BLACK LABEL SOCIETY

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BLACK LABEL SOCIETY Skullage DVD + CD collectors’ edition (Eagle Rock)

It’s easy to chuckle and snigger at heavy metal, with its cartoony imagery, leather uniforms and its creed of “faster and louder” but scrape beneath the superficial and like any other genre of music, you will find genuine artists who are simply good at what they do i.e. entertain and provoke thought.

I must confess that when I received this DVD + CD package in the mail, I laughed out loud. It took me a while to give it a go but here’s the review, better late then never. For someone who grew up on Deep Purple, Led Zepellin, Rainbow, Mountain, KISS, Rush, Budgie et al, you can bet I appreciate a tasty riff now and then but always leavened with melody, where possible.

Now Zakk Wylde, the brains behind BLS, is probably best known as the guitar sidesman of Ozzy Osbourne and judging from the cover artwork of skulls, killer dogs, beer and guns, I expected non-stop headbanging stereotypes to be ripping from the get-go. Instead, the opening scene on the DVD is Wylde on stage (somewhere in France) alone with a freakin’ acoustic guitar singing Spoke in the Wheel! Sure, the rest of BLS join Wylde at the end for a terribly loooong solo but hey, it sure got my attention. And of course, the rest of the live performances and videos revert to type somewhat.

Then, I slot in the CD compilation and I’m hit with two Southern Rock numbers – Machine Gun Man and Dead As Yesterday – with the latter track an absolute killer with acoustic guitar and cello (!) and a chorus that goes – “Oh Lord, can you help me find some shelter” and a string accompaniment that will touch you! And no guitar solo?!! What the hell is going on? Heh. The rest of the CD delivers blistering metal with 13 Years of Grief, Doomsday Jesus and Suicide Messiah. Pretty fine old school metal in fact.

But… the icing on the cake is the interview section where we find out a little more (too much?) about Wylde. He talks about his friendship with the late Dimebag Darrell Abbott, the stories behind the songs, his obsession with Barbie dolls and his penchant for wearing pretty dresses. Definitely someone who isn’t taking himself or his music too seriously (those Black Metal blokes may wanna take note!).

So, despite initial reservations, I would recommend this package to all metal & non-metal fans purely to enjoy honest-to-goodness rock music without pretensions or arrogance. Good enough for me.

Check out Black Label Society’s Myspace page.

YEAH YEAH YEAHS

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YEAH YEAH YEAHS It’s Blitz! (Polydor/Universal)

New York trio Yeah Yeah Yeahs viz. Karen O (vocals), Brian Chase (Drums) & Nick Zinner (everything else), have been on a upward spiral ever since they self-released their debut self-titled EP in 2001 (which incidentally hit #1 on the UK Indie Chart). In the course of eight years they have released 2 more EPs (Machine and Is Is) and 2 albums (Fever To Tell, Show Your Bones) to critical acclaim and commercial success.

It isn’t difficult to understand why. Riding the early wave of the post-punk revival, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ undeniable hip and cool factor, irresistibly melodic synth dance pop and of course, hot front woman in Karen O is a potent recipe for sustained universal (no pun intended) acceptance. The serious rock enthusiast can obsess on the band’s uncanny knack of referencing all the right post-punk influences whilst the casual pop listener will be thrilled to the tunes and simply dance along. Critics have suggested that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs provide a comfortable middle ground between the Killers and MGMT and they’re not too far off the mark.

Karen O has remarked that It’s Blitz is a change in direction for the band, as it continues to grow and mature. Well, the dance pop is still well in evidence, as showcased in the opening two dynamic singles – Zero and Heads Will Roll, which I’m sure you’ve already heard on the radio and elsewhere. For crucial portions of It’s Blitz, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, to their immense credit, expand their palette to include slower, deeper songs that allow the pace and atmosphere to dictate the sound. On these tracks e.g. Dull Life, Shame and Fortune and Runaway, the style is almost Gothic, with Karen O coming across like a very modern-day Siouxsie Sioux (of the Banshees).

That said, the finer moments of It’s Blitz, are encapsulated in sweet indie pop goodies like the hypnotic Soft Shock, the gorgeous Irish soulful Skeletons, the new wavy Dragon Queen, the shimmering Hysteric and the fragile nearly alt-country-folky Little Shadow. Included in this CD are four bonus tracks of the band in acoustic mode – Soft Shock, Skeletons, Hysteric and Little Shadow. Which is always the sign of a band confident of their songs to be able to stand up even without the bells and whistles of full instrumentation. But of course, in this case, the guitars are embellished by lush strings, and that never hurts. For once, the songs live up to the “bonus” tag.

If after 400-odd words, you don’t feel the urge to acquire this stellar album by all means necessary, then I have failed to do the Yeah Yeah Yeahs justice. Believe me, It’s Blitz contains some of the best new music I’ve heard this year.

Check out Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Myspace page.

Video of Yeah Yeah Yeahs performing Heads Will Roll and Zero below.

CAMERA OBSCURA

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CAMERA OBSCURA My Maudlin Career (4AD)

Fans of this amazing Scottish band (and there are a handful that I personally know) can finally rejoice – their fourth and latest album My Maudlin Career was officially released last week. I’m fairly new to this brand of indie pop and was admittedly swept long with the tide of success from their pivotal previous album, Let’s Get Out of This Country (2006).

