CLAIRE DENAMUR

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CLAIRE DENAMUR Le Prince Charmant (Source Etc)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Charlotte Lourdes)

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

OCEANSHIP

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OCEANSHIP s/t (Self-released)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out Oceanship’s Myspace page.

ALLIGATORS

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ALLIGATORS Piggy & Cups (Applehouse Records)

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

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

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

Check out Alligators’ Myspace page.

17 AGAIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Darren Boon)

TONY COX

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TONY COX Unpublished (Self-released)

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

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

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

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

Check out Tony’s Myspace page.

METRIC

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METRIC Fantasies (Self released)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Charlotte Lourdes)

Check out Metric’s Myspace page.

MY ONE & ONLY DEMOCRACY

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

…still there’s more…

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Darren Boon)

SINGAPORE MUSIC 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

…still there’s more…

HERE IS THE NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and there’s more…

RACHAEL YAMAGATA – LIVE IN SINGAPORE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture by Joanna.

YOUTH.SG REVIEW

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

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Link to full article.

Thanks, Nawira but… only one “t”…

NEIL YOUNG

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NEIL YOUNG Fork in the Road (Reprise)

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

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

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

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

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

Neil Young – Fork In The Road

LIVE N LOADED

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It’s almost been a week since the last episode of Live N Loaded aired. On an episode that featured members of Stomping Ground and Boredphucks revisting classic S-ROCK songs, you could say it was a bit of a nostalgic show, topped of course by the rendition of My One & Only by Jack & Rai and yours truly.

In all modesty, I think we did a great job, considering we only had one rehearsal. I’m so proud that the song has survived and indeed prospered even after 15 years. A humbling notion. Who says Singaoporeans don’t care about original Singaporean music, eh? Even more thrilling was having my faith in Jack & Rai justified as I surprised them with an ambituous arrangement which they pulled off with aplomb. Legends already!

The whole day was a bit of a blur but it was all worth the time spent hanging out with Jack & Rai. Not only are they passionate and talented but they’re extremely nice guys as well. It was also fun to meet up with so many cool S-ROCK folk, Jon, Sham, Nizam and Ronny (Plainsunset), Mag, Khai, Song, Fandy & Saiful (Great Spy Experiment), JBoss (Boredphucks/Suns), Hafiz and Suhaimi (Stomping Ground), Fir (silly boy with camera), Samuel, Weiwen, Roland, Daniel, Matt, Esmond et al.

Kudos to the Live N Loaded folks – director, producers, crew – very professional and competent in all aspects. My main gripe about Live N Loaded – and this is no secret – has been concerning the selection of bands featured on the show. Also, the sheer number of bands could have been more discreetly handled. That said, I guess the objective was to feature as many bands as possible – which the show definitely achieved. Still, considering that it has been too long a time since S-ROCK bands have appeared on TV, beggars can’t be choosers and certainly I cannot deny the pleasure of seeing GSE, Allura, Fire Fight, For This Cycle, Ling Kai, Rachael Teo, Nick Tan, Jack & Rai et al on the little screen.

Will there be a 2nd season or another TV show featuring S-ROCK? I certainly hope so and this time, I would humbly offer my services to provide creative input. Heh!

What did you guys and gals think of Live N Loaded? Comments, please.

PoP10 – ARIEL ABSHIRE

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1. Why play music?

It’s involuntary, like breathing.  It’s my outlet for my feelings and for my hopes.

2. Who are your influences?

Elvis Costello, Loretta Lynn, Billy Bragg, The Format, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, My Morning Jacket, The Shirelles

3. What is success?

Success is getting to make music, and having people want to hear it.

4. Why should people buy your music?

It’s a genuinely heartfelt album that I think people can relate to, and hopefully be moved by.

5. Who do you love?

I love my family. I love my boyfriend. I love my friends. I love the people of Austin who support live music.

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

I want my music to connect with other people, and hopefully to mean something to them.  That’s it.  I cannot ask for anything more than that.

