PoP CLASSIC: NEAL MORSE (2005)

NEAL MORSE ? (Radiant) 

“And then after all with our backs against the wall/We seek the temple of the living God/And now that it’s done, the heart of every one can be the temple of the living God.” 

Let us begin at the end shall we?

At the beginning of 2005, I had no idea who Neal Morse even was. Since that time, through my writing for the Christian music reviews site the Phantom Tollbooth, I have come across rave assessments of Morse’s first two solo albums (after leaving premier progressive rock outfit, Spock’s Beard) viz. Testimony & One. Intrigued, I sought out and obtained Morse’s new album, ?, and after having given it a couple of spins am thoroughly convicted that it is my choice as the album of 2005.

Why?

Perhaps because a musician would either be very courageous or insane to work within that misfit genre called ‘progressive’ rock. Not the progressive metal of popular bands like Dream Theater or Tool, mind you but prog that is faithful to its original 70s roots. Not only that, but Morse is a born-again Christian and has produced a concept album about the tabernacle i.e. the temple of God. Now, how marginalized does Morse want to be in these intolerant & ignorant times?

Arguably, if you wanted to write about concepts dealing in depth about the Old Testament sacrificial worship system, the mystery of the presence of God, the separation between God and man due to sin and God’s ultimate plan for man’s redemption then… I suppose prog rock is the perfect medium. Neal Morse has proved it conclusively with ?.

Morse has described ? as one song with 12 parts and it does pan out exactly that way, each part standing up well alone and yet only fully realized when seen as a coherent whole. This is one album that you must listen to completely at one sitting – all 56:28 minutes of it!

As an exercise in prog rock, ? is one of the best of its kind, blending Morse’s obvious references points i.e. Genesis, Kansas, Pink Floyd, Yes, Jethro Tull et al with well-placed pop allusions eg. The Beatles (“Solid As The Sun”). Morse – himself a top-notch technical guitar and keyboard player – has recruited some of the best to collaborate, with drummer Mike (Dream Theatre) Portnoy, bassist Randy (Ajalon) George, keyboard player Jordan (Dream Theater) Rudess and guitarists Roine (Flower Kings) Stolt, Alan (Spock’s Beard) Morse and Steve (Genesis) Hackett pulling out all the stops for an astonishing musical experience.

And unlike many concept albums, ? does indeed pay off at its conclusion and in fact is at its strongest in the last three parts. Actually, it begins with the instrumental passage in “12” on which Hackett guests with much aplomb before segueing into “Entrance” where Morse begins the denouement of his piece – an affecting piano ballad that introduces Christ into the equation and leads smoothly into the exhilarating “Inside His Presence” where Morse sings – “When he died and was born/The temple walls were torn/And God’s Spirit poured out to all the ones without/Now, the temple of the living God is you/The temple of the living God is you.” I am not ashamed to confess that as a Christian that this song reduced me to tears. Hallelujah!

What more can I say? If there is such a thing as a perfect album then ? is. At so many levels, it satisfies overwhelmingly and even if the spiritual context does not move you, then treat it in the same way you would a prog concept album about Tolkeinesque characters, deaf dumb and blind pinball wizards or psychotic musicians who live life behind an emotional wall – and recognize it for the masterpiece that it is.

PoP CLASSIC: KING RADIO (2004)

KING RADIO Are You The Sick Passenger? (Unreleased demo)

So why haven’t you heard one of the best sophisticated alt-country chamber-pop albums of the new millennium? Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that to date it remains unreleased. Are You The Sick Passenger? a 38 minute demo from Frank Padellaro’s King Radio deserves so badly to be released and recognized it isn’t funny anymore. 

I mean, for those serious pop lovers out there currently digging the likes of Burt Bacharach, Brian Wilson, The Pernice Brothers, High Llamas, Stereolab, Chamber Strings, Aluminum, Scud Mountain Boys, Mello Cads et al, will positively go mad with one listen to the wistful “Introduction” where acoustic guitar, heavenly strings and a throbbing bassline combine to transport you to pop paradise, will have you hailing King Radio’s majesty indeed!

From then on, it’s one glorious track to another, take note: the breezy “Caveat Emptor,” the lovely “Meet the Maker,” the jolly “Dead and Gone,” the music hall campy “The Busman’s Holiday,” the tongue-in-cheek instrumental “Intermission,” the folky “The Sick Passenger,” the movin’ “You Were the One,” the jaunty “Am I the Same Girl?” and the erudite charmer, “Famous Umbrellas.”

Let me just say, that if not for the fact that Are You The Sick Passenger? is an unreleased album, it would definitely have been in my Top 5 albums of 2003! If this intrigues you, head on down to the King Radio site to find out more and if you or someone you know would like to do the pop world a favour and release this hidden treasure, then get in touch with Frank Padellaro pronto!

PoP CLASSIC: NADA SURF (2003)

NADA SURF Let Go (Barsuk)

Nada Surf’s continuing growth and development from power emocore trio to distinctive sophisticated artists in their own right is evident on this superlative latest effort. Last time out, the self-released The Proximity Effect took two years of label wrangling and heartache to see light of day but still sounded refreshing, dynamic and a step forward from the hyperkinetic Ric Ocasek-produced debut High/Low.

Let Go is the masterpiece that Nada Surf has been promising to deliver and comes at a time where rock ‘n’ roll requires reinvention without sacrificing the basic foundations of melody and passion. Whilst eclecticism is always to be prized, Let Go does not stray too far from the folk-infused arousing power rock that Nada Surf excels in. However, the genius is in the details. 

Check out the vocoder-drenched vocals on the coda of “Fruit Fly” as the band carries the piece to an emotional climax. Or the achingly spine-tingling choral hook that anchors the poignant sentiments of “Inside of Love” as Matthew Caws sings longingly, “I’m on the outside of love/Always under or above/Must be a different view to be a me with a you…” Take note of the atmospheric “Neither Heaven Nor Space” where the band squeezes every ounce of emotion out of a minimal arrangement? Or even the cheesy synth lines that belie the Kinksian riff fest that is “Hi-Speed Soul.”

