CAW! CAW!

CAW! CAW! Wait Outside (Slanty Shanty)

A young band that starts off playing punk-influenced, textured rock and roll before expanding their canvas and horizons to include dreamily ambient, atmospheric experimenting?  We’ll ignore the obvious temptation to reference the four lads from Ireland here and instead tell you that underneath all the alien-sounding pyschedelia is a very well-honed pop sensibility that ensures the record remains firmly rooted in Planet Earth-style accessible melodies. Besides, Caw! Caw!’s brand of experimentation is much closer sonically to the art-rock of Radiohead anyway.

The record opens with a little patch of outer space and twinkling star guitars coloring the soundscapes on Escape The Red Giant, before rollicking drums intrude and set up the song for the entry of lead vocalist Tim Tsurutani’s half-whispered, half-drawling lyrics. It’s followed by easily the catchiest track on the album, Organisms, one that deftly blends indie-style sonic colors and irresistible tunefulness. Wrapped Up Neat In The Bible is equally catchy and cosmo-spacey, but towards the end of the track there is some truly virtuso screeching-guitar work that would make both Eric Clapton and The Edge proud. 

There’s some really solid songwriting on display here, but at the same time an unconventional approach to song structure that will keep you on your toes, such as on the rocker number Work, which is probably the closest thing to modern radio alt-rock you’ll find on this record. Penultimate track Rotten Ghost is a dark and brooding number teased onto a razor edge, and the album closes on the sprawlingly gorgeous piece, Sheets. 

A gorgeously beautiful record at times and unbearably catchy at others, Caw! Caw! might be a bit too loose and unstructured for the mainstream, but one gets the feeling that something might be lost if they were to work within the confines and rigours of a traditional songwriting structure. Underneath the experimentation though, is a intuitive pop discipline that will definitely serve them well in future. A brilliant record worthy of every praise. 

(Samuel C Wee)
Check out Caw! Caw!’s Myspace page.

THE SAFES

THE SAFES Sight of All Light (Self released) 

There’s much to be said for doing some research about the album you’re about to review before you go into it at full volume. I say this because my eardrums are still ringing from the aftershock of being blasted with the raw garage-rock opening riffs of The Safes’ latest EP, Sight Of All Light. (In my defence, I was attempting to listen in on the dialogue of a particularly stubborn Youtube video earlier on my headphones.)

The brainchild of the O’Malley brothers trio, Sight of All Light is their fourth release and second EP. Clocking in at just around 11 minutes long, The Safes waste no time in getting to the point as title track Sight Of All Light sets the pace and tone for the rest of the record with a driving drum pulse and massive, ear-filling guitar power chords that wrap around the vocals in a very 1970s Cheap Trick manner. Second track Troublemaker doesn’t depart much from the opener as ringing distortion underline the harmonies on the intro, before settling into an abrasive repetitive format for the rest of the song. 

The rest of the EP can pretty much be summed up in the same few words really, catchy, hooky choruses on top of crashing power riffs that leave no space for breathing. It’s hardly as boring as that description might suggest, mainly due to the length of the EP itself. The unprepared listener might come out shell-shocked after the 11 minutes due to the breakneck frenetic intensity at which The Safes plow through the songs, but a few repeats on the playlist will offer up some rewards as one begins to notice the subtleties and layers that cleverly underline the songs. The Sky Is Falling is one such track that will offer up its secrets upon revisitation.

A rather good record that grabs you by the scruff of the neck on the first listen and demands you stay for the rerun. 

(Samuel C Wee)

Check out the Safes’ Myspace page.

THE ORGAN

THE ORGAN Thieves (Mint)

I hadn’t realized that when I previously wrote about The Organ with respect to a free download at RCRD LBL that they had split up in 2006! So, I was a little surprised (but very pleased) to receive the all female band’s final Ep, Thieves in the mail from Canadian indie Mint Records recently. Seems the story is that after the breakup, Debora Cohen, guitar; Ashley Webber, bass; Shelby Stocks, drums; Jenny Smyth, Hammond organ and Katie Sketch, lead singer; went back into the studio in 2007 to complete certain recordings the band had started before the demise of The Organ. The result of which is this truly excellent Ep, which only makes you wonder why this wonderful post-punk-influenced band is no longer making music together.

