MITCH FRIEDMAN

3036283744_9ef3afa307_o

MITCH FRIEDMAN Game Show Teeth (Meechmusic)

Whimsical, offbeat and quirky song craft seems to be a rare commodity nowadays. Songs imbued with elements of comedy, music hall, vaudeville and equal amounts of psych-folk-rock. Say hello to Mitch Friedman who does the genre a tremendous service with this superb album.

Supported by like minded luminaries like Andy Partridge/Dave Gregory (XTC), Joe McGinty (Psychedelic Furs) & R. Stevie Moore, Friedman has pulled a veritable cat from out of the hat (or is that rabbit out of a bag?) with a slew of left-field gems that swell with ingenuity.

That said, the slightly erudite quality of the music here may put off the casual pop listen but fans of Syd Barrett, Ray Davies, Robyn Hitchcock, Martin Newell will thrill to inventive tracks like Little Masterpiece, The Man That Talked Too Much, As Moons Go and Often I Saunter.

U2

u2-no-line-on-the-horizon-cd-cover-album-art

U2 No Line on the Horizon (Universal-Island)

It’s hard to find an objective review when it comes to U2. How do you, when they’re arguably the biggest band in the world? The majority of reviewers out there (yours truly included) have to fight to resist two knee-jerk reactions when it comes to U2.  The first is to view any and every work by them through rose-tinted glasses and proclaim it their best work ever since The Joshua Tree/Achtung Baby. The second reaction is to dismiss them as over-aged, sanctimonious faux-rockers who are 20 years past their expiry date and vehemently attack their new offering with all the anti-rockstar clichés one can muster.

The latter has been growing increasingly commonplace of late, in light of frontman Bono’s earnest efforts at soapboxing and moonlighting as a political activist. (Insert your own joke about soapboxes and Bono’s diminutive height here.) Still, no other band on Earth can even come close to commanding the level of media attention, and at 29 years and counting since their debut album that is quite an accomplishment. At an age where most of their contemporaries are either irrelevant or disbanded, U2 continue to make music that is commercially relevant, powerful and most importantly fresh.

Given all of the above, then, one would be forgiven for thinking that they’d be comfortable resting assuredly on their laurels. Not so for U2. From The Unforgettable Fire to Achtung Baby, Zooropa to All That You Can’t Leave Behind, U2 have always been at their best when they’re pursuing their music with a dogged restlessness and willingness to step beyond the boundaries of their comfort zones. After the back to basics of the last two records, the time was right for U2 to shake it all up again.

This brings us to their latest record: No Line On The Horizon. The first thing you notice once you pop it into the CD player is the distance from their last album, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.  The album opener and titular track is quite assuredly not the radio-friendly stadium-sized advertising jingle that Vertigo was, with its key-shifting riff and polyrhythmic structure. Fans of U2’s experimental 90s work will be gratified to hear that, although there are still shades of the familiar amidst the textural density. For example, 2nd single Magnificent should be a traditional U2 anthem with its melting, coruscating guitarwork and epic, worshipful vocals. The rhythm section though anchors the song with a stomping aggressiveness that could have been on Achtung Baby. Likewise, Breathe is a number that is sonically similar to the U2 of 20 years ago, but it shines with a Dylanesque verve and confident flow that is colored in parts by Arabian and Oriental influences.

Certain tracks in particular indicate that U2 have never really gotten over their infatuation with technology. Lead single Get On Your Boots is a buzzing electrofunk number that ambiguously straddles the territory between catchy and annoying, and Fez-Being Born is perhaps their most experimental number ever since Passengers, with a slow, drifting ambient introduction that morphes into a grinding, driving impressionistic track.

Perhaps the greatest difference from Bomb is the lack of an instant melody. On Horizon, U2 have traded their sticky hooks and ringing radio baits for subtle, nifty sonic textures. Unlike the previous albums of this decade, No Line On The Horizon is much more reluctant to give up its gems at first listen. It is instead on the 5th or 6th round that one starts to appreciate the subtle details and musical maturity that Horizon is characterized by. One such example is Moment of Surrender, a slow burning, soulful gospel number that find Bono delivering some of his heaviest lyrics yet since 97’s Pop. Even the token pop numbers here don’t really ignite in your ears until you’ve invested yourself thoroughly into them, with I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight in particular sounding better with every listen. The softer numbers in particular will grow on you sneakily, and before you realize it, you’ll be feeling an all too familiar tingle down your spine as you listen to White as Snow or Cedars of Lebanon.

How do I end this review? It’s near impossible to fully and realistically give an accurate account here, seeing as how it’s an album that is denser than any of its predecessors this decade. Every listen will bring about new observations and opinions, some good some bad. Perhaps the best compliment I can pay it is that a few weeks after my first listen I still haven’t found the best track on the record. Like a good, full-bodied wine, this is a record that will get better with time.

(Samuel C Wee)

I’ve recently been enjoying the 2008 remasters of Boy and October and marveling at the sheer inventive energy of U2 as baby band. Of course, those albums are now almost 30 years old, a generation ago. I must admit that I feared for this album when I heard the rather formlaic and lacklustre Get On Your Boots. Happy to report that the rest of No Line on the Horizon is pretty much an inversion of its first single. U2 has managed to reinvent itself all over again as they did with Unforgettable Fire and Achtung Baby all those years ago.

There is a distinct elegance and grace in the new songs here, certainly a reaction to the bombast of the last two albums, that frankly I think has only been witnessed infrequently on previous efforts. Songs like You’re So Cruel (from Acthung Baby) and A Sort of Homecoming (from Unforgettable Fire) – intriguingly two of my favorite U2 songs – provide the template for much of this surprisingly understated album. It’s only on incongrous material like Get On Your Boots, Breathe and Stand Up Comedy that the plan goes slightly awry. The overall mood and tone is very chill-out and cinematic. This probably sounds like hyperbole but I believe that No Line on the Horizon is U2’s best album since Achtung Baby and certainly already one of the best for 2009.