Much to admire here for modern rock fans – Let Go draws easily from the same well as A Rush of Blood to the Head – certainly there are many similarities to be drawn between Nada Surf and Coldplay. And that my dear readers is a recommendation.

PoP CLASSIC: JARS OF CLAY/NEWSBOYS (2002)

 

JARS OF CLAY The Eleventh Hour (Essential)

NEWSBOYS Thrive (Sparrow)

Inevitably, the mainstream success and acceptance of Christian Contemporary Music has turned out to be a mid-nineties phenomenon notwithstanding the current achievements of Creed and P.O.D. Two bands that rode that wave of popularity to international acclaim have delivered excellent albums in 2002. 

Jars of Clay took their CSNY-flavored acoustic pop into the charts and in to the public consciousness in 1995 and have since then proven to be no flash in the pan with strong follow-ups in the Much Afraid and If I Left the Zoo albums.

Their latest – The Eleventh Hour – is not just a great CCM release, it deserves to be named amongst the best pop-rock albums this year. Like their wondrous debut, The Eleventh Hour is self-produced and the band’s maturity as writers and performers shines through. Never hitting anyone on the head with their message of faith, songs like the gorgeous “Something Beautiful,” the pleading “I Need You,” the infectious “Fly” and the REM-derived “Disappear” demonstrate that Jars of Clay warrant serious consideration as pop masters in their right without prejudice. A

The commercial and critical apex for Newsboys coincided with a fruitful three-album collaboration with producer Steve Taylor. The last two albums without Taylor, whilst still solid efforts in their own right, never quite hit the same spots. Perhaps unsurprising, Taylor makes a return to the production chores for this latest album, the band’s eleventh. Whilst never really touching the same peaks as Going Public or Take Me to Your Leader, Thrive is nonetheless a robust collection of the Newsboys’ Britpop-inflected stylings. Which means you can expect sweet melodies married to Taylor’s unique perspective on the Christian experience. Highlights include the worshipful “It Is You” with my favorite chorus of 2002 – “Holy Holy is our God Almighty/Holy Holy is His name alone, YEAH” (Amen!), the new wavy “Live in Stereo,” the indie-popping title track and the quirky “John Woo.”

PoP CLASSIC: PERNICE BROTHERS (2001)

Into the new millennium, Pernice Brothers have always been reliable to produce great music…

PERNICE BROTHERS The World Won’t End (Ashmont)

There are very few things we can be certain about in life but this comfort I possess, a Joe Pernice record is always going to be a fulfilling pop experience. And I do not make that claim frivolously. My first encounter with Pernice arrived courtesy of the debut Pernice Brothers album, Overcome by Happiness which quite coincidentally found me floundering in a difficult time in 1998. It’s chamber pop melancholy struck a chord deep in my soul, the title track’s sombre humour mirrored my own situation uncannily – ‘You don’t feel so overcome by happiness, you’re broke…’ I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, honestly. 

Thus began my love affair with this talented singer-songwriter who served an apprenticeship of sorts with the alt. country amalgam that was the Scud Mountain Boys, manifesting an appreciation of Jimmy Webb and Glen Campbell in the lo-fi-around-the-kitchen-table charm of Pine Box and Dance the Night Away, before the full blown Massachusetts gave notice of the magic to come. 

Even before the release of this new album (on Pernice’s own Ashmont Records no less), Pernice had issued two seminal records – the moody Chappaquiddick Skyline and the country folk inflected Big Tobacco. Pernice insisted that these fine albums were side projects and in no way to be confused with a proper Pernice Brothers record. Which is what we have now with The World Won’t End and listening to it, one gets the feeling that Pernice certainly knows what he’s talking about. Compared to the ‘side-projects,’ The World Won’t End is classic pop in every sense and meaning of the term. 

Co-produced with long-time collaborator Thom (Beachwood Sparks, The Chamber Strings) Monahan, The World Won’t End is gorgeously textured pop wherein the jangly nuances of Teenage Fanclub are married to the lush orchestral arrangements of the Electric Light Orchestra to stunning effect. When these upbeat musical sensibilities contrasted with the frankly morose nature of Pernice’s lyrics, they make for a potent albeit disorientating combination.

The starting point for an examination of his phenomenon is the bright yet wistful “She Heightened Everything” where Pernice remarks – ‘Waiting for the mortal wound/This fascination with the moribund’ to the accompaniment of sentimental strings. Likewise, the deceptively cheery “Let That Show” contains the lament, ‘It feels like I am dying as I watch you go’ as the chug-a-lug rhythm boogies. 

“7.30,” a chiming chunk of dynamism reveals ‘our summer years are Freudian slipping by’ and ‘there’s nothing there, just bitterness’. The fragile “Shaken Baby” conjures disturbing images likening a failed relationship to this appalling syndrome. “Our Time Has Passed” is a charming Bacharach-meets-Big Star number weighed down by regret and a ‘bitter-sweet hello/goodbye’.

With “Flaming Wreck,” Pernice sinks to the depths of despair, narrating his own demise in a aeroplane crash – ‘I was alright/Never knew it would be the perfect last word I spoke/As the cabin filled with smoke…did you know I would die for something new?/Take good care, someone whom I never knew’.

You have to admire Pernice’s uncompromising attitude in describing the world as he truly sees it, never sugar coating the pain and bitterness of everyday living. And he makes it so enjoyable to listen to! The World Won’t End is not just an album of bleak and hopeless themes, rather I prefer to see it as cautiously optimistic. I daresay that Pernice and company have diligently mapped out a new frontier for 21st century powerpop. One that blends compelling and infectious music with hard down-to-earth realities. File it next to The Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin, Grandaddy’s The Sophtware Slump, The Heavy Blinkers’ Better Weather and Lambchop’s Nixon for distinct milestones of the new pop.

PoP CLASSICS: MYRACLE BRAH (2000)

Another blast from the past, this time from 2000. 

MYRACLE BRAH Plate Spinner (Not Lame)

A recent hot (and often heated) discussion topic amongst the power pop underground is whether Andy Bopp (a.k.a. Myracle Brah) is a genius or a charlatan.

