HULL CITY 1 SPURS 5

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I feel entire comfortable with stating that NO Spurs fan expected this amazing result. Being typically cautious when it comes to my favorite team, I predicted two draws from two games. Instead, we have two wins! Not only that but we are sitting on top of the Premier League on goal difference. Talk about unexpected!

Didn’t watch the game (pity!) but judging from the reports, Spurs were coasting from the moment hat-trick hero Jermain Defoe struck his first goal. Considering the problems Spurs had scoring last season and the conventional wisdom that declares that Defoe and Robbie Keane can’t play together, the five goals away from home (with the front pair contributing four) is simply astonishing!

Only black mark on the game was Gomes’ injury early on but with the able Cudicini to deputise, I’m sure Gomes’ absence will not be a major factor. So, expectations have now skyrocketed for Spurs’ season and it will be interesting to see how the team manages such expectations with the trip to Upton Park for the grudge match against the Hammers on Sunday.

As usual with Spurs, it’s an unpredictable ride!

COYS!!!

OCEANS

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OCEANS Nothing Collapses (Copper Lung)

Can I be candid? Post-rock instrumental music by and large sounds like a complete wash, especially in the wrong hands. You know, as a melody-junkie I get terribly bored of music that consists mostly of endless passages of white noise. To be fair, this genre does have its fair share of worthwhile artists notably, Tortoise, Mogwai, Album Leaf, Explosions in the Sky.

Where does this leave Oceans, hailing from Urbana and Chicago? Well, this debut full length I must admit is easy on the ear and relies more on pleasing melodically than your usual Velvets-inbued droning noise which tends to bite after a while. With clever titles like Boy Detective, Sound of Static and City At Peace, to help you to distinguish between songs which may end up a little samey on initial listens, it may take a rabid fan or a person who is intrested to know more about this post rock instrumental genre to venture that first taste.

Worth checking out!

Myspace

NOISE SINGAPORE 2010

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Regular PoP visitors will be aware that I’ve been involved with the National Arts Council’s Noise program for the last 2 years. First, as a judge and then making the transition to mentor in last year’s The Apprenticeship Programme (TAP). Of course, through TAP, I came to mentor Racheal Teo and Nick Tan and the rest as they say, is history!

Anyways, I’m glad to announce that NAC is taking submissions for Noise Singapore 2010 and everything about this sounds exciting.

CASH!!!

Winners of Noise S’pore 2010’s 3 main categories – Art & design, Music and Photography – will each receive the Noise S’pore Prize of S$5,000 cash.

Yes, boys and girls, I’ll say it again. CASH!!!

The press release goes on to say –

DJ Aldrin is just one of the 12 big names who are mentors in this year’s TAP. Others include local music luminary Kevin Mathews (*ahem*), Tan Ngiap Heng for photography and Eeshaun Soh for Art & Design. TAP is one-of-its-kind in Singapore and gives young artists an opportunity to be personally mentored by some of Spore’s best in the creative industry. Success stories are written every year of apprentices who go on to become accomplished artists. Singer/songwriter Rachael Teo – Kevin Mathews’ apprentice in Noise 08/09–has developed a following and is sought after on the pub circuit for originals like the breezy (and very infectious) Love and Water. She has an interesting story. She went to NAC to apply for a busking license, stumbled upon Noise instead and, in May, released an EP entitled Awaken The Dreamer – all in 9 months. TAP continues to be a critical and popular aspect of Noise. Last year, out of a record 128 applicants, 20 apprentices were selected.

Believe when I say that TAP is worth getting attached to. Previous apprentices include King Kong Jane and Allura and they’ve done well, haven’t they? I would recommend TAP to every singer-songwriter or band out there. Besides DJ Aldrin and yours truly, other music mentors include Don Richmond, Jason Tan, Jon Chan and Patrick Chng. We’ll be waiting…

Noise Musicians could be selected to record one of their songs in a professional studio, have it played on 98.7FM, and perform at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre or Concourse. And also be involved with events at next year’s Youth Olympics. International exposure! Are you excited yet?

Check out www.noisesingapore.com for more info.

SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFE

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Anyone out there remember the Asian financial crisis of late 1997? It was my first real experience of an economic recession and by early 1998 it had hit really hard, resulting in a pay cut and general gloom all around. The Pernice Brothers’ debut Overcome By Happiness was released on Sub Pop that same year and it just seemed to express everything I felt during that melancholy year.

“You don’t feel so overcome by happiness/You’re broke/Do you think you might scrape your life together just in/Time to find you’ve got no piece of mind (Overcome By Happiness)

“Its a long way to fall/When you find out how it never was/Its a long way to fall/When you find out it never happened at all” (Crestfallen)

And it didn’t hurt when the music enveloping these fine lyrics resonated with the echoes of Teenage Fanclub, Big Star, the Bee Gees and the Beach Boys.

Lead singer and principal songwriter Joe Pernice has consistently produced great pop albums since then and expect a review of his latest effort soon.

…still there’s more…

PREVIEW: HULL CITY v SPURS

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After the opening day win over title contenders Liverpool, you’d expect Spurs to beat relegation candidates Hull easily. Not so fast. As seasoned Spurs fans will tell you, expect the worse from Spurs when you should expect the best.