7. Who comes to your gigs?

My friends and family are always at my shows, and more and more, so are people that I don’t know.  That’s a good thing.

8. What is your favorite album?

The Stand Ins – Okkervil River

9. What is your favorite song?

I’d have to say that my favorite song right now is either Backstage by The Crash or Plus Ones by Okkervil River, but it changes all the time.

10. How did you get here?

Well, I’m not there yet! I’m just seventeen, so I haven’t even figured that part out yet.

Ariel Abshire’s album Exclamation Love is out now.

LONG LIVE THE CD (?)

Sean Boyd, partner at Fanatic Promotion, debunks the myth of a ailing music industry on Fox Business News. According to Boyd, CD sales have increased overall with too much focus on the major labels and ignoring the relative success of indie companies. Comments?

ARIEL ABSHIRE

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ARIEL ABSHIRE Excalamation Love (Darla)

This 2008 debut album from Abshire is an excellent approximation of modern alt-country-folk indie female pop in the vein of Jenny Lewis and She & Him. All well and good but here’s the kicker – Abshire is 17 years old! An astonishing fact when you consider how mature most of this debut sounds. From Abshire’s talented pipes to her world-weary (albeit from a teenage perspective) lyricism, from the spot-on catholic pop references to the austere production values, this teenager displays qualities pretty much beyond her tender years.

The highlights for me include the tautly wound Nervous, the delicate Unknown Encounter, the Dylanesque Thin Skin (see video below), the country-western Hotel Hallway and the lushly constructed Everybody Does. Yes, there are the odd raw and rough moments both in the vocal delivery and the songwriting but these are minor complaints when set up against the promise (some of it fulfilled) in these well-sung, well-written songs.

Suffice to say that Ariel Abshire is a name to look out for in the years to come.

Check out Ariel Abshire’s Myspace page.

FAITHLESS – LIVE IN MOSCOW DVD

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FAITHLESS Live in Moscow-Greatest Hits

I guess if you’re a fan of Faithless or electronica in general, you’re going to enjoy this live DVD. Although in this context, I’m not sure whether the “electronica” tag applies here. After all, apart from the mandatory electronic keyboards, there’s a full band viz. electric guitar, bass, drums, percussion and even mini-string orchestra providing the music. So to all intents and purposes, it’s probably most accurate to describe this live recording as a rock concert, in every sense of that term.

Which is fine with me, as I’ve always felt that pure electronica is a little tough to deliver in the context of a rock concert format. Certainly, no problems with the typical dance music that is presented here with its usual obligatory nods to Pink Floyd, Kraftwerk and the 80s synth pop pioneers of course. In addition, Faithless also indulge in a little reggae-ska workout at times, which is also cool.

I’m not familiar with these songs but taken at face value, there’s enough variation to recommend this live DVD to folks who may not strictly be fans of Faithless and/or electronica.

MAPLE MARS

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Maple Mars is a brilliant name for Rick Hromadka’s powerpop outfit. Equal part melodic sweetness and spaced out bliss. With three definitive powerpop albums – viz. Welcome to Maple Mars, Circular Haze (one of PoP’s top albums of 2003) and Beautiful Mess – Maple Mars has established itself as one of the premier bands of the pop underground. Good news is that Maple Mars has a new album in the can and embedded below is Transcendental Guidance, a teaser of the joys to come. To these ears, the new song is a tasty amalgam of Syd Barrett psychedelia, Byrdsy folk-rock and prog-rock instrumentalism. Enjoy…

Check out Maple Mars’ Myspace page.

PoP10 – THE LION STORY

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1. Why play music?

It is one of the best ways for us to express ourselves. It is always nice to be able to create something to share with others, and the greatest payoff is when we see or hear of people being moved by our songs.

2. Who are your influences?

Any bands/artistes with melodic songs and infectious beats really. But to name a few, our influences include The Beatles, The All-American Rejects, The Beach Boys, Michael Jackson, McFly, Matchbox Twenty and more.

