MARVEL GOES ANIME

You definitely can’t discount the influence of Japanese anime on Western film and TV, animated or otherwise (Matrix anyone?). Oh and of course, the success of Animatrix and Gotham: Dark Knight projects has proven this fact clearly. Which probably explains Marvel’s own foray into the anime arena with their latest ventures with Madhouse, one of the top anime studios around, which will produce 4 anime series to be released in 2010.

Teasers for the 1st two – Wolverine and Iron Man – have surfaced online and are embedded below.

Whoa! Is that Wolverine? Other than the fact that he has claws, how is this guy Wolverine? Hurm.

Now this is more like it. Way cool graphics.

Comments, anyone?

Thanks to Twitch and /Film for the heads up.

PAUL DAMIAN HOGAN THE THIRD

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PAUL DAMIAN HOGAN THE THIRD The Hut (Self released)

The dynamics of Paul Damian Hogan The Third is an interesting one. Paul Damian Hogan has a myriad of roles (vocals, piano, prepared piano, melodica, glockenspiel and the chord organ), and he is joined by Kiku Enomoto (violin), John Hadfield (percussion), Joshua Myers (bass) and Matthew Hough (electric guitar).

This was an album I was quite amused by. At the initial listen, I was a bit confused because it seemed like a mish-mash of vocals, instruments and sounds. Upon further listening, I found myself liking the album more and more.

The thing I like about the album that sets it apart is the experimentation with various sounds and the use of a variety of instruments. The vocals added a whimsical element, which added dimension to the music when coupled with a variety of instruments and sounds.

Throughout the album, I found myself trying to figure out the lyrics of songs. Many times, I was too distracted by the sounds and instruments to listen to the lyrics of the song. In that aspect, it was a bit too messy for my liking and I wasn’t able to catch whatever messages they were trying to convey through the album. It did, however make me wonder about the messages Paul Damian Hogan The Third might have wanted to portray through the album.

The Hut has a few really nice tracks, such as The Book from 1935, Song and Modern Ruins. The fusion of lyrics, instruments and sounds worked to their advantage, especially on those tracks. It felt like I was taking a journey through an audio circus, which was both exciting and quirky.

The strength of this album is that it sounds very whimsical, and very much like an organised mess. It’s a bit hard to tell what to expect when it comes to the album, which makes it worth the listen.

(Rebecca Lincoln)

Myspace

THE POWER OF POP INTERVIEW – THE OBSERVATORY

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THE POWER OF POP INTERVIEW – THE OBSERVATORY

What made you decide to record in Norway with Jorgen Traeen, rather than bringing him down to Singapore?

Dharma: Jorgen came here for the previous album so we felt that for this album it would be nice to actually record in Bergen for a change. The change in recording environment would work well for the material in this album. Also Jorgen could record us with the gear he has over there, which he is more familiar with as well.

How long were you in Norway? What was the process like? How much of the song arrangements were complete before the recording?

Leslie: 3 weeks. A usual day would be morning breakfast; we would take turns cooking. Then off to work by foot to Duper. The walk takes about 15 minutes. Then we would start off the day by tracking a song. Then maybe break for lunch after we got a good take. After lunch, we would normally do some overdubs or additional arrangements followed by vocals. If everything went smoothly, we would have a track done by the end of the day. This went on for a week and a half. By then we had all the songs down and were ready to mix.

Most of the songs were arranged before we left for Bergen. What Jorgen did was to make the album sound cohesive. He achieved this by linking the songs with a recurring ‘seasick’ sound. This would be the varispeed tape effect that appears on some of the songs like Invisible Room and Incastrate.

Another would be the cacophony that resulted in Lowdown. Jorgen was referencing Steve Reich on that one. We all have this huge admiration for Reich’s Music for 18 musicians. So it’s really a tribute.

Why have you teamed up with Jorgen Traeen again? What does he bring to the Observatory sound?

Victor: Jorgen has a very unique way of working. He does not follow the norms of making an album. He provided very good counterpoints to our material, making us rethink some of our ideas in a different perspective. His style of work, his techniques and his quirky personality draws us to him over and over again.

The artwork of Justin Bartlett gives the album design a dark metal look, why was this the art direction you pursued?

Evan: We were listening to a lot of dark music at that time, particularly a lot of doom metal and cross platforms of black metal and other genres. This inspired a lot of the aesthetics of the sound you hear in Dark Folke. As you would know, black metal had always had this genre of drawing in an old style of ink or charcoal, black vs white kind of style. So naturally, we thought we would have our album art in that direction. The band actually voted me to draw something and see if it would work out. I am not an illustrator but had doodled a bit in the past and the band had seen it so they thought if I can try and see if I can do it.

Leslie pointed me to the art of Justin Barlett for inspiration. It took me a few crash courses on youtube and a long time to figure out what to draw. In the end I told them that maybe if we like Justin’s art so much, why don’t we write him and ask if he’s willing to do it as I was feeling a bit insecure about my amateur drawings. Justin was cool about it and started work on it. Somehow, through communication with Vivian, it turned out to be the book which you see now. Then we thought since I had drawn a couple of pictures and it looked  somewhat decent to them, maybe we can put it up on the website, which we did. I was honoured that Justin actually wrote to Viv encouraging me to draw more stuff.

Do you feel that Justin’s artwork reflects the music of Dark Folke?