S-ROCK WEEKEND

n516314726_1378975_3149305

The past weekend was a fruitful one for me both as a performer and as a mentor. On the Saturday night, both my Noise apprentices viz. Rachael Teo and Nick Tan, made their debuts at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre for the Noise on the Bay event. As their mentor, I felt a distinct pride in their achievements as both gave ample evidence of why I consider both of them to be two of the most promising young Singaporean singer-songwriters.

Rachael has assembled a group of tight musicians that simply click with synergy and right chemistry. The highlight for me was closing number – Heart Conversations – a gorgeous old school ballad which Paul McCartney himself would be proud to call his own. Nick’s band may not have been quite as tight knit but the sheer melodic quality of Nick’s songs shone through. Tunes like Remember, You and Lyric Space would, in an ideal world, be enduring radio hits. At the end of their shows, I felt inspired to do more with them and was encouraged to seek out other aspiring singer-songwriters to hopefully make a difference.

On Sunday, I played in my first gig with Jon (Plainsunset) Chan at the MDA Fiesta at Marina Square. Together with Jon Hemsley (bass) and Iain (Fire Fight) Tham (drums), Jon and I played one of our own songs each and a cover (U2’s Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own). Jon is one of the nicest guys I know and he is a great collaborator and it was amazing how the band managed to click in only two jam sessions to deliver an impressive set. Even better when we were slotted into an impressive S-ROCK line-up which included the Marilyns, Jack and Rai, Ling Kai and the Great Spy Experiment.

Look out for another gig for the Jon Chan/Kevin Mathews group on 20th March 2009 at the The Confessions Stage @ *scape The LAB.

… still there’s more …
(Pix by Rebecca Lincoln)

SUPERMEN!

Supermen! (Fantagraphics)

Sub-titled as “The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1939-1941”, Supermen! provides a concise glimpse into what the early comic books were like back when the medium was really fresh i.e. pre-WWII.

Don’t get too excited, you’re not gonna get any Superman or Captain America or even Captain Marvel comics here. Instead, we have heroes like Dr. Mystic, The Clock and Dirk the Demon, as published by publishers named Comics Magazine Company, Fox Publications and M.L.J. Magazines.

Knowledgable fans would recognize prominent creators like Siegel and Schuster (Superman), Bill Everett (Sub-Mariner) and Will Eisner (The Spirit) amongst the contributors to this sampling. Today’s readers will be surprised at how some of the material from a supposed more naive times really comes across rather grim and gritty.

For example, the Clock is a masked vigilante that battles an underworld of murder and drug addiction, the Flame is a caped crusader that has to protect a small town from horrific creatures of the night and Stardust is a “Super Wizard” with vast interplanetary knowledge which allows him to deal with otherworldly threats and rescue damsels in distress whom he is quite happy to bring home.

The 20 stories on view here provide an intriguing insight of where many of our modern day comic book heroes may have originated from, even if indirectly. A history lesson at best and a curiosity at worst. One for the scholars, I think!

KENT EASTWOOD

KENT EASTWOOD Through the Days (Self-released)

Regardless of whether you like the music, there’s much to be said in the way of brownie points for a musician who steadfastly accompanies the promotional soft copies of his new album with a list of thoughtfully detailed explanations of how the songs on the album came about. In an age where most bands out there are happy to just stick their songs up on Myspace and Youtube and leave it be, someone who makes a sincere effort to connect with us reviewers is just endearing.

Which was why I really, really wanted to like Kent Eastwood’s new release, Through The Days. When the album slipped my attention and relegated itself to background noise a few tracks in, I attributed it to the distractions of work, and resolved to pay it more attention when I wasn’t busy with the stacks of paperwork on my desk. By the time I had been through my 3rd listen however, it was beginning to dawn on me that it just wasn’t a terribly arresting record.

That’s not to say that it’s a poor album: taken on its own merits, one might find a few moments of eloquent poignancy that resonates with you. For the most part, Through The Days is vaguely melodic muzak.  That particular judgment might be a bit harsh, but it’s a reflection of the disappointment I felt when the songs I heard didn’t exactly match up to the descriptions so earnestly set forth by Mr. Eastwood.

Take the album opener, Differences, for example. The song is described as a song of urban alienation and disorientation, which is a fine song concept to start with. The track itself, however, is a mediocre melodic, mid-tempo number that doesn’t depart much from the simple keyboards and drums instrumentation that it starts off with. As an album opener it’s rather poor at capturing one’s attention. Thankfully, second track on the record, Make A Difference, is much more promising, with a much more compelling melody and texture to its flow. Soft waves of electric distortion and guitar rhythms keep one’s attention aroused while the melody does a good job of finding a spot in between your ears and digging a hole there into your memory cells. Someone Like You is passable, though not quite as good as the previous track. Time And Time Again though, at 6:10, is probably 2 minutes too long, and falls prey to the central irony of its premise in being yet just another John Lennon tribute song. The rest of the album plodded along uninterestingly for me, with only Silence and Better Place standing out for me.  (Although why Silence disappears quite abruptly into a patch of literal silence towards the end, I can’t really quite comprehend.)

It’s hard to give this album a negative review when I really wanted to like it in the first place, but if I were to be honest I wasn’t terribly impressed. Eastwood comes across as someone with the capacity to be mesmerizing at times, but this record felt too indulgent and lazy to me, lacking any real imagination or pop discipline. Give the tracks mentioned above a listen if you’re so inclined, but as an album, Through the Days goes wide of the far post for me.

(Samuel C Wee)

WATCHMEN

After all the hype and anticipation, could Zack Snyder’s labor of love live up to the expectations built up by the exceptional graphic novel? Or would it turn out to be, as writer Alan Moore once declared, “unfilmable”? Let’s just say that at the end of almost three hours, I was left smiling and tearing…

Sure, it’s not perfect and I really hate the slight change to the ending. It seems illogical to me. There were also notable plot elements omitted from the film that made certain key story moments weaker. The whole Tales from the Black Freighter sequence is missing, together with the development of the colorful characters revolving around the New York corner news stand. I mean, it makes a difference at the denouement when we see the two Bernies (that’s the old white man and the young Black kid) being obliterated. Perhaps they were left out due to time constraints and maybe (hopefully) we’ll see them in the Director’s Cut.