Anyway, fans of intelligent, multi-layered post-punk should at least be thankful for the existence of The Organ’s swan song. Songs like the opening Even in the Night, with its intricate instrumental interplay and Katie’s doleful & melancholy singing is a wonder to behold. Sure, it hearkens back to post-punk but presented in a unique manner. Same goes for the ironic jaunty Oh What A Feeling, the tweeful Fire in the Ocean (reminiscent of Felt’s finest moments) and the rustic Don’t Be Angry. 

I must really find out what these gifted ladies are up to right now cos the power of this Ep cannot stop here. Will keep you boys and girls posted of any new post-Organ developments.

Check out The Organ’s Myspace page.

TO TEXAS AND BACK

Here’s your chance to support the S-ROCK scene in a very tangible way. I Am David Sparkle has had the honour of being the 3rd S-ROCK band (after Great Spy Experiment & Electrico) to be invited to the prestigious indie rock festival, SXSW. Unfortunately, part of the deal is self-financing the traveling and accomodation expenses, which according to the band is the region of $30,000.

Thus, the band and the KittyWu label has organized To Texas and Back, a fund-raising benefit for the band’s SXSW adventure, on 31 January 2009 commencing at about 2pm at the Home Club. Entry is $18, which is reasonable considering the array of S-ROCK bands and (more importantly) the knowledge that you’ve contributed to the development of our beloved S-ROCK!!!

SET TIMINGS:

FLEA MARKET STARTS FROM 2.00PM ONWARDS (OUTSIDE HOME CLUB)

Band 1: 3.00 – 3.30pm (30mins) : A Band Named Power
Band 2: 3.45 – 4.15pm (30mins) : Indus Gendi
Band 3: 4.30 – 5.00pm (30mins) : Amberhaze
Band 4: 5.15 – 5.45pm (30mins) : AUM
Band 5: 6.00 – 6.30pm (30mins) : Plainsunset
All changeovers above are 15mins each.

6.30 – 7.30pm INTERMISSION, Music by Sweetmusic.fm (Roland)

Band 6: 7.30 – 8.00pm (30mins) : Amateur Takes Control
Band 7: 8.15 – 8.45pm (30mins) : The Great Spy Experiment
Band 8: 9.00 – 9.35pm (35mins) : Muon
Band 9: 9.50 – 10.30pm (40mins) : 41 (from Kuala Lumpur)
Band 10: 10.45 – 11.25pm (40mins) : I Am David Sparkle

DJ SETS FROM 11.30PM ONWARDS:

11.30pm – 12.30am : Unpopular Music (Charan) & (possibly Sweetmusic.fm)
12.30am – 2.00am : 4 Imaginary Boys
2.00am – 3.00am : Kid Villain (Razi)

3.00am ONWARDS: SLEEPY TIME!

LITHOPS

LITHOPS Ye Viols! (Thrill Jockey)

More esoterica from Thrill Jockey comes in the form of Lithops’ new album. This time around, Jan St. Werner (who is Lithops) has collected a selection of installation soundtracks from several recent exhibitions. How apt! It’s basically industrial noise without much context. There are no chords or melodies, whatsoever, and it would be no exaggeration to say that Ye Viols is an acquired taste. 

That said, the tracks do have distinctive character and mood and probably would make more sense with a visual element. I figure that it would provide good background “music” for studying like Pink Floyd use to do. Except that Ye Viols will not put you into a dreamlike reverie. The dissonent percussive sounds are a little harsh and there is precious little sweet and light to be found but if you enjoy experimental music, then this is right up your alley.

Check out Lithops’ Myspace page.

U2

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U2 Get On Your Boots (Universal)

It begins with a generic fuzzy (bass) riff, Bono sings a generic melody line that takes its cue from Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues before getting slightly off the ground with a Arabic sounding middle eight. Nothing ground breaking, merely sufficient. Lacks the verve of the best songs from the last two albums. If this is the lead single, then I’m concerned about the rest of the new album.

Listen to Get On Your Boots at Last.fm.

BON IVER

BON IVER Blood Bank (Jagjaguwar)

Is this four-track EP a follow up to last year’s masterpiece For Emma Forever Ago or an extension of it? To these ears, the latter description seems to be the accurate one. Simply because the title track is allegedly taken from the same sessions that spawned Emma but never released. Well, not only that but the recordings on this Ep possesses similar sensibilities to Emma in that it contains sparse instrumentation and Justin Vernon’s now familiar falsetto. 