Vivian: It was a strange hookup I must admit.. Justin Bartlett, artist du jour for so many heavy, drone and metal bands with the Obs. But we started noticing his drawings in so many of the albums of bands we were listening to about a year ago and it always jumped out at us. I’ve personally got a nice print of his art for a band called Moss. It’s just amazing how much detail he puts into it. But you know, Justin is an artist first and forement, and a designer second. He doesn’t care about money. He just wanted to listen to our music before saying yes. And when he did, we left them entirely to his own interpretation. We didn’t even have the album title until a few emails later. The only request we made was, no goats, pentagrams and upside-down crosses please. He said no problem… and went straight to work. All the twisted stuff you see inside the black book is his.. we just had loads of conversations on Gchat about what we liked, shared music, shared animation vids, vintage illustration books, talked a lot about Depeche Mode and The Cure and not much about work… the most we communicated rgd the design of Dark Folke was when I suggested we do it as a picturebook. It was initially intended as a 7-inch package but for CD. I felt there were so many nice drawings it’d be best showcased in the form of a book. A wicked little evil picturebook. Hahah..Yes. I think Justin Bartlett totally got the vibe of our music. We didn’t have to tell him anything much. He was just a new friend we got on with instantly and without any effort whatsoever.

What is the concept behind Dark Folke?

Victor: Loosely, Dark Folk relates to all of us in general. It could be about the darker side of humanity, the less than kind things done in this world.

Vivian: It could also very well refer to marginalised people in different societies, people who exist on the fringes, off the grid so to speak, folk who are frowned upon, misunderstood, subjugated or unaccepted simply because they lack the ability to conform or function as ‘normal’ society would have you be.

Victor: It reflects the mood of the album. Justin Bartlett was working on the artwork of our album and actually suggested adding an ‘e’ to the ‘folk’ to give it an old English feel to it. We all thought it was appropriate and went for it.

The music on Dark Folke is highly reminiscent of the folkier aspects of the 70s progressive rock of bands like Yes, Genesis and Jethro Tull. Is that what was intended?  What would you say influenced the music on Dark Folke?

Dharma: It’s not something consciously intended although we do listen to those bands. I felt A Far Cry from Here (the previous album) had more of that prog sound but maybe not so much the folkier aspects though. For Dark Folke, as usual all of us had been listening to many different things. It’s us coming together and putting our conscious and subconscious influences through the unseen ‘Obs dynamic blender’, hence this final result. Somehow the first few songs we were working on turned out gloomy and we were quite happy with it, so we continued on that path. Also the fact that some of us had been listening to quite a lot of drone and doom metal had something to do with this as well.

There is a sense of incarceration about the lyrics on Dark Folke, an imprisonment. Is it the shackles of fate? The fatalism on songs like Blood Rising (“GIve it all”), The Boring (“I won’t make it”) and Mind Roots (“Will you let me live longer than mum”) is palpable. Is that the central theme of Dark Folke?

Leslie: Yes. I think you got it, my friend. It’s all there. There are other ways of looking at it as well. But I won’t even know how to explain it properly. When I was younger, maybe I thought I knew my thought processes well enough to talk about them. But not anymore, I’m afraid. The ability to be cocksure eludes me. Every fragment of lyric or phrase seems to mean a million things to me at the same time. All in we all. What the hell does that mean? It means everything and nothing to me. The All is in us. What is The All?

The process can be described though. The lyrics were written phonetically first. Then the sound was altered to find a suitable word with a suitable meaning. I read somewhere that Mark Hollis does that with his writing. And me being my impressionable self, just had to give it a try. A lot of it was labored over and finalised in my Bergen bed the night before the song was recorded. So if you would dig into our Observatory archives many years from now, you would find wordless vocal versions of Dark Folke songs.

The Observatory has been releasing an album almost every two years now, what keeps you going?

Evan: We have always shared our interest in different music amongst one another.

Each time we share something, we would get curious and see if we can come up with something for ourselves. We would talk a lot about what really grip us and try things out.  In short, I would say that our curiosity, passion and interest in the vast area of progressive music around the world via the internet stirs us to do something .

It’s like we have this common mission of trying something new and since we have this group of people hoping to achieve just that, why not ? Personally, I think our unit is the best I’ve ever had in terms of sharing common goals and daring to try out new things.  myspace rocks ! It showcases a lot of stuff that’s either not released or distributed but some are really good stuff.

What do you hope to achieve with the new album? What are your plans to promote the album?

Vivian: Not to be cynical or anything, we want as many people as possible to like Dark Folke but we’ve done three albums already, enough to know the odds and be realistic. That certainly won’t stop us from making music but there is always a desire in us that music listeners would be open-minded and non-judgemental. That they leave room for a band to take risks, to develop and change. We’ve lined up six gigs called HEXA and are petrified and excited at the same time about performing our new material. Other things in the pipeline include some hook ups with US labels. We’re currently sold on Wayside-Cuneiform and will soon be available on Utech Records as well.

What does the future hold for the Observatory?

Leslie: The immediate future would be our HEXA gigs. Beyond that is darkness.

Evan: Since, for some band personal reasons we don’t have drums in this album, The next album will feature 3  drummers so we can compensate that. hahah

Dharma: Not sure about the future but I can say what we hope for ….which is as usual, to be able to do this full time and have total artistic control over it.

The Observatory’s excellent new album, Dark Folke, is out now.

Official site

Myspace

LOKAI

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LOKAI Transitions (Thrill Jockey)

I admit that I’m not one to be drawn in by music without vocals, but after listening to Transitions on repeat, I found that Transitions manages to hold more weight after your initial listen. In the case of songs with lyrics, it encourages you to seek and form your own opinions about the music based on the lyrics of the song. With the absence of lyrics, there is a heavier reliance on how the song makes you feel rather than being one based on life’s experiences alone.

Upon closer listening, I found that the songs were carefully crafted in such a way that one cannot help but imagine there being patterns in the songs. There was a certain flow in the songs that seemed to take the listener on an emotional journey through the minds of the musicians.

While listening to the album, there were times where I felt disjointed or loneliness creeping in. The carefully arranged layering enticed listeners to form their own opinions about the songs and to let their imaginations run wild about the nuance each songs had.

I enjoyed the journey I went on while listening to Transitions. It’s an album that is open-ended, limited only by one’s perspective towards different types of music.