3. What is success?

Doing what you love everyday and gaining something from it.

4. Why should people buy your music?

It will be worth buying if you wish to listen to something that could help to brighten up your day! We’ve put a lot of time, dedication and effort into producing a high-quality sounding EP and also trying our best to keep the price affordable for our listeners. The Lion Story EP is retailing at less that $10 at HMV (available soon), Roxy Records and Big Ear Musica.

5. Who do you love?

Everyone who has played a part in the local music industry. Although it is a pretty small scene – when compared to other countries – it is really encouraging to see people who are motivated in driving the local scene like Leonard Soosay, Don Richmond, Kevin Mathews and Patrick Chng just to name a few.

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

We hope to make a positive change in people’s lives, even if it is only for 3 minutes. If, within that short period of time, we are able to make a person smile or be moved for just a little while, we believe that we have achieved what we set out to do with our music.

7. Who comes to your gigs?

Family, friends and hopefully fans. We’re still pretty new to the scene and we’re really grateful to have received a lot of positive response to our EP. We hope to develop a decent following and expose our music to more people across the country.

8. What is your favorite album?

Amin : Michael Jackson – Dangerous
Khair : Limp Bizkit – Significant Other
Haffiz : Extreme II – Pornograffitti

9. What is your favorite song?

Hi-Standard – My First Kiss (It’s always a different answer for this particular question whenever we’re asked)

10. How did you get here?

NOISE Singapore. Before we got chosen for The Apprenticeship Programme, we were just three guys who have been learning and playing music since Secondary School hoping to perform someday. When we received the call that Don Richmond had chosen us to be his apprentices, we realised that it would be a great opportunity for us to finally take part in the local scene. So we decided to take this stepping stone, upsize it to a springboard, take a huge jump and dive as deep as we can into the local music industry. This meant that we had to go into overdrive and lose sleep between work and studies while saving up and practicing hard to produce our first EP and have it released during our very first performance at the Esplanade Waterfront. All the effort paid off – with a suprising ‘encore’ request at The Esplanade, plus our songs being chosen as the official NOISE Singapore advertisement soundtrack and also being played on the radio by 98.7FM. So we’d really like to thank Don Richmond, all the great people of NOISE Singapore, our dear families and friends for getting us here.

RACHAEL YAMAGATA – LIVE IN SINGAPORE

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With her sophomore effort Elephants… Teeth Sinking into Heart, Rachael Yamagata re-defined herself. From the ballad-heavy agenda that populated her debut Happenstance to the edgier model that emerges on this double-album, Yamagata is definitely taping into the so-called “rock” side of her musical persona.

Sure, you still have the spine-tingling, ornate orch-pop exercises like the opening title track and What If I Leave, both of which contain such memorable & sublime tunes. But by the time one gets to Sunday Afternoon, with its awe-inspiring Pink Floyd touches, orchestral blues atmosphere and Yamagata’s own breathless vocal delivery, one realizes that Yamagata is crossing an artistic threshold.

And with the 2nd disc – Teeth Sinking into Heart – the electric guitars come to the fore, the drumming ups the ante and even Yamagata’s vocals favours a gruffier style to present a totally different aspect. Personally, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. It’s good to see Yamagata breaking out of her own (and that of the media/fanbase) mould. Nothing ground-breaking, mind you, as many other female rock singers-songwriters (notably Chrissie Hynde/Pretenders) have travelled this road many times but tracks like Faster and Don’t make for intriguing listening.

Me? I’m more interested in the transitional material between the poles, like the aforementioned Sunday Afternoon and Horizon, with its Beatlesque undertones & country-folk underpinnings. I’m looking forward to hearing these songs live with a cellist in tow. And of course, I will, come next Wednesday, 15th April at the Esplanade Concert Hall.

Tickets available at SISTIC.