Hull will not be easy meat as they proved against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday as the Blues needed a fortuitous last gasp winner from Drogba to seal the three points.

That and the fact that Ledley King will be not be playing (not to mention Spurs’ poor away form) suggests to me that if Spurs get a point from this fixture, it will be a good one.

Again, Hull will provide a good test of how far Redknapp has brought the team since joining in late October. Back to back victories will certainly boost our ambitions but I would be happy with a draw with a loss bringing us back to square one and a tricky trip to Upton Park this Saturday.

COYS!!!

SPURS 2 LIVERPOOL 1

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So finally, Spurs win their opening fixture, which is sweet enough. And when the defeated opponent just happens to be Liverpool (making it three consecutive victories at White Hart Lane), its sheer icing on the proverbial cake.

After a scrappy half hour, Spurs began to dominate Liverpool as an attacking force, with Modric pulling strings and Liverpool’s central defence being less than optimum (after hilariously colliding with each other for no reason at all). Then a trio of spurned chances by Keane made it look as if Spurs were going to miss the boat, from out of the blue, left back Assou-Ekotto flashed a rocket past Reiner as the Lane erupted with joy. A great way to celebrate Spurs’ first goal of the season.

Half-time came and went and the fear was that Spurs would fold in the 2nd half (as they have too many times in the past) and when Gomes lost his head and gave away a silly penalty – which Gerrard duly put away – it was a case of ‘here we go again’. All credit to this Spurs team for forcing their way back into the reckoning and yet again, a defender – this time debutant Stephen Bassong – scored from a set piece, brilliantly floated in by Modric.

With 30 minutes left, Liverpool tried their best to claw back into the game but despite a couple of penalty appeals, Spurs defence stood firm, even as Benayon’s appearance failed to liven up the sleepwalking Gerrard and Torres. Crouch would soon make his league debut for Spurs which signalled a flurry of long high balls, most of which did not reach their intended target – a worrying development. Spurs held on and a historic win was earned.

Yes, it’s only the first game of the season but having put one of the so-called Top Four clubs to the sword with such conviction bodes well for this solid Spurs squad. Of course, there is much room for improvement but the positives outweigh the negatives. The defensive solidity and the magnificent form of Modric and Palacios provide a promising platform for an exciting season.

COYS!!!

TRACEY ULLMAN

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TRACEY TAKES ON… COMPLETE SEASONS 3 & 4 DVD

My first memory of British comedienne Tracey Ullman was as a pop star. In the early 80s, Ullman had a string of British Top 10 hits but by the late 80s, Ullman had established herself as a TV comedienne with the Tracy Ullman Show on Fox, which is now famous for introducing The Simpsons (and Paula Abdul) to the world. The success of the Simpsons would later prompt Ullman into a lawsuit with Fox.

In the 90s, Ullman hooked up with HBO for two specials viz. Tracey Ullman: A Class Act and Tracey Ullman Takes On New York. HBO were interested in a Tracey Takes On… series which resulted in a four season run. Basically, the series highlighted Tracey’s unique “take on” various topics e.g. sex, death and the like, told through various characters, mostly all played by Ullman. This involved loads of impression work for Ullman not to mention make-up and even prosthetic penises!

This DVD covers seasons 3 & 4 of the series and highlights such topics as loss, agents, dating, age and so on. Some of the memorable characters include Ruby – a veteran Hollywood make up artist, Chic – New York cabbie, Her Royal Highness – an amalgam of Queen Elizabeth & Princess Margaret, Mrs Noh – an Asian American donut shop owner and Sheneesha – African American airport security guard.

To be honest, the appeal of the series lies more in marvelling at Ullman’s ability to create and play such diverse characters rather than the actual humour of the stories being told. In that respect, its not for everyone and note that since its on HBO, there is material unsuitable for children.

PREVIEW: SPURS v LIVERPOOL

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Here we go!

At the beginning of the BPL season, anything is possible. All clubs start on equal terms and anyone can win the title and anyone can be relegated. In theory only, of course.

For Spurs, after the poor starts to the last three seasons, the first eight games are crucial to what Spurs can achieve this time around. A few pundits are predicting minimum Europa League qualification for Spurs and some – with their heads in the clouds (or up their arses, take your pick) – are talking up breaking into the Top Four.

So, a home game against runners-up Liverpool, may not be an ideal opener but will be a good test to determine where Spurs stand in the grand scheme of things. With new signings Peter Crouch, Sebastian Bassong and Kyle Naughton likely to make their debuts, there will be some bedding in to do. Liverpool, of course, have lost Alonso – magnificent last season – and with Gerrard doubtful, it does appear that Spurs may have the upper hand at White Hart Lane.

That said, Liverpool proved notoriously hard to beat – only twice did they lose last season – so a draw looks more likely. However, if Redknapp decides to accommodate Crouch, Defoe and Keane, then the weakened midfield (with only Palacios protecting the defence, already debilitated by the injuries to Woodgate and Dawson) will be exposed by Liverpool – even without Alonso and Gerrard.