(Rebecca Lincoln)

Myspace

DISTRICT 9

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Here’s an interesting sci-fi premise.

Twenty-eight years ago, aliens make first contact with Earth. No hostile attack or giant advances in technology resulted. You see, these aliens were neither conquerors nor benevolent gods but were simply hapless refugees, the last survivors of their home world. The creatures were set up in a makeshift home in South Africa’s District 9 as the world’s nations argued over what to do with them. However, there is great interest in making the aliens’ weaponry work, which requires alien DNA. Enter: Wikus van der Merwe who contracts a mysterious virus that begins changing his DNA into an alien-human hybrid. Wikus quickly becomes the most hunted man in the world, as well as the most valuable, for he is the key to unlocking the secrets of alien technology. Van der Merwe becomes ostracized and friendless and comes to hide in District 9.

This is the unique vision of South African writer-director Neill Blomkamp’s debut film – District 9 – due to be released in Mid-August. With producer Peter (Lord of the Rings) Jackson on board, District 9 promises to be intriguing especially as it is set in a future South Africa and will no doubt carry echoes of its Apartheid past.

Trailer below.

THE POWER OF POP INTERVIEW

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THE POWER OF POP INTERVIEW – THE FIRE FIGHT

Answers by Josh Tan.

How was the concept of Henri the Bear put together?

The story of Henri took shape three years ago while we were producing our first EP, The Green Single. This full length album is a development of that idea, inspired by my personal ambition as a songwriter to share the meaning of love. I chose to use the nature motif because I felt it could better appeal to the inner child in our listeners, thus sinking to the inner depths of the heart. The details of the story melded while I was piecing the songs and the art direction for the album together.

Why a concept album?

Because I always wanted to seem arty farty

What was it like working with Jon Chan from Plainsunset for the artwork?

Enjoyable. He captured the exact style and feel I wanted for this story.

What was the process behind the creation of the artwork?

Plucking Henri out of my head and translating it in colour took months to develop.  Then, I was working with an astonishingly talented and close friend, Shan Yu. Together we began building the whimsical and childlike imagery of Henri and Elemenopee. Its a pity Shan Yu could not see to the final artwork of Henri due to his work commitments. That’s how Jon got into the picture and carried on the good work which started in 2008.

How does it feel, having your labour of love out in the form of a full-length album?

Pretty darn good! We just need some money to feed the piggy bank! Haha…

How far has The Fire Fight grown through the process of recording and releasing of Henri? Compared to the Green single?

Henri allowed us to face and explore the pleasure and pains that we have not experienced in the early stages. We learnt a lot more about each other in a practical manner. There was much for us to benefit from the entire album process be it musically or relationally.

Why did you decide on recording at the Loft?

We were looking for an organic and dynamic tone which Loft’s recording room offered. Not to mention the excitement and skills that Kevin and Willy possessed.

Was the recording process difficult?

Rather. We had to tackle many obstacles like finances and time in particular. It was not easy to fund this album and the sacrifices were sometimes painful. We also took a year to finish the recording due to terrible schedules. So it gets tiresome at times. However we did have a lot of FUN! There was often much laughing in the studio! But that stays in the studio! hee hee…

Were songs written before recording or during the recording or bit of both?

All of them were written before we entered the studio with the exception of Covenant which I wrote late last year. It was recorded live as the band was still getting the hang of it.

What’s the dynamics of the band? Do your roles intertwine? Who did what?

Iain and I are the take on most of the song crafting duties, probably because we are the more particular ones among us four. We would see to the musical concept and arrangement of the songs while Jon and Jbarks work diligently on supporting the song and creating memorable lines on their guitars. As for the vocal and lyrical duties, that falls on my lap. Of course Iain helps me out when he has some ideas for his backups too!

Some bands go into the studio and come out sounding like a different band. Did your time in the recording studio have any impact on The Fire Fight?

I think it has thought us to think in much more detail. Producing and album takes more care, as unlike a live performance we do not have the visual element to convey the sentiments in our music. So the musical process becomes more important and intricate to deliver the intended experience for our listeners.

The album sounds like poetry. How did the ideas behind the lyrics come about?

My inspiration derives from my personal experiences and ambitions. They tell a story behind the human soul and emotions spun in a web of descriptions.

A lot of your lyrics is open to interpretation. Was that deliberate? If so why?

I prefer to write in a manner where my listeners can relate to, and derive their own meaning and identify with the songs more closely.

Some of the lyrics are narrative, with elements of romance/love. What fuels the lyrics and are they written from personal experience or observations about the things around you?

Yes, they are about personal experiences and what I observe in the people and things around me.

Lyrics also include elements of fighting for your hopes and dreams. How does it feel like to have a huge fan-base with the number of fans growing rapidly and being able to share your music with them.

It is a humbling experience to know that people actually support us and are willing to go lengths to watch our shows. Particularly those who make the effort to understand the meaning behind our music and the reason behind the band.

What’s the message you hope people will take home after listening to Henri?

That we all have dreams and passions we want to achieve and they are all worth fighting for.

What can your fans expect from the album launch in July?

They can expect to step into the magical world of Henri.

Is there anything you would like to say to your fans?

I’d like to thank them for their encouraging support that has always been dear and comforting to us. We hope they’ll throughly enjoy this tale of Henri. It will bring even more joy and fulfillment to the four of us. 🙂

(Questions asked by Rebecca Lincoln)

Tickets for the launch of the new Fire Fight album, Henri, are available from SISTIC.

GET BACK LORETTA

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GET BACK LORETTA Where Did You Go? EP (Pacific)

Get Back Loretta does exactly what it says on the tin…in the fact that what is said on the tin is taken from a Beatles song title. To say that Oasis ripped off The Beatles has always been a matter of debate (more so for me as no one mentions the shameless T Rex part of that rip off). If critics insist that the lads from Manchester ripped off The Beatles, then Get Back Loretta may as well be a tribute band. It is impossible to listen to opening track When You Notice without noticing (did you see what I did there?) that these guys wear their ‘we really really love The Beatles’ badges warmly on their sleeves.