Having immersed myself in their warm and at times upbeat latest offering, I must confess that although it’s not a far stretch from their previous album, it does strongly charter a bolder presence lyrically and melodically. Even with a switch in their record label, the band wisely chose to work again with Swedish producer Jari Haapalainen (The Concretes, Peter, Björn & John). Probably attributing to some of the tracks being reminiscent of the previous album.

However the key element amidst Haapalainen’s masterful touch of layering the keyboards, horns and being very liberal with the saturation of echoes, is Tracyanne Campbell’s vocals. The band has been celebrated for connecting with its audience on a very personal level and this is largely due to Campbell’s ability to draw you into her world with her vulnerable, wistful voice and her first person narrative of situations, incidents, going as far as walking you through the stages of decisions made.

The album opens with its perky first single, French Navy, complete with hooks of string and horn arrangements. This is strongly followed by the harmonious The Sweetest Thing with Campbell sounding almost like Dusty Springfield as she sings “I’m going on a date tonight, to try to fall out of love with you..”. One can safely assume that the lyrical stance taken on all the tracks is one of a very personal nature. From start to finish, I found myself relating very strongly to Campbell’s dischanted/sensitive view of relationships and the manner in which they were conveyed. Not succumbing to the deluge of melancholy that might have easily been the album’s selling point, Camera Obsura instead builds a connection that eventually validates our voyeuristic tendencies and keeps it in check with Campbell’s sarcasm and wit in her lyrics.

My favourite tracks of the album are Away with Murder which begins with muffled drums and haunting keyboards. The very ballady and catchy James, which speaks of ex-partners missing the connection shared but dealing with the choices made – reminiscent of one of their earlier songs aptly titled, The Last Song. The title track My Maudlin Career opens with a beautiful early sixties feel to it and keeps it going with the help of raindrop-like notes from the keyboard and early Clapton-esque guitar style towards the end. The rest of the tracks have a pleasant Cowboy Junkies type aura to them save for the last track of the album Honey In the Sun which comes full circle, ending things perfectly with the same pace as the first track.

All in all this 11 track album moves at a pace much slower than the band’s previous one but what it sets the tone from the start so there aren’t any unpleasant surprises. Dare I say it, My Maudlin Career is fuller and richer and simmers with the maturity that can only come from a band that knows its audience.

(Charlotte Lourdes)

Check out their Myspace page

WOLVERINE

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X-Men Origins: Wolverine (to give it its proper title) is so bad that I can barely contain my animosity towards everyone connected with this pile of animal droppings. This is the kind of super hero movie that people who basically hate super heroes make. The characters are re-written beyond recognition, the plot makes absolutely no sense and there is no dramatic or emotional impact whatsoever.

From the first sequence (re-telling the Origins comic) and the opening credits (which rips off Zack Snyder’s well crafted Watchmen opening), its already clear that the makers of this film have decided to throw all logic out of the window. Sure, it looks good to see Wolverine and Sabretooth fighting side by side through the American civil war, World War I, World War II and Vietnam War (which is strange as the duo are CANADIANS!) but no one ever notices that these two jokers are immortal?!!! C’mon!!!!

From then on, all bets are off as scene after scene is either filled with illogical plot devices, corny dialogue and cringing love scenes. Basically, Wolverine and Sabretooth join up with Team X, carry out missions, Wolverine begins to have 2nd doubts, leaves the team and is then hunted down and betrayed by Stryker and Sabretooth with predictable results. Ho hum.

What do you expect from a comic book movie, you say? Heck of a lot, especially after the high standards set by The Dark Knight, Watchmen, Hellboy, Spider-Man 2 to name but few. Yes, it takes talent, love and respect for the source material and guts to stand up to the studio herd mentality but it can be done. Unfortunately, with the likes of director Gavin Hood and star Hugh Jackman sacrificing artistic integrity for commercial appeal, all we are left with is a dumbed-down summer blockbuster.

Avoid.

CHEWY MARBLE

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Brian Kassan formed power poppers Chewy Marble in 1995. In the years since, the band has been fairly active in the pop underground releasing two albums. New album Modulations – six years in the making – is perhaps its best so far. As expected, it draws from the usual power pop influences which any keen observer of the pop undergroung would be familiar with. That said, in order to appreciate Chewy Marble and Modulation, one has to realize that most of the material here are slow-burners. They may lack the immediency of Sloan (or even the energy) but careful repeated listens wil reveal nuggets of melodic inspiration.

Highlights include the twisting tune of Cross-Hatched World, the 70s rock-channelling Black and White, the psych-folk Picture the Finger and bossa nova XTC referencing instrumental Mental Toothache. Be warned though, much of the repertoire showcased on Modulations sound unfinished in terms of arrangements, almost to the point of coming across like demos in parts. Which is the only serious reservation I’ve always had about Chewy Marble – great musical ideas and concepts but somehow lacking in the final execution.

Strictly for fans of the band and the genre.

Check out Chewy Marble’s Myspace page.