Personally, I believe that this season will be crucial for Redknapp to prove that he’s more than just a wheeler-dealer and is able to step up to the plate as a tactician as well. Redknapp was fond to remind everyone that when he arrived, Spurs had 2 points from 8 games, so it will be instructional to see Spurs’ points tally after 8 games this time around.

In terms of the big picture, my feel is that only Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea will be genuine title contenders with Chelsea my favorites for the Premiership. The other top four place will be fought out amongst Arsenal, Everton, Aston Villa, Manchester City and … maybe even Spurs. Would not bet on that last one though. Watch out for Sunderland, with Steve Bruce bringing in Darren Bent, Frazier Campbell and Lee Cattermole, the Black Cats could be the Dark Horse in the final reckoning.

Relegation candidates? Look no further than the new boys viz. Wolves, Birmingham and Burnley and also add in Hull City, Blackburn, Bolton, Portsmouth and possibly Fulham to the list.

All conjecture of course, I guess we’ll all find out in due course, eh? For Spurs fans out there, I hope to write as much about Spurs as I can at the Power of Pop this season.

COYS!!!!

NICHOLAS CHIM

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NICHOLAS CHIM I Have Damned Every Moment Over (29 Cornflakes)

Nicholas Chim (singer/songwriter), whose successful career spans 10 years, has come very far. Having played his music regionally in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, he was also a electric guitarist/songwriter of local band, Vertical Rush. He is currently a full-time music teacher, as well as a practicing musician.

His full-length album consists of folk music, with vocals, guitars, a trumpet and a cello. His music is hauntingly beautiful and well-crafted, sounding like a mix of Bon Iver, Nick Drake and Pedro the Lion. There are many songs on the album that showcase Nick’s songwriting and musical abilities, including Leave Me With A Fever and Blue, which show a more emotional side of him. Acoustic guitars are a staple throughout the album, with layers of trumpets, a cello and vocals added in to create different moods to the album.

Playing music solo gives listeners a chance to discover who he is as a musician and a person, outside from Vertical Rush. The thing I like about his lyrics is that it’s relatable, as if he were narrating stories to the listeners straight from his own experiences. I really liked how each song expressed different emotions about the human life and spirit.

Nick will be launching his debut album on August 29, 2009 at the Substation Gallery from Noon – 8pm. He will be playing songs from his full-length album, and there will be art installations and experimental videos to provide a spectacular audio-visual experience.

(Rebecca Lincoln)

Myspace

SPURS 3 OLYMPIACOS 0

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In the end, it was an easy victory for Spurs over Greek champions Olympiacos in Spurs’ final pre-season game before the season opener against Liverpool next Sunday. And although, there were promising debuts for Peter Crouch and Sebastian Bassong and Spurs did look impressive in the 2nd half, my own expectations on Spurs’ chances this season remain pretty low. “Wait and see” is the operative phrase.

After all, this time last year, Spurs demolished Roma 5-0, with one David Bentley playing a blinder and Spurs fans will recall bitterly what happened next or as Harry is fond of reminding us all – “2 points from 8 games”. That said, an opening game against Liverpool will provide a accurate gauge of where Spurs stand in the scheme of things. Highlights below.

COYS!!!

MICHAEL GROSS AND THE STATUETTES

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MICHAEL GROSS AND THE STATUETTES Dusk & Daylight EP (Self released)

Michael Gross and The Statuettes is Michael Gross (vocals, guitar), James Kelly (guitar), Matthew Glass (drums, keys), Benjamin Johnson (bass) and Aaron Hubbard (keys).

I really liked the EP, and it is very likable and accessible, with catchy tunes and feel-good lyrics. There were songs on the EP that sounded a bit like Matt Costa and early The Ataris, which was a bonus for me because I grew up listening to them.

My favourite tracks on the EP would have to be Novocaine and Stone Face, which reveal the lyrical prowess of the band. I have to say that the EP is rather old school 70s pop-rock, so it might not appeal to indie rock set. However, it’s definitely worth a listen, especially for folks who dig melodic rock ‘n’ roll served the old fashioned way.

(Rebecca Lincoln)

Official website

Myspace.

ANOTHER SUNDAY AFTERNOON

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ANOTHER SUNDAY AFTERNOON The Uncanny Tree of Fractured Hearts (Self-released)

Recently there has been a little spike in the number of new S-ROCK releases. Not only that but these albums have been packaged as books and have been presented as concept albums. A case of great minds thinking alike or industrial espionage? So is it all a coincidence? Matters not as it represents boom time charlie for S-ROCK fans as Concave Scream, the Observatory, the Fire Fight and now, Another Sunday Afternoon make their respective marks with works that simply cannot be ignored.

Another Sunday Afternoon viz. Caleb Lye, Elf Seah and Xu Zhiwei, is a band I first came to know of at a gig at Plaza Singapura back in early 2007 (which turned out to be Popland’s final performance, that never was) and I was particularly struck by the melodicism of their music, which as regular PoP visitors will no doubt be aware, is a quality I hold highly.