The debut Myracle Brah record – “Life on Planet Eartsnop” – captured the hearts of many power pop fans (including yours truly). It represented a consistent expression of vintage pop tunesmithing circa 1964 to 1967.

Not that Bopp totally expected the ecstatic response to this low-key side project to his primary venture – Baltimore powerpop band Love Nut. 

Love Nut, in which Bopp functions as lead vocalist and primary songwriter, gained and suffered from the quick rise and descent of all things punk/grunge with their albums, the rather spiky punchy “Bastards of Melody” and the heavy rock-out fest that was “Baltimucho!”

Ironically, whilst the future of Love Nut remains in doubt, Myracle Brah continues to flourish with “Plate Spinner”, a quickie sequel of sorts to “Life on Planet Eartsnop”. Clocking in at a lean 32 minutes and recorded in mono; it would appear that Bopp is stridently carrying the flag for traditional pop values.

More than that, I would venture to say that “Plate Spinner” continues Bopp’s personal voyage of discovery into the classic pop-rock music terrain of the 1960s and 1970s. Utilising the technique of reverse engineering to conjure a magical science, “Plate Spinner” is a coherent, well-crafted work of art employing the tools of a cherished musical era.

His critics will no doubt raise the time-tested arguments that Bopp’s music with Myracle Brah is “lacking in originality” and “retrograde” and adds nothing ‘new’ to the established chronicles of pop. 

Well, the truth of the matter is that whilst there may be considerable merit on both sides of the proverbial coin, I would submit that ultimately the argument is moot if the songs do not stand up to the test.

Yes, the test – if you set out to write and record “good” pop songs then it has got to be able to live up to the legacy (all forty odd years of it) of the best that pop music has had to offer. Thus, discussions of form and style are irrelevant (and if I may be blunt, idiotic), it is the substance that counts, after all. 

In this respect, the inspired labours of Andy Bopp and his Myracle Brah more than make the grade. Familiar yet challenging, the irresistible melodies of gems like the winning “Isn’t It A Crime,” the elegiac “Drowning,” the jaunty “The Seeds Are Growing Faster,” the feisty “Mr Tuesday Man,” the captivating “Hearts On Fire,” the muscular “Faux American,” the heavy “Dead Overnight,” the nostalgic “Treat Her Right,” the psychedelic “Albert’s Hand” and the naïve “Slip Away” will charm the socks off cynics and believers alike. Joined together by intervals of sampled noise and effects, the twelve songs on “Plate Spinner” coalesce into a formidable whole – this is pop record making of a high order. 

I await Mr. Bopp’s next move with bated breath.

PoP CLASSIC: MATTHEW SWEET (1999)

Feelin’ nostalgic today so… I will be running some past reviews I did in the upcoming days and weeks…

MATTHEW SWEET In Reverse (Volcano)

 

For most of this decade, Matthew Sweet has been the flag bearer for classic pop-rock craft in an era where grunge, electronica and ska has come and gone. Like Tom Petty, Sweet has – despite his less than fashionable choice of medium – managed to build up a considerable body of consistent work and along the way a significant fan base. Girlfriend  (1991), Sweet’s breakthrough album was in fact his third after the relatively obscure Inside (1986) and Earth (1988) released by Columbia and A&M respectively. In the early 1990s, Zoo decided to take a chance with Sweet and Girlfriend was the result. It was the first album Sweet recorded with a live band, and its sound was considerably more immediate and raw than its predecessors. This new approach paid dividends and Girlfriend was a commercial and critical success. Sweet’s next two records, Altered Beast (1993) and 100% Fun (1995), were both critically acclaimed and relatively successful albums, with the latter reaching gold status and making many year-end “Best Of” lists. Sweet’s last album, Blue Sky On Mars (1997) received mixed reviews and it failed to match the success of its immediate predecessor

Matthew Sweet In Reverse is a concept album but only in the subtlest of ways. With some of the tracks, Sweet elected to employ the Phil Spector ‘Wall-of-Sound’ method (albeit stripped down) by recording multiple instrumentation “live” in the studio with minimal overdubs. This technique has opened up greater possibilities for Sweet’s tune-friendly material – it sounds more natural, more spontaneous, and more “alive” than before. This process has indeed breathed life into his sixties influenced repertoire resulting perhaps in Sweet’s greatest musical achievement so far. The results are consistently impressive. 

You know you’re in for a groovy ride when the trumpets (ala Arthur Lee’s Love) punctuate the opening self-conscious Millennium Blues. This psychedelic nuance is emphasized in the backward guitar intro to Beware My Love. Elsewhere, Sweet raves it up with the melodic Neil Young-ish rockers Faith In You and Split Personality. Conversely, Sweet pours it thick with the gorgeous ballads Hide and Worse to Live – which deserve to be played to death on radios all over the world along with the breezy and infectious I Should Never Let You Know. Unrelenting in scope and value, Sweet manages to top it all with the Wilsonesque suite Thunderstorm which is actually four songs woven into one coherent tapestry. 

At the beginning of this review, I described In Reverse as a concept album. If it only succeeds in making you appreciate the rich inspiration of the sixties as manifested in Matthew Sweet’s sublime songcraft, then that concept has become a vital reality – the power of pop

GRAMERCY ARMS

GRAMERCY ARMS Gramercy Arms (Reveal/Cheap Lullaby)

A pop collective based in New York, Gramercy Arms counts amongst its number, members of Guided by Voices, Luna, Joan as Police Woman, Dead Air, Dambuilders, Nada Surf, Pernice Brothers as well as Lloyd Cole, Chris Brokaw and comic Sarah Silverman. 

*Whew!*

Well and good. What I do like about Gramercy Arms is their affinity for West Coast pop-rock styles (i.e. Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Crosby Stills & Nash, Gene Clark, Gram Parson, the Byrds, Fleetwood Mac etc) which Gramercy Arms achieve with great aplomb. Consisting primarily of Dave Derby, Sean Eden, Kevin March, Joan Wasser, Rainy Orteca and Hilken Mancini, Gramercy Arms recall the glorious British approximations of the West Coast sound by Teenage Fanclub and Belle & Sebastian. 

