There is a dream-like quality about the opening songs on Irish pop-rock evangelists Pugwash’s new album, Play This Intimately (As If Among Friends). The first six tracks have a pleasing and enveloping mellifluence that functions as a effective panacea for the ills of the modern (pop) world. Mid-tempo numbers like “Kicking and Screaming” and “Lucky In Every Way” will bear the familiar hallmarks of the Pugwah oeuvre – a comfortable rhythm, note-perfect harmonies, sympathetic guitar patterns and memorable singalong tunes. “Feed His Heart With Coal” has a clever train motif running through the track which recalls the work of XTC whilst “Just So You Know” is a brilliant ballad laced with spy movie themes.
The rockabilly ditty “You Could Always Cry” is the one concession to a heightened tempo and “Hung Myself Out To Dry” possesses a feisty McCartney-esque music hall jaunt (with a chorus melody Macca himself would be proud to call his own!).
But when “Silly Love” slows down the pace once more, it feels… right. There is a sense of ease that is hypnotic and mesmerising.“All the Way From Love” will no doubt entrance Roy Orbison lovers with its wondrous channeling of the Big O and “We Are Everywhere” is a slow burning Beatlesque psychedelic pop ballad that delivers an appropriate ending.
Recorded at The Kink’s Konk studios, this new album is everything Pugwash fans would expect from their heroes and much more. With the band’s own heroes Ray Davies (The Kinks), Andy Partridge (XTC) and ELO’s Jeff Lynne guesting on a couple tracks — not to mention The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon on keyboards — there is a genuine feeling that all is right with the world.
It all makes sense – this is as close as you can get to pop perfection in 2015.
I will be honest (when am I not?) – I first noticed Gayle Nerva in a tour video of I Hate This Place in Japan sometime ago and was struck by her effervescent personality. Then, it was her lovely voice and then her heartfelt ballads that got my firm attention. I have always believe that given a chance, her music would appeal to a mainstream pop audience home and abroad.
Well, glad to say that her new single “Pretend” is out – it’s a dark electro-pop number produced by Trick’s Marc Lian – and Gayle will be performing at the Esplanade Recital Studio on Saturday, September 5th. Tickets available from SISTIC. Check out the music video below.
Identical twins Wyatt and Fletcher Shears make up eccentric garage punk duo The Garden. The pair specialises in micro-songs that seldom to never reach the two minute mark. In fact, their last album – The Life and Times of a Paperclip – had a duration of 19 minutes. That said, the hauntingly jaunty new single “All Smiles Over Here” is almost three minutes! Whoa! New direction!
Kudos to Other Sounds for promoting these quirky and unique sounding little bands. Sleepwalker, is a brand new series of shows Other Sounds is organising in Singapore to bring a fresh and challenging new band to our shores every month this year from October to December. Sounds like fun!
Sleepwalker: THE GARDEN (USA) live in Singapore
with supports TBA
50 Lorong 17 Geylang
Sunday, 11 October 2015
Doors open: 8pm
$35 pre-sale / $40 door / $100 series bundle
I have always been passionate about having more female artists/musicians in our local scene. Certainly, one of the signs of a progressive music scene would be the number of talented and creative women operating within the same. Well, in very recent times, you basically cannot keep the women out of the local music scene even if you tried and the rise to prominence of Eugenia Yip (a.k.a. Ginny Bloop) is one significant milestone, for sure.
The enigmatic vocalist is making a name for herself fronting TWO critically acclaimed acts viz. The Steve McQueens and Riot !n Magenta, and whilst there is no denying the strong musicianship of the men behind her in both bands – there is also little doubt that Ginny is the star of the show whenever she steps up on stage. Fresh from a triumphant Japanese tour with The Steve McQueens, Ginny lit up the proceedings at the Ignite Music Festival 2015 with her idiosyncratic stylings. With her aviator shades and tie-dyed top, Ginny looked (and sounded) like a rock star – the consummate stage performer holding court. Considering how Singaporean musicians are generally awkward on stage, Ginny is a rarity and utterly mesmerising in performance – once you are hypnotised by the Ginny Bloop experience, it’s never enough. Seriously, folks.