Two and a half years later, I’m happy to note that the band’s debut album does not detract from that first impression with 14 songs that focus strongly on melody. Not only that, but with a reference list that includes the likes of Silverchair, Feeder, Fountains of Wayne, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Foo Fighters, Manic Street Preachers, Pearl Jam etc, it’s clear that the music of the 90s figures prominently as well. And with all the 80s post punk referencing around, that alone is refreshing.

Music-wise, The Uncanny Trees of Fractured Hearts is fairly easy listening, radio-friendly fare which does not quicken the pulse too much. Which makes me to believe that if most of the radio-listening populace of Singapore (and beyond) give this album a chance, they might find several of these tunes worming their way (insidiously) into their hearts. Songs like Janet Leno, The Great Excuse, When You’re Back, High and Staggersaurus will probably inspire mass sing-a-longs with the kind of over-arching mellifluousness that the pop-loving hordes would adore. Not only that but there are a few gorgeous piano ballads on show which in my book is the sign of a confident songwriter.

Of course, there are moments where the band try to show that they can rock out as well, with the Muse-channeling …Fall For You on which Caleb demonstrates his fret-wielding gifts and the indie rockin’ Playground (penned by Daniel Sassoon) but really by and large, this album is more reflective and contemplative than head banging. Which is all fine by me.

Which makes The Uncanny Tree of Fractured Hearts the perfect “come-down” soundtrack for another Sunday afternoon (pun intended) and whilst it is definitely more a slow burn grower than an immediate home run, there is much to be gleaned from its nuances, candences and hidden treasures.

Myspace.

NATIONAL DAY CELEBRATIONS

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It has been a good 2009 for Kevin Mathews, singer-songwriter-performer, as I have been playing gigs at least once every month. Never would have imagined this scenario two and a half years ago when I had decided to “give up” music! But God does work in mysterious (and wonderful) ways…

I am also extremely thankful to the Esplanade for their continued support of Singapore music and in particular, mine. Being invited to be part of their National Day Celebrations at the Concourse is/was an honour. I was specifically requested to sing my Singapore-centric songs and so that was the brief and it gave me the opportunity to debut some new material as well, which is always rewarding.

My set on Friday started at 8.15pm and the crowd was mainly old folks and young kids. A little bizarre but the trouper in me ensured that I was up for it, albeit barely. Saturday’s first set at 5pm was better. If I wasn’t late that is. You see, I met up with Rachael Teo after the sound check for a chat and the time really flew and before I knew it, I was late for my own gig. Never done that before. But somehow, it worked out (Thanks, God!) and my heightened adreneline resulted in a pretty good set, if I do say so myself.

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But it was the second set at 7pm which I thoroughly enjoyed, with the benefit of a baby grand… I tinkled and banged away to some newer material including my own version of a National Day song which I believe went down well. This is the third time that I’ve done a solo set with piano/keyboards and it was immensely satisfying. Must do more!

Anyways, here are the set lists

Friday (8.15pm)/Saturday (5pm)

I Love Singapore, Pasir Ris Sunrise, High Cost of Living, Past Tense, My One & Only, Gum.

Saturday (7pm)

Late Night Request (Great Spy cover), Texas, Little Red Dot, My Life, Better, Happy Theme, My One & Only.

Thanks to the Esplanade crew, especially to Delvin & Hairon, for taking care of me and for Rach, Ivan and Samuel for kindest support. Oh, and if anyone shot videos, please share.

… and there’s more …

WILCO

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WILCO Wilco (The Album) (Nonesuch)

After the esoteric experimental exercises of Yankee Foxtrot Hotel and A Ghost Is Born, I was very satisfied by Wilco’s return to basics with Sky Blue Sky, which contained some of the warmest material the band has ever produced. So when the release of seventh album – Wilco (the Album) – was announced, the big question was which direction would Wilco take?

Well, glad to report that Wilco has chosen the middle path with the new album, retaining the old school classicism of Sky Blue Sky and mixing it up with free-spirited experimentalism. You might say that Wilco (the Album) is Jeff Tweedy and co’s White Album.

Thus on the opening four tracks (viz. Wilco (the song), Deeper Down, One Wing, Bull Black Nova) Wilco reveals their game plan – razor sharp melodies, classic pop-rock references, studio sound effects and first rate instrumentation/arrangement. Astutely constituted in the midst of recording with the studio used as an extra instrument, Wilco (the Album) has aspirations of being a rock masterpiece of the calibre of Who’s Next or Something/Anything.

The rest of Wilco (the Album) covers diverse grounds, including rustic folk-rock (You And I – a duet between Tweedy and Feist), Todd Rundgren-channeling soul-pop (You Never Know), Dylanesque conceit (Country Disappeared), alt-country-folk (Solitaire), cheesey 60s bop (I’ll Fight), edgy post-punk (Sonny Feeling) and piano ballad (Everlasting Everything).

Something for every sophisticated lover of mature pop-rock. Does Wilco (the Album) conclusively establish Wilco (the band) as the band of this decade? Based on the evidence, it’s an argument that’s pretty hard to refute.