The sheer breezy atmosphere of songs like Looking at the Sun, Nothing I Can Do and Since Last September will transport the listener to a kinder, gentler era. But there are moments of powerpop crunch in tracks like Automatic and Fakin’. The rest of Gramercy Arms is more pleasing melodic easy listening pop fodder. I’m not complainin’…

Check out Gramercy Arms’ Myspace page

SUPREME ONE

SUPREME ONE Self-titled (Lowdown)

Try as I may, I just don’t get rap. For me, it’s an alien genre coming from an alien culture that I’m don’t understand. And it’s terribly repetitive music, bordering on monotonous. So if I say that I found it difficult to listen to Supreme One’s debut eponymous album, it’s more my fault than his. I should disqualify myself from reviewing this altogether. To be honest, the only track I found interesting was Oy! with its use of colloquial obscenities. The rest I believe would be of value to diehard rap fans only.

Check out Supreme One’s Myspace page.

WATCHMEN@MIDNIGHT EP

For those of you who haven’t downloaded watchmen@midnight Ep yet, you have till midnight, 28 Feb 2009 to do so. Cos six days after that, the highly-anticipated Watchmen movie will be released!

Download here.

… and there’s more …

SOLIN

SOLIN Energy Fair (Self released)

Is Pat Luciano aka Solin one of those old school geeks obsessing on John Lennon and George Harrison (y’know the dead Beatles) and who think that the best music ever was made in the 60s and 70s and whose greatest musical high is a Rickenbacker 12-string arppeggio? Well, I tell you what, throw in way cool songwriting chops, way cool collaborators like Jon Brion and way cool Lennonesque vocal stylings and you can bloody well sign me up for that old school geekdom anytime.

Cos if that traditional pop-rock education manages to deliver songs as good as Which Way to Sanity, Take it From the Top, Energy Fair, Diamond Gold, I Go Ghost and so on, then I see no good reason why pop-rock lovers should not be indulging in all things Solin.

More references? How about ELO, the Byrds, Elvis Costello, the Spongtones, Myracle Brah, Bob Pollard et al? I must confess that of late, I have shuddered to think of running through an album laden with the pop underground’s tired cliches but no such nightmare with Solin. The man is refreshing and most of his songs are winners. Sure, they stay true to the values of his heroes but the trick is the ability to craft tunes that stand up in comparison. A PoP recommendation. 

Check out Solin’s Myspace page.

MOUNTAINS

MOUNTAINS Choral (Thrill Jockey)

Is it possible for experimental music to be more than background soundscapes? Can such sonic approaches be at the forefront of a listener’s sensibility, rather than an after-thought? I’m not too sure about that. I guess it depends very much on context and ambience. 

Arty noise experimentals can be inaccessible to most ears but what if the choice of instrumentation is warm and friendly, like acoustic guitars, church organs and pleasing electronic sounds? Well, that’s a different kettle of fish.

Ambient-rock duo Mountain’s third album is an excellent example of this. There is a clear attempt to sculpt emotional resonances from sounds but the key here is a combination of both the organic and the electronic. There is a minute sense of 70s prog rock here (without any semblance of formal jazz or classical structures) in the way sounds are chosen and collaged together. 

Again, songs are slightly indistinguishable.  You may describe title track Choral, as the “accordion drone” song or Melodica as the “bells” song or even Telescope as the “guitar” song but this highlights both strength and weakness of this kind of material. Not for the faint of ears…

ANI DIFRANCO LIVE IN SINGAPORE

 

Pix by Joanna Kwa
Pix by Joanna Kwa

Esplanade Theatre, 10th February 2009.

Ani DiFranco’s first performance in Singapore was almost perfection itself. Displaying a mastery of guitar technique that blew all who witnessed it, boasting lyrical concerns that were diverse as they were direct and most of all, radiating the love and passion that held it all together and kept a rapt audience enthralled for just under two hours.

Delivering 20 songs (including two new unreleased tracks), drawn mainly from 2008’s Red Letter Year, Knuckle Down and Little Plastic Castle, Ani herself described her set list as schizophrenic – alternating between love and hate songs/up and down songs. Thus, you had Present Infant – Ani’s memoir on motherhood next to Nicotine, a harsh look at addictive relationships, then on to Atom – Ani’s protest anthem agasint nuclear energy next to Albacore, that new song celebrating her recent marriage.

But the audience was not too bothered, they were too busy being awed by Ani’s ability to express emotional and intellectual moments with equal gusto, with the basic building blocks of voice and acoustic guitar. And there were many many guitars, as a seemingly endless supply of cool looking axes were brought out (almost ritual-like) by Ani’s guitar technician.

 

Pix by Joanna Kwa
Pix by Joanna Kwa

Not that the role of the band viz. Todd Sickafoose (upright bass), Allison Miller (drums) and Mike Dillon (vibes, percussion) should be diminished. And when Ani and the band cut loose, it didn’t matter that there were no humongous pedal boards on the floor as everyone in the arena could attest to the sheer power that emanated from the stage. All of which certainly affirmed the relevance of folk music even in this modern day and age. Inspiring.

To top it all off, Ani debuted a new song called November 4th, 2008. Yes, a song celebrating Barack Obama’s historic election as the 44th President of the USA. To hear an American protest singer singing the praises of her President was well, shocking (!) and certainly pleasing. A great song, any way you look at it. 

An unforgettable virtuoso performance (with the venue sound crystal clear, no less!) from an artist in her prime.

FALL OUT BOY – LIVE IN SINGAPORE

Singapore Indoor Stadium, 10th February 2009.

Pete Wentz it seemed needed a hug last night. During Fall Out Boy’s appearance at the National Indoor Stadium he seemed at odds with the other members of the band, or them with him. It was odd to see a band so well known for their tongue in cheek attitude appear to be so solemn. I have seen Fall Out Boy before on the tour for their first major album From Under the Cork Tree and the band that greeted me last night was a very different one to back then. The wide eyed and youthful playfulness was replaced with a much more serious and focused act. Not that this detracted from their performance at all, Fall Out Boy were as tight and solid as ever, displaying the arsenal of songs that has taken them from underground Emo/Punk clubs to the Stadium tours that they fill today. 