Despite these songs having apparently been performed by a band rather than Vernon on his own, the Ep does not sound too different from Emma and in many ways, you could add these four tracks to the end of Emma and not notice any difference. Both album and Ep highlight a strange collision of acoustic and electronic sounds, vocal manupilations and odd soul-folk combinations. Which sets Bon Iver apart from say, Coldplay despite sharing certain common qualities. 

I mean, you could never imagine Coldplay something as experiemental and yet heartfelt as Woods with its bizarre acapella choral effect. It’s probably the best track on the Ep with its ghostly evocation allied to a soulful delievery. The rest of Blood Bank is par for the course – the title track’s classicist folk-rock, the austere stripped down Beach Baby and the piano-drenched Babys – keeping fans happy but not really building on the goodwill generated by that excellent debut.

ME & MY GUITAR

Rachael and I

I will be 48 next month.

A sobering thought maybe but I count my blessings that I am still able to do what I love – write and play my music. Ever since plunging back into the S-ROCK scene after New York April 2007, things have been happening for me. So on the 14th and 15th January 2009, I made my solo debut at the Esplanade Concourse, armed with my guitar (and a piano).

And whilst it was enjoyable to be able to share songs from my 15-year recording career (such as it is), it was even more satisfying to share the stage with my apprentices – Racheal Teo and Nick Tan, two talented singer-songwriters who have the potential to make an impact not only on the S-ROCK scene but across the world. And why not?

Nick

So thanks to all the kind folk who made this event such a fun one for me – the Esplanade peeps (Chloe, Lynn, Ashton, Keith), Rachael, Nick, Gary and Janice, Georgene, Mandy, Esther, HQ, Nick, James & Mel, Es, Jon, Sherwin, Ivanified et al.

Set list – 

(1) Love & Water (Rachael Teo), Late Night Request (GSE), Never Liked the Beatles, Beautiful, High Cost of Living, I Love Singapore, My One & Only.

(2) Hot Burrito #1 (Flying Burrito Bros), My Life, This Savage Garden, Keep the Faith, Oh Lord!, Always, My One & Only

(3) Lyric Space (Nick Tan), Jealous Guy (John Lennon), Feel the Same Way, Here, Mister Ong, Orchard Road, My One & Only

(4) Waterloo Sunset (The Kinks), A Climate of Fear, Easy, Damaged, Heaven, My One & Only, Gum

Hope to upload a couple of tracks recorded live from both nights soon.

… still there’s more …

And… watchmen@midnight Ep is still available for free download here.

PIT ER PAT

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PIT ER PAT High Time (Thrill Jockey)

What to make of bands like Pit Er Pat? This multi-instrumentalist quartet – Fay Davis-Jeffers (vocals, piano, guitar, kalimba), Rob Doran (bass, vocals, guitar, electronics) and Butchy Fuego (drums, vocals, percussion, electronics/programming) – eschews conventional pop-rock songwriting in an attempt to come up with a unique sound and voice.

Judging from the instruments used on this – the band’s third album – electric kalimba, bobo balaphone, Burmese temple gongs, agogo bells, anandolohori, cuica, timbale, conga, bongos, vibraslap, various shakers, bells, chimes, claps, and melodica (I don’t even recognise most of these instruments, never mind what they sound like!), it’s obvious that High Time is not going to be an easy ride for the uninitiated.

Thus, let’s just say that the esoteric music of Pit Er Pat is an acquired taste in the extreme. But if you’re looking for something different and something more challenging than your usual three chord wonders, then you might want to check out High Time. It’s not easy to draw reference points although in terms of approach, you might find some affinity with the more experimental songs of The Doors and Love and in terms of the modern music scene, perhaps Beirut, Joanna Newsom and Blonde Redhead.

You might even call it left-field world music filtered through post-rock sensibilities but I’m sure even that description will not do any justice to this charming and inventive music. 

Check out Pit Er Pat’s Myspace page.

RACHEL GETTING MARRIED

Rachel Getting Married isn’t really much about Rachel’s wedding than it is about Kym returning home and attempting to fit in.  

Anne Hathaway headlines this small film, a gem of a family drama.  Hathaway plays Kym, an ex-junkie out from rehabilitation to attend her sister, Rachel’s (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding.  