DEXTER: THE FIRST SEASON

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Dexter: The First Season

Probably one of the best debuts of any TV series (together with Lost and Battlestar Galactica), the first season of Dexter introduced the character of Dexter Morgan (played by Michael C Hall), a blood splatter expert with the Miami Metro Police Department who hides a very dark secret.

You see, Dexter is a serial killer. But not just any ordinary, run of the mill serial killer. Dexter only kills other serial killers. This basic premise makes me believe that Dexter is the finest superhero TV show out there.

Did I just say – “superhero”?

Think about it. Dexter has a special ability – murder. He uses this power to murder killers who have escaped justice. And most of all, he does so covertly. Early on in the series, we are introduced to the Ice Truck Killer, a notorious serial killer who, we discover later, has a deep connection with Dexter, particularly in his secret origin. See, superhero-like!

This intriguing premise apart, it is in the interesting fleshed-out characterizations that Dexter truly shines. Dexter himself is a complex beast and is obviously the central focus. We hear his thoughts in the voiceovers, we see flashbacks to his formative years as his deceased adoptive father Harry Morgan (played by James Remar) attempts to help Dexter to cope with his special ability. Dexter is surrounded by an excellent array of supporting characters – his sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter), his girlfriend Rita (Julie Benz), colleagues Angel (David Zayas), Lt. LaGuerta (Lauren Velez), Sgt. Doakes (Erik King) and of course, the droll Masuka (CS Lee).

I must caution that Dexter is an adult show and strictly not for kids and certainly not for the squemish – we are talking about serial killers here – and the gore and violence can get rather graphic (as does the sex) so be warned! But most of all, Dexter is profoundly disturbing as it examines and questions our concept of a “hero”. Can Dexter be absolved for his heinous crimes because he committed them on people who “deserved to die”? Is it right for us to feel sympathy for Dexter, even to root for someone with such twisted moral principles?

Thought-provoking no doubt but Dexter is also a great murder-mystery yarn with top notch writing and thus, the series succeeds on so many different levels. Essential for folks who want a dash of spice and bitterness in their entertainment.

STELLASTARR*

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STELLASTARR* Civilized (Bloated Wife)

Can I be brutally honest? I still haven’t quite made my peace with the still-kicking post punk revival scene. It seems shocking to me sometimes that young bands feel the need to plunder the best years of my music-listening experience to “create” new product for the teeming masses of today.

File Stellastarr* together with the likes of the Killers, Interpol, the Editors et al, in their blatant referencing of 80s post punk and in particular Joy Division. That said, on Civilized singer Shawn Christiansen, seens to have taken a different path from previous albums, less Ian Curtis and more Marc Bolan & David Bowie with a tinge of Mark (Devo) Mothersbaugh.

Not only that but there’s seems to be a slightly happier vibe on songs like Prom Zombie, Tokyo Sky and Move On.

If that’s your thing, well, don’t hesitate and get Civilized.

Myspace

SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFE

Starting a new feature where I highlight some music that made an impression on my life. Music that soundtracked my existence, you might say.

In the 90s, alternative rock got a shot in the arm from the success of Nirvana, whose melodic crunch was labelled (crassly) as grunge. However, it would probably be more accurate to say that Nirvana were closer to being a powerpop band than a metal band with influences that included, amongst others, the Beatles and Neil Young.

Post-grunge, the alternative rock scene threw up many great like-minded great bands who were deft at combining catchy tunes with muscular guitar rock. Even as I revisit this heady music for a new project band, I am discovering how special that rock epoch truly was and I hope that this new feature will inspire you to check out these fine bands and their essential albums.

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TEENAGE FANCLUB Grand Prix (Creation, 1995)

No doubt in my mind that Grand Prix was the creative peak of the Fannies where their tremendous potential finally became reality. Melodies, harmonies, chiming & crunching guitars were the order of the day. Almost perfect. Highlights – Don’t Look Back (the opening guitar lines still gives me chills), Neil Jung (geddit? Possibly the one of the best Shakey tributes out there), Tears (thrilling blue-eyed soul) and Discolite (Gerard Love really has a way with tunes).

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DINOSAUR JR Where You Been (Sire, 1993)

Talk about tributes to Neil Young! With the hype surrounding “grunge” in the early 90s, how J Mascis and Dinosaur Jr remained fairly below the radar is beyond me. Where You Been was Dinosaur Jr’s 5th album and probably among their most commerically successful albums. Highlights – Start Choppin’ (when the guitar solo begins to soar halfway through – heaven!), What Else Is New? (probably the closest Dinosaur Jr gets to a pure pop song, with the fretwork kicking ass!), Not the Same (an epic ballad no less, where the spectre of Neil Young looms largest) and Out There (the anthemic opener).

Well, that’s just the first instalment.

…still there’s more…

THE FIRE FIGHT

With the debut Fire Fight album – Henri – in the stores now, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at the interview I did with the band in mid-2007. Pix from recent CD launch. Follow the links to see more.