Has been a while since I have seen The Good Life Project in action and the presence of three ladies in the septet (singer Pamela, bassist Stasha and violinist Kim) has always spiced things up. Not that the guys are slouches in the instrumental department with Sano, Naz, Intriguant (Lewis) and Ritz (subbing for Boey) more than able to pull their own weight. Considering the sheer amount of talent that resides in this group, I am still mystified at the fact that they remain somewhat obscure in the scheme of things in the local scene. Their pleasing blend of sophisticated jazz-funk-R&B-pop-rock is a recipe for mainstream success, with as much as potential for overseas acceptance as that currently received by The Steve McQueens. At Ignite last evening, they owned the stage, oozing class and dynamism from start to finish – they deserve so much more! Here’s hoping we will see and hear more from the band in the months ahead.
The late Ian Macdonald, one of most influential rock critics of all time, wrote in 2003 that “the essentials of modern popular music were laid down during a period of less than ten years and that, but for some technical innovations leading to various musical diversions (such as reggae, rap/hip hop and sequenced dance music), nothing intrinsically new has appeared since then, all musical mini-revolutions in the last twenty years being prefaced in the products of the sixties, the foundation decade for all that’s followed.”
There’s no denying that the origins of blues-rock, garage, pop-rock, R&B, avant rock. metal, folk-rock and punk rock lie in the sixties but it can also be argued that the seventies were even more influential (especially in relation to the origins of rap/hip hop) or even the nineties (as electronic music became more pervasive). These discussions about the origins of the diverse music genres that make up the landscape of modern popular music will be at the heart of my WRITING ABOUT ROCK MUSIC course to be conducted in two weeks!
So The Little Giant (aka Hilary Yang) was one of my last NAC Noise mentees last year and the problem with listening to a song in its embryonic form is sometimes it’s hard to accept a radically different version. Thus it’s the case with “You Got Some” which in typical Hilary fashion has something to do with the male obsession with sex. This first single from Hilary’s debut EP – “Let’s Just Be Honest” is now a bit of a rockabilly number which I have an issue with – Hilary’s vocal delivery becomes quite garbled with the increased tempo and God knows it’s all about her lyrics. But the saving grace is this wonderful lyric video (by Annie Hung – well done with the male sexual metaphors!) which sets out the lyrics before your very eyes whilst you hear the song and voila! Problem solved.
The Little Giant “Let’s Just be Honest” EP Launch
Friday, 4th September 7pm
BluJaz Cafe (3rd Floor) 11 Bali Lane, Historic Kampong Glam, Singapore 189848
(With special guests, The MadHatter Project & Anise SG!)
$15 advanced tickets available at : thelittlegiantEP.peatix.com
$20 tickets at the door (subject to availability)
$30 ticket + EP at the door (subject to availability)
People sometimes ask why this website isn’t called Power of Rock when my musical tastes seem to gravitate towards rock rather than pop music. But this betrays a somewhat myopic understanding of what pop music actually is, and falls prey to the common misconception of pop.
Strictly speaking, popular music as a ‘genre’ is utilised to differentiate from other known generic forms of music – for example, classical music, traditional/ethnic music and art/avant garde music.
Traditional/ethnic music (in this case, Chinese)
Art/Avant-garde music (in this case, minimalism)
In this context, it is easy to see that popular music is ‘different’ in that it appeals to the masses and is more universally inclusive, compared to the above ‘genres’. This means that popular music includes country, folk, blues, soul, jazz, rock and pop, also combinations amongst the aforementioned and cross-pollinations with the other generic forms as well.
But of course, understanding the diverse ‘genres’ within the broad popular music category is really important if you are trying to describe a certain type of music. Perhaps less so in today’s environment where music can be heard over the internet on demand but for marketing and promotional purposes, this understanding still plays a crucial role.
Which brings me, inevitably, to my WRITING ON ROCK MUSIC course, which I will be conducting over 4 Saturdays in September and I will going over this issue of popular music genres. The fee is $300 and registration is still open till 4th September. Sign up at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nothing wrong with going all retrodelic like (as someone once described the music of Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians) if the music is as good as Perth band The High Leary’s new single “Letters to Alice”. Evoking the glorious mid-60s psych-rock majesty of bands like Pink Floyd, The Doors and Deep Purple, “Letters to Alice” will appeal to fans of modern day psych-rock revivalists like Temples and Tame Impala. “Letters to Alice” will be released on 4th September but you can preview the track now streaming at Soundcloud.