Starting with Thnks Fr Th Mmrs from 2007’s Infinity on High album, the band ripped through a set of both old and new material and worked the crowd when it was needed, calling for the audience to join in on the obvious sing along parts and playing each song with vigor. Patrick Stump’s guitar playing and vocals never fail to impress, and he was in fine form last night. Picking through This ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race and Nobody puts Baby in the Corner, the singer faltered rarely and delivered his vocals superbly. At one point there was rare interaction with the crowd from Stump when he thanked them for helping him remember some lyrics when his guitar dropped out of tune and he forgot the words. Stump usually leaves talking to the crowd to Wentz and it was nice to hear him speak, despite Wentz’s snide comments to the front man when this occurred. 

The crowd was treated to a cover of Kanye West’s American Boy before bursting into Sugar Going Down and also played Michael Jackson’s Beat It. One thing of note was the amount of material the band played from their previous albums; this outweighed the songs from their new one Folie a Deux. They did play the lead single from the album, I Don’t Care, this saw the lights on the stage dropped and LED effects appear on the bands instruments which was both fun and entertaining to watch. Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes made an appearance, a song the band admitted they had not played many times live, and also American Suitehearts which is one of the more melodic songs from their latest album.

Fall Out Boy closed with Saturday from their 2003 debut album Take This to Your Grave. It brought to a close a very good set that certainly had many sections of the crowd pleased with what they had witnessed. It was at this point that Wentz handed his bass over to the guitar player from support group Hey Monday and decided to fling himself into the crowd for that much needed hug. Despite the best efforts of security, and even a stage hand who literally tried to rugby tackle him, Wentz dived into the sea of hands and took a good five minutes to find his way back out again, knowing that at least Singapore loves him dearly.      

(Adam Gregory)

PoP10 – SHUTEYE UNISON

 

Drummer Jake Krohn does the PoP10.  

1. Why play music?

There are many reasons people play music.  First of all if you say it’s not ego driven you’re kidding yourself.  Second of all if you think you’re not in it to meet girls you’re kidding yourself.  It all starts off as something that people that you look up to do, people that as a kid you think are way cooler than you, and in trying to define yourself at that age you emulate those you look up to.  Then of course there is a certain amount of creative outlet and emotional release in it and even an intellectual stimulus.  But the key reason for me is that playing music to an audience is an incredible feeling.  There’s an energy exchange that happens with a body of people that is super interesting.  If they’re not feeding you back it’s very difficult to provide enough energy all by yourself to put on a fantastic show, but when the feedback loop starts the show can go to incredible levels.  You feel energy levels passing through you that you truly never thought possible as trite as that sounds.  Those nights are why I play music.

2. Who are your influences?

My number one influence is my Dad.  He’s the one who started it all.  I grew up sleeping in his guitar case backstage.  My Mom and Dad and whole familiy have been ridiculously influential and supportive in my music career.  Other influences of mine are my friends who are enormously talented and who inspire me to keep it together and forge ahead when it gets bleak.

3. What is success?

Success is doing what you love every day you can.  It really depends on the person you are, what your goals are and where you feel comfortable in life.  Shuteye Unison has remarkably different goals as individuals, but we are all successful people.  I personally feel successful just in the fact that I’ve been playing music with my best friends for 20 years and still to this day I love it and spend the vast majority of my time doing it.

4. Why should people buy your music?

Our music is heartfelt and true to the group of people creating it.  If it’s interesting to someone else maybe that person should buy it.  Honestly I love this band because our music is exactly the culmination of a group of friends in a room making noise together until a series of things work together and turn into a song or 5, nothing more, nothing less.  It just is what it is and we hope you like it.

5. Who do you love?

I love bands that create something.  Bands that create a sound or even a genre and aren’t those that end up simply helping to define it by mimicking the originators with this tunnel vision.  The Melvins are a perfect example.  That sludgy, mathy, enormous thing they do that changes so much from record to record but always ends up sounding exactly like the Melvins. Other include: Refused, Mars Volta, Radiohead, De La Soul, Bad Brains, Drive Like Jehu, Pixies, Stereolab…

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

Whirled Peas?  I would love to just get to play music as much as I do right now for the rest of my life.

7. Who comes to your gigs?

An array of fantastic souls who love to fill the silences between songs with sarcasm and drunk berating comments.  They are truly part of the performance.

8. What is your favorite album?

That is a really weird question.  What’s my favorite record today?  Beatles – Revolver.  What’s my favorite record by a certain band?  RFTC – Hot Charity, Melvins – Stoner Witch (although Nude with Boots and Gluey Porch Treatments/Ozma are close), Little Feat – Sailin’ Shoes.. we could do this all day.  Favorite jazz record?  Pat Metheny – Bright Size Life (w/ Jaco… so good, and Bob Moses on drums… damn).  You get the point, there are tons of favorite records.

9. What is your favorite song?

Strikingly similar to last question.  Today I’m going with Something by George Harrison.  Listen to the version with Paul McCartney on Uke on the Concert for George dvd.

10. How did you get here?

Woke up out of my dad’s guitar case, set up a bunch of cardboard boxes and pots and pans around me, met these guys in high school and never looked back.

Shuteye Unison’s self-titled Ep is out now.

DOUBT

 

Doubt is director/writer John Patrick Shanley’s big screen take of his own award winning play set in Bronx 1964 in the period of the Vatican II reforms and civil rights movement.  

Doubt stars Meryl Street in an Academy Award nominated performance as Sister Aloysius Beauvier, a strict disciplinarian and no-nonsense principal of St Nicholas who instils fear in the school children.  

Sister Aloysius suspects the charismatic and well-liked parish priest Father Brendan Flynn played by Philip Seymour Hoffman of inappropriate behaviour with the school’s first Negro student Donald Miller over the concerns raised by an innocent and simple Sister James (Amy Adams).  As such, Sister Aloysius starts a crusade against Father Flynn to prove his guilt and remove him. 

The movie explores themes that are still relevant today.  Self – righteousness, morals, truth and dogma/tradition versus love, compassion and progression.  Sister Aloysius represents the former while Father Flynn, the latter sometimes still seen in the views of some Catholics today.  The film questions the price one has to pay in the pursuit of what one thinks is right to the extent of sacrificing a few morals along the way, or whether love and compassion should rule.  

