SHALINI

SHALINI Magnetic North EP (Self-released)

I must confess that too much power pop nowadays sounds so jaded and tired, I tend to cringe a little when I come across power pop bands/artists. But I’ll always have time for Shalini! This 90s powerpop songstress (full name – Shalini Chatterjee) has over the course of six commercial releases bless the pop underground with her heady rendition of the girl-pop power tradition i.e. The Go-Gos, Blondie and the Bangles. On this new EP, Shalini gives fans six slabs of pure powerpop, without any compromise or concession whatsoever.

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APEX MANOR

APEX MANOR The Year of Magical Drinking (Merge)

Don’t ask me why but for some reason, power pop and country-folk somehow seem to sit well together. I often think of Scotland’s finest (viz Teenage Fanclub and BMX Bandits) perfect examples of this oddity. The now defunct Broken West also epitomized this lovely blend of power chord and twang and now that band’s singer/songwriter Ross Flournoy has come up with a new name (Apex Manor) and a new album (The Year of Magical Drinking) to continue in this grand pop tradition.

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THE DECEMBERISTS

THE DECEMBERISTS The King Is Dead (Capitol)

I am sorely tempted to declare The King Is Dead – Portland’s The Decemberists’ sixth album – as the album of 2011. After the steady move into progressive rock territory in the last two albums, critics have described The King Is Dead’s change in direction as “accessible”. Well, not unless it was released in the 80s, I daresay! Is an album that sees Colin Meloy and company basically go country on us a commercial commodity in 2011? In the age of auto-tuned prefabricated pop and groin-directed hip hop?

Lead single, Down By the Water, makes the band’s intentions clear with a harmonica intro, not to mention guest performances from Peter Buck (REM) and Gillian Welch. Commentators have already noticed the songs’s resemblance to REM’s The One I Love (especially the chord progression). Buck also plays on The Calamity Song and is immediately recognizable in the guitar appregios – the track sounds like an outtake of an 80s REM album but it’s a welcome relief to hear such classic songwriting in the new year!

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ATLANTIC/PACIFIC

ATLANTIC/PACIFIC Meet Your New Love (No Sleep)

NY-based duo Atlantic/Pacific, aka Garrett Klahn (Texas is the Reason) and John Herguth (House & Parish, The Love Scene) has been likened to the old world charms of Fleet Foxes and post-punk cool of The Smiths. Meaning of course, warm melodies/harmonies and sophisticated arrangements. Songs like the jazzy Patterns, the epic Shore to Shore and the U2-channeling faux-anthemic Let Me Into Your Light provide a counterpoint to the largely rustic country-folk-pop repertoire.

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BLURB-O-RAMA

With the Decemberists’ new album – The King is Dead – adopting a clearcut country-folk-blues direction (review to come) and the UK music scene spawning it’s own dedicated 70s retro-country-folk scene (Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling, Noah & the Whale, Bombay Bicycle Club et al), it’s almost tempting fate to suggest that there is a neo-country wave coming in 2011. There’s nothing particularly new of course about all this, as we’ve had country-rock bands since Gram Parsons joined the Byrds and convinced to play the Grand Ole Opry and the Band got out from behind Dylan and began making its own brand of wild alchemy at the Big Pink but… I for one will be over the moon if this all comes to pass. In the meantime, here’s a few country-folk-blues gems you may have missed in 2010.

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DIRTY BEACHES

DIRTY BEACHES Badlands (Zoo Music)

What a stage name this is. Dirty Beaches is Alex Zhang Hungtai, born in Taiwan and raised in Toronto, Honolulu, Montreal and Vancouver. His music style mingles minimalism with noise rock, popularly fitting into today’s indie/alternative scene, yet his voice cracks like a lost soul in this modern age of digitalism. On various occasions he lets out his indie Elvis persona and groove, as on Horses and Sweet 17, but the real gems come in subsequent tracks: he channels his best in A Hundred Highways, grooving like an established rock and roll legend; sounds like a timeless romantic on True Blue and a faithful believer on Lord Knows Best. That much said, all for a relative newcomer.

Catch Dirty Beaches live between January and March 2011 as he tours together with Crocodiles and Dum Dum Girls.

Myspace

[CJ]

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THE REDEMPTION CENTER

THE REDEMPTION CENTER Land of Plenty (Blind)

Regular PoP visitors will be aware of my weakness for the gorgeous hybrid of country music and pop-rock that may be variously referred to as country-rock, alt-country, roots-rock, Americana or as the late great Gram Parsons defined it, “Cosmic American Music”. I personally believe that at its best, this country-rock hybrid is at its core, soul music. It’s basic and heartfelt, with words and music that tug at your heartstrings. What more could anyone want from good old fashioned popular rock music?