All seems rather well under the quiet surface of things until Kym discovers that she’s not Rachel’s Maid-of-Honour, to which Kym creates a big fuss.  Later, Kym embarrasses Rachel with an Alcoholic Anonymous sharing cum confession over the Rachel’s rehearsal dinner.  Secrets are revealed and the audience sees a family torn apart over a tragedy.  

Hathaway channels the yearning and desperation of Kym – dole-eyed, fidgety, and insecure as Kym, cigarette almost never leaving her hand.  Kym is wrecked by guilt, unable to face her demons.  Kym is an outsider in her own home, trying to integrate into her own family.  Hathaway has come a long way to establish herself as a fine actress, a change from the days of Ella Enchanted and The Princess DiariesRachel Getting Married cements that.  It is not surprising that Hathaway is considered a forerunner for a Best Actress nomination at the 2009 Oscars.      

DeWitt acquits herself well against Hathaway, portraying succinctly the neglected child who wants the attention for a change.  DeWitt also successfully conveys the love-hate relationship and quiet resentment Rachel has towards Kym.  

Bill Irwin is all tender and kind as the home-proud father who is caring about his daughters.  

Kudos goes to Debra Winger as Rachel’s and Kym’s estranged mother.  Winger is all good as the cool steely reserve of their mother whose attention both Rachel and especially Kym so desire to have but never reciprocated equally.  

The movie is shot in a DV like mode and joined together shot-by-shot.  It makes all the more a gripping family drama.  Although one letdown would be the over-extended song and dance segment of Rachel’s wedding, this movie is one ride of a drama about family and acceptance.  

(Darren Boon)
Rachel Getting Married is in the cinemas now.

ME & MY GUITAR

km-concourse

2009 begins tonight, boys and girls!

My first gig of the year will be a solo affair, armed only with my guitar. Not entirely true actually, as there will be a little surprise for those of you at the esplanade concourse tonight for the 2nd set at 8.15pm.

Also, my talented Noise apprentices Rachael Teo and Nick Tan will be opening each night’s set with a original song of their own. These kids are gifted singer-songwriters and you can expect to hear much more of them in the months to come. 

I will be singing a few of the usual suspects and many songs that I’ve never ever played live before. I’m blessed to still have an audience even after all these years and for this, I am thankful. So hope to see all you kind folk tonight or tomorrow night and please do come up and say hello…

… and there’s more …

MILK

“My name is Harvey Milk and I’m here to recruit you.”

Milk is director Gus van Sant’s telling of the final eight years of the life of San Francisco’s first openly gay City Supervisor Harvey Milk who was voted into public office.  

Milk was later gunned down by a disgruntled ex-fellow Supervisor Dan White less than a year after taking office.  

The film stars Sean Penn in the title role of Milk.  Shedding the audiences’ perception of his tough bad boy image, Penn channels one of his career’s finest and most nuanced moments of a gay man cum activist.  Penn not only succeeds in nailing the physical aspects and gestures of Milk, but also delivers Milk’s political ideals and passion as well as Milk’s playfulness and affection towards his lovers.  Penn is a hot favourite for a Best Actor nomination at this year’s Oscars.  

The film opens in New York with a closeted Milk (about to turn forty) meeting his long-time love Scott Smith, played with heart-breaking tenderness by James Franco who tries his best to support Milk in the latter’s political endeavours.  Smith and Milk move interstate from New York to San Francisco in search of a change.  

There Milk begins to campaign and crusade for gay rights at a time when religious fervour and the worry of the disintegration of the family begin to threaten the rights of homosexuals in the form of the Briggs Initiative or Proposition Six to which Milk successfully campaigned against.  

Josh Brolin is superb and tragic as an embittered White whose perfect world and everything he believes is sent crumbling by Milk.  Emile Hirsch is tart and brilliant as Milk’s protégé Cleve Jones.      

Milk intersperses actual archival video footage and scenes of Milk taping and chronicling his crusade which is to be played in the event of his death.  

Harvey Milk inspired hope and change that anticipated and is mirrored by U.S. President Elect Barack Obama.  The movie Milk may not effect change as much but it is a masterfully crafted film of the celebration of hope and the unwavering human spirit.  It is an inspiration of hope in this turbulent time.  

