WANTED: MUSIC WRITERS

Yes, Power of Pop wants you. If you’re a music writer, that is.

You would preferably be residing in Singapore and share the same musical tastes as expressed on this site. 

I can’t offer remuneration only music and perhaps press passes.

If you think you’re up to the mark, get in touch with me – info (at) powerofpop (dot) com – and we’ll talk…

NOW PLAYING

ALLURA – CLOSURE (off the Wake Up and Smell the Seaweed EP)

Regular visitors to this humble site (and S-ROCK before that) will be aware of my love affair with Allura. Closure remains my favorite song from the band (though Gamajazillion runs close) Here’s a vid of the band performing Closure in August last year at Deafcon 5. A little rough but there’s no denying the energy and passion. Ah, the memories…

And isn’t Inch just an irresistible front person?

GLASVEGAS

Britpop has not been much cop lately but if you believed the NME then Glasvegas is the future of Britpop. The Scottish quartet has recently signed with Columbia and you can download Geraldine from their eponymous album below.

Download: Geraldine

Yes, it contains elements of Big Country, shoe gaze and Jesus and Mary Chain simplicity. Which is to me a good start. Check it out and tell me what you think. The next big thing?

Courtesy of RCRD LBL.

STARS LIVE IN SINGAPORE

Stars, the indie shoe-gaze quintet from Montreal, will be performing one night only on 7th January 2009 at the Esplanade Concert Hall. The gig is organized by Greenhorn Productions and official details will be available soon.

Stay tuned.

PRIVATE JETS

PRIVATE JETS Jet Sounds (Sparkplug)

Swedish power pop has a great rep. Bands like Private Jets merely confirms why. Believe me, listening to this talented quartet, will leave you with a sugar rush. Throwing in every pop cliche in the book, from show tunes to Jellyfish riffs, enveloped with high-octane harmonies, toe-tapping rhythms, sensual chord changes and sweet sweet tunes, Private Jets don’t give pop junkies much of a chance of losing the habit. And the Beach Boys references are not limited to the album title – I mean, The Fire Academy contains jazz vocal arrangements that Brian Wilson himself would be impressed with. 

Elsewhere, you will catch the McCartney inflections (Jet!) on tracks like I Wanna Be A Private Jet, Speak Up, Speak Out and Starshaped World. If you’ve got the McCartney/Wilson camp on your side, chances are that the pop underground will adopt you as its own. Beyond that, I don’t know but anyone with a sweet tooth will find it hard to resist Jet Sounds.

Check out Private Jet’s Myspace page for more goodies.

YOU AND WHOSE ARMY?

YOU AND WHOSE ARMY? Misplaced (Self-released)

It’s a thrill and a joy when you witness a young band flowering and I’m glad that You and Whose Army? (viz. Bonk, Adam, Beni and James) have delivered on their early promise with a confident debut EP.

Fear

Compared to the live version (which is fairly one-dimensional), the opening track is a multi-layered mini-epic. From the acoustic guitar intro to the spine-tingling chorus harmonies to James’ blistering solo, this is a solid deep sonic accomplishment.

When Desire Strikes

A little quirkiness is always welcome and this song has its share. For instance, the guitar riff is intriguing to say the least and helps to lift When Desire Strikes from its overall melancholy tone. Good contrast. 

5min

I love bands to be as eclectic as possible. Here is where Bonk’s Bjork influences rears its (ugly) head BUT this post-punk obsessive is picking early Japan (which I’m sure YAWA have never heard of). Heh. Great counterpoints between electronics and electric guitar work. Not to mention to jazz fusion middle eight and the punchy rhythm sets it apart too. 

Ordinary is King

My fave YAWA song re-recorded. Hmm, maybe I’ve gotten too used to the Ballyhoo version but somehow second time around does not seem to do the trick. Seems a little lightweight and not as meaty. Not quite as driven either. Ah well.

Misplaced

Well, this song is notable for the band changing instruments (except for James) during performance. Away from the odd “gimmick” and taken on its own, Misplaced is revealed to be a strong and touching track. Nice jazzy flourishes with a rock-ish coda seals the deal. Really.

I enjoy EPs. I mean who listens to a complete album nowadays? 3 – 5 great tracks and you’re set and with Misplaced, you’re definitely set. Don’t miss out on this fairly limited edition. Get your copy now from the band at yawa.music@gmail.com 

Now!