To his credit, Snyder has been faithful to most of the graphic novel’s story elements and the movie is unflinching in portraying its violence and sensuality, and at times even upping the ante. More than that, Snyder has taken pains to flesh out the artistic objectives of the graphic novel without compromising the value of the film as an action-adventure. Watchmen – together with 300 – is probably the most faithful comic book adaptation out there.

Prior to the movie, I was concerned about the acting of the Watchmen “heroes” as these roles would be more complicated and sophisticated than your average X-Men or Fantastic Four movie. I’m glad to report that there are indeed strong performances from the leading cast members here. Notably, Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach/Walter Kovacs, Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl/Dan Drieberg and Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan/Jon Osterman.

Haley steals the show and truly fleshes out the little psychotic vigilante with rage and empathy. The fear and trembling that Haley adds on, when Rorschach is facing his imminent demise is sheer genius. Wilson does a brilliant job in portraying Dreiberg, imbuing loss and sadness behind his eyes. Crudup’s performance completely enhances the CGI-generated Dr Manhattan and brings an otherworldly quality and yet child-like naivety to the character.

Jeffrey Lee Morgan’s Comedian seemed a bit campy to me but perhaps that’s because we only got to see vignettes of the Comedian whilst Malin Ackerman’s Silk Spectre seemed too likable for me as the character in my mind, had much more “in your face” attitude. As for Matthew Goode’s Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt, I am still undecided. In the comic book, I felt that Ozymandias had more emotion than how Goode played it. Maybe a second or third viewing will be the deciding factor.

After the dark overtones of the Dark Knight, the grim and gritty atmosphere of Watchmen has certainly pointed the way for future super-hero movies. Whether Watchmen will be as big a hit as Dark Knight remains to be seen, though I doubt it. There is perhaps too much back story to assimilate in order to appreciate Watchmen fully. While I was watching, I was constantly wondering how someone who’d never read the graphic novel would make sense out of this dense, multi-layered passion play.

I suppose the greatest compliment I can pay to everyone involved in Watchmen is that this is probably the best film adaptation possible of my all-time favorite comic book story and that the “whoa, that’s cool” moments far far outweigh the “why did they do that” ones. Now to watch it again…

THE LONG & WINDING ROAD – PT. 1

THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD My Bittersweet Life as a Local Musician

(PART I)

NB. More than 10 years ago, I contributed an article to a book on local music called No Finer Time To Be Alive. I’m serializing the piece here at Power of Pop over the next couple of days. It’s an interesting snapshot of where I stood, as a musician, in the mid-90s. Maybe I should update it, eh? Comments, please.

The National Theatre, a hot & balmy Saturday night, sometime in the tailend of the Seventies. On stage, the impossibly thin  lead vocalist ( with the incredibly tight jeans ) of rock band The Unwanted is caught in an unfortunate quandry – he’s forgotten the lyrics to that classic rock chestnut Burn – and the crowd ( naturally ) jeer him unmercilessly. Uncomfortably, he asks whether he was ‘ unwanted ‘ and receives a predictable response!

Pest Infested are next in the firing line and suicidally decide to play the blues. Midway through an impassioned run through Like A Rolling Stone, the predominatly Mat Rok crowd make their own decision – its intermission time! Those who remain, continue to heckle the luckless bluesboys with the chants of ‘ WE WANT SWEET !!! ‘ slowly but surely gaining momentum and strength. Disgusted, the group simply give up. 

The snacking mass soon return to welcome their darlings – Sweet Charity – and it seems like the entire auditorium erupts into a frenzy of unbridled excitement. Led by Ramli Sarip, the band are in their element, making the right  moves, striking the right poses and singing the right songs – they can do no wrong.

Welcome to a typical gig in Singapore circa 1978, where the ticket to audience appreciation is providing faithful fascimiles of classic rock i.e. Deep Purple / Led Zeppellin / Black Sabbath, and nobody but nobody even thinks of the words ‘ artistic integrity’.

As a mere seventeen year old, my own thoughts were not about whether local bands would forever be doomed to play second fiddle to their foreign cousins. Rather, it revolved around  perfecting that tricky organ solo in Highway Star. Yes, it seems strange, but the ultimate goal for any local band two decades ago was to strutt your stuff on the National Theatre stage and hopefully avoid the heckling.

And being part of a fledging outfit myself, my own ambitions did not stray far from the norm. In any case, the conventional wisdom was that this was only a  teenage phase and nobody would take pop music seriously either as a career or an artform. 

Once the heady days of the Sixties were over, the scene entered its darkest period and would not emerge back into the sunshine for two decades. The perception of musicians as ‘band boys’ was solidified during this time as whatever artistic merit of local musicians was totally stripped away and reduced to mere functionaries to provide background muzak during dinners, parties & dances.

However as far as my bandmates and I were concerned, none of these matters concerned us as we lived from jam to gig, hoping for greater things, maybe one fine day. Our principal  inspiration being The Beatles, we rehearsed and rehearsed, played at various functions and slowly but surely developed our own original repertoire.

By 1979, we knew in our hearts that a bold step was required to bring us to the next stage. And so, we set up an appointment with a A&R representative from WEA and armed with a ghetto blaster and a demo tape, we plunged into the unknown.

Memories are a bit hazy about the actual details-how this man looked like, what his office was like-but what was clear was someone pressing ‘play’ on the player and listening to the opening psychedelic strains of Fool’s Paradise fill the room. After three nerve-wrecking minutes, the man pressed ‘stop’, stared intently at us and told us that it was quite good BUT ( and there’s always a ‘but’ ) WEA were only releasing Mat Rok albums.

Now, chew on this. If indeed this man was telling the truth, it seems ridiculous. The material was ‘good’ but not ‘marketable’ i.e.  it would not sell enough to make it a worthwhile risk for a record company. There appeared to be a reality gap between the value of ‘quality’ and ‘commerciality’ as far as popular music was concerned-at least in Singapore.

For us, it marked the end of an era and for me personally it was the beginning of a long and winding road that would often bring dissapointment and frustration. This experience also served as a rude awakening for me-it did not matter how ‘good’ your music was, could it sell? That question continues to haunt all local musicians to this day.

