, The Brakes Over” actually sounds like Hall & Oates – and old-fashioned epic ballads – Golden is so trad it’s shocking – not to mention full-blown orchestral conceits – Thanks for the Mmrs – FOB tries hard to cross over on as many fronts as humanly possible. It’s listenable no doubt, but sometimes it feels too calculated & cynical to be true. And too many repeated listenings are not encouraged.
BAYBEATS SPECIAL
MERCURY REV
All is Dream
V2

There is a mercurial quality in Jonathan Donahue's Neil Young-evoking larynx. It is at once child-like and wizened, it suggests innocence and experience and it is both strange and wonderful. Much of All is Dream, the Rev's follow up to the critical breakthrough Deserter Songs, bears these traits.
Recorded with the untimely death of slated producer (and longtime Neil Young associate) Jack Nitzsche fresh in the minds of the band, it’s hard to listen to the opening “The Dark is Rising” with its alternate passages of bombastic orchestration and poignant piano ballad without thinking of Nitzsche’s musical legacy, the combination of the ethereal and the rustic.
Much of this aesthetic informs All is Dream. From the epic and ghostly “Chains” to the melancholic dynamism of “Nite and Fog,” from the naïve and haunting “Lincoln’s Eyes” to the Lennonesque Broadway musical whimsy of “Spiders and Flies” the Rev tread much of the same ground as Deserter’s Songs but the embellishments are more ambitious with the closing “Hercules” clocking at just under eight minutes emphasizing the band’s quest to express the mythical qualities of pop music.
These conceits do not always succeed but you can’t fault the band from trying to raise pop art to new heights. A flawed diamond, if you will, but the attempt is enthralling. (A)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007



BAYBEATS 2007
MERCURY REV LIVE IN SINGAPORE

August is celebration time for Singapore as the island nation commemorates 42 years of independence on 9th August 2007.


One week earlier (3-5 August) the young (and young-at-heart) will gather at the Esplanade to be entertained and thrilled by Baybeats 2007, a rock festival that showcases Singaporean bands.


However, the highlight of Baybeats 2007 will be the kick-off event – the legendary Mercury Rev who will perform for the 1st time in Singapore on 2nd August at the Esplanade Theatre.
As a lead-up to the main event itself, we will feature reviews of the last four Mercury Rev albums proper and hopefully we will be able to have an interview with Mercury Rev here soon as well.

Please return to this page for more updates.


MERCURY REV The Secret Migration (V2)


If Deserter’s Songs was Mercury Rev’s tribute to the cosmic Americana of the late 60s, then The Secret Migration is the Rev’s pop paean to 70s progressive rock.

And I am not merely making this reference only to the music with its allusions to Yes, (early) ELO and Genesis but also to the slightly otherworldly lyrics.


So Jonathan Donahue sings on “Black Forest (Lorelei)” – ‘If I was a white horse...and offered you a ride...Thru a black forest’ and it is almost impossible not to conjure images of fantasy novels but this time surrounded by a piano pattern based on “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” even as Steve Howe-styled guitar lines meander through the track’s inventive instrumental passages.


Or take the slightly offbeat “My Love” where sentences like ‘I hear of people living deep inside of the earth/They got their own sun and some claim they were here first/I've struggled with an old angel all night long/I thought it might be nice if you stayed here till dawn’ trade quips with reflections on relationships.


By and large, Donahue’s focused concern revolves around love and relationships without any reference to our modern world. So, it’s all about idyllic scenes, fairy tale settings and gorgeous albeit alien environments.


This is expressly beautifully on the ethereal and fragile “Across Yer Ocean” and in its lovely chorus, ‘And I bleed and I feel that it's all too real/On a wave of emotion sending ships across yer ocean/And I've lost all my reasons...but it's you I can...believe in’ But the Rev also realize the value of light relief and it provides one in the shape and form of the psychedelic jaunty “In A Funny Way,” with mirrored lyrics to boot – ‘Thru the fields an the streams an the lakes an the trees/An the grass an the logs run all my dogs/And I am home again.’ Indeed.