THE QUEERS

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THE QUEERS Alive in Hollyweird (Punk Rock Social)

A 32 track album that captures the band’s 2007 performance in LA was released with the DVD of the live show on March 24. The reason why they could fit 32 tracks on one CD – as any hardcore punk enthusiast would know, each live track is less than 3 minutes long, blending perfectly from one track to the next in organized chaos.

These guys love their Ramones and their Black Flag and its clearly evident in their tight, fast and melodic set. The brainchild of the band Joe Queer, is the only original member since its birth in 1982 – with roughly 30 changes in the band’s lineup since then. The band officially broke up in 1984 and had a new lease of life when Queer rounded up yet another new line up in 1990 and has been kicking it since then.

Word of caution though, these guys aren’t your anarchy-fused Sex Pistols with the angst of a whole generation screaming out in violence and pain. They have often been cited as representing punk with a combination of the legendary Ramones with the melodic chord repetition of the Beach Boys. So if you had always been afraid to experiment with Punk as we know it, The Queers would prove to be the baby steps that you need, before you delve deeper into the glorious abyss of desolation.

Granted the tracks are about the essential subjects of drugs, sex, waste and hate but it’s packaged in such a manner that you would be singing along to the tracks before realizing that this wouldn’t be an album you would be playing out loud when your folks are visiting. Think MXPX or NOFX but with old school tributes to the pioneers and a hint of Dropkick Murphys’ bouyant vocal stylings.

Check out The Queers’ Myspace page.

An Interview with Joe Queer is here: Let Purity Ring

PoP10 – CLAIRE DENAMUR

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1. Why play music?

because, it’s what i know best!

2. Who are your influences?

nat king cole, ella fitzgerald, billie holiday, nina simone, bessie smith, elvis presley, big mama thornton, canned heat, les soeurs étienne, andrew sisters, simon and garfunkel, janis joplin…

3. What is success?

when, in life, you manage to do what makes you happiest, and staying true to yourself all the while.

4. Why should people buy your music?

i can only respond: why not..?!

5. Who do you love?

my family first, my man, my friends, those i trust around me. but also, elliott smith, bon iver, lhasa, erik satie, beck, boris vian, jean paul sartre, wes anderson, martin scorcese..

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

i only hope i will be so lucky as to still be writing and singing many years from now…!

7. Who comes to your gigs?

pretty much all types of people, wether they are young or older. wether they speak english or not. i think they appreciate how crazy i can get on stage. so, in a way, maybe mostly crazy folk come to my gigs…!?

8. What is your favorite album?

weezer, the blue album

9. What is your favorite song?

wish you were here (pink floyd)

10. How did you get here?

by being myself up until now…? and then, one day, by creating my myspace page with which my manager discovered my songs… thank you, o’ beloved manager!

Claire Denamur’s new album Le Prince Charmant is out now.

ANDREW RIPP

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ANDREW RIPP 50 Miles to Chicago (Self released)

As far as endorsements go, they don’t come much more impressive than one by Audioslave and Rage Against The Machine guitarist, Tom Morello. It makes it even more impressive when the artist in question is a soulful funk riffer who comfortably incorporates jazz, funk, soul and slick R&B into his brand of pop-rock. Muses Morello in his blog, “He sounded great…like a mix between Ray LaMontagne and someone else I can’t quite put my finger on…” We’re talking about Chicago native Andrew Ripp, who debuted last year with his first album, 50 Miles To Chicago.

Produced by former Tonic bassist Dan Lavery, 50 Miles To Chicago is a collection of heartfelt songs that sound readily comfortable for Top 40 airplay. Album starter Get Your Smile On is infectiously funky and energetic with a bouncing bass, light keyboard flourishes and a confident vocal performance that assuredly straddles the middle ground between Jason Mraz and Anthony Kiedis. 3rd on the track listing finds Tim’s Song, a quieter piano-driven track strongly reminiscent of Gavin DeGraw, while hints of cowpunk find their way onto It’s All Good, from where the album takes its title.

It should be noted too that the talented Mr. Ripp is no stranger to a good hook. On  The Privileged Life, a track that makes a strong case for best track of the album, the Caribbean rhythms are incredibly infectious in that odd sort of manner where your body feels like its been taken over and you can’t stop yourself from moving to the beat. Throw in a snarling vocal, stirring lyrics and inspired, gleeful instrumental breaks and you have a winner. Unfortunately the album takes a detour into filler blandness after the genius of Privileged Life. The Gavin DeGraw influence makes a return together with shades of Train on Lifeline, a song that is a tad too MOR for my taste. The same goes for Just Another Song About California, a song title ironic in its self-fulfilment. Thankfully, however, the record picks up towards the end with the inspired bluesy You Saved My Life, a rollicking rocker drenched in gospel choruses. Dresden Wine finishes the album on a somber yet awfully emotional note, as Ripp holds nothing back and sings his heart out.

I’m going to stick my head out and predict that we’ll seeing a lot more of this fella in years to come as well as hearing him on our airwaves. Andrew Ripp marries a  strong, soulful and expressive voice with a fine ear for a pop hook and an inspired invention in arrangement. He’s harder than Mraz, looser than Mayer and edgier than Maroon 5, and I wouldn’t like to be the one who bets against him becoming just as popular as any of the aforementioned. One to watch out for.

(Samuel C Wee)

Check out Andrew Ripp’s Myspace page.