… still there’s more …

LIVE N LOADED S1E6

I missed the recording of this episode due to work commitments so I thought it would be cool to review the TV show for once. I found it very comfortable and relaxing to watch, lazing on my couch and being entertained by Singapore music. Based on the line-up, episode 1 promised to be one of the strongest yet since maybe the first one.

The opening bands kicked off confidently as crowd favorites West Grand Boulevard and Shirlyn Tan & the Unexpected delivered competent performances that looked and sounded good from where I was sitting. Next came the Exposed acts – which can be a little dodgy at times – Left Tool, a rapper who made little impression on me, Stentorian made a go at it with a song that straddle the opposite poles of Muse and Pearl Jam and the Rockstar Lullaby (whom if memory serves me right, turned up at the Baybeats Auditions as Royale?) played servicable 80s hair metal. 

Madhatter – selected as this week’s Sonic Youth (from Singapore Poly) – has a bit more experience than previous Sonic Youth artist (2008 Powerjam finalists after all), The band plays funk-rock, which is not easy to pull off successfully and the crowd did look rather bemused (from the TV anyway) and to their credit Madhatter (yup, that’s James, above) gave it a good go.

Shirlyn Tan then returned with – of all things, a Coldplay cover – which I don’t get as I thought we’re trying to promote Singapore music. Not songs by bloated, irrelevant foreign “rock stars”. But that’s just me. Shirlyn looks really good on TV though. She just might challenge Amanda for top S-ROCK babe. Heh.

Oh and you too, Brandon, of course!

King Kong Jane combines pop melodies with an alternative edge and the band were obviously hyped with a lusty rendition of If It Wasn’t For You, although maybe Colin tried to rock it up a little too hard. But still, premium S-ROCK material, no doubt. Something about the crowd gets bands a little too pumped up I suppose. Still, a good effort from a band that holds much promise for the S-ROCK scene. The band then debuted a snippet of Our Secret with Diya, which I found a little disconcerting, to say the least. 

The programme closed out with West Grand again and it was rousing exit to wrap up a pretty interesting episode. Personally, I got quite jaded with the show but I’m glad to report that it seems to have gotten second wind. Or maybe it’s just me. As usual.

… and there’s more …

Literally, as Jon Chan and I (together with Jon Hemsley and Iain Tham) will be playing at the MDA Fiesta at the Marina Square Atrium at 12.30pm Sunday, 8th March 2009. See you there!

PoP10 – NELSON BRAGG

 

1. Why play music?
Music seems to be food, apparently. I’ve tried not playing for a long while once, and my body just sort of gravitated to the drum kit anyway. Music has a pull I can’t avoid. 

2. Who are your influences?
I seem to like what David Crosby, George Harrison, Holsapple & Stamey, R.E.M., Joe Jackson, The Grapes Of Wrath, Indigo Girls, and Todd Rundgren do, so I nick from them as often as possible.

3. What is success?
Doing what you LOVE with people you LOVE, as often as possible, money or not.

4. Why should people buy your music?
Because people lack discipline, and they need to stop moving, sit down, and take in a good album once in a while. Mine is as good as any I think.

5. Who do you love?
My twin sister Louise and her family. 

6. What do you hope to achieve with your music?
I’d like to generate income with my songs. I believe I achieved my goals of creating a good record and getting positive feedback. Now, it would be good for the songs to work for me.

7. Who comes to your gigs?
Depending on the gig, with my local bands – a few friends, with Brian, thousands of strangers and lots of friends….strange friends….

8. What is your favorite album?
Katy Lied – Steely Dan

9. What is your favorite song?
Eight Miles High – The Byrds

10. How did you get here?
Well, you know, mum and daddy got pissed (drunk) one night and then liked what they saw, and 9 months later me and sis were yanked from our little tea party we were having inside there, it was very disturbing really. I was winning at gin rummy…….

Nelson Bragg’s brilliant new album, Day into Night is out now.

MARLEY AND ME

 

Marley & Me is an adaptation of journalist-writer John Grogan’s memoir of the same title, of what he calls the world’s worst dog – a Labrador called Marley.  

Marley was brought in as a pup by Grogan in order to forestall his wife, Jennifer’s plans which he feared included having children.  Marley grows physically along with the characters’ life experiences – from Grogan’s mundane reporting job to including Marley in his column; from the Grogans’ first unsuccessful pregnancy to their brood of three children; from the stormy interlude that Grogan and his wife face after the birth of their second child, and the move from Florida to Pennsylvania until the inevitable ending – Marley had been part of the family’s lives.  Meanwhile the only thing that doesn’t change is Marley’s antics and mischief over the years.    

Jennifer Aniston is dependable and comfortable in a likable role whereby she channels her usual winsomeness of Rachel into the role of Jennifer Grogan.  Owen Wilson in his first role since his reported suicide attempt is more subdued and downplays some of the wisecracks and smarty-pants of previous roles in taking on the role of an ordinary man.

Overall Marley & Me is an entertaining, sentimental, heart-warming film ideal for a family neither slapstick nor too serious and laborious.  It’s a film about family, choices, responsibility, and dreams versus reality though at two hours, seems to be a little too rushed in fleshing out a story that is probably best sampled via print.     

(Darren Boon)

CARLING CUP FINAL 2009

010366329160000

Here we go again. Considering the truly awful season that Spurs have had in the Premiership in 2008-2009, it’s amazing to think that Spurs are 90 odd minutes away from retaining the Carling Cup and qualifying for next season’s UEFA-erm sorry, Mr Platini, Europa Cup. Of course, the sole obstacle to achieving all that is Manchester United. 

Notwithstanding the fact, that Fergie has announced that he will not be fielding his strongest team for the final, the side will still provide formidable opposition for Spurs, and no doubt, Spurs will begin the match as clear underdogs. Harry Redknapp has played down the importance of Euro qualifications and emphasized the winning of the trophy itself as the critical factor. I personally believe that this is the right attitude to take. 

Can Spurs do it? Well, the fan in me hopes so, but it will not be easy, especially in the absence of Cuducini, Palacios, Keane and Defoe. 