The trouble is as you delve deeper into the San Diego’s six track Where Did You Go? you begin to hear even deeper influences, to the point where you are stumbling around, confused from one point of reference to the next and you have to stop and ask yourself, is this the beauty of this band? I cannot lie to you, despite my initial dismissal of this band, I started to like them. At one point I was hearing Queen, the next Radiohead were making an appearance, but all along this is mixed so beautifully together to form Get Back Loretta. It is almost as if the band have spread their record collection out in front of you in music form, but done it in such an original way that you cannot dislike them for it.

What this forms is a purely rock album, I hate to use that term but there is no other way around it. It is so straight forward and direct in only a way that a rock band can be. You can tell this band love writing, love playing together and want you to feel as much a part of the experience as they are. When You Notice bounces along, stashed away in the seventies but peaking over the brow of the modern hill with a cheeky smile. Grown so Cold shuffles it’s feet along the stage and tips it’s hat to the audience. We then move on into the amazing title tack Where Did You Go? with a deep, solid bass line and a chorus that refuses to leave you hours after listening to it. Mrs Miller has a lead riff that you swear you have heard before but you will never place it and finally everything comes to a close with a jig in Lottie Dottie. It really seems to skip by that quickly but that is part of the whole experience of Where Did You Go?, it passes you by before you have even noticed and is on another trip around much sooner than you had expected.

I honestly recommend this album to anyone purely to have the fun of listening to it and picking out who you can hear. That is not an insult to Get Back Loretta at all, I mean who or what is original anymore? Who does not lend from the artists who have inspired them in the first place? The difference is some do it purely because they cannot come up with something more. This is not the case with Get Back Loretta, they have pulled together all the best bits and mixed it into their own sound.

(Adam Gregory)

Myspace

DAVID DANIELL AND DOUGLAS MCCOMBS

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DAVID DANIELL AND DOUGLAS MCCOMBS Sycamore (Thrill Jockey)

Sycamore is David Daniell and Douglas McCombs’s first album, documenting their journey as musicians together. They first met while touring as members of Die Donnergötter band in 2006, where collaborations were discussions and albums were traded. Their musical collaboration began shortly after, when Daniell moved to Chicago.

I was genuinely surprised when I heard the first track of Sycamore. As I listened to the album, it dawned on me that the beautiful thing about the album was the multiple layers that made up the various tracks. Each time I listened to the album again, it stirred up different feelings for me.

The interesting thing about the album is that you can’t immediately form an opinion after listening to it once. Unlike most other albums where opinions can be formed after listening once, Sycamore has many layers to it, each bringing about a facet to the album. I found myself fascinated trying to form opinions about what the musicians could have wanted to portray through the music. With every revisit to the album, I find myself forming fresh perspective into the creative processes and journeys of the duo as musicians.

Sycamore is indeed a gem waiting to be uncovered. I find myself thrilled to discover new details I hadn’t noticed before with every listen.

(Rebecca Lincoln)

Check out David Daniell’s Myspace page.

THE FIRE FIGHT

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THE FIRE FIGHT Henri (Distributed by Warners Singapore)

Let me get the (inevitable) disclaimer out of the way. I first met the Fire Fight in mid-2007 to interview them for Baybeats 2007 and was struck by the deep passion for their music and art. Since then, I consider Josh, Jon, Iain and JBarks my good friends and have always made a point to attend their gigs. So that’s the connection between the band and myself and you may factor that into this review as you wish. Okay, now on to the review…

So here it is, years in the making, the first Fire Fight album, and its a concept album to boot! For those of us who have had the privilege of consuming the Fire Fight live in the past two years, it’s amazing how familiar live favourites mesh in seamlessly with new material to form the collective whole that is Henri. The fourteen songs all hang coherently together like a classical suite as Henri takes on a life of its own as a musical piece rather than merely a collection of outstanding songs.

The opening piano ballad Sonnet sets the tone, sounding like nothing the Fire Fight have ever done before and it is in the stretching of the musical boundaries that Fire Fight demonstrate that they are intelligent songwriters as well as crowd pleasers. Perfect examples of this ambition lie in tracks like Portrait Lover and People and Spaces, songs of pop mellifluence and canny instrumentation. The former features a sweet melodic chorus not to mention, a muscular horn section whilst the latter tugs heart strings with Josh’s impassioned vocals. Elements which will even appeal to the average casual pop listener.

But for the diehard fans, its the mix of epic bravado and fragile honesty in songs like Fires At Night, Candela, Beware Monster and Train Song that will thrill and enthrall as the band pulls out all the stops to deliver the power and glory only hinted at their live performances. Into this melting pot of 80s British rock influences of the likes of Simple Minds, Big Country, Comsat Angels, The Blue Nile, Echo & the Bunnymen et al, Fire Fight throws in the US indie emo-rock of the 1990s (viz The Get-Up Kids, Braid, Promise Ring and Sunny Day Real Estate) to produce a sound that is brutally energetic but imbued with heart and soul.

So I’m glad to report that 2009 is beginning to turn out to be yet another bumper year for S-ROCK albums and Henri deserves to be recognized as one of the year’s best together with recent releases by Concave Scream and the Observatory. I am so proud of what these young men have achieved with this fabulous album and I highly recommend Henri to everyone who believes in the power of pop to move and inspire. And, yes, that means you!

Check out the Fire Fight’s Myspace page.

For Singaporean (and Malaysian) readers, the Fire Fight will launch Henri on Friday, 31st July at the Esplanade Recital Studio. Tickets available at SISTIC. Not to be missed!