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ABBA

ABBA Gold: The Greatest Hits (Polar/Universal)

Facts speak for themselves. To date, Swedish quartet ABBA has sold 375 million albums, and still move 2 to 3 million units from year to year. So, this greatest hits compilation really lives up to its name. What was ABBA’s secret? The usual. Great songs, great hooks, great production, instrumentation and arrangements. That used to be the formula, in any case.

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THE DAVENPORTS

THE DAVENPORTS Why the Great Gallop? (Motherwest)

In many ways, the 90s were the last time power pop fans were blessed with a true ‘golden age’ when bands like Jellyfish, the Grays, Wanderlust, Splitsville and the like, gave us memorable power pop music that lives on to this day. In fact, the state of power pop is so dire now that other ‘genres’ have co-opted the name! I mean, Plain White Ts is NOT power pop. Sheesh!

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CARACAL

The unedited email interview with Caracal’s Field Teo, which formed the basis of the TODAY article.

How and when did the band form?

Original members Martin and Field started this out as a hobby in 2005. Soon after, it developed into something more serious and by 2006, Gabriel, KC and Chris were roped in. By 2008, Chris left the band and Henry joined in to fill the ranks of Bass, leaving KC in charge of vocals.

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ALEX LEVINE

Originally published at ReviewYou.com

ALEX LEVINE Falling Back Again (Self-released)

The cover of Alex Levine’s new album will remind Jayhawks fans of the seminal alt-country outfit’s third album – Hollywood Town Hall. Granted, Levine is posing in front of a church building rather than a town hall but the structures are uncannily similar. Not only that but the music on Falling Back Again will cement that particular comparison and reference point firmly in the minds of all right-thinking alt-rock enthusiasts. Basically, the continued alchemical quality of combining country and rock music. Simply put, Levine’s Falling Back Again is one of the more impressive alt-rock albums released in 2010.

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JONNY

We have been informed by our good friends at Merge Records that  Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub) and Euros Childs (Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci) are releasing a debut album together as Jonny. The self-titled, co-written album will be released via digital download on February 1st and in stores on April 12.

Jonny album track listing:

Wich is Wich/Candyfloss/Waiting Around For You/Goldmine/You Was Me/Circling The Sun/English Lady/The Goodnight/Bread/Cave Dance/I Want To Be Around You/I’ll Make Her My Best Friend/Never Alone

In addition, Jonny are giving away a free, four-track download EP of non-album songs. Click to download!

The EP is rather stripped down, largely acoustic folk except for the track Continental, which sounds like classic Beach Boys pop. Album review to come.

Official site

ERIK HARTLEY

ERIK HARTLEY Not Me Being Nervous EP (Self-released)

Originally posted at ReviewYou.com

The purest performance of a song, is simply the interplay between one voice and one instrument. This kind of austere expression is often the litmus test of a song’s quality, where artifice of instrumentation and arrangements are removed to lay bare the essence of a song i.e. words and music. Within rock music circles, such stripped down musical presentation is normally associated with folk music – the most common example being Bob Dylan’s earliest recordings, of course. However, in this instance, with singer-songwriter Erik Hartley, the choice of genre is old school rhythm and blues, in particular, Motown, blues and funk. Which is a unique proposition indeed.

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VELVET REVOLVER

VELVET REVOLVER Live in Houston (Eagle Rock)

This DVD – featuring a live recording of a VR gig in 2005 – seems a little bit of a retrograde move for the band, considering that lead singer Scott Weiland left in 2008 (to reform Stone Temple Pilots) and the the band is auditioning new vocalists. Of course, the irony is that VR guitarist Slash and STP will be performing in Singapore with back to back shows very soon. Sheer coincidence, I am sure. But who knows, maybe Weiland will be the ‘new’ VR singer again!

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BLURB-O-RAMA

Sometimes I wonder if we do rock & pop music a disservice by defining albums according to a fixed period. In this respect, by the year of release. As usual, there are a few albums/EPs that I’ve overlooked for one reason or another in 2010. So let’s get through some of them right now, shall we?

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BAYBEATS 2011

Yes, boys and girls, it’s that time of the year again when the Baybeats team invites Singapore bands to submit applications to play at one of the biggest alternative rock festivals in the region. Should be fun!

MEGADETH

MEGADETH Rust In Peace Live (Universal)

How times have changed.

Once upon a time, no band would be caught dead playing only ‘old’ songs at a concert without performing any new material whatsoever. If any band did so, it would lose all credibility and be dismissed as an “oldies” band. The Beach Boys, since the 80s, is a good example of this.

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ALTERNATIVES

Got this email message from Bani Haykal (B-Quartet/Mux) below.

♣♥♦

project synopsis

when we talk about music in general, unanimously, we can all agree that, as a fact, music has changed over the years. from breaking new boundaries in European Classical music to the conception of Jazz, be it Punk, Rock, Electronic music, to the popularization of these musical forms in their era or otherwise, they do not sound exactly the same as how they once began.

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