Wow! This happened! Quite out of the blue and somewhat under the radar, Allura has dropped a new EP after disappearing for SIX years!
I won’t lie – listening to the 1832 EP is akin to a religious experience! The musical sophistication displayed in these new recordings is a wonder to behold certainly.
“Rain” is an interesting amalgam of pop with experimental musicality, “Loose Change” is an intensely emotional diatribe and “Cold*Player” is an intriguing piece that deserves a couple of plays to fully soak in.
Kudos to Aaron, Mark John, Inch, Matt and HQ for putting this wonderful gift together – it’s been too fucking long!
And that’s not all, Allura reunites for a live performance at this weekend’s 100bands festival on 8th August at 8pm!
Will we ever see a band like Nirvana again? It’s hard to believe that the Nevermind album – which changed the face of the music industry in the early 90s – is now 24 years old! And since the decline of rock ‘n’ roll music in the late 90s, no other rock band has come remotely close to replicating the impact of Nirvana. Yes, we have had successful rock bands since viz. Nickelback, The Strokes, The Killers, Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay et al BUT relatively speaking, these have been minor successes when compared to the seismic pop culture impact of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Beyonce and the like. Artistically as well, most of these aforementioned bands have failed to deliver.
Curiously enough, the last time critics declared the demise of rock ‘n’ roll was in the late 80s, when Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston ruled the roost, but as the wheel turned rock bands like R.E.M., Nirvana and the Seattle grunge scene ascended to the top of the charts. Well, it’s almost 25 years now and there appears to be no sign of rock ‘n’ roll ever returning to those levels of influence in the mainstream pop industry.
Still, that does not mean that good rock ‘n’ roll music (whether in the guise of pop-rock, indie pop, hard rock, electro-pop, blues rock, garage or punk) wasn’t being made in the last 15 odd years, it’s just that the environment of the music industry has been altered so drastically that it is virtually impossible for what happened in the early 90s to occur once again. The decline in record sales, the rise of singing contests (American Idol, X-Factor etc) and the ubiquity of Youtube, has meant that the major labels have had to hedge their bets and cynically control the musical output and fan appreciation thereof.
This has resulted in the most basic pop formulas viz. hip-hop/R&B accounting for the lion’s share of the chart action. These are 3 of the top 5 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 right now.
The one main thing connecting all three singles is a highly designed discipline to present the melody/rhythms as simplistically and repetitively as possible so that the hooks are very easy to remember. A deliberate lack of musical sophistication that dumbs down to the lowest common denominator creating an audience that is not able to appreciate anything that does not sound like what it hears on a non-stop basis on the radio. The perfect marketing tactic.
In fact, guitar rock is totally absent for the Top 20, with the nearest example being Maroon 5, and even though the music video for “Sugar” shows the band with guitars, it does not sound like there are any guitars on the song itself! In fact, it adheres greatly to the hip-hop/R&B formula with Adam Levine’s vocals heavily auto-tuned. Talk about soul-less! Going down the rest of the chart will depress any fan of rock ‘n’ roll with the genre’s utter lack of representation.
So, are the rumours true? Is rock ‘n’ roll dead? Well, not at the grass roots level of course, as both in the USA and the UK, there continues to be scores of bands who create great rock ‘n’ roll music, it’s just that even with the oft assumed ability of the internet to connect bands and fans, it’s the major labels leveraging on radio stations, streaming services and Youtube (again!) who will have the attention of mainstream music fans.
There’s the rub. If the major labels feel that the new rock ‘n’ roll have the fan base to make them sit up and notice, then they might feel the need to throw money that way. The question is — will the youth of today ever get tired of the formulaic pop stars being paraded before them? Will they ever hunger for something different enough to alter their listening habits? The signs have not been encouraging. The irony is that whilst the internet is always being trumpeted as the champion of free and alternative choices, the harsh reality is that the internet is still ultimately the tool of our corporate masters to dictate what food we should eat, what clothes we should wear and of course, what music we should listen to.