(Darren Boon)

Milk is in the cinemas now.

CUT OFF YOUR HANDS

CUT OFF YOUR HANDS You & I (Frenchkiss)

The post-punk epoch (basically 1978 to 1984) was a fecund period in rock history. These years are special to me personally because I really started listening seriously to rock music during this precious era. But of all the bands that flourished during this time and beyond, the Cure is one post-punk outfit that I could never get into. To date, in fact. But it is impossible to deny that perhaps, apart from Joy Division/New Order, U2 and the Police, no other post-punk band has been as influential on the modern rock scene as the Cure. 

Case in point, Cut Off Your Hands, hailing from New Zealand but now based in the UK, a post-punk revival band that has been making waves and creating buzz with their hyper-kinetic, highly danceable & irresistibly tuneful indie pop music. Three Eps (viz. Shaky Hands, Blue on Blue and Happy As Can Be) have all been well received by critics and fans alike. Part of the secret behind COYH’s success is their partnership with producer (ex-Suede guitarist) Bernard Butler, which has been working since recording Blue on Blue in 2007.

You & I does not disappoint. Whatever the label, this debut album is chock full of eminently listenable pop songs that resonate with verve and playful melodicism. It’s hard to pick favorites because all the tracks are equally strong but if pushed, I would say that the quietly provocative Someone Like Daniel, the poppy single Oh Girl, the vibrant Let’s Get Out of Here and the strangely Spectoresque Happy As Can Be are the tastiest delights of this sonic buffet. 

A very early contender for a place on the 2009 best albums list already…

Check out Cut Off Your Hands’ Myspace page.

FRANKLYN

franklyn

“Esser is a broken man, searching for his wayward son amongst the rough streets of London’s homeless. Milo is a heartbroken thirty-something desperately trying to find a way back to the purity of first love. Emilia is a beautiful art student, her suicidal art projects becoming increasingly more complex and deadly. Preest is a masked vigilante detective, searching for his nemesis on the streets of Meanwhile City; a monolithic fantasy metropolis ruthlessly governed by faith and religious fervour. Esser, Milo, Emilia, Preest- a group of people who couldn’t be further apart. Their individual worlds are set for a cataclysmic collision. In an explosive finale, thepath of a single bullet will decide the fate of our four lost souls….”

So goes the press release of the upcoming HanWay Film sci-fi movie Franklyn. Which, going by the trailer, seems to be a hybrid of dystopian future/steampunk/super hero genres. Interesting. Reminds me very much of Dark City and Children of Men in its visual presentation. Worth checking out. Will be released in the UK in February. No news on international release dates so far.

Check out the trailer here.

THE POWER OF POP CULTURE

Music

Music

Power of Pop began in 1998 as a website to feature my music writing. Of course, I have other interests – football, film, TV, books etc and have usually set up other sites for these topics.

 

Film
Film

But lately, I’ve been thinking about consolidation. Power of Pop should be more than music, it should encompass the whole of popular culture, as it is. And the sudden appearance of film and football posts is just the beginning.

 

Comics
Comics

So this is an open call to writers out there who are interested in writing about pop culture. It’ll still be reviews-centric with a strong commitment to music but there will be space for other interests as well, as long as it is pop culture relevant.

 

Football
Football

If you’re interested, do drop me a line – info (at) powerofpop (dot) com

…and there’s more…

THE DARK KNIGHT DVD

The Dark Knight (Two-Disc Special Edition + Digital Copy)

The biggest movie of 2008 is worth watching more than once and you can do so now with the DVD release. This sequel to Batman Begins outdoes its predecessor in so many ways, that it’s easy to forget that Batman Begins was a great film in its own right. I’ve review the film elsewhere on Power of Pop but suffice to say that watching the film over again, one realizes that the the late Heath Ledger steals every single scene he is in.

Continue reading “THE DARK KNIGHT DVD”

THE CORNER LAUGHERS

tomb-of-leopards

THE CORNER LAUGHERS Tomb of Leopards (Sandbox)

Cartoons on the cover? Check. Scintillating colour scheme? Check. Mandatory animal reference? Check. Mandolin? Check. Syllable-balanced song titles? Check. 

It doesn’t take a Nobel laureate to figure out what kind of music to expect the second you glaze your peepers over the cover of Tomb Of Leopards. Pretty much all the twee pop stereotypes are fulfilled amidst the quaint vector artwork. Fortunately, the music showcased in the album is anything but nondescript.