Video of Dresden Wine live in the studio below.

AU REVOIR SIMONE

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AU REVOIR SIMONE Still Night, Still Light (Label – US: Our Secret Record Company / UK: Moshi Moshi Records)

Let me start off by confessing that I’m a huge fan of synth-pop infused tracks. Its one of the many marks of growing up in the eighties I guess. A reason why I’m hooked on this album.

It’s delectable and delivers warm, powerful electronic melodies fused with ethereal female voices – soothingly. The best way to describe the emotions invoked is to allow you a glimpse of the images running through my mind as the album unfolded into a flurry of pop sweetness. Floating on clouds and breaking out into a ballet jump from one cloud to another with the track Only You Can Make You Happy. Other images emerging throughout the album ranged from a slide show of foggy castles with moats at breakneck speed to sinking languidly with arms outstretched into a pond of beautiful lilies with sunlight breaking through the water between the gigantic lily pads. Love it.

Three ladies with three keyboards, a drum machine and their ethereal melodic voices is what Au Revoir Simone is about. Formed in Brooklyn, New York in 2003 and having had considerable success with their first effort – Verses of Comfort, Assurance & Salvation (2005) and the critically acclaimed The Bird of Music (2007), the band have remained true to their originality and have not added anything unsavoury to their pot of electronic mastery. You might have heard their tracks on TV dramas such as Ugly Betty, Grey’s Anatomy, etc.

If you like your Kings of Convenience and Stereolab, with a touch of mellow, a hint of melancholy and a breath of fresh, clean air – these ladies will fix you up nicely.

Produced by Thom Monahan (Vetiver, Little Joy), and recorded in various studios between Brooklyn – New York and Los Angeles, Still Night, Still Light will be released on their own label – Our Secret Record Company on May 19th. Au Revoir Simone will be playing this year’s SXSW (South by SouthWest), with a Still Night, Still Light supporting tour throughout the States till end of June.

(Charlotte Lourdes)

Check out their Myspace page.

PJ HARVEY & JOHN PARISH

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PJ HARVEY & JOHN PARISH A Woman A Man Walked By (Island/Universal)

This is as pure a collaboration as one could get. Producer John Parish is responsible for all the music on A Woman A Man Walked By (writing and instrumentation) and PJ Harvey is responsible for all vocals and lyrics. This album is Harvey/Parish’s second collaborative effort and there is little doubt that the duo make an impeccable team.

The ten songs on A Woman A Man Walked By are suitably visceral, spiritual, earthy and other-worldly. Going by Harvey’s track record for gritty, in-your-face fare, that comes as little surprise. Parish brings all his know-how and technique to the table with soundscapes that match the intensity of Harvey’s words and delivery.

To the duo’s credit, despite the thematic consistency, the musical styles are varied enough to keep things interesting. The opening Black Hearted Love (video below) has enough hooks and melodic riffs to keep the casual indie-pop fan engaged. The more discerning listener will find their tastes intrigued and challenged with the rootsy Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen, the quirky Leaving California, the austere The Soldier, the emotion-shredding pscyh-out of Pig Will Not and the glassy atonal Passionless, Pointless.

Fans of PJ Harvey, A Woman A Man Walked By may contain the strongest set of tracks Harvey has been involved with since 2000’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.

CLAIRE DENAMUR

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CLAIRE DENAMUR Le Prince Charmant (Source Etc)

The excitement that overwhelmed me when I got to review this album was indescribable. It’s not everyday one gets to enjoy and review French music. So bear with me while I walk you through the eclectic offering of this emerging French artiste – because you won’t be able to find anything else on her unless you comprehend French.

Denamur credits the variety in her music to her mixed family background – an Argentinian mother and a French-Dutch father and spending her early childhood in Toronto and then in upstate New York. Her influences range from Nina Simone, Edith Piaf, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd to Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. These influences are evident on her album, which makes it such a treat because she has a vulnerable, pristine quality to her voice.

The title of the album literally translates to “The Prince Charming” and all ten tracks on the album explore themes of attraction, love and disillusion but with gentleness and at a whimsical pace that you’ll feel the music embrace you while De Namur soothes you through it all.

Worthy of mention is Je Me Sens Nue (I Feel Naked), a track where Denamur likens to how she feels when she’s performing – stripped down/transparent and giving everything she has. The track itself sounds chirpy and has an easy flow of a modern jazz feel.

Another track Mal Aimee (Evil Aimee), echos of a beautiful Spanish guitar which cues in this stripped down, quiet South American ballad, complete with harmonious vocals. Elio, the last track of the album is in a similar vein, it goes a step further with its tropical feel and Denamur’s vocals serving as a melodious lullaby.

My personal favourite is the second track from the album, Ah les Hommes (Ah Men). The bluegrass feel of this track is a hauntingly beautiful ode to men.

Le Prince Charmant is out now and should be on your list if you like jazzy, bluesy European fusion and French flair with your glass of wine.

(Charlotte Lourdes)

Check out Claire’s Myspace page. Video of Prince Charmant follows.