And with the 1:37 minute-long hymn-like closer “Down Poured the Heavens,” you’ll know that you have experienced something enchanting yet haunting. Kudos to Mercury Rev for this mighty step in its considerable musical evolution. A+

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


SMS SPOTLIGHT

SMS? Well, it stands for the Singapore Music Scene and on these pages I intend to spotlight worthy bands from this little-known scene and hopefully other parts of the world will begin to appreciate what I and several others have been enjoying on this little red dot of ours.

First up, my good friends and soon enough yours…

THE GREAT SPY EXPERIMENT

The Great Spy Experiment (or GSE for short) is one of the most exciting bands in Singapore right now. Already they have performed twice in the USA (an achievement for Singaporean bands) – at the recent SXSW festival in Austin, Texas and the Singapore Day event in New York. And in the last two years, GSE has been garnering awards for their increasing popularity but most importantly the attention of music fans with their energetic hybrid of the shoe-gazing aesthetic and rock ‘n’ roll attitude.

Last year, GSE released their debut single – Class ‘A’ Love Affair/Captain Funkycurls – twin slabs of groovy shakermakers with heavenly tunes – and anytime soon, GSE will be releasing their eagerly anticipated debut album Flower Show Riots, and judging from the songs the band has been playing live, the album promises to be one of the best of 2007.

The Band - Fandy 'Carlos' Razak (drums), Magdelene Han (keyboards), Khairyl Hashim (bass), Song (guitar) and Saiful Idris (guitar & vocals).

Website – www.myspace.com/thegreatspyexperiment

Thursday, June 28, 2007


PoP UPDATE 28 JUNE 2007

How does a band from Ipoh, Malaysia sound so uncannily like it could have emerged from Sheffield, Oxford or London?
Check out the rest of my review at Power of Pop.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

PAUL MCCARTNEY
Memory Almost Full
Hear Music

A lot has been said about Macca leaving EMI and signing with Hear Music, an imprint of Starbucks. But really it should only be about the music and seeing that I have never ever bought a solo McCartney album, I didn’t intend to purchase Memory Almost Full but when it appeared unexpectantly on emusic… it was too good to pass…
… and I like it. Macca sounds in good form, his vocals I mean and whilst there is nothing remotely ground-breaking (c’mon, the man is 64!) even the cynics will agree that tracks like “Ever Present Past,” “See Your Sunshine” and “Only Mama Knows” are highly pleasing. Like most solo Macca, the middle of the album sags badly; I personally found the 5-song suite terribly boring.
The closing “Nod Your Head” is a surprisingly discordant number, although slightly reminiscent of Helter Skelter, with sarcastically disdainful lyrics and maybe an attempt by Macca to show that he can buzzsaw with the best of them.
Give credit where it’s due, if any of the hitmakers of 2007 are still able to hold the media’s attention at any age past 50, then perhaps they would deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Sir Paul McCartney…

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


BLAST FROM THE PAST

This was written ten years ago when I was just getting acquainted with the Pop Underground (thanks, Mike Baron!) and I still believe in every word...

MYRACLE BRAH
LIFE ON PLANET EARTSNOP
(NOT LAME)