Tomb Of Leopards is a jaunty reinterpretation of a genre that, as I’ve always maintained, has already been jaunted all the way back to an age where “merry” was still a perennial adjective. No mean feat, considering the saturated nature of the genre. 

Managing to maintain the characteristic upper register cheeriness of a twee pop record, the group catapults the genre into modern relevance by subsumption of numerous unexpected elements into their distinctive sound. Treading the fence between unsullied knelling and raw energetics, they have managed to strike a very gratifying balance between glee and melancholia.

You want proof you say? Check out See You In Hell. Yes, it IS a happy tune. Now slow down, take a deep breath, and review the title.

One musical anecdote I particularly enjoyed off the album was the growling, Page-esque guitar solo in the postlude of Biological Sense, which very tastefully succeeded a bluesy refrain of lost love built upon threadbare Mandolin chords. It isn’t easy to incorporate these themes into a sad pop song without dragging along their affiliated clichés, according further testament, in my book, to the group’s very discernable talent.

An excellent release that’ll probably stay in heavy rotation on my playlists this year. Highly recommended.

(Sherwin Tay)

Check out The Corner Laughers’ Myspace page.

BON IVER

bon_iver-for_emma_forever_ago-new

BON IVER For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar)

I suppose technically, this should have been in my top ten albums list except that I kept thinking it was a 2007 release and that I had reviewed it before. Wrong on all counts! So better late than never.

So what is it about Bon Iver/Justin Vernon’s lo-fi experiments into indie-folk-pop that has got music bloggers everywhere all excited? Well, it just sounds so refreshing and so diffierent from the majority of the crap out there trying to pass of as alternative or indie. 

Despite the austerity of the production, there is so much going on in these lo-fi recordings that one could listen to them again and again and still hear something new. For me, it’s the way the Justin Vernon uses his voice – whether as falsetto, tracked to death or good ol’ country-folk larynx. 

Flume and Lump Sum encapsulate everything that is vital and gorgeous about this album – the brilliant harmonies on Flume’s chorus (not to mention that guitar string ringing) or the unforgettable melody (one that Macca himself would be proud to call his own) and heavenly choral effects of Lump Sum.

The rest of For Emma, Forever Ago keeps the momentum at a high. The fragile beauty of The Wolves (Act I & II), the immersing vocal envelope of Creature Fear and the jaunty, Neil Young vibe (think: eponymous debut) of For Emma make for an intense ride. If you love the ethereal magic of Van Morrison, Nick Drake and Jeff Buckley, then you just cannot ignore Bon Iver.

Check out Bon Iver’s Myspace page.

SLOAN

SLOAN Parallel Play (Murder)

Canadian powerpoppers have been honing their pop craft since the bad old days of grunge. Having been mistakenly lumped with the likes of Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam after their debut Smeared, the band would go on to dispel any misconceptions about where their musical allegiances lay. 

Seven studio albums later (not to mention fame & fortune in their homeland), Sloan remain a bit of a secret cult treasure in the USA and beyond but that has not stopped them from producing some of the finest classicist pop-rock albums of the last decade or so. 

After the 30-track extravaganza of Never Hear the End of It (2006), perhaps its understandable that Parallel Play – clocking in at under 38 minutes, is Sloan’s shortest album ever. As usual, the 13 tracks on Parallel Play are individually brilliant exercises in guitar pop par excellence, and collectively a shining example of how 70s classic pop-rock can still be relevant and viable in 2008.

From pop punk (Emergency 911) to powerpop (Cheap Champagne) to Stonesy R&B (Believe in Me) to jaunty piano rock (Witch’s Wand) and to even cheesy reggae (Too Many), Sloan reiterate their mastery over guitar pop forms to deliver an album that every fan of good old fashioned rock ‘n’ pop music will delight in.

Check out Sloan’s Myspace page.

THE SPINTO BAND

THE SPINTO BAND Moonwink (Park the Van)

Happy vibrant pop that is at once angular and nuanced, borrowing heavily from psychedelic rock and music hall. In that respect, The Spinto Band recalls the work of the Kinks, XTC and Blur. In the modern rock milieu, the Spinto Band shares much in common with Of Montreal. 