THE LION STORY

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THE LION STORY Self-titled (Self-released)

In days of yore, this debut 7-track release from The Lion Story would probably have been a hot demo cassette. But with the advances in technology and lower recording costs, it is now possible for a newbie band like The Lion Story to self-release their own CD. Which in this case, at any rate, is a good thing.

The first thing that strikes a listener about The Lion Story is the “old-school” melodies and harmonies, which is unusual for a Singapore band in their twenties. Greatly welcomed, because bands who write and perform good ol’ fashioned pop-rock in Singapore are an endangered species.

There are some absolute gems on this debut EP, notably the opening track, Stars & the World, which is probably one of the best Beatlesque pop songs I’ve heard on these shores since maybe the sixties. Melodic hooks, pristine harmonies and tasteful arrangements permeate this track. Another highlight is Something’s Going On – featuring Don Richmond – and consequently possesses a stronger mainstream vibe. The rest of this EP does not match up but are still worth checking out.

In the S-ROCK scheme of things, The Lion Story reminds me of a more polished Oddfellows or Ordinary People and if the guys (viz. Amin, Khair and Haffiz) work hard enough and make the right moves, may even scale the heights of Couple, the powerpop kings from across the Causeway. That remains to be seen. But simply based on the promise of Stars & the World, the Lion Story is certainly a band to keep a close watch on.

Check out The Lion Story’s Myspace page.

THE BEATLES

(c) 2009, Apple Corp Ltd

Apple Corps Ltd. and EMI Music have announced the release of the original Beatles catalogue, which has been digitally re-mastered for the first time, for worldwide CD release on Wednesday, September 9, 2009 (9-9-09), the same date as the release of the widely anticipated “The Beatles: Rock Band” video game.  Each of the CDs is packaged with replicated original UK album art, including expanded booklets containing original and newly written liner notes and rare photos. For a limited period, each CD will also be embedded with a brief documentary film about the album. On the same date, two new Beatles boxed CD collections will also be released.

Beatles fans (and that’s every living person on the planet who has an interest in rock music) are divided on these remasters. On the one hand, we’re happy about having the opportunity to listen to those wonderful songs in pristine digital sound (the Love album demonstrated this). On the other hand, it seems like an exercise to squeeze money from fans in less than economically viable times.

On balance, whilst I think that it’s about time that the Beatles catalogue received the deluxe re-issue treatment many lesser acts have already received many times over, I am a little concerned about the fact that fans will be asked to pay full price for 30-minute albums, from whom the record label (viz EMI) has made megabucks from fans already. Sure, you can talk about the packaging, the expanded booklets and the embedded documentaries but if this exercise was about the fans, then the discs should be priced at not more than half the usual CD prices.

Unfortunately, with EMI in dire financial straits, it will see this as a perfect opportunity to replenish its coffers with even more Beatles money. Personally, I can see myself simply purchasing the entire catalogue without too much hesitation (just look at the CD package for Abbey Road above) but I’m hoping for some common sense from Apple and EMI. Am I being too naive? What do you think, Beatles fans?

Pix (c) 2009, Apple Corps Ltd.

S-ROCK SPOTLIGHT: GREAT SPY EXPERIMENT

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Why do I love the Great Spy Experiment (GSE) as much as I do?

There will be detractors who accuse GSE’s style of being derivative of Interpol, the Editors, the Killers et al. Pardon me if this sounds like sheer hyperbole, but that’s like saying that Coldplay sounds like Radiohead and Viva La Vida sounds like a Santriani song! To these ears, I’d rather listen to GSE than any of the above mentioned bands.

Yes, GSE draws from the same post-punk revival as these other bands but GSE is also able to imbue melodic soul into their original material. Flower Show Riots. their shimmering debut album contains tunes that make one sing and rhythms that move one to dance. Pure & simple.

Following below is GSE’s very first music video of their breakthrough deubt single – Class ‘A’ Love Affair – and I like the ‘black vs white concept’ that runs through the spine of the video. So enjoy… and spread the word.

Check out GSE’s Myspace page.

Pix by Fir.