However, for those of us who are able to think critically for ourselves, the internet provides a means of escaping these corporate shackles and we can only do this by supporting the bands that do not conform to the grand masterplan of our overlords. Then, these bands might have the opportunity and liberty to create the kind of music we desire and love. So, is rock ‘n’ roll in a crisis? Not if rock ‘n’ roll fans continue to support the right bands and be evangelistic about the music they love.
Yes, PoP visitors, the ball is in YOUR court…
In the meantime, check out the Power of Pop playlist at Spotify highlighting 30-odd British guitar rock bands you should be supporting! Please FOLLOW!
MUSICComments Off on 2015 – THE YEAR SINGAPORE ENGLISH POP RECLAIMED MAINSTREAM STATUS?
There were three emails from major labels that I received in this past week that indicates that Singapore English pop may just be turning a significant corner. Three releases from Singapore bands that have already made an impact on a pop fan base in Singapore. That is something that has not happened since… the 1960s and the 1990s?
Granted, there is not much rock ‘n’ roll evident from the new batch of popstars-in-waiting but perhaps that is a reflection of the audience’s taste more than anything else. In any case, what we have are three singles viz. “Sixty Five” by Gentle Bones, “Take Heart” from The Sam Willows and Trick’s “Some Girls” with their obligatory accompanying videos. So let’s take a look, shall we?
First off, Gentle Bones’ “Sixty Five” is a musical tie-in to the upcoming 1965 movie and is rather downbeat and dramatic amidst its lush orchestration. The video matches the somewhat sombre mood showcasing obtuse dancing and moody lighting, capturing the tone well. Look out for a cameo from producer Leonard Soosay (with cat).
Next, The Sam Willows’ “Take Heart” emphasises all the manifest strengths of this lively quartet with the video deftly highlighting energetic dancers as the song’s hybrid hipster folk/EDM hedges all bets well enough. With its bright rainbow colours, it’s seems to provide an interesting counterpoint to the Gentle Bones’ video. Coincidence or design? Mm??
Finally, “Some Girls” finds Trick hoping to emulate their American hip-hop cousins with some T&A and risque lyrics. Somewhat daring by staid Singapore standards, at least one cannot accuse Trick of not trying to provide a visual representation of the song itself. Considering how popular hip-hop is worldwide, it’s a commendable effort.
Taken in the context of mainstream pop, these singles can stand up to anything out there and hopefully with a certain amount of marketing muscle from the major labels involved, these pop star hopefuls will become household names in Singapore and beyond!
You know the drill. Here comes an anecdote about the first time I experienced one of my favourite bands. That’s me, consistent!
A Baybeats audition a couple of years back at a room in Lasalle. One of the band members was very late. Jokes were circulating about him being ‘lost’…
Not very helpful when the name of the band is Lost Weekend. The band eventually did the audition but were naturally fairly rattled. But there was something inherently valuable in the songwriting that prompted me to check the band out online and I was sold based on the demos I heard online.
Since then, Lost Weekend have gone from strength to strength and the much-anticipated debut album is upon us. Produced by Roland Lim (Sync Studios), the new album (based on the 4 tracks previewed) sound exactly as classic indie pop should sound. Sophisticated ‘retro’ melodies and edgy instrumentation with attitude – presented with sympathetic production values.
The band have decided not to release the album in the physical CD format, and will instead focus the delivery of their music in a digital format. Working with local design firm fFurious, Lost Weekend will offer download codes for their music through their merchandise, including a t-shirt and a special pop-up card. Check out the music video for the infectious “Mornings” below.
What can I say about Seamonster? I feel like just grabbing you, dear reader, by the throat and screaming into your ear – “BUY THE FUCKING ALBUM NOW!” and not feel any guilt about such a violent outburst at all.
But seriously folks, what can I say about Seamonster?
That this amazing band viz. Joshua Wan (keyboards), Fabian Lim (saxophone), Jase Sng (bass), Aaron Lee (drums) and Ginny Bloop (vocals) has made jazz improvisation appealing to the soul with ten tracks that beggar belief for its technical excellence and emotional resonance. Every single member is a master of his instrument but together, they form an indefinable creature – a veritable Seamonster!