POP10 – EPICYCLE

1. Why play music?  

We used to think it was a good way to get girls.

2. Who are your influences?  

Bob Hope & Frank Zappa

3. What is success?  

Bob Hope & Frank Zappa   

4. Why should people buy your music?  

Because they’ll get a return on their buck tenfold.

5. Who do you love?  

Kate Moss… but we can’t get her so we’ll settle for Captain Sensible.

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

Peace, Harmony and a date with Kate Moss. 

7. Who comes to your gigs?  

We never sang for our father but our mother has come to the odd gig here and there.

8. What is your favorite album?  

“God Bless Tiny Tim”… a much overlooked gem.

9. What is your favorite song?  

“Revolution #9″…. very catchy stuff that is.  

10. How did you get here?  

By pure stupidity…. and now we have no chance for a decent retirement.

Epicycle’s brilliant new album – Jingo Jangle – is out now and available online from CDBaby and itunes.

EPICYCLE

EPICYCLE Jingo Jangle (Cirkle)

Sad to say but I believe that the powerpop genre has been going through a slump for some time now. With the odd notable exceptions, there has not been a genuine powerpop masterpiece this side of the millennium and even since perhaps Jellyfish’s Spilt Milk. 

That said, Epicycle’s new album Jingo Jangle comes pretty close, as close as ex-Jellyfish members Roger Manning Jr, Jason Falkner or Jon Brion have managed in any case. Consisting of brothers Tom and Ellis Clark, Epicycle has the requisite production know how, melodic chops and wacky sense of humor to pull off one of the better powerpop albums of recent times.

Apart from the obvious Jellyfish riffs, there is more than a touch of 70s pop-rock legacy in 12 memorable tracks (viz. Sparks, Todd Rundgren, ELO, ex-Beatles, Supertramp) to satisfy most powerpop diehards’ fancy. From the moment the opening harmonies, harpsichords and power chords ring out on 8-Track Mind, there’s no denying the sugar rush.

And the pumping adrenaline does not let up with the jaunty Girls Don’t Rule My World, the cod-soulful Randy Newman-channeling Goodbye, the creepy tongue-in-cheeky Tom Waits-baiting Ode to Branson, straightforward rocking X-Mas, the psychedelic-informed Syd Barrett-haunting Day for Night, the gorgeous Beatlesque Lazy Jane and so on and so forth.

Yeah, it’s been awhile but it certainly warms the heart and chills the spine to soak in such cool pure powerpop vibes once again. 

Jingo Jangle is out in September 2008 and available online at cdbaby and itunes.

Check out Epicycle’s Myspace page.

BAYBEATS 08

Maybe it was the fact that I spent most of August overseas but somehow I was less than enthused with Baybeats 08. My expectations were pretty low for the event and fact is I only attended a couple of performances. So this summary by necessity only skims the surface and if you’re looking for something more comprehensive, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

However, what is clear to me is that the highlight of Baybeats 08 was the reunion of the Oddfellows. With all the fuss over emo and indie rock, it was a breath of fresh air to listen to unadulterated alt-rock, the way it first came to us in the 1980s as the Oddfellows channeled the likes of the Replacements, REM, Husker Du, Teenage Fanclub, Bob Dylan and Neil Young in their taut 30 minute set. 

The band viz. Paddy Chng, Johnny One, Vincent Lee and Kelvin Tan were on top of their game and like the best wine seems to get better with age. Delivering popular songs like So Happy, Lost My Head, Unity Song and Your Smiling Face, the band had the audience eating out of their collective hands. It’s a pity that with Johnny Ong residing overseas, these performances are far and between but I was thankful for the experience. I wanna be Paddy Chng when I grow up!

For me, the other impressive Baybeats 08 performance came from You and Whose Army? Simply gratifying to see the band in their element – communicating their raw blend of Pink Floyd and Radiohead (with a dash of Bjork) to a rapt audience. Probably one of the biggest gigs so far for this fledging outfit, it was satisfying to hear songs like Misplaced, Ordinary is King and Stuck ring out over Marina Bay. Sure, there were nervy bits here and there but you could sense that the band were reveling in the spotlight. 

