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Monday, September 27, 2010


RIP IT UP AND START AGAIN: POSTPUNK 1978-1984
By Simon Reynolds
(Faber & Faber)
www.faber.co.uk

It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? As musical cycles go, the last few years has seen the re-emergence of post punk 20 years after it faded away as bands like Franz Ferdinand, The Editors, Kaiser Chiefs, Stellastarr*, the Killers et al begin to dominate the airwaves and the modern rock landscape.

Thus, Simon Reynolds’ tome on that particular golden age (1978-1984), is certainly timely… and timing is everything.

Speaking of timing, that era is special to me as it was about the time that I began seriously collecting albums and buying rock magazines, in particular the British kind e.g. NME, Sounds, Record Mirror. So reading Rip It Up and Start Again was a satisfying and nostalgic ride.

That said, Simon Reynolds’ evaluation of what was worthy of inclusion in this book probably coincides rather faithfully with what the NME was championing in those halcyon days. Therefore, the likes of PiL, Throbbing Gristle, Joy Division, the Fall, Gang of Four, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu, The Pop Group etc get loads of attention whilst personal favourites of mine (e.g. XTC, The Jam, Elvis Costello, Squeeze, The Police etc) get very short shrift. So, déjà vu then…

Other than that reservation, I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who may want to know more about the roots of the current revival. Not only that, it is a wonderful introduction to many obscure bands that deserve closer examination like The Associates, Magazine, Japan, Meat Puppets, Mission of Burma (who have a new album out!), Minutemen etc. A-


(from 2006)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


POWER OF POP INTERVIEW: STEVE WYNN

I actually managed to get in touch (via e-mail) with the subject of our attention - singer-songwriter extraordinaire Steve Wynn and he graciously agreed to answer certain queries I had to make this edition of POWER OF POP INTERVIEW a special one indeed!

Wynn is perhaps best known for fronting the seminal alternative rock outfit The Dream Syndicate, which have been described as “at the foundation (alongside the Velvet Underground, Stooges and REM.) of contemporary alternative music.” When asked about his feelings about that part of his life, Wynn responded – “It was a very exciting time.   If you are lucky enough to have a long music career you gain various skills and perspective and friends and workmates but you never regain that wild thrill of the first time you saw a record you made or the first time you saw your name in a newspaper article or the first time you played to an insanely enthusiastic audience.   Those thrills remain in various forms but never as heady as the first time. And we (the Syndicate, REM, Green On Red, Bangles) were all sharing it at the same time.”

The Syndicate’s debut platter, Days of Wine and Roses was critically lauded but their subsequent albums viz. Medicine Show and Out of the Grey were given short shrift as Wynn adopted a rootsier sound, exchanging Lou Reed inflections for Neil Young, prompting the more caustic critics to remark that “Wynn indulged an embarrassing Bruce Springsteen fixation on later releases,” though with hindsight the Syndicate (together with Sid Griffin’s Long Ryders) certainly pre-empted the “No Depression” movement of the 1990s.

Wynn’s own view on this development - “Ah, people always are fearful of change and don't begin to fully accept the change until you change courses once again and build nostalgia for the intermediary change (follow that?)   I think anyone who has been around for a long time gets used to the constant evaluation and then reevaluation of the career.    I can't say that I had that much of an influence on the “No Depression” movement (though I think the Long Ryders are one of the biggest influences) but I am glad to see that great bands like Luna, Yo La Tengo and others took some of the things we did just as we took various things from bands like the Velvets, Stooges and Modern Lovers.”

But Steve Wynn is now a bona fide solo artist and with the 1999 album My Midnight, he had actually released more albums as a solo artist (six) than with Dream Syndicate. Does it bother him that his name cannot be mentioned without some reference to Dream Syndicate?

“I remember thinking that I would make one, maybe two solo albums and never have to see the words 'Dream Syndicate' attached to any of my shows or records.   10 years later the band is still part of my calling card and I am neither surprised or disheartened as I have come to realize how much that band meant to so many people, me included.   In fact whenever I am asked in interviews about the 'record that changed your life' I always say 'The Days of Wine and Roses,' which is the obvious truth."

Having spent a decade as a solo artist, Wynn feels that he is “always trying to get better.  I do honestly think that 'My Midnight' was my best album which is very heartening.  I am going into the studio in September (2000) to make a new album and will feel the challenge to go one step further once again.”