Doubt is equally compelling with the issues of sexual abuse that have rocked the Catholic Church and the Church’s attempts to hush up the scandals.  It also explores the issues of hierarchy within the Catholic Church and whether one should step out of the line to fight for the truth.  

Is Father Flynn guilty?  A shirt being stuffed in the locker.  The longing gaze in Donald Miller’s eyes at Father Flynn.  The embrace in the corridor.  There are other suggestions of Father Flynn’s guilt.  However the film doesn’t offer any definitive answers of Father Flynn’s guilt.  That is the power of the doubt reflected in the film title.  It allows the audience to believe what they want to believe.  

Streep delivers a performance far more chilling than her previously nominated performance in The Devil Wear Prada.  Cloaked behind a black habit and rimmed glasses, Streep is every inch as electrifying and terrifying as a black angel in her persecution of Father Flynn.  Hoffman though a little subdued next to Streep, still acquits himself well against Streep, and is able to match her one to one.  It’s a clash of acting chops and theatrics as the two acclaimed thespians go up against each other. 

Viola Davis is all pathos and effective as the boy’s mother wanting the best for the child despite being caught in a sort of dilemma.  Davis steals the scene from Streep in those short moments she appears.  Adams is all sweet in the role of Sister James.

Doubt is more of an actor’s piece.  It was without a doubt an engaging and entertaining movie that gets you thinking.  Although it rates high on acting, it suffers from long bits of dialogue stemming from its roots of a play which probably suits the stage better.  

(Darren Boon)

JEREMY JAY

 

JEREMY JAY Slow Dance (K)

There’s nostalgia, there’s referencing, and then there’s full out anachronism-baiting. Jeremy Jay’s sophomore album, Slow Dance, left me in a bit of a shock from the get-go. Swirling synthesizers and echoing drums…I did a spot of bewildered googling to make sure Kevin hadn’t pulled a fast one on me and sent me an obscure retro album. His promotional pictures didn’t do much to clear matters up: the fella dresses like he stole his dad’s chuck-away clothes and teenaged hair. The 70s pop stylings even extends to the font used on his album cover. I think it’s quite safe to say that Jeremy Jay isn’t exactly the most suitable frontman for Generation Y. 

Jay might have possibly upped the record’s accessibility factor if he could have married the quirkiness of the era with modern-style pop melodies, but unfortunately he seems to have inherited the fashion and none of the innovative, elegant spirit that characterized that time. Jay’s apparently received rave reviews, but listening through the half-hour long record, I found little to sustain my interest and change my initial opinion of him as a retro revivalist throwback act. For all its nostalgia, Slow Dance lacks the wit and invention that characterized the groundbreaking times of the 50s, 60s and 70s. 

To be fair to Jay, the record picks up towards the end with a few moments that worked for me, such as the soft piano breakdowns and high-school prom grooves of Will You Dance With Me, and the disco-inspired riffing on Breaking The Ice. But moments of magic alone do not the good record make; there is a certain discipline that is lacking amongst the self-indulgent retro wallowing of Slow Dance. 

My biggest complaint, apart from the secondhand Cure riffs and juvenile rhymes, would be the production sound on this record. Jeremy Jay really does himself no favors with today’s music-listening audience with the Martin Hannett and Joy Division aping. In 1979, the spaciousness was revolutionary and groundbreaking. In 2009, Jeremy Jay just sounds hopelessly dated.

Slow Dance sounds too much like a disparate combination of elements from the past few musical eras, but crucially ignores the most important era of all: the present. Strictly for fans only.

(Samuel C Wee)
Check out Jeremy Jay’s Myspace page.

ORPHAN SONGS

 

ORPHAN SONGS Self-titled (Self released)

There’s a certain plaintive brilliance to the way that these Scandinavian singer-songwriter types curl around the words of the English language. Just listen to this line taken off the debut album of Orphan Songs, the vehicle of Swedish musician Carl Otto-Johansson: “There were dragons there, of course/ and a million dollar horse/and a girl with pretty hair/and an endless flower bed.”  Maybe it’s the fact that English is not their first language, but there is a certain brevity and genius of juxtaposition to these words that feel alien yet familiar at the same time.

Otto-Johansson himself is the ex-frontman of Swedish band Eyedrop, and Orphan Songs is the introspective, introverted aftermath of their break-up as reflected upon by Otto-Johansson. One would expect an album written and subsequently developed under such consequences to be melancholic, mid-tempo and pensive. You’d be half-right with that assumption, but then again you’ll miss out far too much of the subtleties on this record. It’s much more wonderfully diverse than one would expect.

The record consists mainly of acoustic-guitar based pop melodies, with the occasional piano or harmonica colors bleeding in. Second track Dream On is one such perfect example, low-key and dreamy with a whiff of Americana. The Land Of The Free itself is mentioned on America, a depiction of America as the liberty fable it is for children in a Morrison meets-Rattle And Hum Era U2 number. 

Track six on the listing finds Black and White, all pearls and falsetto chorus with a tinge of blackness and spiritual depth. There are a few fillers here that feel more monotone than mesmerizing, such as Accidentally and Rosemary. The moments of magic that occur, though, do brilliantly to lift the album.  Standout track here, The Young and the Brave, is one such example. It isn’t so much streams of his consciousness as yours, and you’ll find yourself murmuring along presciently without looking at the lyrics sheet as the song builds towards a driving crescendo of shimmering, stirring goodness. 

It has to be said that Orphan Songs is not so much a collection of paintings as it is sketches. Otto-Johansson’s lyrics are evocative and impressionistic instead, and one is more likely to call to mind moods, colors and emotions that lush soundscapes while listening to this record. That’s okay. It’s a record that at times meanders and would probably have been better for a bit more discipline and a shorter track listing, but that’s okay too. This is a record made for those rainy nights and afternoons when everyone is out and you settle down with a warm cuppa. 

(Samuel C Wee)
Check out Orphan Songs’ Myspace page.