Stay tuned for the Power of Pop interview with the Fire Fight soon…

PRE-SEASON

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Spurs were given a lesson in simple football by two Barca reserve teams as the likes of Henry, Hleb and Messi sat out this Wembley Cup encounter. For 90 minutes, Spurs barely ventured beyond their own half as Barca reserve teams show their opponents how football should be played i.e. don’t lose the ball when you had it and fight to win the ball when you don’t.

But despite the total domination, Barca still contrived to let in 19-year old Jake Livermore to head powerfully for an undeserved equaliser. That’s football for you. Clip of Livermore’s goal below. Look at Gomes’ response to the goal. Priceless. No, he didn’t expect it either…

MARVELMAN

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Yes, we can call him Marvelman again!

Marvelman was, of course, originally a comic character created by Mick Anglo in the early 50s to replace the Captain Marvel strips being reprinted in Britain, after Fawcett Comics discontinued the popular Captain Marvel series due to legal challenges from DC Comics (DC claimed that Captain Marvel ripped off Superman!!!!) Marvelman was basically a British version of Captain Marvel and the series hit it off with British kids and its publication lasted till 1963.

In the early 80s, writer Alan Moore with artists Garry Leach and Alan Davis revived Marvelman in the pages of Warrior magazine (which also included a strip called V for Vendetta) and was an unprecedented re-invention of the superhero genre, which Moore would perfect with Watchmen a few years later.

Enter: Marvel Comics, who objected, of course, to the use of “Marvel” in the character’s name. No one at Marvel bothered about the fact that when Mick Anglo created Marvelman, the company that would eventually be called Marvel, was called Timely Comics! When faced with such legal threats, Warrior magazine folded. Marvelman ended up in the USA with indie publisher Eclipse Comics but had to change its name to Miracleman. The first couple of Miraclemen issues were re-sized, re-formated and colorised reprints of the Warrior magazine stories and then Alan Moore together with artists Chuck Beckum (aka Chuck Austen), Rick Veitch and the magnificient John Totleben, created amazing, groundbreaking new stories.

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One such story (Miracleman #15) concerned Miracleman’s final battle with the evil Kid Miracleman in probably the darkest, grimmest superhero tale ever. This comic book is probably my favourite of all time, its denouement still moves me even after all these years. At the end of this story arc, Miracleman and his superhero cohorts take over the world and rule as benevolent gods, in possibly the only logical conclusion for a world where a Superman exists.

Moore called it quits after that and the creative reins were handed over to Neil (Sandman) Gaiman and Mark Buckingham. Gaiman developed Moore’s premise in eight thought-provoking issues before the bankrupcty of Eclipse Comics brought the series to a premature end in 1994.

Since then, the character has been the subject of legal disputes as several parties viz. Mick Anglo, Dez Skinn (publisher of Warrior), Neil Gaiman, Alan Davis and Image Comics co-founder and Spawn creator Todd McFarlane (who bought over the rights to some Eclipse characters) claimed ownership.

Well, at the recent San Diego Comic Con, Marvel announced that they had acquired the rights to Marvelman from Mick Anglo’s representatives! Which certainly brings the character full circle in a sense and Alan Moore – who was upset about Marvel’s legal challenges in the 80s – will probably have a wry chuckle over this news.

In light of the unresolved disputes (especially with Todd McFarlane), I’m sure there’s still some work to be done before we see reprints of the existing material and (hopefully) new material from Neil Gaiman – well, finish off the Silver Age and Dark Age arcs to begin with – BUT with the financial clout that Marvel possesses, I’m sure that these outstanding issues will be resolved sooner than later. Certainly, Marvel has no doubt about who owns Marvelman as the new Joe Quesada drawn MM poster (see above) attests.

… after all that, can a Marvelman film be far behind? The mind boggles…

CHRIS CORNELL

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CHRIS CORNELL Scream (Mosley Music/Interscope)

Frankly, I only know Chris Cornell as the rock singer who fronted popular bands like grunge superstars Soundgarden and Audioslave. Guess I should have realized that the cover image of Cornell smashing a guitar was a metaphor for the album’s music as well. Of course, the other clue is the fact that Scream is produced by Timbaland!

Thus, the guitar is conspiciously absent from this predominantly electronic effort as Cornell and Timbaland explores a sound that can probably be best described as hip-hop-rock. Which to these ears is pretty mainstream and should appeal to a broad range of listeners, bringing in new fans without alienating the existing fanbase.

Personally, I appreciate a good hybrid of electronic pop and rock styles and Cornell’s excellent voice does manage to ease rockist tendencies into considering alternatives. The music is edgy in parts but a little bit too synthesized for my taste though I appreciate the effort Cornell has expended to forge a different sound. Call it a failed experiment then.

Check out Chris Cornell’s Myspace page.

CHRIS COLLINGWOOD – LIVE IN SINGAPORE

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Dreams do come true! Sometime in 2008, I posted an event on Facebook for my performance (with the Groovy People) at Rock the Sub. I got a bit of a shock when Chris Collingwood (the voice of power pop legends Fountains of Wayne) wrote on the event wall that he would love to play in Singapore!

Well, in about 5 weeks’ time, Collingwood will in fact be playing in Singapore at Baybeats 2009 on the 29th of August to be precise. And if that wasn’t exciting enough, yours truly will be backing Chris playing rhythm guitar and singing backing vox! Yes! Really!

Let’s just say that I have been a big fan of FOW since their gorgeous eponymous album was released in 1996 – the one with the kid playing Superman holding his pet bunny – and I can barely wrap my head around the fact that I will be on stage with Chris playing great songs like Radiation Vibe, Sick Day (my favorite!), Red Dragon Tattoo and Stacy’s Mom!

So, stay tuned as Power of Pop begins its countdown to Baybeats 2009, with special emphasis on my experiences with Chris in the coming weeks! Oh by the way, rounding up the band are Eugene Wee and Desmond Sim out of S-ROCK legends The Lilac Saints!

Check out my review of FOW’s third album, Welcome Interstate Managers, which I wrote a few years back. Still there’s more.