Indeed, My Midnight is a wonderful album. “Nothing but the shell” is a great opening track with its sheer power – “just the sound of a good band moving together in a very natural way.” Wynn offers and the placing of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and ”Neil Young & Crazy Horse” in the same verse, Wynn attributes to “just some perverse humor and a take on dysfunctional families.”

The main strength of “My Midnight” is its eclecticism ("Cats & Dogs" – a prime example, a great pop moment that changes the mood from the first track. This is important to Wynn – “I'd rather be hated than boring.    Not that such a sweet song about such sweet animals could inspire hate.   I do see albums as some kind of narrative journey and have always felt that sequencing is as important an ingredient as any part of the record making.”

The title track is slinky and feline like the night - very evocative. Wynn elaborates – “the phrase 'My Midnight' isn't time-specific but rather the moment of the darkest parts of your soul, the time when all foundation shifts and sinks and you are left with doubts and confusion.   It can happen at noon, it can last for months.”

As a finale, I asked Wynn to describe his music – “For 'My Midnight' I was very interested in big, symphonic records from the 1960s like Gene Pitney, Richard Harris, Love and even various bubblegum classics. Tried for a soundtrack feeling and I think the next record will be more stripped down and haphazard. Most likely. I always hate to describe my music to other people as I usually get it wrong.   Best to leave it to the critics and then the rebuttal from the fans.”

‘Nuff said!

(Originally published in 2000)


Sunday, September 19, 2010


THE POWER OF POP INTERVIEW - XAVIER BOYER (TAHITI 80)

"We wanted to make a modern-traditional pop album! "

French pop has not been held in the highest esteem in international pop circles compared to their neighbors across the Channel or even (of late) compared to Scandinavia BUT the improbably monikered Tahiti 80 is doing their damndest to change all that. AND based on their new shiny, funky pop album - Puzzle - they just might pull it off! In the hot seat for the band -- singer-songwriter Xavier Boyer.

How did the name "Tahiti 80" come about? Anything to do with "Brasil 66"?

The name of the band comes from a T-shirt that friends of my dad brought him back from Tahiti in 1980. Pretty simple, isn't it? We chose that name because it could be understood by anybody, in any language.  I don't know any band called Brasil 66, but I do know a British band in the late 80' s whose name was Mexico 70. I think it sounds good but what I like about our name is that it' s not connected to soccer or anything.

When and where did the band form?

We met in Rouen (the town where Joan of Ark was burnt), back in 1995. We basically met in the hall of the university.

As a French band, why did you decide to sing in English? Do you sing in French as well?

No, we don't. We tried to sing in French at some point  because of the pressure from record companies ( you have to play 40% of French music on the radio in France, it 's a law! ), but it didn't sound natural. Our musical culture is Anglo Saxon, I' ve listened more to the Beatles than to Serge Gainsbourg, even if "Melody Nelson " is one of my favourite albums. Looking back, I don' t think we decided anything, the first time I picked up a guitar I started to sing in English. I think it is the most appropriate language when you want to play pop music, like Spanish is for salsa, etc...

At the moment, the French pop scene is better known for its electronic pop artists like Kid Loco, Daft Punk and Air, are there other French pop bands like Tahiti 80?

Yes, bands like Fugu, Maarten or Calc sing in English and share with us the nostalgia for " traditional " songwriting and arrangements. Though, I wouldn't say we are prophets in our own country!

Do you feel out of place in the French pop scene?

It 's a fact that we feel much closer to Swedish bands like the Cardigans or Eggstone, or Belgian bands like dEUS or Soulwax for instance, than to other French acts. If you consider the recent years, it' s true that the electronic artists were the only ones to experience international success. I think we 're just another branch from the "new" French music scene.

What kind of music influenced the making of "Puzzle"? Who are your musical heroes?

Actually, anything from the 60's till today. We are huge fans of bands like the Left Banke, The Zombies, Big Star, XTC, The Pale Fountains, The Stone Roses, My Bloody Valentine, The Boo Radleys, Aphex Twin, The Chemical Brothers, Stereolab...and many more. Our idea was to write "classical" pop songs, yet we didn't want them to sound like they were recorded in 1968 or 1974. We wanted to make a modern-traditional pop album! That' s why we use string quartets and electronic programming on some of our songs.

How long did it take to record "Puzzle"? Was it a difficult process?

We spent 1 month and 10 days at Stratosphere, NYC to  record it. I think everything came pretty easily. The general mood was harmonious, that's quite important when you' re into melodic tunes (laughs)!

How did you hook up with American artists like Eric Matthews and Adam Schlesinger?