PoP10 – PAPER THE OPERATOR

 

Jon Sebastian (far right) provides the answers…

1. Why play music? 

Writing a song is very satisfying. It gives you a chance to show people a side of yourself that they would otherwise never know about, and to bring them into your world a little bit. Performing music just feels good. I always feel a sort of satisfied exhaustion afterward that is unique to playing shows.

2. Who are your influences?

Guided by Voices, Paul Simon, Failure, Nirvana, Cat Power, Throwing Muses, The Beatles, The Promise Ring, Spoon, Low and Smashing Pumpkins to name a few. 

3. What is success?

For me, as it pertains to music, there are two types of success: artistic and financial. I feel like I’ve had a lot of artistic success, in the sense that I have a pretty nice-sized body of work that I’m happy with. When it comes to financial success, I’ve done extremely shitty. I want to quit my day job.

4. Why should people buy your music?

Because I know they’ll like it. 

5. Who do you love?

My wife, my family, my friends.

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

I don’t have an agenda with my music, as far as trying to relay a certain message or change people’s minds. I’m more interested in having people connect with it on a personal level, wherever they’re at in their lives. I think music should be interpreted on an individual basis. As a listener, a song should mean whatever you want it to mean at any given moment. This is what most people do anyway, regardless of how direct or indirect a song’s message may be. As long as they can connect with it somehow, I’m happy.

7. Who comes to your gigs?

Our friends, and people with nothing better to do. 

8. What is your favorite album?

Tough to say. Probably Limbo by Throwing Muses. It changed the way I look at rock music completely. It’s simultaneously pretty & ugly, mellow & manic, soft & hard, dreamy & nightmarish. Kristin Hersh actually wrote the last song on it in a dream. The production is phenomenal, and every song on it is amazing.

9. What is your favorite song?

Impossible to say. 

10. How did you get here?

What?

Paper the Operator’s Solemn Boyz EP is out now.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON

 

“My name is Benjamin Button, and I was born under unusual circumstances.  While everyone else was aging, I was getting younger, all alone.”

This is the premise that underscores The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, clocking a few minutes shy under three hours.  It is a third time lucky for director David Fincher and Brad Pitt reteaming after Se7en and The Fight Club with Pitt as the title character. 

The film has been nominated for 13 awards at the upcoming Oscars including nods for Best Picture, Best Achievement in Directing for Fincher and Best Actor for Pitt.  It was adapted by Eric Roth from a short story by F Scott Fitzgerald.   Coincidentally Roth was also the screenwriter of Forrest Gump to which some similarities between both movies exist.    

The film tells the story of Benjamin Button who was born in New Orleans around 1918.  Although an infant, Benjamin bears the looks and health of an 80 year old.  Abandoned at the step of an old folk’s home by his biological father, he is adopted by Queenie, a Negro woman played by Taraji P Henson.  As time passes by, Benjamin starts to age physically backwards and embarks on a journey which involves an affair with a wife of a British Diplomat played by Tilda Swinton, and fighting in World War II.       

The core of the story however rests of the love between Benjamin and Daisy that spans over decades from the time they met at the old folk’s home when they were children with Benjamin all wrinkly in appearance.  The lives of Benjamin and Daisy intersect from time to time over the years.  There were lost opportunities in love due to their physical differences, but they would finally meet at the mid-point of their loves.  It is at the love between Benjamin and Daisy that provides the film’s most heart-tugging moments over the adventures that Benjamin has.

The film relies on CG effects mostly for the first part of the movie where Pitt’s head is superimposed on other performers and slowly shed as Benjamin ages backwards.  Pitt delivers a credible performance but yet fails to let the audience into the heart of Benjamin.

Henson is effective as Benjamin’s mother, though the role seems to be rather archetypical.  The best performance of the film would have to go Cate Blanchett’s role of Daisy.  Blanchett successfully fleshes her character’s inner turmoil and turns in a heartfelt performance that gives the movie its soul that at times it lacks at times, especially in the first half of the film where the film feels like a slow ride.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is an ordinary story about an ordinary person with an extraordinary circumstance.  It is about life as much it is about death.  It is about what Benjamin states as “our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss” and indeed there are some lost opportunities in film.   

(Darren Boon)

LIVE N LOADED S1E2

I honestly did not think that that excellent debut episode could be topped so quickly but episode two sure did kick arse! Credit must definitely go to Vertical Rush and A Vacant Affair for delivering blistering sets that had the in-studio audience tearing the place apart. VR certainly looked like they were up to the challenge of opening this week’s fun-filled segment. Marcus, in particular, was simply hyper-kinetic and the band was mesmerizing and enthralled the crowd. There is something about a live recording that pumps up band and audience alike – it is something special that has to be experienced first hand.

AVA closed the program with a bang as the moshing and body-surfing began in earnest. As Matt held court, adoring fans lapped up every word, every syllable as the band behind him pummeled us into abject submission. For the uniniated, it must seem slightly mystifying to witness Singaporean kids behaving in this manner. Flaying limbs, running in circles, bodies heaved into the air, even presenter Utt got into the act stage-diving into the audience as AVA launched into We Are Not the Same! All of which got me a little misty-eyed, considering that an activity that was previously banned altogether was now being played out on national TV! Even after the show went off-air and the PA was cut, AVA continued to rock! Totally punk! 

In-between, Jack and Rai provided melody and energy with The Falala Song and a glorious Fiona, giving an alternative bent to the alternative rock that was imploding around us. At times, it seemed that the duo and band were trying too hard to match the intensity levels permeating the studio. They certainly gave as good as they got!

As usual, the program also showcased three other “Exposed” bands viz. For This Cycle – an acoustic duo that, to these ears, possessed the best sound of the night; Eden’s State – formerly Ivy’s Vendetta I believe, were rather lacklustre and unimaginative (and even played to a phantom drummer – sorry, but performing to a tape is not on if you’re a rock band!) and Shigga Shay  – a rapper (I’m sorry but to me all rappers come across as the same). Also featuring, this week’s Sonic Youth, a band from my alma mater ACS, Finding Michelle, covering Mr Brightside and sounding exactly as a band in their teens would.