I really wanted to catch Leeson’s set but due to work commitments got to the new Nokia Arena 15 minutes late and boy, was I angry. The design of the arena did not help as it was murder trying to see the band play. So I was reduced to craning my neck over bobbed heads at the uppermost level of the Arena squinting to catch a glimpse of the band. Somehow the band seemed dwarfed by the stage and unsuited to the environment. You see, Leeson – for better or for worse – is the quintessential pub-rock band. Which is not a putdown, seeing that one of my all-time favorite singer-songwriters (Elvis Costello) is also a pub-rocker at heart. Leeson needs to be savored up close and in your face, where the jaunty melodic mayhem of their catchy material can wash over your entire being and you’re in a position to see the glint in Jamie’s eyes as he delivers those witty musings on neurotic romance and to appreciate the kinetic energy and tight co-ordination of Gerald, Brian, Mark and Thomas. Still, the band gave as good as they could and I am comforted by the fact that Baybeats 08 provided great exposure for this worthy band and hopefully will open the doors for those intimate gigs that I crave…

One last thing. If nothing else, Baybeats 08 demonstrated that there is a massive audience for live rock music in Singapore. This was obvious from Electrico’s riotous segment at the Nokia Powerhouse. Packed to the brim, the band played an utterly professional set mixing old favorites with new ones. To be honest, the sound is too close to Oasis and Coldplay for comfort (and I really detest those two bands) but there was no denying the power and appeal that Electrico oozed from stage. I firmly believe that there is great potential in our S-ROCK music scene. It’s really all in our own hands.

… still there’s more …

JEFF LARSON

JEFF LARSON Left of a Dream (Red Bell)

Larson is a veritable master at evoking the silky smooth sounds of the early 70s West Coast rock scene viz. latter-day Byrds, Crosby Stills & Nash, America, James Taylor, Neil Young and the Eagles. Which basically means that Larson is adept at mining the rich vein of country-folk Americana that delivers twang and soul with an easy vibe.

This spanking new album is no different and finds Larson is prime form, chockful of melancholy tunes and wistful lyrics, the perfect soundtrack to the dead of night when the world is quiet and thoughtful. With sparkling production values and pristine instrumental performances, Left of a Dream may be the epitome of the classic Californian rock approach.

Highly recommended.

ELECTRICO

Maybe it had something to do with the unfamiliarity of the new songs that Electrico was showcasing. Maybe it was due to the poor sound at Zouk. Maybe it was down to playing without erstwhile guitarist Daniel Sassoon. Whatever it was, something wasn’t quite right with Electrico’s performance at the album launch of its third CD – We Satellites – last night.

Or maybe it was the high expectations as the word was that the new songs were some of the best Singapore music ever produced. Zouk was packed with yuppies (is that still used or has it come back like so many other 80s colloquialisms). 

The opening songs were edgy affairs and intriguing developments but the middle section sagged a little with a ballad which was ordinary and some Oasis-inflected material (which to me is always a lowest common denominator). I think I really hate Oasis now…

The band came back for its encore with a ripping We Satellites, which at least contained an interesting tune. Which I thinks was the main problem with the new material in general. Short on melodies. I’m hoping that this is a first impression thing and that when I listen to the new album, it’ll come together nicely.

Pix by Song.

… still there’s more …

JACK & RAI

JACK & RAI In Stores Now (Self released)

Better late than never surely applies in the case of Jack & Rai’s delayed debut album. Originally slated for September 2007, the album is finally available and hopefully the pent-up anticipation will see the sales go through the roof. The duo certainly deserve it, after all this time!

Jack & Rai have been playing the Singapore pub and club circuit for a while now and they are certainly popular with pub-crawlers here. Whether on their own or with their band EIC, Jack & Rai are adept at entertaining any crowd with their interpretation of top 40 hits, on-stage banter and harmonic rapport.

What is not so well known is that the boys are accomplished songwriters in their own right. Which is showcased on this excellent debut. Review follows…

Beetle Girl

A smooth pop jazz number about a close encounter of the opposite sex. You can almost feel the class ooze from every note and chord. Sophisticated chord changes tumble and atmospheric synths swirl around what is very elegant tune. Excellent.

The Fa La La Song

The first song I ever heard from Jack & Rai got me hooked instantly with its easy way with melody and harmony. Commercial appeal is obvious and the boys have earmarked it as the first single off the album. Good choice.

Fiona

One of my all-time favorite Singapore tunes. No contest. Presented here in a power pop fashion which escapes most Singapore bands and features an irresistible chorus which echoes the Everly Brothers AND the Fountains of Wayne. Written from a distance for TV actress Fiona Xie. She should be extremely flattered… Should be played over the radio constantly.