OCEANSHIP

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OCEANSHIP s/t (Self-released)

Inevitably, when discussing piano (or keyboards)-based music in modern times, it’s virtually impossible not to raise the spectre of Coldplay, the Fray and Keane into the conversation. Which in my view, doesn’t mode too well for this particular genre. Maybe I’m biased and old-fashioned but I used to enjoy it when piano-based music meant Elton John, Billy Joel or even Ben Folds. So where does that leave Canadian duo Oceanship?

Consisting of singer Brad Lyons and pianist Carly Paradis, both hailing from differents parts of Ontario, Canada, after having hooked up via a newspaper ad (yeah, cliched but what better way do you know?).

With a self-titled EP under the duo’s collective belts, and touring China extensively in 2006/2007, Oceanship’s debut album is a sophisticated work with well-crafted songs embellished with thoughtful arrangements and tasteful production. That said, the majority of the songs here cannot escape the references to the above mentioned bands, especially in the falshetto chorus of Excited, the familiar lanquid vibe of Don’t Wear Me Out and the epic, pseudo-classical Go.

The highlight for me is Hotblack (video below), where Lyons channels Peter Gabriel and the point of reference is more 80s, and the listener is captured by irresistible melodies and harmonies and a singalong chorus hook.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong in Oceanship trading in the soundscape of their sonic environment and certainly, there’s enough substance in tracks like the melancholy Anywhere At All, the fragile Wait For Me and the atmospheric Mistake to suggest that there’s much more to Oceanship than their influences. In fact, a concerted effort to pierce the veil will reveal nods to Pink Floyd, The Blue Nile and Rachael Yamagata. All good in my book!

A confident debut from a duo to keep a close eye on.

Check out Oceanship’s Myspace page.

ALLIGATORS

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ALLIGATORS Piggy & Cups (Applehouse Records)

This five piece band from Seattle is anything but grungy. Saccharine and dreamy, indie pop is what they’re all about. Probably a tad too sweet for my taste but props has to be given to these guys for coming up with a clean, marketable album. And by clean, I mean catchy hooks, vocals that exude lyrics one can easily decipher and a neat arrangement on every track that enables you to visually picture each instrument on its own. Nicely done.

This debut album was recorded at Death Cab for Cutie’s Jason McGerr’s studio and at the band’s residence. All 11 tracks on the album mix it up and refrain from sticking to a particular formula with regards to key changes and unexpected falsetto anguish. Influenced by Radiohead and The Beach Boys among others, it’s the Radiohead influence that comes through with the opening guitar riffs on a couple of the tracks on this album. The stand out track for most has been “If you want to”, although I wasn’t too taken by it as much as I was with their opening track “Where does it hide”. The latter reminded me of one of the many themes of TV shows from the early 80’s, before it steps into a darker level and then nicely grooves into a modern jazz layer, complete with a hypnotic bass in the background.

Kristian Arper and the boys explore various styles on this one album, even within a single track. Ambitious but does it pay off? Considering it’s a crisp, melodic pop offering, it certainly does.

Check out Alligators’ Myspace page.

17 AGAIN

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Return to adolescence.  Welcome to High School Musical 4, without the music and dance.

How long ago has it been since your high school days?

Not for Mike O’Donnell played by Matthew Perry of the TV sitcom F.R.I.E.N.D.S fame.  In a mysterious twist of fate, Mike returns to his younger self, well 17 to be exact played by teenage heartthrob Zac Efron.

Mike is a sore and bitter 30 something man who had a potential career as a basketball player.  But he threw that away when at 17 instaed of playing an important basketball game, he ran off to be with his pregnant girlfriend, Scarlett.  This left him disgruntled and embittered which eventually led to a breakdown in the couple’s marriage.  Mike doesn’t score well with his children either. His teenage son and daughter can’t be bothered with him and do not communicate with him.  To complete his misery, he has been passed over for a promotion at work.

With the help and support of his high school buddy Ned Gold, Mike, poses as Ned’s son and returns to high school for another shot at his life – to make up for his regret of not making it for the life he could have accomplished.

Mike gets to be close to his son, Alex who is bullied in school by the school’s star athlete, Stan.  He finds out that his daughter Maggie is dating Stan and wants to move away with him.  In the process, he mentors his Alex in basketball, and does all he can to get Stan to stay away from Maggie, giving Maggie the impression that he is interested in her.  While at the same time, he re-romances an unsuspecting Scarlett and rediscovers his love for her.

17 Again is no doubt Efron’s star vehicle, and there is nothing not to like about him in his role as Mike.  Truth is: this is not much of an acting stretch for Efron, and rather an extension of his Troy persona from the highly successful and popular High School Musical franchise.  He dances, he plays basketball, and he talks about sexual abstinence.  Efron needs to step out from such familiar roles or risk being typecast in his acting career.

I find 17 Again funny and entertaining without the need to feel seriously or emotionally burdened.  One of the moments I found funny was Maggie coming onto Mike when they were together.  When Mike failed to respond to Maggie’s advances, in a sly dig at Efron and the metro-sexual, Maggie asks Mike if he is sexually confused and mentions the well-coiffed hair, the blonde highlights in his hair and the tight jeans he wears.

Overall, 17 Again makes a good escape from the monotony and pressure of everyday life.  It allows us to fantasise and reminisce our teenage school days and the charming presence of Efron does help.