There are two facts that you will have to agree with regarding this album. One, the title is rather dodgy, (okay it’s atrocious!) and two, it is probably the best album you will have the opportunity to hear in 1998.
Why so, you may well ask?
But before we embark on a philosophical discourse, let’s have some background. It never hurts. Myracle Brah is essentially Andy Bopp. Bopp is virtually the sole author of this work with the exception of the drums and other odds and ends. Bopp is actually the guitarist-songwriter of powerpop band Love Nut, who have thus far two proper releases under their belt viz. The Bastards of Melody (Interscope) and Baltimucho (Big Deal). As far as Bopp is concerned, Myracle Brah is his side-project and he views Life on Planet Eartsnop as a minor distraction to his main calling as Love Nut mainman.
Do not be so easily fooled!
If there is anything that, the nineties have taught us it is that form will always triumph (commercially) over substance. It is virtually impossible for today’s artists to be accepted for their work alone without the trappings of image, artifice and hype. Turn on your television and you will be bombarded with glamourous visions of contrived and pre-fabricated ‘pop stars’ manufactured to meet a target audience. It never matters what the song is, it is the singer (or his/her face/body) that counts. After a while, all these boy and girl bands begin to blur into one generic shiny set of blinders – where the widest path of least resistance has been mapped out. In such circumstances, it is so much easier to go with the flow and much tougher to “rock the boat”!
I am totally convinced that pop music as an artform began and ended stylistically in the Sixties. Artists like John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Pete Townshend & Brian Wilson saw beyond the limitations of the three-minute pop song to create aural artefacts that have stood the test of time thirty years from their conception. In their wake, other like-minded musicians (e.g. David Bowie, Todd Rundgren, and Neil Young) approached their craft with verve, style, humour and a healthy disrespect for convention and carried this tradition in the early years of the seventies.
This close to the year 2000, the so-called modern rock scene is a sham – it is about ugliness, dishonesty and indignity. Grunge, ska-punk and Marilyn Manson are merely the symptoms of the disease. Enough is enough!
That is why Life on Planet Eartsnop is so important. It is only about one thing – good music! That’s basically it – no bullshit, no T&A and no angst. The 20 tracks on this album are without reservation the finest collection of pop songs I have had the pleasure to listen to this year. You will identify references to the great pop music of the past – The Beatles, The Byrds, Big Star, The Who, The Beach Boys etc but what Bopp has achieved is a unique voice even amongst these formidable influences. And the secret of his success is simplicity itself. There are no fancy arrangements, no groundbreaking production techniques involved, only good old-fashioned classic pop artistry.
Witness the melodic grace of Whisper Softly, the breezy splendour of I’m In Love, the vibrant tone of She’s So Young, the dynamic punch of Loli La Letta, the jaunty pomp of Medicine Man, the rolling thunder of Talk To Me… The list goes on and on and there’s not a duff track amongst them. Such is the depth of Bopp’s achievement.
Perhaps it is in the spontaneity, the sheer naivety of the album that is its ultimate winning quality. How can something so low profile, low key and lo-fi be so resonant and strong as a musical statement? I believe it is purely because Myracle Brah has managed with this fine album to tap into the power of pop and has affirmed for all of us who believe, that far from being “dated”, “anachronistic”, “retrograde” or “unsuitable for a modern audience”, this brand of pop music will still be relevant and pertinent well into the next century.
For this reason alone, Life on Planet Eartsnop is the Album of the Year. Nuff Said!

Check out the videos of Whisper Softly and She's So Young.

Saturday, June 09, 2007


Armchair Apocrypha
(Fat Possum)

The neo-folk movement charges forward relentlessly with this new effort from Andrew Bird. Along with Sufjan Stevens & Joanna Newsom, Bird has elevated folk music from an old school ghetto into the relevant cutting-edge arena of indie rock. Together with Stevens and Newsom, Bird is a new generation singer-songwriter utilizing orchestral conceits and emo punk dynamics to produce an enthralling hybrid that is at once lush and visceral. The sense of old world colliding with the new millennium is highly evident and is what impresses most about this fascinating album. Recommended.
Key tracks – Fiery Crash, Plasticities, Darkmatter, Simple X