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(by Weiwen Seah)

Big Music for the Golden Age

“Our vision and mission is such that we want to change people with our music, in a sense to bring people together and to learn how to love. Music is something that engages every individual’s emotions, very directly in fact. In this way, we can have very personal contact with the listener, even without them being in our presence. That’s what we hope our songs can do” – Josh Tan

As a mission statement, I’d wager that there are precious few corporate entities, never mind fledging Singaporean rock bands, that can boast such vision, such singleness of purpose. But that’s exactly what the Fire Fight is all about. Believe it!

Currently serving their country in National Service, this quartet of quiet yet strident souls, has its eye firmly on the ball and are convicted about giving the best of themselves, when it comes to life and music.

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(by Aloysius Lim)

When I first meet the Fire Fight, I am a little taken aback by how fresh-faced they all look. Singer-guitarist Josh, drummer Iain, lead guitarist Jon and bass player JBarks come across as decent, well-groomed young men which belies the fire in their collective bellies (sorry…).

I put it to them that the proverbial “man-in-the-street” in Singapore has very different views about Singapore music – that it is negative, dark, dissident. Is it a conscious choice to do something different? To that, the band expressed that they don’t really associate themselves as part of the local indie scene (such as it is) in the sense that they feel responsible for the music they create – that it should come from a positive (as opposed to) negative place.

This leads on to a thoughtful discourse on music making – on how positivism can be conveyed and communicated through the tunes or lyrics, which makes an emotional connection with the listener. The band endeavors to touch their listeners on both levels. Thus the music is structured to enhance the emotional impact of the lyrics.

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(by Fir)

The band got together in June 2005 but made their debut public appearance at the Baybeats 2007 auditions in January 2007! Principally, the Fire Fight came together through their mutual association with Sonic Edge, a church-affiliated organization that reaches to young people inclined towards arts and music. Except perhaps JBarks, whom Josh knew through his other band A Vacant Affair.

Despite being singular in purpose, the guys in the Fire Fight, bring diverse talents and abilities to the table, so to speak. Iain is the calm and collected one, who sees the big picture, without fussing too much over details. Josh, is the obvious leader, the focal point who drives the band forward. Jon brings a lot of energy, a kind of hyperactivity that keeps the band going, especially when heads may be tempted to drop. JBarks is the quiet, phlegmatic one, who knuckles down to get the job done without complaint. “He’s our Adam Clayton!” three voices chorus…

So, why did it take two years for the Fire Fight to surface?

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(by Song)

Less of a concerted plan than a product of circumstances, as half the band had just commenced their National Service, only weekends were available and as the Fire Fight was just a new band, it took time to come up with material and to hone the songs to something the band felt could be presented to a live audience. Since January this year, the band has managed to get themselves on high profile gigs, like opening for Anberlin & Copeland and a spot on the recently well-received Rock for Wayne event. And of course, Baybeats 2007.

Generally, word of mouth on the band has been very encouraging and no wonder, when you consider that the anthemic quality of the songs bear strong imprints of epic 80s bands like U2, the Police, Tears for Fears and Big Country. The band mentions Death Cab for Cutie, Maritime, Promise Ring, Velvet Teen & Jamiroquai, whilst Josh namechecks A-Ha and Manic Street Preachers for his vocal stylings.

I ask the band to comment on a certain view that local bands nowadays were a spoilt and complacent bunch. That they have so many opportunities to perform that they believe that just because they’re on stage they deserve appreciation and applause.

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(by Soh Poh Soo)

As Josh responds, I sense a little bit of indignation – “the local indie scene here did not receive any aid from the government or the people. I’ve been playing for six years in the scene, none of our shows were backed by the government or the people but by organizers who believed in the scene and the bands. I don’t think we are spoilt – especially the slightly older generation of bands – we fought really hard for what we have now. Maybe the newer bands – due to the hype about the local scene – may have that attitude but this is probably because there is no mentorship within the scene, to guide them along. Nonetheless, the public does not appreciate local bands and everyone expects our music to be free. They don’t consider the fact that we are sacrificing a lot of our time, our youth and our finances, when we are so limited in funding and they expect us to give something so freely and I feel that it is the general public who has misunderstood us. Every body is willing to pay, even to for MTV to watch American bands when honestly, not all of them are good.”

An excellent answer, if I say so myself!

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(by Ivanified)

Articulate, thoughtful and intelligent – the Fire Fight is exactly the kind of band, the Singapore music scene needs to shake off stereotypes and mindsets currently entrenched in the general public. If we are to have a liberal arts and entertainment scene in this vibrant, global city, we must engender an environment where bands like the Fire Fight may thrive and grow to their fullest potential. Who is to say that the Fire Fight will find a place in the hearts of Malaysians, Australians and Japanese rock music fans? All they need is the belief and the support. The big question is there anyone out there in Singapore listening?

IGNITE! MUSIC FESTIVAL 2009

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I heard about Ignite! Music Festival 2009 through A Vacant Affair’s status updates on Facebook. I couldn’t make it for their set on Friday due to other commitments, so I trooped down after work on Saturday.

By the time I arrived, Tacit Aria had already started their set. I hadn’t heard that much from them, other than through their Myspace account.

They had decent stage antics but I felt that they relied too heavily on their influences, and they sounded similar to a lot of the other bands we have within the scene. Some of their songs also sounded mashed up and it was a bit confusing to follow.