(Darren Boon)

TONY COX

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TONY COX Unpublished (Self-released)

When I received this CD in the post, I was pretty impressed by the cover and then mystified by the following note in the sleeve –

“I’m a Songwriter looking for a good home for my songs. So if you’re a music publisher, artist, producer, manager or record company… and you hear potential. I’d love to hear from you!”

So… Unpublished is not a proper album? Apparently not. But really, boys and girls, Unpublished is a collection of tracks worthy enough for one of those year-end lists. Perhaps mine.

These eleven songs represent some of the best British pop songwriting I’ve had the pleasure to listen to in quite a while. Singer Nigel Clark’s Lennonesque vocals does tend to give the songs a welcome Beatlesque edge and a powerful 70s vibe but hey, I’m certainly not complaining. It’s almost as if you’ve stumbled on a classic pop-rock jukebox in some alternative reality where hit songs like Sweet Elaine, Jamelia, Welcome To My World and Show Me Your Love rule the world. Fans of classic tunesmithery of the Britpop variety will no doubt enjoy Unpublished. Step aside, Noel Gallangher, the jig is up. Let Tony Cox should you what quality songwriting is all about…

Check out Tony’s Myspace page.

METRIC

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METRIC Fantasies (Self released)

Emily Haines and her band have been around since 1998 and they have had three full albums under their belt since 2003. Their fourth and latest offering – Fantasies, has this Canadian outfit taking a step back to reevaluate the current state of the world, the current state of mind of individuals and questions that the insightful are often plagued with.

In her own words, “This new record was about ending the fragmentation of my existence, Everything in the world right now—all the technology, the way we listen to music or watch films—everything has changed so much in my lifetime. People are allowed to have multiple identities—you’re somebody online, you’re somebody else in public—in multiple dimensions, scattered across the world … I wanted to bring all that into one place, one band, one records … I want to be one person.” – Emily Haines.

The album makes way for a synth-charged, new wave aura imprinted on all the tracks. The one constant though is of course Haines’ clear and crisp vocals that dips and resurfaces with an androgynous quality. The poppy dance beats, booming organ, flowing synths, choppy guitar riffs (courtesy of Jimmy Shaw) and heavy bass feels like you’re taking a dip into the pool of The Strokes, Yeah, Yeah Yeahs, Muse and for those old enough to remember – the quirky and brilliant Oingo Boingo.

Their first track and single Help I’m Alive, sucks you right in and keeps you on your toes till halfway through the album when the opening notes of Twilight Galaxy kicks in – reminiscent of the new-wave punk era of the late seventies. The slow melting ride is almost psychedelic with Haines’ reflective words, “there’s no glitter in the gutter, there’s no twilight galaxy….”.

Worthy of mention is Gimme Sympathy, a track with an infectious melody, steady beats and with a chorus that asks, “Gimme sympathy, after all this is gone, who would you rather be, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones..”. The band is on a path which illuminates filtering out the fantasies that cloud, yet embracing the ones that inspire.

Fantasies was released on April 14 & will cater to both fans and ardent music lovers discovering Metric for the first time.

An Interview with Emily and Jimmy and a collection of their acoustic performances is available here: Spin – Metric Unplugged.

(Charlotte Lourdes)

Check out Metric’s Myspace page.

MY ONE & ONLY DEMOCRACY

Recently two kind friends/fans Rick and En approached me about a short 5 minute film they were interested to make of yours truly! Obviously, I obliged! Here’s the result. Comments please.

…still there’s more…

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD

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From a luxury cruise-liner to suburbia America, Jack and Rose reunite.

Don’t mistake Revolutionary Road for a story about the civil rights movement or war.  It is the name of a fictitious street where Frank and April Wheeler live.  Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet reteam as the protagonists a decade after their outing of Titanic proportions in this 1950s American suburban piece.

The Wheelers are held up as a model couple.  They have two children and a nice house.  Frank has a stable job and April is a dutiful housewife.  What would be more perfect?

Yet Frank hates his desk job.  The long commute to and from home to work on the train is a signal of his mundane working life.  April, an unsuccessful actress, is faring no better herself.  She is feeling trapped and restless with what she thinks is a mediocre life.

April suggests to Frank that they move to Paris in order “to live”, an excuse their ordinary and traditional lifestyle of 1950s suburbia.   Frank although initially hesitant, buys into April’s idea.  But when Frank receives an unexpected promotion and pay rise, he starts to have second doubts about the move.  When April gets pregnant, Frank finds the excuse to pull the plug on their plans and thus sets the couple on a collision course for tragedy.

I personally enjoy dramas that explore the themes of drudgery, conformity and mundane existence of suburban life and Revolutionary Road lives up to my expectations as a movie.  I won’t be able to comment on whether the movie does justice to the characters and the book as I have not read the novel by Richard Yates of which the movie is adapted from.  But the movie packs a strong, emotional and bitter after punch for me.

The success rests largely on the calibre of its players.  Director Sam Mendes and Winslet’s husband treads on familiar ground on the breakdown of suburban life after the Academy Award winning American Beauty.  Mendes recreates the 1950s mood with nostalgia and coaxes fiery performances out of DiCaprio and Winslet.