Contemplate

As the title suggests, this is a contemplative ballad which find Rai in this element, utilizing his voice in the high register to good effect. As usual, the melody quotient is strong.

Us

It’s Jack’s turn for the thoughtful ballad as he ruminates about romances and love experience. Not as immediate as the rest of the album though.

Pixelated

This chirpy folk-rock treatise on long-distance relationships via videocam (hence, the title) contains a bright chorus that will have you bopping and singing along.

Hurricane

Ah, the piano ballad. Ambitious and never quite easy to pull off, Rai tries his best to convey the emotional core and by and large succeeds.

Poof

A sweet nothing kind of track. Both lyrically and musically. Not that it’s throwaway but it’s so breezy that you might actually be blown away if you get too caught up in the vibe.

Television Affair

Slightly heavier than the rest of the album, Television Affair comes across like Rolling Stones lite and 80s anthemic (think: Bryan Adams, John Cougar Mellancamp) which is a fair stomp live and will no doubt get you toe tapping.

Release Me

A plea for freedom presented in a sweet atmospheric chorus which references Coldplay, Radiohead and U2. Slightly more alt-rock than the rest of the album but an interesting effort that works.

Prophet of Universal Love

Rai imagines himself as a tongue-in-cheek authority on love with this easy listening paean. An excellent closer for a top notch album.

As it stands, In Stores Now, is an album with tremendous commercial appeal, chock full of wonderful melodies and cool vibes. A bit heavy on the ballads but I’m thinking that Jack and Rai’s target audience will thoroughly enjoy every emotion-tinged moment.

It’s been a long time coming but the wait was definitely worth it.

HANCOCK

As expected, the Will Smith super hero vehicle Hancock is receiving a mixed critical reception. But I am glad to report that I thoroughly enjoyed this Peter-Berg helmed film, much more than Wanted, I must say, despite all the attendant hype surrounding the latter.

By now, you should know the basic plotline – Hancock (Will Smith) is a alcoholic super hero who saves lives and fights crime but in the process causes a lot of property damage. Worse still, he has an obnoxious personality and so people hate him. Along the way, he saves the life of PR guy Ray (Jason Bateman) who offers to help Hancock on improving his public image. As a result, Hancock becomes a part of Ray’s life, much to the chagrin of his wife Mary (Charlize Theron), who seems to have some kind of unspoken connection to Hancock.

So begins Ray’s plan to rehabilitate Hancock which seems to be working like a charm when the twist arrives. Yup, halfway through the film you get the mother of all twists, which you will either love or abhor. I liked it cos it gave the film a resonance that despite its flaky premise plunges a beating heart smack into the middle of proceedings. 

I am not going to reveal what the twist is but I will say that the key to enjoying it is to accept without dissecting too much – this is a super hero movie, remember? People don’t fly in real life, y’know. 

Director Peter Berg does a great job in managing the tone of the film, be it comedy or drama or action or even all three. The three leads deliver convincing performances especially Smith who never plays the hero straight up but goes from belligerent and unreasonable to lost and confused to mature and determined in the course of this 92 minute film. 

Once upon a time, super heroes only exclusively appeared in comic books. But with Hancock, Berg and Smith have proven that it is possible to create an intelligent and witty super hero flick without having the ideas test-driven in a comic book first, which I believe is a good thing. Rather than bemoan the surfeit of super heroes at the movies, I celebrate it as what used to be a guilty pastime is now firmly in the mainstream. 

That said, I am not sure if some of the more tenuous concepts can be stretched into a sequel. But if Hancock makes as much money as I believe it will, then it will probably be inevitable.

FLYBAR

FLYBAR Scream Without Raising Your Voice (Self-released)

Half the year has come and gone and it is shaping up to be a good one for Singapore music. Last night I attended Flybar’s album launch at the Esplanade Recital Studio – thanks to the kind invitation of Ian and Ben –  and I must say that I enjoyed myself as the band treated the sell-out crowd to an entertaining show of good old fashioned classic pop-rock built around the influences of Oasis, U2 and Santana. 

The band was certainly at home on stage and made the atmosphere very casual – it felt like being at a family reunion. Maybe not very rock ‘n’ roll but the music made up for that and the audience lapped it up. Especially when multi-instrumentalist Jon Ong took turns to play lead guitar, viola, flute and harmonica – a handy guy to have in your band. 