They did better with the last song and they meant it when they said they were rocking out to end the set. They’ll be performing alongside Fire Away Samson and Saving Someone! on August 15 for Transitions EP Launch @ Scape Labs ($15).

I hope they improve because I really liked the last song they performed, and based on that, they have the potential if they come up with a sound that’s unique to who they are as a band.

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King Kong Jane were next, and I’ve always though they were one of the more consistent bands in the scene. They won Powerjam 2008 & were Vivian Wang (The Observatory)’s apprentices for NOISE Singapore.

By the time they started the set, there was a small crowd, mainly seated at the back in the shade. Colin commented that it was like playing to the seventh month audience, which was partially true considering the wide gap between the stage and the audience.

They played songs like Waiting for Friday and Lollipop, which were catchy. The band themselves looked like they were having fun, it was such a pity they got such a poor response. I really liked the band’s performance. It’s been far too long since I caught them live.

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Vertical Rush was the band I came to see. I was a bit disappointed with their performance and it wasn’t their best one. They played the usual songs like Spaceman, Your Last Song and Collide. Their redemption came when they played a revision of Wasting, which was fantastic.

The thing I didn’t like about the set was how Esmond’s vocals kept fading in and out throughout the set. The sound was problematic, ranging from drowned out vocals to the bass being too loud.

It was an interesting festival and even though I didn’t stay the rest of the day, I heard positive feedback from people who stayed throughout. I heard that by the time The Great Spy Experiment played, there was a big crowd of people moshing. ‘Moshing to The Great Spy Experiment!’, you may exclaim. My sentiments. I figure the GSE played music you could dance to, but you never know what to expect with youths these day.

I had a good time while I was there, although there’s still room for improvement. Nonetheless, it was great that they brought back Ignite! Music Festival this year with fantastic bands.

(Rebecca Lincoln)

Pix by Shiro Ang

ROCK BAND

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No, not the popular albeit insipid electronic game but the tentatively titled Okto TV show being produced by Moving Visuals, about the adventures of three young Singaporean musicians who form a rock band. So what does that have to do with me, you might ask?

Here’s the story. Good pals Jack and Rai wrote the music for the show and the duo suggested that Weiwen Seah be cast as one of the three young musicians (the others being Joakim Gomez and Lucas Chia) featured in the series. And of course when the script called for Weiwen’s character  to have a father who is an aging rocker, guess who got the call? Yes, moi…

And so began my initial foray into “acting”. I inserted quotes because I have no idea how to act. After a couple of days to shoot my scenes, I am praying hard that my flaws will be smoothed over in post-production. Yes, I must say that it was tough but fun at the same time. Got to meet new people and spend time with Weiwen, which was cool. Still S-ROCK oriented, you might say.

What is more important than my performance are the contacts I have established over this shoot and look forward to seeing where those fresh relationships lead. In the meantime, stay tuned for the broadcast of “Rock Band” sometime towards the end of this year. On Okto.

… still there’s more …

THE FIRE FIGHT

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Every now and then, a band comes that totally blows one’s mind. In 2005, I found myself captivated by B-Quartet. This year, The name of the band is The Fire Fight. The story of Henri was conceived 3 years ago, now, the story of Henri the Bear has been unveiled and I had the chance to check out the album launch of their full-length album, Henri.

The evening started with Iain playing the introduction to the Sonnet, followed by the rest joining him onstage. From where I was, there were smiles on faces around the room as Joakim Gomez narrated the journey of Henri.

Throughout the launch, The Fire Fight were accompanied by special guests Angel Lee (backing vox, guitars), Joakim (backing vox, keys),  Esmond (backing vox, trumpet) and Calvin (trumpet) on songs like Portrait Lover and Covenant. It was really nice that they got (a little) help from their friends, talented musicians themselves!

The crowd was engaged with the narrations from Joakim, coupled with the music The Fire Fight played that told the story of Henri the Bear. Everyone warmed up pretty quickly to the music, and as I looked around the room, they were definitely enjoying themselves. The energy throughout the night was kept at a constant high, with most of the people around me dancing and waving their arms around. At some point in time, light sticks were given, and they were waved enthusiastically to the music.

Everything about the launch was outstanding, from the transformation of the Recital Studio to look like Elemenopee, to the party hats, animal ears, the balloons, the sing-alongs, the connection the band had with the audience and the band themselves.

I really enjoyed Iain’s drum solo, Josh and Angel singing an acoustic version of People and Spaces, the balloons which were thrown into the crowds, the decorations and the stage lighting, which changed with the mood of the songs. My favourite song of the night would have to be Portrait Lover, which incorporates expressive, poetic lyrics with melodic tunes.

All the jamming sessions The Fire Fight put in paid off, because they sounded incredible! There were some hiccups along the way but they still managed to engage the audience while keeping the energy levels up despite being out and about the whole day with soundchecks and preparations that needed to be done. They definitely delivered an outstanding performance, which ended with everyone shouting for an encore, before they finally ended with inevitable crowd pleaser, Train Song.