But the gems of the show are no doubt DiCaprio and Winslet.  Their chemistry on-screen is evident from the tender scenes they share to their explosive and vicious outbursts and tirades they level at each other.  DiCaprio imbues a boyish charm to his Frank as the awkward and reluctant dutiful husband, a boy never quite mature enough into a man besides Winslet’s domineering April. Frank is at ease charming a naïve employee into having an affair with him, but could never quite sensitive enough to cajole his wife after her failed acting performance.

Winslet flexes her dramatic chops in the role of April and chews away the screen.  She does everything from lovey-dovey to hysterical to calm and steely.  She is believable as the resentful and disillusioned housewife.

Michael Shannon steals the few minutes of screen time in a supporting role as a mentally disturbed son of a nosy neighbour who shoots his mouth and thoughts without restraint at the Wheelers.  Shannon’s character John is the only one who dares to articulate the truth about the Wheelers.  His character generates the much needed laughter from the audience.

I can always link suburbia dramas back to our own existence here in Singapore even for a set in 1950s piece like Revolutionary Road.  Aren’t many of us just like Frank, struggling to make a living to provide for our home and family though at times we hate our jobs behind a desk?  Yet the desire to be responsible and pragmatic stops us from seeking change.

Although April doesn’t apply to modern working women in Singapore, but aren’t some of us frustrated at the insensitivity and weakness of our husband to our needs?  Aren’t some of us at times disillusioned by the way that the marriage didn’t turn out the way we expect it to be?

Revolutionary Road depicts the frustration of the ordinary you and me in the heartlands of Singapore.  We long for change but are too afraid to seek it.  Just as April said: “Our whole existence here is based on this great premise that we’re special.  That we’re superior to the whole thing.  But we’re not.”

Like April and Frank, we might have done so and making people believe we are special but when in fact we are not, and like April find it hard to accept.

Overall, Revolutionary Road is an intense, riveting and gripping drama that packs a powerful insight into our own lives.

(Darren Boon)

SINGAPORE MUSIC 101

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Last Saturday, at the invitation of the National Library Board, I gave a short half hour talk on the Singapore English music scene, such as it is. The event itself was called Singapore Music 101, with the highlight being Dick Lee (possibly the most recognizable Singapore music personality ever) sharing his life story, so to speak.

My brief was really to share information on the S-ROCK scene as I saw it. Typically, I left preparations pretty late and really only put my summary together on Wednesday, 15th April, before I had to be away in Pekanbaru for two days. On the morning of the talk itself, I prepared a Powerpoint presentation of the images I had accumulated on Zach’s laptop. Which unfortunately, as it turned out, the Powerpoint file was a 2007 MS Office edition and the Library @ Esplanade only had an earlier version of Powerpoint and thus, the file was unusuable! Thankfully, my original images folder was in the USB Thumbdrive, which we eventually used.

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That slight misstep threw me off slightly even as I dove into the talk. Scanning the audience, it seemed to me that here was a group of people who were totally unfamiliar with S-ROCK and thus it was a bit of an uphill task. In fact, they didn’t even look like a crowd who listened to any rock music whatsoever. Perhaps they were there to listen to Dick rather than yours truly. Nonetheless, I took this as a learning experience as this was the first time I’d ever given a talk on S-ROCK. Certainly, a lot of points to brush up on. Heh.

I enjoyed Dick’s sharing very much. Taken in the context of Singaporeans’ ambivalence towards local music, Dick’s success in the 80s and beyond is nothing short of miraculous. His “never-say-die” attitude certainly played a big part, he always believed in himself and with hard work and passion, his talent was recognized and appreciated by others, in the region (first) before his own countrymen and women followed suit. Strangely enough, this was the first time I’ve ever met him, better late than never, I guess.

A Q&A session followed and one particular question left me in deep thought – how could Singapore produce a international pop star? Should we even be think in those terms? I don’t know. Seems rather cold. My main concern is nurturing and developing our own singer-songwriters and expose them proudly to the world. After the Q&A, I did an impromptu My One & Only (what else?) on the piano and it was done. Made some new contacts subsequently – two teachers who were interested to have me talk to their students about the local music scene and a film-maker Clement who was keen on me writing music for his movie project. All good!

Thanks to Jonathan How for the invitation, Athena (NLB) for co-ordinating everything, Desmond and Samuel for coming down and everyone else who listened attentively to me even if they didn’t have an inkling about what I was talking about. Probably.

…still there’s more…

HERE IS THE NEWS

The media love a quote from someone with the requisite knowledge to provide the proper information. I guess I’ve become the “go to” person when it comes to the S-ROCK scene. Which is fine with me, as it is part of the grand masterplan for world domination but I would really appreciate it if some heads-up were given whenever my quotes were published.

For example, I-S Magazine got in touch with me to answer some questions on the S-ROCK scene, to which I duly obliged with my opinions. However, it was only yesterday that I discovered that my quotes had been used in an article called The Lion City Rocks Again (published in February!). Link here and extracted below.

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Well, apart from the fact that my surname is spelt wrongly again – only one “t” – I was rather bemused at how the writer described me. I suppose I should be glad he didn’t use the word “veteran” which gets trotted too often for comfort. Heh! Any name referencing is good, I guess!