Possiblele line-up: Gomes, Corluka, Woodgate, King, Lennon, Jenas, Modric, O’Hara, Pavlyuchenko, Bent.

MINIATURE TIGERS

MINIATURE TIGERS Tell it to the Volcano (Modern Art Records)

Although the title of the tracks sound like a tribute to the exploitation horror flicks of the 70’s (Cannibal Queen, Last Night’s Fake Blood, Hot Venom) – don’t let that fool you for a minute.

Tell it to the Volcano, the debut album from Phoenix band – Miniature Tigers, is brimming with well crafted, easy listening, catchy melodies that will invade your mind and park themselves right at the helm, so you can’t help but want your next fix or be reduced to having the chorus or the infectious riffs of a tremolo ring through your head for days. I’ve personally not reached the height of nausea as one normally does with tunes stuck in your head, because 8 of the 11 tracks are no longer than three minutes and the album wraps up in just under half an hour – Nice.

This album successfully follows the release of their dual EPs – Black Magic/White Magic in March 2008, touted as “terribly endearing” by critics. Frontman Charlie Brand who pens the songs, formed the band with Rick Schaier (drums/keys) with current bassist Lou Kummerer. Brand’s wistful and harmonic vocals carries each tune effortlessly. What I appreciated about the album laden with catchy hooks, was the mellow undertones that barely scratch the surface, making it endearing indeed.

Inspiration for the music and lyrics as explained by Brand, came in the form of his personal experiences having been in a bad relationship and penning the songs while being happy in a good one. The album opens with the fetching and melodic Cannibal Queen, written when Brand was at the height of his ABBA phase. The amusing video for Cannibal Queen is a clue that the band doesn’t take itself too seriously either. The next four tracks follow the pace set with short bursts of energy and bouncy beats including the title track – Tell it to the Volcano

The sixth track of the album slows things down, allowing you a moment of reflective space. Tchaikovsky & Solitude is my personal favourite – reminiscent of the hypnotic beat of Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight and staying true to the endearing quality of their originality with Brand tunefully lamenting, “I listen to Tchaikovsky and cry…”. 

Not a moment is spared as they dive back into the remaining, memorable uptempo tracks, save for Haunted Pyramid – which is another slow, amusing, almost trippy track, with echoes of a homage paid to the vintage music of the 1930’s. The album ends with Last Night’s Fake Blood, tying things up with a perky beat, complete with harmonic echoes and another catchy hook for the road. 

Miniature Tigers were invited to open for Ben Folds and are currently touring the US nationwide. Added to the line up of the band is Phantom Planet guitarist, Darren Robinson – who is a welcomed addition to the party, not just for his talent but also for the fact that he shares the band’s (save for Lou) obsession with the TV Drama series – LOST. Go figure.

No doubt, we’ll be hearing more of Miniature Tigers, if we’re not already listening to them enough. Tell it to the Volcano is refreshing and worth securing – If not for the originality, inventive and melodious take on quirky themes, then losing yourself in a chirpy, perky but never sappy, frame of mind, should be reason enough. 

An interesting Get-to-know the band interview with Brand is featured here: Pretty Much Amazing – Miniature Tigers

And another insightful interview with Brand is featured here: Miniature Tigers vs the ‘Volcano’

(Charlotte Lourdes)

Check out Miniature Tigers’ Myspace page

BAYBEATS AUDITIONS 09 – ROUND 1

By now it’s probably public knowledge that I am a judge for this year’s Baybeats audtions together with S-ROCK luminaries Daniel Sassoon (fomerly of Livonia and Electrico), Jon Chan (Plainsunset) and Amanda Ling (Electrico). Now, don’t get excited because I’m not at liberty to disclose any details about what happened at yesterday’s auditions. Suffice to say that it was an eye (and ear) opener to watch 30 bands in more than 9 hours.

I felt that it was reassuring to know that Singapore’s music scene is thriving with the amount of bands committed enough to try out for the biggest indie festival in South East Asia. Every band was a winner in their own way and hopefully whether they make it to the next round or not, I sincerely hope that they continue to hone their craft and be the best that they can be.

For me personally, it was an honour and privilege to be able to contribute my thoughts and opinions and to that end I want to thank Keith, Junmin and Chloe from Esplanade for believing in me and giving me the opportunity. Also wanna thank Dex from Scape for being an all-round good bloke as usual. And of course it was immensely fun to spend time and trade stories and ultimately judgements with Daniel, Jon and Amanda.

I must say that the audition can be a nerve-wracking experience for any band as each band is given 15 minutes to set up and perform 2 originals on a very bare set up and really, for me the bands that can rise above the circumstances and transport me into their sonic world, one that they control, are usually the ones that impress me. And there were a few bands that managed that with a few pleasant surprises along the way.

Anyways, by the time we’d agreed on the 16 names for the next round – which will be at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre on 28 March 2009, it was close to midnight and we’d pulled a 12-hour shift – thoroughly enjoyed though. This year’s Baybeats promises to be an intriguing one, believe me…

…still there’s more…

WATCHMEN MOVIE

 

It’s now 23 years since I bought my first Watchmen comic – issue #3 – if I recall correctly. I remember when finishing the 12th and final issue a year later or so, that it was the super-hero comic to end all super-hero comics (as writer Alan Moore had intended) but of course, it had the exact opposite effect.

So I can barely believe that in less than a week, I will be watching the film adaptation of Watchmen, something that had been described by famed director Terry Gilliam as “unfilmable” (with Moore’s agreement) and in my heart, I am wondering whether I should have high, low or no expectations. 

So far, what I’ve seen of the movie looks promising, of course and by all accounts, it seems that director Zack Synder has taken great pains to be faithful to the graphic novel with Warner Bros backing the director’s requirements. I understand that Synder has gone further and taken the graphic novel’s original intent to comment on super-hero comics and has made the movie as a comment on super-hero movies. How that works remains to be seen.

Will Watchmen be a hit? I have my doubts. After all, the key to enjoying the graphic novel was always a reasonable knowledge of the super-hero genre, which the book was designed to satire and deconstruct. I’m not sure how the average film-goer is going to react to a super-hero movie where the characters do not act like normal super-heroes. 