Friday, June 08, 2007

ROAD TRIP @ CLICKNETWORK.TV

As promised....
The first video follows Wendy and Ros on a road trip to Malaysia. Wait... let me back up for the unintiated.
Wendy Cheng and Rosalyn Lee are Singaporean celebrities.
Wendy is better known perhaps as Xiaxue, a blogging phenomenom with more than 20,000 hits a day! Don't ask for a link because you won't have difficulty finding it. *Ahem* What makes Wendy/Xiaxue so popular? Well... she has interesting opinions which are funny and unique and honest but also controversial and you know what they say about controversy?
Ros is a DJ with Power98 and she has her own distinctive unforgettable personality.
Rub them together and you get a blazing inferno... heh!
Which was the premise behind Girls Out Loud, a reality show on Mediacorp (google it!) which lasted only one season due to Mediacorp's (alleged) discomfort with the subject matter...
And so... Road Trip is sort off season 2 of GOL... got that? Good!
.... and so, Wendy (with boyfriend Mike in tow) and Ros visit Malaysia and the 1st 5 min episode involves sex talk, dubious food and getting scammed by retailers. And oh yeah, I forgot, we follow Wendy into the ladies toilet. Art for art's sake!
The second video is a music clip of Ros and Wendy miming to Tokyo Drift - didn't do anything for me. Sorry, girls!
What you see is what you get... you either love or loathe them but you cannot ignore Wendy and Ros. See what I mean... click....

Thursday, June 07, 2007

CLICKNETWORK.TV

Besides (alleged) copyright infringement, YouTube has ushered in an age of (cheap and accessible) internet TV programming. Which is precisely the premise behind CLICKNETWORK.TV brought to you by the zany folks from Munkysuperstar. But instead of amateur videos of wannabe bedroom epics, CLICKNETWORK.TV brings you quality TV programming for the price of a um click...
The pick of the videos currently available is the return of Ros & Wendy (the Girls Out Loud erm girls) with two episodes of the new Road Trip, each running for about 5 minutes. Well, Mediacorp's loss is our gain.
Reviews to follow... in meantime click...
ROCK THE SUB!

Come on down to The Substation and rock out at Rock The Sub, featuring bands and Indie Disco such as Plain Sunset, Analog Girl, West Grand Bloulevard, Super Illegals, My Writes, The Love Experiment, BEAT!, sweetmusic.fm, Twee Like Me and so on. There will also be a Gibson testing booth and lucky draw. Prizes include an Epiphone Guitar from Gibson. For more info, do visit www.substation.org.

Event: Rock The Sub
Venue: The Substation
Date: 9th June 2007
Time: 2pm - 3am
Admission : $15 with one drink*
What: Bands, Indie Disco, Gibson Testing Booth*, Lucky Draw

*terms and conditions apply

Bands playing: The Substation Theatre: Gibson Stage 2pm - 12am
(Bands)
1. My Writes
2. Etc
3. Super Illegals
4. The Fire Fight
5. Caracal
6. Analog Girl
7. Astreal
8. The Pinholes
9. B-Quartet
10. West Grand Boulevard
11. Plain Sunset

The Substation Theatre: Gibson Stage 12am - 3am (Indie Disco)
1. BEAT! By Home Club
2. Twee Like Me by Fruit Records
3. sweetmusic.fm vs unpopular radio

Timbre Stage 7pm - 12am (Bands)
1. The Love Experiment
2. Heritage
3. Swalya Evol
4. Ugly In The Morning
5. Moods

Classroom 4pm - 7pm
Gibson Testing Booth

Saturday, June 02, 2007


LIVE NATION - LOU REED 2007 EUROPEAN TOUR

The legendary Lou Reed is touring Europe in June performing his classic 1973 'Berlin' album with a 30-piece ensemble including a string section, horn section, a children's choir and his core rock band.

To coincide with this ultra rare tour, SonyBMG will release a limited edition digitally remastered tour edition of ‘Berlin’ in special digipack packaging. The "Berlin Tour Edition" will include original artwork and liner notes, and will be a one-off manufacturing run only.

Reed will be performing three 'Berlin' concerts in the UK - Manchester International Festival on Friday 29th June, London Hammersmith Apollo on Saturday 30th June and Sunday 1st July. For further details about the UK and European tour dates, please click here.