A few weeks back, Rachael Teo and I were interviewed by Chris (ex-AWOL, Peculiar Remedies) Toh for TODAY, whilst that interview has not seen light of day yet, some of my quotes have appeared in an article by Chris on MDA’s iniatives to promote the music industry. Link here and extract below.

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Yes, name wrong again but this time “veteran singer-songwriter” re-appears which if nothing else is accurate, I suppose. Looks alright though I am concerned about the context of that particular quote which may result in the usual hate mail from offended bands again. Hrmm.

Still, the bottom line is getting the name out there and to that end, mission accomplished! I guess if nobody’s heard of you, then you’ll never be in a position to influence others eh?

…and there’s more…

RACHAEL YAMAGATA – LIVE IN SINGAPORE

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Sometimes I get really jealous. The kids nowadays get to catch their favorite foreign bands every week performing in Singapore. In the 70s, if we wanted to do the same, we had to rely on the odd concert movie coming to town e.g. Led Zep’s Song Remains the Same & Urgh!!! A Music War (featuring post-punk bands in USA/UK).

Better late than never. Rachael Yamagata can hardly be described as a classic 70s rocker or even old school. But believe me when I say that at the end of the glorious post-modern blues-rocking Sunday Afternoon, I had tears in my eyes. From Yamagata’s impassioned vocals to guitarist Michael Chaves’ screaming licks & Oliver Krauss’ atmospheric cello, I felt transported to a classic Pink Floyd concert in the 70s.

Yamagata had arrived in Singapore with a bit of a cold and depsite her profuse apologies, her vocal performance was not lacking in any way. I marveled at her sense of dedication to and passion for her craft as she put heart and soul into every word. The set list basically consisted of songs from her two albums and would veer wildly from the chamber pop of Elephants, Be Be Your Love and What If I Leave to the alt-rock posturing of Faster, Accident and Sidedish Friend. Personally, I prefered the former as her fledging attempts at rocking out did not strike me as unique. However, her ballads tugged at the heart strings effortlessly channeling the likes of Carole King and Karen Carpenter. Yeah, old school!

Still I have to go back to that final pre-encore song Sunday Afternoon, which to my amazement actually upped the ante from the recorded version. I was simply transfixed by Yamagata’s ability to coax her battered larynx (after 90 minutes plus of singing) into new heights. Spaced out, blissed out, emotionally resonant – everything the best rock music should be. Kudos to Rachael Yamagata for being the consummate professional, a super trouper but without sacrificing her humanity or sense of humour at any second. Quite possibly, one of the best concerts I have ever attended.

PS. Warm applause to me mates, Jack & Rai, for their short opening set, which entertained and pleased the crowd. Certainly, the boys proved that they could do justice to the occassion. Only matter of them before Jack & Rai headline their own gig at the Esplanade Concert Hall. Mark my words!

NB. I must say that there was a bloody idiot who happened to be sitting in front of me and this philistine could be heard muttering and complaining that Jack & Rai were taking to the stage. I have no problem with someone not liking Jack & Rai but to petulantly shout “No!” and throwing a mini-tantrum in his seat is just puerile behavior. More than that, I was pretty certain that this twit’s main objection was that Jack & Rai were Singaporean. I hope that this kind of colonial attitude is now in the minority and will one day be consiged to the darkest past.

Picture by Joanna.

YOUTH.SG REVIEW

Here’s a review from Nawira of the Jon Chan/Kevin Mathews performance at the WeekendTRIP last month.

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Link to full article.

Thanks, Nawira but… only one “t”…

NEIL YOUNG

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NEIL YOUNG Fork in the Road (Reprise)

Not entirely sure what to make of this latest offering from the legendary singer-songwriter. Fork in the Road is apparently a concept album about Young’s attempts together with biodiesel pioneer Johnathan Goodwin to develop a commercially viable electric power system for automobiles.  The prototype Lincvolt vehicle, Young’s own 1959 Lincoln Continental, is now completely finished, and a documentary is planned about the car’s first cross-country gasoline-free road trip to Washington, DC. for automobiles.

All well and good but what kind of album does all this make for. Better than you’d think. Without even bothering with the lyrics and themes, Fork in the Road is filled with good old fashioned rock n roll Neil Young stlye. Which is fine by me. I love the music’s pure and primal quality – it sounds like Young and band in a rehearsal jamming away. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Young’s backing band features all the usual suspects – Ben Keith, Rick Rosas, Chad Cromwell and the missus, Pegi Young. And this provides the comfortable bedrock from which Young springboards his own musical journeys. To be honest, I find the lyrics a little forced at times although in songs like the lone acoustic number Light A Cradle – “Instead of cursing the darkness/Light a candle for where we’re goin'” – rather inspirational for these depressed times.

The rest of Fork in the Road is suitably ragged with songs that pay tribute to Goodwin (“Johnny Magic”), songs about aging (“The Road”), songs chronicling Young’s trip (“When Worlds Collide”) and the current economic crisis (“Cough Up the Bucks”). It ain’t perfect but it’s still Neil Young and if you’re a fan, then you’ll know what to expect. If you’re not a fan, I’ll suggest you check out his 70s albums first and then work your way slowly to Fork in the Road.

Check out Neil Young’s Myspace page and a video of The Road below.

Neil Young – Fork In The Road