Adam plays bass in Ivy, the band of Andy Chase, our producer. He was often in the studio so it was easy to ask him to play keyboard on 2 songs. We are great fans of Eric Matthews, and we had one song that needed a trumpet player. Andy immediately thought of Eric so we sent him some rough mixes. He agreed to cross the States to record with us. It remains one of the great moments of the sessions. I wouldn't say he's one of our idols, but having this guy that we respect so much on "Puzzle" means a lot to us.

Do you have any problems with playing a so-called archaic style (i.e. guitar pop) in year 2000?

What for? We' d like to prove that you can still make interesting music with guitars . The difficult thing is to admit  that it' s quite impossible to invent anything, and  that the only thing  one has to do is take some risks ( i.e. not only repeating what the Beatles have already done) and  try to do something personal.

Is "Mr Davies" about Ray Davies of the Kinks? If so, what inspired the song?

When you open a Dictionary of pop music, you read Ray Davies close to the word songwriter. He wrote (writes?) great songs with great lyrics, my idea was to talk of him like he told the story of Arthur, Victoria, David Watts...It' s also me comparing myself to him. Of course, he has won the
match ! It' s also a song about all those British rock stars ( though I know Ray doesn't live there) who went to live in California, and who can't write good songs anymore. What has happened in the 70's?

Who listens to your records and comes to your gigs?

People wearing leather jackets and beatle boots...no. I don't know, it's quite varied, they can be pop fans always looking for new bands, girls who have seen our faces on T.V, guys in their late 30's nostalgic of the good old days,or 30 year old girls who watch musical channels and read the N.M.E.

How do Tahiti 80 intend to achieve world domination?

For our next effort we plan to record subliminal lines like " I wanna give all my money to Tahiti 80", or " Tahiti 80 is the best", like on those old Queen's and Led Zep 's album. It was good for them, it will be good for us.

How is Tahiti 80 promoting "Puzzle"?

The album has been released in France last October, we 've almost been on a "never ending tour" since. It still remains confidential in France but  I think something is happening here, our video is played on TV (the single is "Heartbeat"), more people come to our shows . We' re doing quite well in the Benelux, proportionally we sell more records than we do in our own country ."Puzzle" is going to be released in Japan through JVC on April 21st, and in the U.S. via Minty Fresh on May 9th .We've got also good contacts in Britain and in other European countries. So hopefully(?), we 're going to promote "Puzzle" in a lot of different countries this year.


(Interview conducted in 2000 or 2001, I cannot remember!)


THE FLAMING LIPS
At War With The Mystics
(Warners)

“If you could blow up the world with the flick of a switch/Would you do it?” 

Ladies and gentlemen, I do believe that the beginnings of a Flaming Lips backlash is upon us all. Many critics when reviewing At War With The Mystics point to the opening “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” as a sign that powers of the Flaming Lips is now in decline. Sure, it’s cheesy to the nth degree but deceptively so with a melodic structure that even Paul McCartney might chaff at but contains lyrics that John Lennon himself would have been proud to pen. No one sugar coats a protest song better than the Flaming Lips!

The funky “Free Radicals” takes a pot shot at someone with a bad attitude and who would not last without his (or her) bodyguards (anyone you might know?) “The Sound of Failure” is an apologetic exercise in soft pop dynamics – “So go tell Britney and go tell Gwen/She’s not trying to go against all of them” being particularly cryptic yet knowing. To these ears, the Lips muse is still alive and kicking…and add the space age pastoral hymn that is “My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion,” the catchy cry for help that is “It Overtakes Me/The Stars Are So Big I Am So Small…Do I Stand A Chance?” and the closing hopeful ballad that is “Goin’ On” to the overall goodness and what one gets is a great Flaming Lips album.

Perhaps what has irritated these critics is the subtle shift into more familiar prog rock stylings that can be found on mainly instrumental tracks like “The Wizard Turns On…” and “Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung.” Too bad. As far as I am concerned, the Flaming Lips are now a law unto themselves and whilst At War With The Mystics  never holds a candle to The Soft Bulletin and we all expected them going in but together with Yoshimi Battles the Red Robots, indicates that the Flaming Lips will not simply fade into the psychedelic-coloured sunset. A

(This review was published in 2006)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


AGAINST THE ODDS

Let me tell you straight - it was tough being a music lover in Singapore in the 70s. In my opinion, the 70s was the best decade in rock music but if you were growing up in Singapore like I was back then, we were having none of it. Due to the government's intolerance towards long hair and rock music culture in general, NO rock bands performed in Singapore. Ever.