Friday, January 12, 2007



BLURB-O-RAMA [2.14]

ANTON BARBEAU Drug Free (Pink Hedgehog) You probably think you know Anton Barbeau by his obvious reference points – John Lennon/the Beatles, Syd Barrett, Bob Dylan, Robyn Hitchcock, Neil Young – but really, Barbeau possesses his own unique voice. Drawing from a diverse base that includes psychedelic rock (of course), whimsical oddities, fuzzed-out ragas, spacey folk ballads, power pop ditties etc, Barbeau imbues his eclectic tastes with a distinctive way with words. Never a dull moment. http://www.antonbarbeau.com/

BLACK TIE DYNASTY Movements (Idol) Listening to Black Tie Dynasty’s faithful recreation of the 80s British post punk movement brings back loads of memories. It also emphasizes how refreshing the music was when it first appeared more than twenty years ago. Referencing the Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, Psychedelic Furs, U2, the Smiths & Joy Division with reverence and awe, the pertinent question may be – is Black Tie Dynasty too derivative? Well, to be candid, the band certainly treads on thin ice but by the same token, is Dinosaur Jr. derivative of Neil Young? Not an easy question to address so maybe we should just enjoy the music for what it is. Great. http://www.blacktiedynasty.com/

CABIN DOGS Electric Cabin (Woodstock) To get a good idea of what Cabin Dogs are all about, just take a look at their label mates. Let’s start with the late Rick Danko and Garth Hudson of legendary group, The Band. Now, The Band conjures up a heady concoction of folk, country blues and a twist of R&B and that sums up Cabin Dogs fairly well. Thus, be prepared for a rollicking good time as the Kwait brothers and band takes you down the dusty country road where heartfelt tunes are backed by a wild beat that makes for a rustic rhythm bonanza! Cabin Dogs christened their swampy gumbo, “Cosmic American Blues,” which suggests a pleasing combination of Gram Parsons and Ray Charles. Good enough for me! http://www.cabindogs.com/

THE SPONGETONES Number 9 (Loaded Goat) Ah, power pop, when done right, is simply breathtaking! Whether it is the melodicism of the Beatles, the sun-kissed harmonies of the Beach Boys, the rustic jangle of the Byrds or the guitar-fuelled propulsion of the Who, it is the timelessness of power pop that will live on, no matter the season. Take the Spongetones, who have been first-rate power pop purveyors for two decades now. Somehow, the band manages to stay fresh with each release, condensing the aforementioned standard-bearers into a cohesive, coherent & consistent whole. Neither pastiche nor tribute, Number 9 deserves to stand on its own merits as Beatlesque pop of the highest order. http://www.spongetones.com/

Friday, January 05, 2007



BLURB-O-RAMA [2.13]

BRYAN ESTEPA All the Bells and Whistles (Popboomerang) Authentic 70s country-folk rock from Down Under. A great comparison would be the classic Rough Mix collaboration between Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane. Or perhaps the Eagles (the good bits) or Poco. Whatever, I like Estepa’s songs, they possess a certain heartfelt resonance only the best country tunes can bring. http://www.popboomerang.com/

FIEL GARVIE Caught Laughing (Words On Music) I just love it when bands screw around with my pre-conceptions. Last time out Fiel Garvie were an earnest shoe-gazer revival band. Not any more. Basically, Fiel Garvie has morphed into a very useful indie rock band. So out with the atmospheric guitar pedals (well, almost as “Airsong” will attest) and welcome the violins and cellos. Jagged but nice. http://www.fielgarvie.co.uk/

POP IS ART Epiphany (Self released) Scott McGinley used to front Bliss, a band that was huge (for 15 minutes) in my neck of the woods i.e. South East Asia. But that does not prepare me for the consummate power pop that McGinley effortlessly dishes out on this fabulous debut solo album. Taking his cues from all the right influences (The Beatles, Beach Boys, ELO & Jellyfish), McGinley has produced an insanely pop masterpiece. http://www.popisart.com/

MARYKATE O’NEIL 1-800-bankrupt (Self released) I can’t help enjoying the nostalgic 80s feeling I am getting off O’Neil’s new release. Reminiscent of the kind of jangle folk-rock the likes of Freedy Johnston and Marshall Crenshaw were delivering twenty odd years ago, 1-800-bankrupt is a wonderful evocation of a memorable era. O’Neil owns a rich pair of pipes that wraps your ears in unadulterated joy with tunes to match. http://www.marykateoneil.com/