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Ten tracks into this, the third and latest album from Adam Schlesinger, Chris Collingwood and company, Fountains of Wayne delivers a truly incandescent pop moment with the ‘70s soft-rock evoking “Halley’s Waitress.” With the inspirations of Burt Bacharach and the Carpenters trailing in its wake, “Halley’s Waitress,” with its baroque piano, poignant string arrangement, vibes and theme of wistful regret, represents the rare indications of heart (rather than mind) dictating the Fountains Of Wayne pop agenda.

This superior mood and tone is mirrored in the folky “Hackensack” and the balladic Fire Island, not to mention the radio-friendly “All Kinds of Time.”

Not that the band’s trademark driving sunshine pop-rock doesn’t in itself justify a recommendation. It’s just that I’ve always felt that this particular kind of Cheap Trick meets Pixies melodic crunch has been better served up by the likes of Weezer and Grandaddy. Worse still when juvenile urges are indulged with the rather distasteful “Stacy’s Mom” – imagine a much creepier “Jesse’s Girl,” where instead of lusting after another guy’s girlfriend, this time it’s your girlfriend’s erm mother – although I presume it’s done as a parody but why go there at all?

That aberration apart, the songwriting duo’s knack for stitching together vivid novelettes ala Ray Davies remains intact. The working class dilemma is outlined in tracks like “Mexican Wine” – “I used to fly for United Airlines/Then I got fired for reading High Times,” “Bright Future in Sales” – “I had a line on a brand new account/But now I can’t seem to find/Where I wrote that number down” and “Little Red Light” – “Stuck in a meeting on a Monday night/trying to get the numbers to come out right.” Even happier to report that the boys’ sense of humour is not lost in songs like the bizarre action-replay paean “All Kinds Of Time,” which simply describes an American Football TV scene, “No Better Place” with “Is that supposed to be your poker face/Or was someone run over by a train” and “Hey Julie” which illustrates the mundanity of the working stiff – “Working all day for a mean little man/With a clip-on tie and a rub-on tan.”

Hailed years ago as the Great White Hope of power pop, Fountains of Wayne do not disappoint with Welcome Interstate Managers, clocking in at 55-plus minutes and 16 tracks, discerning pop fans will relish every nuance and every lick. Indispensable.

PoP10 – CHRIS MCKAY

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1. Why play music?

It’s funny that you should ask me that question as I was about to ask you the same thing. I’ve always wondered. The basic truth seems to be that I don’t have a choice. I’m compelled to do it. I tried to stop. I got a great, fun career going for myself and still wound up pulled back into this “thing”. I can’t escape. I’ve resigned to my fate. I love music but really, isn’t it stupid? There’s someone over-emoting and annunciating words in melody form that one could more efficiently just speak while other people are leaping around him or her in suitably fashionable clothing. It’s all pretty ridiculous. And don’t get me started about dancing. That may be the only thing sillier than music. But still, can we stop? It sure doesn’t seem like we can. We’re hard-wired for music, rhythm and melody. There’s no escaping it. I’ve given in to its hold.

2. Who are your influences?

Well, there’s nothing clever in that answer. My influences are the usual prime suspects. Yes, I’m a Beatle freak. I also love The Rolling Stones, The Who, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, The Kinks and Pink Floyd. Add in some Prince, Queen, Willie Nelson, Electric Light Orchestra, Jellyfish and way too many more to mention and I’m happy. In fact, if you add in everyone, I’m happiest. I’m more or less influenced by everything I’ve ever heard. I’ve certainly stolen good bits from artists and songs I don’t even like.

3. What is success?

Success is what you believe it is. In an ideal world, success would be me being able to support myself financially by playing music. So far, that hasn’t happened, although it is constantly improving in those respects. So I choose to define success as being proud of the songs and albums that I’ve released and that even if my life ends today, those songs will still be there and the messages I’ve tried to send in each of them will be waiting for the right ears. I also define success as knowing that we put on the best possible live show that we can. I define success to be when the headliner comes up to us after we open for them and says, “I don’t know how we can follow that”. I define success as having people use our lyrics for their Facebook statuses. Success is the outcome of many failures.

4. Why should people buy your music?

If they don’t like it, they shouldn’t. If they do, then it depends. Is what they’re potentially stealing vs. buying enough for them? If so, go with your conscience. However, if someone wants the band to be able to go back into a studio and make more music for them and us, then we need their support by showing us. The main way is by buying the album. This is how we know if people like what we’ve done. It’s simple math. Unlike most bands, we are still making albums. It’s not just a collection of songs. A record like Satisfactionista is painstakingly put together and should be a journey that will take you to several interesting stops along the way and leave you in the place you started, but hopefully with a different understanding of that place. I’m not saying we succeeded at that, but we’ve made the effort.

5. Who do you love?

I love my wife. I love my family and my friends. I love people who do the right thing even when it’s the hardest thing for them to do.

6. What do you hope to achieve with your music?

Well, the truth is hokey. I hope to affect people in a positive way. I want them to not feel alone, whether or not any of us actually are. Music is about feeling. I want them to feel joy from certain songs. I want them to feel a connection, a relation. I want them to want to move their bodies. I want them to feel motivated and to believe in something, whatever it is.

7. Who comes to your gigs?

It depends on the city. We’ve played plenty of places recently that we’ve never been and it’s surprised me to see the local media covering us and people showing up. It’s been an interesting cross-section. We have enough music-nerd appeal for fellow geeks to come out and hear what we’re up to, while at the same time, we put on a big rock show. We give it all we have and we’re not afraid of being on stage. We own the stage if we’re on it. There aren’t many bands like that these days, or at least not enough. And we may not be The Who or Led Zeppelin or Queen but when we perform, that’s the kind of show we’re aiming to do. I love the fact that we many fans too young to get into the clubs we often play and many more who have “retired” from going out to the same clubs but make the effort just to come and see us.