There was no rock music on radio or TV either. The only places we could find rock music was in the records, magazines, jamming studios and nightclubs. So yes, it bugs me when I see the scores of foreign bands that play in Singapore nowadays cos we never got to see Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, The Kinks, The Who, ELO, Fleetwood Mac, Rush and so on and on and on. Sucks.

And no, watching the likes of Stereophonics, Oasis or 30 Seconds to Mars in Singapore does not come remotely close to missing out on those legends in their prime. It did not get that much better in the 80s either. Even as the post-punk bands (like Joy Division, the Jam, the Police, OMD, Depeche Mode) made an impact on the UK music scene, our local media was totally oblivious. Back then, BBC World Service was indispensable viz. Top 20 and John Peel shows (along with NME, Record Mirror, Sounds etc) pointing the way for us music lovers. 

Even when MTV came along, the only way we could view these videos (pre-Youtube & cable TV), was through friends bringing back video cassette recordings of music programs from overseas, usually USA and UK. 

We did however, get the occasional rock movie e.g. Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same, The Band's Last Waltz and of course, the epochal Urgh! A Music War! Censored of course as the authorities deemed necessary.

Why am I harping on these matters, now long past? Simply put, back then, to be a rock music fan came at a cost. We spent time and money to fulfill our passion - it did not come with a click of a mouse - we had to scour book and record stores and even order records from abroad, the old fashioned way! 

That's why it pains and offends me when I come across self-professed music fans who know fuck all about the music they claim to love (and are blase about the fact), when the entire world wide web is available to them! And why I act so incredulous when kids lavish their acclaim and adoration on third-rate inferior bands when these kids are deliberately ignorant and oblivious of the original bands, these "superstar" bands are so obviously ripping off

Look! Don't dismiss the music of the past as "oldies" - why settle for inferior music when you can embrace the real thing? Why the Vines (for eg) when you haven't even heard of The Kinks or The Who? Why oh why? Appreciating Vampire Weekend is well and good but irrelevant if you have no clue who the Talking Heads, XTC or Paul Simon are! 

Sometimes I feel like screaming! It's frustrating to engage in conversation with kids about rock music and 90% of the time, I get a blank stare when I mention key artists/bands and worse still, this applies to our bands/musicians!!! Absolutely incredible. Which is why sometimes I feel like a freak in Singapore - nobody understands my passion for rock music, well that's not entirely true but there's not enough people out there in Singapore, who can carry on an intelligent discussion about rock music. That said, I do appreciate the precious few who do and can... you know who you are...

*SIGH*

Saturday, September 11, 2010


25 ESSENTIAL BANDS/ARTISTS

Not in strict order of merit but here's a quick list - 

1. The Beatles

No surprise there, I hope. The one who made guitar bands cool again. 


2. The Beach Boys

Brian Wilson created true emo music and probably the best pop album ever - Pet Sounds.


3. Bob Dylan

Dylan elevated folk music into pop culture phenomena, went electric and people have been trying to catch up since...


4. The Who

Created the rock opera and the power trio for a slew of followers.


5. The Kinks

The quintessential English band.


6. Rolling Stones

Pop's dark princes.


7. Jimi Hendrix

The 1st genius of electric guitar.


8. Velvet Underground

Pop meets the underground. Literally.


9. The Doors

More than just a Jim Morrison vehicle, the Doors were consummate genre-benders.


10. Pink Floyd

From psychedelic pioneers to prog professionals, the Floyd's influence still extends far and wide.


11. Genesis

From prog to pop, Genesis covers enough ground to justify the closest examination.


12. Electric Light Orchestra

Jeff Lynne and company brought the Beatles' orchestral psych-fests to their logical conclusions.


13. David Bowie

The pop chameleon spawned a million and one genres. 


14. Roxy Music

Experimental and glam chic - the ultimate statement in rock cool.


15. Neil Young

The uncompromising anarchic rocker who succeeded on his own terms.


16. Todd Rundgren

The whiz-kid who mastered every musical challenge put before him.


17. Elvis Costello

Pub-rocker who ended up writing and performing with Burt Bacharach. Now that's versatility!


18. Joy Division

Where would modern rock/post punk revival be without Ian Curtis and company?


19. XTC

Severely under-rated pop masters with a capital 'P'.


20. The Jam

Much more than mod revivalists, the thinking man's post punk band.


21. The Police

Not punks (in any shape or form) but the Police defined the new wave in every other way.