The Spinto Band have been recording artists for more than a decade and still their innocent embrace of quirky and jaunty pop show no sign of abatement. Moonwink is chock full of energetic outbursts of sound, childlike tunes and whimsical arrangements, which includes a wide array of instruments eg. timpani, horns, church organ et al. Exciting and fun material is the order of the day for the Spinto Band with Moonwink, nothing too serious, anything to make you jump around and smile!

Check out the Spinto Band’s Myspace page.

ASTRONINJA

ninjacover

ASTRONINJA Kiss My Astro! (Self released)

Singaporean musicians have managed to achieve some semblance of pedigree since the mid-90s when we were nothing but a scene that celebrated itself. OK fine, I’ll admit, a substantial proportion of us (completely impartial commentaries notwithstanding) are still stuck in that rut.

I’ve know I’ve been on about this like a broken record, but I’ll say it again; it takes pure, unadulterated bollocks to shove the mighty little finger in the “scene’s” face and rise above the sad institutionalization of circle-jerking cliques and carebear support groups who wear their affiliations on their sleeves.

Constituted by members who have each paid their ample share of dues to the community, Astroninja is probably one the closest things we’ll ever get to an all-star shootout. Originally formed under the moniker Astroninja All-Stars as a one-night-only supergroup at Rock For Wayne, the band has since settled into a more permanent configuration, dropping the postfix in favour of the spunkier alternative. 

After emerging from a year in the studio noodling and tweaking their sound, these purveyors of “Astro-rock” have seen their laborious efforts come to fruition in the form of Kiss My Astro! their 11-track LP. Sealed in an obnoxiously large yellow sleeve, the package also includes a Bobby (the band mascot, he is lamb, you know!?) badge, stickers bearing the cartoon likenesses of each member, and a self-explanatory Ninja Card. Unorthodox? Definitely. Moreover, the band would be quick to slap you across the head with a giant trout to remind you that that’s EXACTLY how they like it.

If you’re wondering why you haven’t seen any of the fellows in a while, it’s because they haven’t been maintaining an active calendar of gigs. That’s right, no gigs at all, at least, not yet. They have chosen to forgo some of the more traditional promotional elements to focus on their music. Not surprisingly, it seems to be working a lot better for them than some of the more current models, which in my opinion, are considerably flawed.

As is the case with any “supergroup”, the omnipresent question of par proximity is bound to arise. How well does Kiss My Astro! (yes, with the exclamation mark, none of that let’s-cut-the-word-in-half-cos-we-r-kool crap) match up to its eminent expectations?

The first thing you notice about the album is its astronomically (you shall have to excuse my puns, I have been trapped in headline hell for well over a week now) tasteful guitar works, which draw equally from classic, driving rock, a reckless street-punk ethos, and appropriately applied effects. With this in mind, you’d half expect a disappointingly unfocused delivery to follow, considering the bands utterly random inclinations with regards to content. Not so. These are paired with thundering, amply-filled rhythmwork, and a searing vocal style delivered with a nuclear excess of aplomb. 

The vocals are an entire area of consideration on their own. So important to the direction of this album, that I reckon they deserve their own paragraph. If you find the voice screaming back at you familiar, it’s because you’ve probably heard it before. Singer Levan Wee, former frontman of Ronin, returns with a very apparent maturation to his howls, taming the mayhem of his Revolution and Do What Thou Wilt days, and channeling the underlying energy to drive messages of liberation, anti-conformity and self-empowerment, all with subtle undertones of politically-fallacious humour. 

That’s not to say that every song is a searing Johnny Ramone buzzsaw affair, there is plenty of ambient goodness to be had (check out the soaring introduction to Cacophony, the albums epilogue) along with uncommonly compelling vocal explorations (Jess, Thunder, Anthem For The Ordinary et al.)

All in all, an album that covers plenty of ground, all while managing to stay firmly rooted to its key principles. Astroninja’s 100% home-blended political incorrectness is something we are in dire need of around here.

KMA! is without a doubt, the most exciting S-Rock album to have emerged from 2008. Watch out for more from the Astro boys this year: the time of the Ninja approaches.

(Sherwin Tay)

Check out Astroninja’s Myspace page.