8. What is your favorite album?

My all-time favorites are, again, relatively cliché but I’m honest about it. Besides, there’s a reason they’ve become clichés. My all time favorite album is Dark Side Of The Moon, because it is perfect. There is not a note, a lyric or a sound that’s out of place. There is nothing that could’ve been improved, added or subtracted. It was surely a fluke in some way. They got lucky that they achieved something so pristine. Design doesn’t get you that far. Whatever magic there is in the universe will occasionally come together and sometimes it gets recorded. There is magic on that album. I can hear it and I know it when I hear it. It’s just perfect.

9. What is your favorite song?

My favorite song of all-time is “Strawberry Fields Forever”. I’ve heard it thousands of times and every time, it effects me in a slightly different way. When I first heard it as a child, it was like a shock to my system. I didn’t know what the sounds were or what the guy was saying. It was like hearing something from another planet. It was only later that I realized that apparently, I was also from that same planet. As I got older, I thought the lyrics were a bit artsy and abstract. At this point, I find them totally straight forward and completely linear. It’s strange. The song is still evolving for me. That is the beauty of it. That song is the song. I can’t imagine ever having a different “all-time favorite” but if “Strawberry Fields” gets replaced, I can’t wait to hear the song that might replace it as it will certainly be positively life-altering.

10. How did you get here?

I didn’t.

Chris McKay & the Critical Darlings’ debut album C’Mon Accept Your Joy has been re-issued by SideB Music.

PRE-SEASON

Another comfortable pre-season win against inferior opposition (Peterborough) as Bent, Modric, Defoe and Pavlyuchenko get on the score sheet. Even as transfer speculation continues to swirl around the club, we’re no closer to determining what the squad will look like by the time we open the new campaign against Liverpool in a month’s time. The fact that we have not signed any new players this close to the new season must be some kind of record. Should we be fearful that our squad will be under-strength or comfortable with the fact that at least there will some stability? Remains to be seen.

CHRIS ENGLISH

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CHRIS ENGLISH Dreamtown (SideBMusic)

After numerous years in the music biz, singer-songwriter English has finally released his debut solo album – Dreamtown – and all I say is: why did it take so long to get such enjoyable/likable music to us? Huh?

Better late than never is probably a better response but fans of such texturally dense & melodic brawny artists like the Beach Boys, XTC, Alan Parsons Project and Peter Gabriel will be wondering how much joy has been denied them in the intervening years. Whatever.

On the album cover, English holds the much revered Rickenbacker guitar popularized by the Beatles and the Byrds and whilst, Dreamtown isn’t too heavy on the jangle pop, the chiming signature of this famous guitar does lend its dreamy allure to the magical quality of this strong debut.

The perfect soundtrack to melancholy Sunday nights (which it is as I’m typing this), Dreamtown will envelope with luscious harmonies and atmospheric vibes that will transport you to happier climes. Tracks like the psychedelic I Can See Everything, the gorgeous Autumn, the heady Into the Blue, sunshiny Summer Revisited and jangly The River, firmly establish Dreamtown as essential listening for the Pop Underground.

Check out Chris English’s Myspace page.

Download “I Can See Everything”

FLESH & BONE GN

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The Surrogates Volume 2: Flesh & Bone (Surrogates (Graphic Novels)) by Robert Venditti and Brett Wendele (Top Shelf)

Flesh & Bone is the prequel to The Surrogates GN, as Venditti and Wendele sets out the background to the basic plot points in the first series. We get to see how Harvey Greer makes detective, how the riots of 2039 occurred, how the prophet got the Dreads their own “homeland” and the more subtle explanation of the issue of underage operators.

Like the original series, the plot revolves around a criminal investigation – this time, the murder of a vagrant by surrogates operated by teenagers – but unlike the original series, the narrative downplays the sci-fi elements in favour of TV crime drama expressions.  Extremely well written, the plot twists and turns to give us the conclusion we (i.e. those of us who have read the original series) expect.

If you enjoyed the original Surrogates GN (and you will), you should check out Flesh & Bone GN to help complete the picture.

Check out the trailer video created by artist Wendele below.

MGMT

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MGMT Time to Pretend EP (Cantora)

This was, of course, was the release that introduced MGMT to the world in 2005. Subsequently, the electro-psych-pop duo of Ben Goldwasser and Andrew Vanwyngarden, would be signed to Columbia, record a full-length debut – Oracular Spectacular – produced by Dave (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev) Fridmann and take the modern rock world by storm.

This EP, the duo’s second, contains the original versions of Time to Pretend and Kids (two popular songs re-recorded for the breakout album) and four others not available elsewhere viz. Boogie Down, Destrokk, Love Always Remains and Indie Rokkers. This re-issue has been re-mastered by Greg Calbi and if you dig MGMT then it’s pretty essential, although personally, the version of Time to Pretend on Oracular Spectacular is virtually untouchable.

Still, more MGMT is always a good thing so I guess if you’ve only discovered MGMT recently, then this EP re-issue will tide you over till the next album.

You can buy the EP online and download Destrokk.

ERIC BRACE

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ERIC BRACE Tranquility Base single (Red Beet)

For any young boy growing up in the late sixties, the space race was an exciting one.

Space race?

Yes, back then, the USSR and the USA were competing to see who would be the first to put a man on the moon. It seems so quaint now, but I still remember being positively enthralled even as an 8 year old boy in Singapore to watch Neil Armstrong take that first step on the lunar surface.

Lo and behold, that event is now 40 years past and Eric Brace, lead singer of country-rock outfit Last Train Home, has just released a single and video to celebrate and commemorate the first lunar landing. The single is available at iTunes and the video is below. Check it out.

