HOTEL OF THE LAUGHING TREE Terror And Everything After (Brookvale)
Forget about those commercial punksters. Good Charlotte, 30 Seconds To Mars, step aside, and make some room for AJ Estrada, Brandon Peterson, Neil Scalesse, Mike Nixdorf, Anthony Arma and Mike Solomon, the six members of Hotel Of The Laughing Tree.
Sanny Veloo is a S-ROCK legend! As the singer-guitarist of Boredphucks and Melbourne-based The Suns, Sanny has been on the vanguard of Singaporean melodic rock ‘n’ roll for over a decade now. Well, EMPRA is Sanny’s latest project and based on its debut single Like A Runaway/I Won’t Give Up, it is clear that the years have not blunted Sanny’s rock edge or way with a melody. Highly recommended! Listen/download from Bandcamp.
Not the repeated chorus of Korean girl group Girls’ Generation’s hit, Run Devil Run, instead a debut record blending genres of rock, folk, reggae and country, created with musical “weaponries” such as the djembe, accordion and viola amongst others.
Be Mine is the debut album from Annie Lewandowski, otherwise known as powerdove. It should not be taken as a solo album as it was recorded with the help of Alex Vittum and Jason Hoopes. The addition of bass and percussion to Lewandowski’s lyrics add complexity, layers and eccentricity to seemingly simple folk songs.
Still wrapping up reviews of 2010 releases. This time around, we look at more UK albums as I have decided that primary focus at Power of Pop in 2011 is the British pop scene – ‘the Year of the Brit’ or something like that. More or less to make up for neglecting the scene in recent times. Jolly good?
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.
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.
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!
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.
PAUL DOUGHERTY I’m Only In It For The Money (Self-released)
These 8 tracks from Paul Dougherty are definitely not for those who are looking for slick production or tight instrumentation. This in itself does give it character; it feels like something you’d hear at a live show.
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.
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.
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?