Still raw around the edges, Flybar has the potential to breakthrough to the next level if the music on their debut album is any indication. Speaking of which, here’s the blow-by-blow account.

Unforgiven

I first heard this track on the radio and it was my introduction to the band. I must say that I was hooked instantly – it is a very good song. I love its Bond theme referencing, its Latin music phrasing, incongruent disco beat and its 60s Singapore pop channeling. Great start!

Bitchy Woman

Hahaha! How un-PC! I am picturing Marc Bolan/T-Rex and Mott the Hoople in my head but for the boys it’s probably the influence of Guns ‘n’ Roses and LA Guns that’s behind this rollicking glam rock number. A little by-the-numbers but good for a rave up.

Lose Control

Very 80s-influenced as the slinky funk vibe of INXS is evident here. The band has a definite sense of how to fill up their tracks with the necessary hooks. So, there is always the sense of familiarity but not too much to lose individuality. 

Dance With Me

A little too derivative of Oasis for my taste. The chorus isn’t too bad and you’ve got to admire anyone who works hard to deliver a tasty melody. Commercial appeal is not an issue, either.

Heaven Sent

This one has U2 written all over it. Which is fine by me as what modern band out there isn’t influenced by Bono and Co nowadays. That said, like Dance With Me, the song is functional enough but doesn’t quite move me.

She’s So Lazy

Apparently inspired by a friend who was too tired to go out for drinks after the Oasis concert, predictably it sounds exactly like the Gallagher brothers, although the harmonica is a nice touch. Charming in its (lazy) simplicity.

Mystery Train

The highlight of the album (together with The Unforgiven) and either pretty ballsy or crazy of the band to use such an iconic title for a thoughtful rumination on life. To be honest, it really sounds like something you might find on a CCM* record. I like the sentiment – “Cause you gotta write your own story/You gotta do what you can do and never worry”. A ballad that will have the girls swooning and the boys waving their handphones.

Amazing

One of those macho tracks designed to have women fall at your feet – guaranteed to put hair on your chest (or lip) and make you feel good to be a MAN. Sorry couldn’t resist… Not sure if this is really the band’s forte, I rather prefer when they’re being more subtle.

Beautiful Killer

Here’s a full blown nod to Santana. Listen to the chord changes and Jon’s guitar work if you’re not convinced. A ode to unrequited love. Probably the band’s best known number, certainly it comes across like it was written for the radio.

Live Forever

Now if you had any doubts about that Flybar worships at the altar of Oasis, here’s a song called Live Forever! So how come it sounds like a Cantopop number? Maybe its the cheesy string synth and the overall over-dramatic presentation. Whatever, Flybar tries very hard to make Live Forever the fist-punching anthem every stadium rocker aspires for and I’m not quite sure they succeed but I guess the ambition is paramount eh?

Exciting times for the Singapore music scene and Flybar has definitely put their own distinct mark on it with Scream Without Raising Your Voice. 

*Contemporary Christian Music

POP CLASSICS

 

BRIAN WILSON Smile (Nonesuch)

When Brian Wilson announced that he was going to finish Smile, I must be honest to say that I was highly skeptical and wondered who was the mean soul that was pressurizing Brian to revisit (reopen?) old wounds for the sake of commercial gain.

Also, I had my doubts – if Brian was not equipped to complete Smile at age 24, at the peak of his powers – how could he do so in the twilight of his life?

But, when I first heard Smile in its entirety albeit via a bootleg of live gig in London, I must confess that I cried.

He did it!

As David Leaf quotes Brian in the lavish album liner notes – “Our Smile dream has come true.” Indeed.

In the last 37 years, as the Smile legend has grown, his numerous fans have shared Brian’s dream of Smile and the fulfilling of this dream with this release is nothing short of a miracle.

Detractors have questioned, rather loudly, what the fuss is and have variously derided Brian and his fans. Well, their loss.

For fans of Brian Wilson, it’s always about how Brian’s music made us feel. No other songwriter of the rock era has been able to convey emotions through his music quite like Brian. 

And Smile is for the fan who has waited patiently to hear these songs threaded together into a coherent whole. Certain pieces have been re-interpreted from their more famous cousins. Notably, the mid-60s singles “Heroes And Villains” and “Good Vibrations.” Significantly absent (or perhaps less emphasized) is the much discussed Elements suite – in fact, “I Love to Dada” the famed water section has gone AWOL and somewhat submerged in the new “In Blue Hawaii.”