You want instrumental virtuosity? You can, in spades! You want irresistible grooves? Again, there are loads to spare here.
And the icing on the cake? The absolute tipping point into pure unbridled adulation?
Ginny Bloop – an idiosyncratic front-person who is at once sexy and quirky, possessed of a unique larynx that twists and turns like some leviathan, clothed with a personality that is also tongue-in-cheek woman-child – an unstoppable force!
See what I mean? Incomprehensible babbling of a madman touched by the magic of The Steve McQueens. You have been warned!
Seamonster is available in Singapore on all major digital music platforms. Physical copies of the CD can also be ordered at www.stevemcqueens.com
My continuing misadventures as a failed musician in art-adverse Singapore where cover bands rule the music landscape.
Against all common sense, I am recording a new album to be released in September. Look, I will be a senior citizen very soon and my name isn’t Dick Lee or Jeremy Monteiro, so who the fuck in this recovering cultural desert would want to listen to my music?
It gets worse when one tries to talk to venues about playing gigs to promote the new album. Most of the venues here exclusively feature cover bands and if you want to ‘use’ their venue to launch your album then expect an exorbitant charge!
To be fair, there are venues that do (on a regular consistent basis) support a Singapore artist playing his own music but you can probably count them on one hand – Artistry Cafe, Hood Bar & Cafe, Timbre outlets, the Esplanade and the Hard Rock Cafe!
For most of these venues, there is no payment involved for playing – simply because there is no grassroots support for music made in Singapore. That unfortunately is still a fact. I can appreciate the venue owners’ dilemma, I really do. It’s already amazing that these platforms even exist!
Thus, I do not perform regularly. For my ‘layman’ friends, this is hard to understand. The usual query is ‘where do you play?’ but the reality is ‘NOWHERE’. Unless it’s an annual string of dates for an EP/album launch, it is impossible for me to get a gig!
Which is why I cringe whenever people describe me as a ‘legend’ – what a fucking joke!?!? More like a ‘failed musician’ is the stark reality. Is this your musical legacy, Singapore? Don’t be mistaken, I am not griping for the sake of it, I accept the way things are and do my best (which isn’t much) to change things.
But what I will continue to do is to make music. So, I will release my new album – Present Sense – in September and will play a couple of gigs in support (with The Groovy People). I really wish I could play my music all year round but that, dear readers, is just not possible, unless something changes.
And that is up to you. Not the Government, not SGMUSO, not The Musicians Guild, but YOU, the music fan. The scene is what you make of it – if all you want are singing contests & cookie cutter cover bands, then good luck to you all….
*thanks to Keith Tan (Obedient Wives Club) for the phrase.
MUSICComments Off on SINGAPORE ROCK HAS COME OF AGE? IT IS STILL ONLY IN ITS INFANCY!
It has been said so often now that it’s almost become a cliché – “the Singapore indie music scene is growing” or even “Singapore’s indie music scene is on the cusp of a new golden age”. But how true is that statement and what do we mean when we say that the scene is ‘growing’?
This weekend (July 10th – 12th) witnessed a slew of Singapore indie music events that seemed to suggest that if nothing else, the number of events being organised within the scene is increasing. But is this a result of funding from SG50 celebrations or a genuine improvement in the manner in which Singaporeans appreciate local music.
Well, let’s take the examples of two very recent album launches viz. DEON’s Oceans and The Steve McQueens’ Seamonster. Both events were sold out registering between 100 – 200 paying attendees, with good sales on CDs and merch as well. Both artists have excellent reputations with track records of performing at overseas festivals. Is this an indicator of success?
Late in June, Baybeats Festival 2015 once more delivered three days of mostly Singapore indie music, spotlighting a bunch of ‘budding’ bands that for some, meant a dream achievement. Is playing at Baybeats an indicator of success, as well?
To put things into context, I came across a poster for Baybeats 2008, which introduced 11 ‘budding’ bands to the festival. However, none of those 11 bands exist anymore, seven years later.
So is that all? Playing at Baybeats and selling out your album launch? If so, then these are mere baby steps still for our perpetually teething indie music scene.