Still, does it matter if Watchmen is a huge hit or not? Maybe that would deter Warner Bros executives (who have taken a financial hit due to the legal dispute with Fox) from making a Watchmen sequel of even prequel (every fan’s nightmare scenario – are you reading this, George Lucas?). I mean, after all the film has been made and that is ultimately what the fans want. Of course, if the film is a success, that would do Synder’s burgeoning rep no harm and it would encourage studios to explore more “serious” comic book fare. Hopefully, no one is expecting Dark Knight numbers (US$1 billion worldwide) and surely a modest profit should be a good return for all concerned. 

Me? I’m eagerly anticipating seeing a book I’ve been reading for 23 years now being fleshed out on the big screen. Then, getting the Director’s Cut DVD and analysing the hell out of it. Can hardly wait…

Review to follow.

RACHAEL YAMAGATA – LIVE IN SINGAPORE

After bringing us indie talents like Death Cab for Cutie, Stars and Ani DiFranco in the last six months, local gig organizer Greenhorn Productions now presents Rachael Yamagata, live at the Esplanade Concert Hall on 15 April 2009. 

Stay tuned for more details.

NELSON BRAGG

 

NELSON BRAGG Day into Night (Side B Music)

Discerning listeners of the pop underground would have noticed the name of Nelson Bragg pop up in albums by the likes of The Tyde, Stew, Cloud Eleven, and The Mockers. Fans of the legendary Brian Wilson will also know of Bragg as a vital cog in Brian’s backing band.

More than that, Bragg is also an acomplished singer-songwriter-musician in his own right, as his debut album – the truly excellent Day into Night – attests. Recorded over the course of four years – in the midst of Bragg’s commitments with the Brian Wilson Band – Day into Night is an exceptional album that captures brilliantly the classic pop of the 60s and the 70s and straddles the varied delights of soft pop, jangle pop, chamber pop and sunshine pop perfectly.

As the album title suggests, the album transitions from day into night during its course in terms of sound and theme with the album starting brightly with the Byrdsy Forever Days and folky Tell Me I’m Wrong. The mood swings ever so slightly with Bragg’s evocative take on the late George Harrison’s Dark Sweet Lady, with its nylon string plucking, mandolins and heart-tugging pedal steel, it’s a mini tour de force which the great man would have enjoyed himself. 

The rest of Day into Night continues in this vein as melancholia replaces bright-eyed innocence but always drenched with multi-part vocal harmonies reminiscient of the Beach Boys and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Check out the wonderful Death of Caroline, Every Minute of the Day for a powerful dose of vocal brilliance. But it is with the penultimate A Father’s Foolish Will that will deeply touch you with its sad story about a father’s separation from his son – perhaps due to divorce? Delivered with simplicity and heartfelt aplomb, this short track is the album’s most poignant moment.

There is enough on Day into Night to suggest that it will weigh heavily on my mind when the year’s best albums are being considered come December ’09.

Check out Nelson’s Myspace page.

POST-OSCAR ANALYSIS

 

Well the Oscars are now over.  To summarise the Oscars in a few sentences, this year has been one without much shocks and surprises.  The winners had been quite predictable and ‘according to script’.  Not much of a post-mortem needs to be done.  Well, the only shock of the night was Sean Penn’s Best Actor win for Milk.  Mickey Rourke had been a hot favourite by Oscar watchers and pundits to take the Best Actor trophy for The Wrestler.  The numerous awards Rourke had pocketed before that including the BAFTA and Golden Globe attest to that.  Yet he tanked at the last minute.  I hadn’t caught The Wrestler so I am unable to compare Rourke’s performance to that of Penn’s.  But according to many reviews, Rourke delivered a career-best performance as a down and out wrestler looking for one last chance in a role that mirrors his own in real life.  Rourke was deemed to be the comeback story of the year that the general public seem to embrace and threw their weight behind.  So what went wrong with Rourke?  Perhaps it’s the case of art imitating life that the Academy thought it was not much of a stretch for Rourke as compared to Penn who is a reformed bad-boy playing a truly gay character.  Penn has also nabbed several awards such as the SAG, but the big one is now in Penn’s bag.  

(Maybe it’s a political statement to support gay rights and all that – Kevin)

Some of the things which I liked:

Kate Winslet and Heath Ledger winning.  Although their wins were more or less expected, but there is nothing more gratifying than to hear their names announced.

Sean Penn winning Best Actor for Milk 

The inspiring, touching, heartfelt and emotional speech delivered by Milk’s screenwriter Dustin Lance Black really moved me.  

Host Hugh Jackman’s opening segment complete with a song and dance number.  He took swipes at the Academy for not nominating The Dark Knight for Best Picture and for nominating The Reader.  Getting Anne Hathaway up on stage to perform with him was really enjoyable.  Overall, I enjoyed this part of the show.

That previous winners in the acting categories come out to affirm the year’s nominees.  

Marion Cotillard – simply beautiful.

What I didn’t like:

Slumdog Millionaire winning 8 awards.  This movie is great, but is it really Oscar-gold worthy?  It’s only a feel-good film and no where compared to the lushness of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; the overall cast performance from The Dark Knight which was not even nominated for Best Picture; or something like Milk which resonates with the current climate of change.  I also do not agree with Slumdog taking some of the technical awards such as Sound Mixing in place of other competitors like The Dark Knight or Benjamin Button.  Will the wins of Slumdog (like Crash over Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture) go down as one of the most ridiculous wins in history to come?  

(Again, political considerations often come into play – maybe the Academy have had the recent Mumbai terrorrist attacks on their mind – Kevin)

Overall, I predicted the winners accurately in the categories in the pre-Oscar analysis.   Overall Oscar 2009 is definitely much more enjoyable than last year’s.     

(Darren Boon)

ROGER JOSEPH MANNING JR.