ASTRO BOY

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My earliest memory of TV was an Astro Boy cartoon in the mid-60s, when I was growing up.  I guess you could say that my interest in the upcoming Astro Boy movie (released on October 23) is purely nostalgic. Astro Boy, of course, is an android built by Doctor Tenma, head of the futuristic Ministry of Science, in memory of his deceased son. Before comics, Astro Boy was my introduction to the world of sci-fi, fantasy and super powers. Frankly, I don’t remember much about the cartoon so it should be interesting to see how this movie turns out.

ONE SMALL STEP FOR LANDMINES

 

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ONE SMALL STEP FOR LANDMINES If You Could Get Over Me Ep (Self released)

Most rock bands treat acoustic performances with a sort of measured trepidation. It’s not hard to see why. Rock music thrives on electricity to build the sort of atmosphere where it can explode into either epic catharsis, ala U2’s 1987 With Or Without You, or snarling landscapes of narrative, like Bob Dylan’s 1965 Like A Rolling Stone.

It takes a certain amount of panache, therefore, for a rock band to pull out the plug and risk not having power for those power chords, like Tallahassee emo pop-rock band One Small Step For Landmines does here on their fourth release, the free six-song acoustic EP, If You Could Get Over Me.  

To be fair about it, it’s not really anything unusual to see emo rock bands releasing acoustic songs, or albums for that nature. Most of them would be better off sticking to the full band treatment though; it really is no compliment to your musicianship when audiences start realizing that there’s not much different in arrangement between your acoustic songs and your band songs. Case in point: the insufferably snore-inducing Secondhand Serenade.  

Interestingly enough, One Small Step For Landmines have actually made an album here that is rather enjoyable. Breaking away from the stiflingly conventional rattle and strum that has characterized most emo acoustic music, Landmines inject sufficient innovation and layering into their songs to keep the music compelling and interesting without overwhelming the lyrical focus. 

The lyrics here are conventional emo pop-rock fare, sprawling streams of consciousness punctuated by the occasional passage of narrative. What lifts them here, however, is the interesting melodies that lead singer Kevin Allen colors them with. They are tied together with a delivery that is characteristically bleeding-heart-on-the-sleeve naked. 

Title track here, If You Could Get Over Me, is an excellent representation for the album itself; bright, catchy plucked guitar arpeggios underlining the conversational emoting of Allen. Aluminum Can Strings follows the same formula, telling through a series of sketched thoughts, meandering poetry and geographical name-dropping the normal break-up story. New York, On Purpose is probably the best track here on the E.P, recounting a night of reminiscent reunion through rockin’ riffs. (Gee, alliteration is sure fun!) One gets the feeling, though, that the track would be more complete as a full-out driving piece of emo-punk, and Landmines might want to consider revisiting this track on future albums. The E.P closes with She Told Me A Story, a conversation between a mother and a son about a difficult childhood. 

All things considered, One Small Step For Landmines do a good if not inspired job here with some pretty melodies and lyrics so intimate, they’re microscopic. It’s not exactly Joni Mitchell’s Blue or Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, but it’s catchy, easy on the ear, and if you happen to be having a bout of teenage emotive angst, it might even be cathartic. 

Check out the band’s Myspace page for more info.

LORNA

LORNA Writing Down Things To Say (Words On Music)

Faithful readers will know that I am a sucker for harmonica over an acoustic guitar. And that’s how English shoegaze/orch pop outfit Lorna has elected to introduce us listeners to the wonders of this brand new sparkling album. As Mark and Sharon Rolfe (yup, husband and wife team) harmonize on the chorus of the opening folky Look Left, goose bumps spring to life on my skin. 

Which sets the tone for this collection of deliberately soft and preciously constructed songs. Not In My Lighthouse is a prime example of this as tasteful organ, light harp and deep clarinet embellish the Rolfes’ collective magic. Another is A Place That We Can Go with its lightly strummed acoustic guitar, heavenly pedal steel & plucked banjo giving it a surreal countrified feel. Gorgeous.

The pace of Writing Down Things To Say is largely easy and relaxing. The emphasis is on atmosphere without sacrificing melody as every instrument is carefully selected to produce a certain mood. Nowhere is this more evident that in the evocative Monsters Are Forever, where these various elements are coalsed into a spine tingling whole. Breath taking to say the least.

Fans of fragile country-folk and lovely chamber pop will simply adore Writing Down Things To Say from start to finish.

Check out Lorna’s Myspace page.