What is the measure of true success for our indie music scene?
I have been reading about the origins of Nirvana and the Seattle music scene in the late 80s and early 90s. Before the Seattle music scene exploded with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains etc, the city had little to shout about in that respect. But of course, once it did, first amongst its own local audiences, the Seattle music scene became world famous, with record labels rushing down to sign anyone in a flannel shirt with greasy hair and Seattle became synonymous with ‘grunge’ (a meaningless label) that branded Seattle as the place to be for at least five years. Though ‘grunge’ eventually died out, many of the first wave of aforementioned Seattle bands managed to make a mark on rock history.
And at the end of the day, shouldn’t that be the ultimate indicator of success for our indie music scene? Music that is appreciated in Singapore first, before being appreciated overseas? Music that is written about in glowing terms by the popular indie music influencers online, invited by popular indie music festivals overseas and drawing international visitors to experience Singapore indie music firsthand?
Without a mindset shift within our own borders, it would not be possible for our indie artists to make a significant impact, regionally and internationally. So the key question, once again, is how can Singapore indie artists build a quality fan base (i.e. one that is willing to spend money on the artist and not merely clicking ‘like’ on social media) that will sustain said artist for a lifetime of music making?
There are many factors but I think the critical one is a partnership between indie artists and venue owners to push out original music content to build a solid fan base for Singapore indie music. In order to do this, venue owners must forgo the narcotic of cover music and go cold turkey with originals! Aspiring indie artists must see the value of writing and playing their own songs – whether live or via online videos. Therefore, the music scene must be dominated by original music content, with cover music being in the minority. Yes I know it’s the usual chicken and egg situation but that’s the radical step that must be taken!
In other words, we must nurture a culture of creativity and artistry in our indie music scene. Without this, our indie music scene will constantly be on the verge of something great but without sustainability or continuity, the artists will lose faith and stamina and fade into the normalcy and obscurity of adulthood and our indie music scene will find itself at square one again!
MUSICComments Off on TEXTING FROM THE EDGE: GIN WIGMORE PULLED ON MY LEG!
Being on the periphery of the Singapore music industry is at once a privileged and awkward position to occupy. At worst a ‘failed musician’ and best a ‘conscientious objector’, I am the ‘cool uncle’ infamously derided in that pointlessly ageist Other Sounds review from years back, and the ‘influencer’ music peeps want on their side until my usefulness has run its course, and then I am kicked to the curb. But still I plod on – texting from the edge…
Gin Wigmore is a 29 year old singer-songwriter hailing from New Zealand and now based in Los Angeles. Thanks to Rdio Asia (hey Elvin, Kurt & Robin!) and Universal Music Singapore (Yo! Kheng, Sarah & Danny!), I was invited to a special showcase at Rdio’s cozy office at Ann Siang Hill yesterday (Saturday, 11th July). Gin is a wiry, hyperactive, tattooed, Slayer-tee wearing singing dynamo and having her (and wonderful backing band) deliver three highly jacked acoustic songs an arm’s length away was certainly memorable (the free flow Sailor Jerry’s did not hurt either).
Not only that but Gin also needed to come forward and pull on my leg (probably cuz she felt that this old fart was not appropriately moving to the beat) – which was a cheap thrill to be added to the collection. Definitely three songs was too short but a tasty teaser of what Gin and band could deliver. Later on, she mingled (No, Gin, Food Republic is NOT representative of Singapore food!) and I got a chance to speak to some of her band members – a mixture of folks from NZ and USA – and as usual, the music provided a means to connect.
The morning after, I am reading up more about Gin, listening to her music and realising that until the exact moment I stepped into Rdio, I was quite ignorant of her and her music. And I am wondering now whether there was more that could have been done with the time spent with Gin and her band, that the Singapore music scene could benefit from. Or maybe not. But at a bare minimum to be better prepared the next time – sorry but this is not a Seinfeld episode – I need my learning points and key takeaways!
Bottomline? Gin Wigmore is an old soul – producing music that crosses genres without apology and compromise and the kind of rock ‘n’ roll that Power of Pop believes in and champions. Listen to Gin’s new album Blood to Bone and appreciate everything I am saying…