22. Rush

Re-fined progressive rock into a palatable pop format, without sacrificing technique and verve.


23. U2

Ireland's finest became the biggest rock band on the planet.


24. Robyn Hitchcock

Standing on the shoulders of Dylan, Barrett and Lennon, Hitchcock made quirky folk-rock his own.


25. The Replacements

Raw and "in your face", proto-alt-rock at its best!


Not definitive of course... but a good start.



Tuesday, September 07, 2010


HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW

How many of you reading this, remember Dada Records situated at Funan Centre in the 90s? I have fond memories of this great CD store and its owner, Peter, who was astute enough to make relevant musical recommendations (he actually pushed Verve and Blur to me! Good tastes, man!!) 

Well, I do recall one occasion when I made my weekly visit to the store and Peter was thrilled to show me the CD where the band shared his store's name. The CD was playing over the store PA and I must admit by the third song, I was totally hooked!

Dada - the band - was/is a power trio (Joie Calio, Michael Gurley, Phil Leavitt) with the coolest influences (viz. Beatles, The Who, Led Zep) with a knack for melody and rock dynamics. Of course, I purchased the album and Puzzle has remained one of my favorite albums of all time.

Those opening four tracks, pretty much classic to me now - the bluesy Dorina, the powerful Mary Sunshine Rain, the psych-poppy Dog and the alt-countryish Dizz Knee Land - delivered an almighty punch which has to be heard to be believed! 

The rest of the album is a little uneven, although the lush Timothy and the pummeling Dim are standouts certainly. The album sold around half a million, not too bad numbers for an indie band (the album was released by IRS, best known for REM in the 80s).

The band continues to make music but never quite hitting the heights of Puzzle and I understand that they're putting together a new record soon. Should be interesting. 

Dada Records is long gone but the good times linger on in the mind...together with the music of Dada's Puzzle. Good times, indeed!


Friday, September 03, 2010


A DENIAL

Unlike the hip & cool people, I was blissfully unaware of Nirvana till one day in 1991 when I walked into the old Rediffusion for an interview with Chris Ho and Smells Like Teen Spirit was blasting away. When I was informed that Teen Spirit was a hit single, the only thing I could think of was that this band was ripping off the Pixies! Heh!!!

You've gotta understand that in 1990, the word was that rock was dead as the only significant rock band who made any impact on the charts was REM. Nobody (not even Nirvana) expected Nevermind (the band's sophomore effort) to be the zeitgeist maker it turned out to be. Suddenly, rock was in again... and unfortunately, the major labels thrashed the bandwagon to bits and created grunge. Ugh!

Still, this event coincided with the rise of Singapore indie music and probably thanks to Nirvana and Nevermind, the local radio stations were more receptive to playing Singapore indie music and the listeners were open to the music as well as the number of Singapore indie radio hits testified.

Next year, will mark the 20th anniversary of Nevermind's release and its legacy is strongly felt even today in having single-handedly brought alternative rock into the mainstream. Good or bad?
All of which bugged Nirvana's leader, Kurt Cobain immensely, he never wanted fame and fortune (or to be a spokesman of his generation) - he just wanted to rock. 

Sadly, his fragile personality got the better of him and Cobain committed suicide in 1994. His music still lives on...







Thursday, September 02, 2010


ULTRAVOX!

I just know that I'm going to get caned for this but... I actually liked the incarnation of Ultravox with Midge Ure in the lineup more than John Foxx. Okay? 

When Foxx left the band in 1979 (after three albums), Ure, who had played with Thin Lizzy and ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock's band Rich Kids, replaced Foxx as frontman and brought Ultravox through their most successful era with 5 top ten albums in the UK and various international single hits. 

I loved the Vienna, Rage in Eden, Quartet and Lament LPs immensely and count them as some of my favorites from the 80s. To my ears, Ultravox were progressive rockers masquerading as post-punks but instead of power chords, the quartet employed synths and Currie's violin to distinguish themselves.

In fact, after the release of Rage in Eden, the British critics (especially NME) began to decry Ultravox as the "new Genesis", which was fine by me, as I was also a Genesis fan! Despite the obvious debts to the pomp rock of the 70s, Ultravox's appropriation of the post-punk synth pop sound kept the music fresh and intriguing. 

To this day, I go back to those astonishing singles viz. Sleepwalk, Passing Strangers, Vienna, The Voice, Reap the Wild Wind, Dancing With Tears In My Eyes. One Small Day and Lament and no assessment of the best music of the 80s will be complete without including Ultravox.