Overall, the established bands thrilled us all whilst the others were mixed affairs, with work still to be done. Personally, I hope that the show will be able to cover deserving bands in the eight weeks remaining and whilst I am all for showcasing raw talent, I just wish that the selection could be a little more discerning. I’m hoping to see Leeson, Etc, Rachael Teo, Nick Tan, Indus Gendi, Allura, You and Whose Army!, Fire Fight, Lunarin, Karl Maka, Force Vomit, Stoned Revivals, the Pinholes, Astro Ninja, King Kong Jane, Peep Show, West Grand Boulevard, Shirlyn Tan, Ngak, Retro Groove, Bhelliom, MUON, I Am David Sparkle, Typewriter, Padres… *hint*!!!!

Next – Plainsunset! Marchtwelve! Kate of Kale! 

…and there’s more…

PoP10 – BORIS SMILE

 

Wesley Chung by Erin Pearce
Wesley Chung by Erin Pearce

Wesley Chung is the frontman of folk-pop collective Boris Smile, out of Long Beach, California. 

1. Why play music?

Two reasons:

-We were made to create
-Music is such a gift that it would be a shame not to play

2. Who are your influences?
Sufjan Stevens, David Bazan, Fielding, Aaron Copland, Beatles, Jon Brion

3. What is success?

Creating music that enriches life.

4. Why should people buy your music?

(Hopefully) because they love it.  But it has its utilitarian value too.  When people buy our music it enables us to keep putting out new releases (buyers become patrons of the arts [i.e. Boris Smile]… and its just part of being in a market economy).

5. Who do you love?
Sufjan Stevens and Aaron Copland
6. What do you hope to achieve with your music?

hmm… not sure.  At this point I just want to keep writing.

7. Who comes to your gigs?

Friends, sometimes family, and occasionally fans.

8. What is your favorite album?

“Pink Moon” by Nick Drake (first artist I really fell in love with) 

9. What is your favorite song?

“Appalachian Spring” by Aaron Copland (the whole thing)

10. How did you get here?

Perseverence, patience, hardwork, and connections.

Boris Smile’s Ep, Beartooth, is out now.

LIVE N LOADED

Yup, that's me in the lower left corner. Really.

Yes, its the 2nd episode at 8.30pm on Channel 5 tonight.

Line up tonight – Vertical Rush, A Vacant Affair, Jack & Rai, Finding Michelle, For This Cycle, Eden State and Shigga Shay.

I will be there to soak it all in, as long as I don’t get kicked in the face from being in the wrong place, wrong time when AVA perform…

If you are keen on Live N Loaded continuing behind its slated ten episodes, make your opinions known to promo5@mediacorp.com.sg 

See you there or on the telly!

LUNAR NODE

LUNAR NODE Exploring Unknown Territory Ep (Wallwork)

Instrumental rock music escapes me somewhat, especially if there’s no properly discernible melody line. Alright, so who says, any music needs to have a melody line, in the first place? Granted, you could have a collage of sounds and call it experimental music, if you like.

But that’s not what new S-ROCK band, Lunar Node, are about. Taking its cues from Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky et al, Lunar Node, similar to other S-ROCK instrumental bands like I Am David Sparkle and Amateur Takes Control, strives to create mood, atmosphere and an emotional connection sans lyrics.

Consisting of Daniaal, Asyral and Gerald, Lunar Node formed a year ago to – in their own words – “create music that would connect people through eclectic and emotive sounds”. Well, listening to their debut Ep – Exploring Unknown Territory – I’m not quite sure if the band has achieved its stated goal, right off the bat, but by all accounts, it has certainly tried its best to.

As with any music composed mainly of guitar effects and smashing cymbals, the five songs here tend to bleed into a indistinguishable whole and thus, eclecticism may be hard to attain. Sounding very much like 60s psych rock (Syd-era Floyd), 70s space rock (Gilmour-era Floyd) and 90s shoegaze (Ride, Chapterhouse), the songs on this Ep never stray too far from that template to produce fairly engaging music. My personal favorite is the closing Voiding the Negative, with its cascading guitar appregios and explosive percussions which build up to a satisfying sonic crescendo and ultimate climax.

Not the finished product, by any means, but it should be interesting to observe where Lunar Node move on from here. 

Check out Lunar Node’s Myspace page.

If you’re interested to know more, come down to the launch of Lunar Node’s Ep on 7th Feb (this Saturday) at 8pm at the Arts House.

BOLTON 3 SPURS 2

It’s tempting to view this match as a game Spurs lost in the last 5 minutes but really it’s a game Spurs lost due to a pathetic display for 85 minutes. Yes, apart from a thrilling 5 minute period where, inspired by substitute Pascal Chimbonda, Spurs came back from two goals down thanks to substitute Darren Bent’s 13th and 14th goals of the season, Spurs had done nothing over the course of the 90 minutes to deserve three points or even one.

It’s also tempting to attribute Spurs’ toothless performance to the absence of the injured Jermain Defoe, when the fact is that despite the presence of TWO holding midfielders, Bolton still managed to run the centre of the park and despite our documented failure to play well with 4-4-1-1 formation, Harry Redknapp chose not to revert to 4-4-2 till the start of the 2nd half and already 0-1 down.

By and large, shoddy shocking defending by all concerned led to our downfall. We seemed to lack numbers when defending and really our two centre backs were not given any protection at all by the full backs or the midfielders. Looking back at the Bolton goals, its obvious that Spurs are simply awful at defending set plays and the teams around us in this relegation dogfight will certainly be aware of how to exploit this glaring weakness.

Positives? Chimbonda’s attacking contributions and Bent’s goals. With Defoe out, it’s certainly time for Bent to step up to the plate. However, with the rumors intensifying that Robbie Keane is returning to White Hart Lane, Bent’s revival might be moot. Still, looking at Pavlyuchenko’s abject failure to win the ball in the air, what Spurs really need now is an effective target man – like Roque Santa Cruz – rather than Keane (who’s style will clash with Bent, Defoe and even Modric).

As I have said since the end of the close of the August transfer window, Spurs fans are in for a long hard slog of a season and there’s still no reason for me to change that opinion. Next up, the gooners at home! What a wonderful time it would be to finally get that league victory over our bitter rivals.