PRE-SEASON JITTERS

After the poor starts Spurs have had in the last three seasons, this pre-season brings in fears of repeating the same old pathetic story. Especially when the first two warm-up matches have resulted in 3-0 victories albeit against vastly inferior opposition. Highlights below.

vs. Exeter City

vs. Bournemouth

Despite Spurs being linked with every player under the sun, thus far, Harry has not signed a soul although the likes of Zokora and Gunther have already departed to Seville and Nottingham Forest respectively. Harry has indicated that he is only looking for a few new players (“maybe one or two”) and has gone as far to state that if he can’t, then the present squad is good enough. Whilst I agree that we should not start from scratch with this squad, like we did last season with disastrous results (the oft quoted “2 points from 8 games”), doesn’t the squad need strengthening? Especially up front (target man), central midfield (enforcer) & left-sided midfielder. Who knows? After all, the present squad closed out the season impressively, so maybe Harry knows what he’s doing. With the new season a month away, keeping an eye on the transfer news will continute to be intriguing for Spurs fans.

FOR THIS CYCLE

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FOR THIS CYCLE s/t (Big Ear Musica)

Weiwen Seah is For This Cycle. As improbable as it may sounds, this 16 year old singer-songwriter has been writing and performing for more than two years now and its no exaggeration to suggest that Weiwen is probably the “next big thing” of the S-ROCK scene now.

Putting aside the hype, there’s no denying the immense potential of Weiwen’s songwriting, not to mention the impressive fanbase he has built up in a relatively short space of time. This 5-song debut EP is testimony to Weiwen’s potential. Whilst Weiwen certainly takes a huge leaf out of the popular artists of his generation viz. Jason Mraz, Jack Johnson, John Mayer et al, he has the maturity and chops to vary his sound ever so slightly.

And thus, this debut EP features two tracks of a full-band line up (which include Livonia/Electrico alumni Daniel Sassoon), two tracks of guitar/percussion and one track of Weiwen solo. My personal favourite of the bunch is Paper Feet (which was probably the best performance at the recently concluded Live ‘N’ Loaded TV series) with its breezy jazz tone and incongruent melancholy mood – “I’ve seen it all from Taiwan to Missouri (pronounced as “misery”)/But I spent my days hiding in my shell, idly”. Coming close is the closing For What Its Worth with its U2 meets Mraz feel, very radio friendly with good positive vibes to boot.

For This Cycle (both the artist and the EP) are easy to get comfortable with, the force of Weiwen’s likable personality will penetrate your prejudices and defences effortlessly and tickle your senses. This is a solid start for the young man and definitely, Weiwen is an artist to watch carefully. Hopefully it’s the beginning of a long and exciting journey…

Check out For This Cycle at Myspace.

Music video for Paper Feet below. Enjoy!

POWER OF POP FESTIVAL

If Power of Pop organized a one-day rock festival, the line up would probably look a little like this…

My headliners would be –

WILCO

NADA SURF

FLEET FOXES

GARY LOURIS

So far, so good eh? And my supporting acts would include –

WHITE DENIM

ELIZABETH AND THE CATAPULT

DAVID MEAD

SPLITSVILLE

… and of course, my favourite S-ROCK bands will all be given primo spots for maximum exposure as well!

Okay, day dreaming over.

…still there’s more…

THE SURROGATES

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The Surrogates (Surrogates (Graphic Novels)) by Robert Venditti & Brett Weldele (Top Shelf)

Thought-provoking sci-fi is the best kind. The Surrogates brings online obsessions to its (il)logical conclusion. Imagine if you could imbue your consciousness into a cyborg avatar who would do your “living” for you whilst you stayed safe at home. Talk about the ultimate role playing game! The influences of William Gibson and Philip K Dick loom large and long on this intriguing sci-fi tale as Venditti & Weldele spin a futuristic yarn where the “trouble in paradise” scenario truly boils over as the pro and anti surrogate camps collide.

The Surrogates is basically a hard-boiled mystery dropped into this fanastikal world as two police detectives Harvey Greer and Pete Ford investigate a bizarre crime that threatens their way of life. How the two men deal with this life-altering issue is instructional as both men react radically differently from each other.

The narrative is taut, without too much exposition whilst the art work is curiously impressionistic, reminiscient of the styles of Bill Sienkiewicz and Jon J Muth. There is much interplay between light and shadow in the story presentation which I suppose mirrors the washes of gray that permeate this morality play. There are  no simple right or wrong answers in the Surrogates but the satisfaction is in the examination of the polar arguments.

Whether the upcoming Bruce Willis-starring film adaptation will be able to provide us with equal thought provoking moments remains to be seen… But in the meantime, enjoy the Surrogates in its original form.

ZEE AVI

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ZEE AVI s/t (Brushfire/Monotone)

So how come all the singer-songwriters/youtube phenoms that get discovered are girls? Has it got something to do with instant visual appeal contrasted to sonic attraction? Can’t truly say. Malaysian singer-songwriter is yet another youtube phenom who gets signed by foreign recording company (in this case, Brushfire Records, partly owned by Jack Johnson, a singer-songwriter in his right) and trust into the unforgiving world of the modern music scene.

Listening to Zee Avi, there is no way on earth you could remotely tell that she was Asian, this is compounded by the fact that her face is never shown on the sleeve of her debut eponymous album. So what’s going on? Her music – a blend of old world rustic country-folk and current folk-pop flavours – never betrays her Asian roots (with the great exception of Kantoi, which features her native Malay language). These are not criticisms mind you but merely observations and equally applicable to many Asian musicians who adopt Western pop styles effortlessly.

And that’s my main problem with Zee Avi and her first musical venture, there’s just no force of personality evident from her music. They just brilliant facsimiles of the sum of her influences, I guess. Which may not be a bad thing and she pulls it off magnificiently but somehow it all leaves me a tad cold. Hopefully, now that she’s got her toes wet, she’ll be able to take the plunge and reveal the “real” Zee Avi on her next record.

Check out Zee Avi’s Myspace page.