ROGER JOSEPH MANNING JR. Catnip Dynamite (Franklin Castle/Oglio)

Feeling emo? Perhaps you need a dose of dense multi-layered sunshine pop. The kind of pop that revels in harmonies, sing-a-long melodies, traditional chord structures but never shys away from complicated arrangements and ornate instrumentation. Sophisticated, intricate pop is the name of the game and Roger Joseph Manning Jr is one its revered masters.

Manning, of course, is best known as an integral part of legendary powerpop band Jellyfish and also as a valued Beck keyboards sessionist. This sophomore effort is for fans of classic pop tune-smithing of the 60s and 70s and will definitely appeal to those who list the likes of Queen, Supertramp, Beach Boys, ELO, 10cc, the Zombies, Burt Bacharach, Todd Rundgren, Sparks and the Beatles amongst their firm favorites. 

Yes, that is a heady line-up of influences but Manning’s songs do not pale in comparison and Catnip Dynamite is proof positive of Manning’s ability. The eleven originals on show here are pretty much consistent quality-wise but for me personally, the highlights are the epic The Turnstiles at Heaven’s Gate, the gorgeous Love’s Never Half as Good, the glam rock cautionary tale Living in End Times, the beaty & bouncy The Quickening and the whimsical ditty Haunted Henry.

Tacked on at the end are bonus live versions of Thomas Dolby’s Europa and the Pirate Twins, Elton John’s  Love Lies Bleeding and Manning’s own You Were Right. Nothing that distracts too much from the main course but a pleasing dessert. 

An accomplished effort, with enough melodic creativity to last a tune junkie for months on end. Essential PoP listening…

Check out Roger’s Myspace page.

LIVE N LOADED S1E5

 

“Alright guys,” announced crowd warmer and webcast host, Jonny Lee. “As you can see, we have a full house crowd today, so are we still gonna mosh?” 

The crowd pondered the question for about a split second before a wave of gleeful mischief rippled through. “YES!”

“But guys,” said Jonny, sounding distressed, “if you mosh, you might accidentally push somebody onto the camera tracks and they could get hurt!”

“YEEAH!!!”

Jonny looked suitably mortified. 

If I were to be honest, I was rather doubtful of what Episode 5 of Live N Loaded would be like, after the rather underwhelming standards of the previous two installments. The season was always going to struggle to top the energy of the debut episode which saw The Great Spy Experiment and Electrico holding electrifying court, but poor production decisions and quality vetting saw a number of spectacularly untalented acts being allowed on the show, which brought down the public opinion of the entire project down a few notches. Of course, there were the few bright spots here and in between, such as The Amps, Allura and Rachael Teo, but mostly the quality control was dubiously bad. Coupled with the news that the program had been shifted to Thursday nights amidst rumors of poor airtime sales, it seemed that the entire project seemed headed for a steep descent south. It therefore came as a pleasant surprise when my first trip back to the studio since the season opener turned out to be such an enjoyable one. 

Before the show began, Trella roused the crowd magnificently with a version of The Gavel and The Block, and subsequently proceeded to open the show with Faith. Of course, their brand of driving alternative indie rock only gave the scene kids an excuse to flail around wildly out of tempo, attacking each other with their swinging limbs. (Note to kids: moshing is best done on beat.) Still, it occurred to me even as I was trying to protect my facial features and female companions from permanent damage that I was really enjoying the music, which is probably a good sign for the TV viewer.

Following Trella immediately afterwards was bossa nova babe Olivia Ong. The disadvantages of a delayed broadcast manifested itself fully at this point as the audience were treated to a few minutes of disorientating stop n’ start.  As soon as the band started up again, though, everyone was seduced into swaying along to the jazzy sound of O2Q and Ong’s smooth vocals. The same couldn’t be said for Fatalitee Phlow and his crew of backup rappers and dancers, however. It’s safe to say that this particular rapper will not be releasing Illmatic anytime soon. 

Next up was Aurigami, a self-proclaimed psychedelic pop-rock band who turned in a decent, if not exactly brilliant, performance. One has to wonder why on earth the vocalist of a psychedelic pop-rock band is yodeling away with madcap country glee, though. More impressive was Heregoesnothing, the Sonic Youth of the week. RP might have a reputation for not being exactly the most academic of polytechnics, but at least they can brag about having one of the better resident bands in Heregoesnothing, who had the entire studio clapping along to their acoustic renditions of Duffy’s Mercy and Britney Spears’(!)  Toxic. No mean feat, when you consider how snobbishly elitist S-ROCK fans can be at times. 

Also tremendously enjoyable was Juxtapose, the Industry Pick of the week. With a solid blend of funky roots, hard rocking guitar riffs and confident stagemanship, they had most of the studio grooving along to their music. If this band is representative of the unexposed belly of Singapore’s music scene, why then, Mr. Dylan, there is certainly reason to get excited. 

Best performance of the night, however, went by a milestone to Wicked Aura Batucada, who were truly wicked in the way they had the entire studio moving. Addictive riffs, syncopated, thumping beats and demanding, riling vocals pushed the atmosphere in the studio to a feverish high. Sadly, most of their brilliant, electrifying performance won’t be on TV, but keep your eyes peeled for YouTube yet. You know a band is good when they can get the hip-hop rappers moving and the hard rock metalheads headbanging. 

I walked away from Mediacorp’s Studio 1 with the conclusion that the reports of S-ROCK’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Sure, this scene has its fair share of excruciatingly bad bands, and they have been exposed on national TV more than I would like. But I’ll take all that if for every Finding Michelle there’s a Heregoesnothing, for every Eden State a Juxtapose. I believe firmly in the potential of this local scene and the talent I saw today reinforced that belief. It’s amazing what wonders the simple process of quality control can do. If they can keep up this standard, I’ll have more reason to be optimistic yet. 

To borrow a phrase from Kevin, still there’s more …. 

(Samuel C Wee)

ALL-AMERICAN REJECTS

ALL-AMERICAN REJECTS When the World Comes Down (DGC/Interscope)

So are we supposed to accept the All-American Rejects as serious artists rather than a teenybopper emo-powerpop boy band? I mean, what separates the band from, say the Jonas Brothers? Let’s focus on some of the lyrics in this, their third album, and see how that measures up.