After the launch had ended, everyone hung around talking to their friends and congratulated the band before being going out. By the time I left the Recital Hall, there was a call for the last Henri CD, which was immediately snapped up. It was heartwarming that all the months of hard work the band put in paid off when all the CDs that were on sale and tickets to the album launch of Henri were sold out.

I was very impressed that so many musicians from other local bands turned up to support The Fire Fight. Some of the members from The Great Spy Experiment were there, in addition to those from Cardinal Avenue and Giants Must Fall, to name a few. It’s fantastic that they’ve got the support of other musicians within the scene.

In my opinion, The Fire Fight has what it takes to mature musically and join the ranks of other famous S-ROCK bands like Plainsunset, Electrico and The Great Spy Experiment. I look forward to what they have to offer in future!

On a side note, The Fire Fight was also impressive in their use of social media. Those of you who follow The Fire Fight on Twitter (www.twitter.com/thefirefight) would have known what they were up to throughout the day, whether it was photos of Iain soundchecking his drums or Josh eating a foccacia sandwich through the photos that were taken. The Tweets added to the buildup to the launch of Henri. Wake Me Up (www.twitter.com/wakemeupmusic) gave updates ‘live’ from the Recital Studio, complete with photos!

(Rebecca Lincoln)

The S-ROCK scene lives on the hope that its fellow countrymen will wake up to the fact that there are exciting, talented & passionate musicians and songwriters in their midst. But even more than that, a belief that one fine day, our best bands will get the recognition they so richly deserve from outside their own home town. Watching, cheering and dancing to the sublime music of the Fire Fight last night ignited that flame of conviction that indeed the former will become a reality sooner rather than later. The launch of Henri was a celebration, not only of the Fire Fight’s magnificient achievement but the realization that these young men are our very OWN. My sense of pride shook me deeply, not only at what Josh, Iain, Jon and JBarks had wrought together but looking around at the like-minded souls around me – Mike, Song, Rebecca, Daniel, Caleb, JBoss, Leonard, Huza, Weiwen, Roland, Fir, Poh Soo, Ivan, Audie, amongst many others – this is a victory that we all share. Together.

The Fire Fight’s inspiring new album, Henri, is in the stores now.

…and there’s more…

Pix by Ivanified.

THE MARS VOLTA

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THE MARS VOLTA Octahedron (Mercury)

It’s no mean feat to be a progressive rock band in the modern rock scene and still be hip and cool but that’s exactly what The Mars Volta have managed to achieve. Combining classic prog influences, jazz fusion and Latin music inflections into a popular confection that has won favour with fans and critics, the band even have a Grammy award to their name.

After four critically acclaimed albums, The Mars Volta have released Octahedron – their latest LP – which the band have described as an “acoustic” album. Get your jaw off the ground, The Mars Volta’s concept of “acoustic” does not accord with conventional wisdom and thank goodness for that.

What it does mean is that Octahedron is slightly more straightforward rock than The Mars Volta followers may be used to. Thus, whilst certain amount of experimentalism may have put on the back burner (and time signatures remain fairly constant), Octahedron still commands your attention for its bold and muscular songwriting, inventive arrangements and lively performances.

Top that off with memorable tunes (!) in tracks like Since We Been Wrong, Halo of Nembutals and Cotopaxi, Octahedron will appeal to all rock fans (of any era). Especially when there are numerous nods to the acid rock of the 60s – certainly the spirit of Hendrix and the power of Cream – and its various revivals/incarnations in the decades since in this truly striking album.

Official site

Myspace

WATCHMEN DVD – DIRECTOR’S CUT

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Watchmen (Director’s Cut)

So, Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Alan Moore/Dave Gibbon’s “unfilmable” comic book masterpiece may not be perfect but I still believe that it’ll probably be the best adaptation we’ll ever get. This Director’s Cut adds about 24 minutes to the theatrical cut making it a whopping 3 hour feast and it’s definitely a better film for the additions.

Watching it all over again (with the new scenes) at one go was a thrilling experience and it is in the subtle expositions that the film really hits the spot. Most significantly, Dr Manhattan’s speech on Mars with Laurie about the miracle of human being really touched me. Strange as it may sound, I never really felt the impact of this moment until the movie – a tremendous achievement by Snyder.

Also, I have a greater respect and admiration for Malin Akerman’s portrayal of Laurie as her strength and tenderness shine through to elevate Silk Spectre beyond the token heroine in tights role. Greater scrutiny highlights the amazing work done by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (the Comedian) and Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl), fleshing out the comic book characters with aplomb.

Its no secret that I am a humongous fan of the Watchmen comic (which to me is the finest fiction of all time – trouncing any book or film) and whilst this adaptation is not the greatest movie of all time, it does the job to provide a visual interpretation this fascinating work of art.

That said, there are precious few extras on this two-disc special edition, just one paltry 30 minute documentary and the video journals, previously available online. And most annoying, the digital copy which – as a non resident of USA or Canada – I CANNOT download. Word is there will be a 5-disc Ultimate Edition in December, which I will most probably purchase as well. (I want a solid “making of” documentary!)

For the casual superhero movie/comics fan, this Director’s Cut will do nicely. For now.

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