“I wanna, I wanna, I wanna touch you/You wanna touch me too/Everyday, but all I have is time/Our love’s a perfect rhyme” from I Wanna. 

“When you see my face/Hope it gives you hell/Hope it gives you hell/When you walk my way/Hope it gives you hell/Hope it gives you hell” from Gives You Hell.

Bob Dylan, these guys definitely ain’t! But then who is?

So forget the lyrics and let’s concentrate on what the All-American Rejects do best. Sugar-coated melodies allied to crunchy power chords. In that context, the aforementioned tracks are fine examples of what the All-American Rejects are all about. Once the chorus hits in the opening I Wanna, you’re likely to ignore the inane words and simply bop irresistibly. And Gives You Hell is even better/worse (take your pick) as the pseudo-hip-hop rhythm of the chorus recalls very recent Weezer at their snarkiest. 

And truth be told, Weezer is definitely a strong influence on much of When the World Comes Down although trainspotters may pick up slight references to U2 (Breakin’), epic goth (?) duet with folk duo the Pierces (Another Heart Calls) and new wave (Real World).

Overall, there’s no escaping that the All-American Rejects are trying hard to expand the scope of their music with When the World Comes Down (remember they’re serious artists now) but bottom line is that whatever additions the band might make with diverse instrumentation, the key to its success resides in its melodic quotient and on that count, When the World Comes Down does not disappoint.

Check out the All-American Rejects’ Myspace page.

The All-American Rejects will be performing a couple of songs at Nokia’s Earn Your Stripes Party on Friday 27th February 2009 at the Zouk carpark from 9pm.

ROCK YOUR WORLD: THE GROOVY PEOPLE

Just when you believe all that’s been said about Singaporeans – y’know that we’re repressed, not supportive of Singapore music and unable to show appreciation at concerts – you have an experience that totally blows all your pre-conceived notions out of the water!

Suffice to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the awesome reception the Groovy People and I received when running through our set at the recent Rock Your World. With each succeeding song, it seemed like the applause was getter louder and the enthusiasm was increasing apace. Halfway through, I really felt that it was going to be a magical night and in my mind I let go of every fear and anxiety and simply rode home on auto.

Inspite of the odd glitch – I forgot the lines of the second verse of Never Liked the Beatles for example – everything went smoothly and when we closed the night with My One & Only and Gum, I could not help but smile at the thunderous applause. Truly unforgettable!

My heartfelt thanks to the Groovy People viz. James, Brian, Thomas, HQ and Esther, without whom that fantastic night would never have been possible. I love you all!

Set list time – 

Hot Burrito #1

Never Liked the Beatles

A Climate of Fear

Beautiful

Easy

Jealous Guy

Feel the Same Way

Damaged

Heaven

My One & Only

Gum

… still there’s more …

BELLA

BELLA No One Will Know (Mint)

Fuzzy synthesizer and guitar-driven pop! Bella’s No One Will Know will either be your guilty pleasure or a cliche turn-off. Made with cheese, cheese, lyrics like “They don’t know us” and even more cheese, this record is perfect for the listener who just wants to dance away without listening too deep or thinking too much. Much of the music sounds like the prepackaged pop you’d expect to hear in the background during a the scenes of a feel-good teenage movie where the protagonist gets dressed before a party, or heads on a road trip to nowhere.

The groove is the strong point of the record, and you will find yourself bobbing along and tapping your foot to the beat, whether the lyrics make you cringe or have you singing along. The music and lyrics are corny and forgettable, but still worth hanging on to for the Retro themed party that you’ve always wanted to throw. No One Will Know, almost prophetically titled, is one of those dance records that you’re going to be embarrassed to own. Personally, I’m probably going to hang on to my copy.

(Visa)

Check out Bella’s myspace page.

THE CRUXSHADOWS

THE CRUXSHADOWS Immortal (Dancing Ferrett Discs)

Oh my. I’m not sure what exactly this genre is called, but I’d venture a guess to say it’s some sort of mix of trip-hop or techno/industrial/gothic music. The heavy synth, violins and club beats make for quite an acquired taste, which the casual listener may find terribly annoying. One imagines that they play underground rave parties with people in masks, heavy makeup and leather. Lyrics like “I do not know the mind of God and I cannot guess his thoughts, but I have searched for you across the void when my sense of self was lost” remind me of the sort of poetry you’d expect from an angsty 13 year old girl.

To be fair I did a little research about the band because it’s not really my forte or cup of tea, and learnt they’re actually pretty mild and listener-friendly for their genre. They make a good starting point for newbies so check out their MySpace (www.myspace.com/cruxshadows) if you’re curious. They actually have a strong following of supportive fans, who take them very seriously. Whatever you might think or say about their music, culture and lifestyle, they’re certainly doing well for themselves. 

(Visa)

WATCHMEN MOVIE

This is really cool. A version of the Watchmen teaser trailer utlizing clips from the Watchmen: Motion Comic. More proof (as if you needed it) of how faithful Zack Snyder’s vision is to the original graphic novel. Two more weeks!!!

SOUL DISTRACTION

SOUL DISTRACTION The Truth Pill (Self released)

I have to admit I was looking forward to reviewing this. I’ve always had a soft spot for raw and heavy hard rock music, and the simple DIY packaging of Soul Distraction’s The Truth Pill immediately made me imagine a dirty rock&roll band that was too badass and devil-may-care to give a damn about silly things like CD packaging, and probably spent the money on booze instead.

The guitars are crunchy, the bass is punchy and deep, the drums are raw and primal- the record refreshingly avoids the excessively compressed sound we’ve gotten used to these days, leaving its life and energy well intact. Frontwoman Elsa Faith (from Singapore! Majulah Singapura!) sounds like how The Cranberries’ singer Dolores O’Riordan would after heavy consumption of cigarettes and alcohol.

Elsa notably shines on “When You Appear”, an acoustic track which reveals a more innocent, vulnerable side to the hard-rock queen. While The Truth Pill as a whole may come across as rather average with nothing particularly spectacular or groundbreaking, it is still an enjoyable rock record with great musicianship.

(Visa)

Check out Soul Distraction’s Myspace page.