However, whatever your qualms may be on this development, what is indisputable is the sheer genius of the Children section with the truly awesome sequence of “Wonderful,” “Song For Children,” “Child Is Father To The Man” and “Surf’s Up” which demonstrates that ultimately the beautiful dreamer is really the child in all of us. Faith, hope and trust resides in our child-like belief that anything is possible –

 

“Surf’s Up!

Aboard a tidal wave.

Come about hard and join the young and often spring you gave.

I heard the word.

Wonderful thing!

A children’s song.

A children’s song – have you listened as they play?

Their song is love and the children know the way.”

 

Kudos must go to Jeffrey Foskett and especially Darian Sahanaja, who have been instrumental in helping Brian (and lyricist Van Dyke Parks, of course) put this unlikely masterpiece back together.

We will never know if this new Smile reflects in anyway what Brian intended all those years and in truth it doesn’t really matter – our Smile dream has come true!

 

JEREMY

JEREMY Yesterday, Today and Forever (Jam)

Jeremy Morris is one amazing guy. He is a prolific recording artist, owns his own record label (Jam Recordings) and is a talented singer-songwriter-guitarist-pianist equally adept at progressive, classical and power pop styles! Like I said – amazing!

Yesterday, Today and Forever is a loving tribute to Jeremy’s biggest influence – the Beatles – and whilst one may be justified in questioning the rationale of these faithful re-creations, there’s no denying the passion and care taken in putting this album together.

Jeremy’s song choice is also interesting – non Beatles tracks like John’s Love and Ringo’s It Don’t Come Easy – are featured but what is most intriguing is an original song called Revolution #7 (clocking in past 11 mins), which not only highlights Jeremy’s compositional and technical skills but also his Christian faith. That alone should give Beatles fans a jolt or two! 

And I was taking liberties when I described the songs as “faithful re-creations” – fact is Jeremy applies his own spin on the Beatles classics but as a hypothetical exercise – what if the Beatles had gone in a different direction but still quintessentially Beatlesque?

Thus, McCartney staples like I Will and Blackbird come across like John Lennon-helmed tracks and Good Night is re-imagined as a folk rock ditty. Jeremy also manages to redeem a Lennon-McCartney throwaway (given over to a George Harrison vocal on the Hard Day’s Night album) somewhat and re-jigs Harrison’s It’s All Too Much as a psychedelic rocker.

Probably one of the better Beatles tribute albums out there as Jeremy manages to maintain a consistent artistic core throughout. I would love to see a sequel to this wonderful album. What do you say?

YOUNG AND SEXY

YOUNG AND SEXY The Arc (Mint)

Songs framed in simplicity will always stand up on their own strength. This maxim I hold true. Case in point, the new album from Canadian quintet Young and Sexy. I have been blessed to have reviewed the last three Y&S albums. I found the previous Panic When You Find It an accomplished work. Glad to report that even by those high standards, Y&S have surpassed their own precedents with The Arc.

The best part about The Arc is its eclecticism. Between the twin vocals of Paul Pittman and Lucy Brain, the band flitters from alt-country to shoegaze and from baroque pop to prog folk. All presented in deceptively minimalist fashion which belies the depth and complexity of each song.

In the modern rock context, sometimes Y&S sounds like Fleet Foxes, sometimes The Decemberists and even Bon Iver or Joanna Newsom. Such is the sonic diversity Y&S have achieved. My personal faves are the ones which shimmer and tingle.

Like the opening Saucerful of Fire (with its gorgeous wall of vocals), the peerless (sorry) Peer Through The Lock (with Lucy Brain’s ghostly vocal delivery), the wide-eyed Step Inside (with its epic church organ), the haunting The Fog (with its unique time signature) and the bare-boned The Echo (with Pittman’s sincere pining over the chorus mesmerizing).

Certainly, The Arc is up there with the best albums of 2008 so far, notwithstanding the willful tangents of the instrumental The Shadow and the incongruent Spill the Sky. Still, Up in the Rafters provides an atmospheric country-folk ballad that closes The Arc beautifully with – “Prayed for a way home/My love is nowhere to be seen/Have I misplaced this love?/Or thrown it all away?”

Highly recommended. 

 

BRYAN ESTEPA

BRYAN ESTEPA Sunday Best (Popboomerang)

Sunshine pop, breezy acoustic guitars, high octane melodies and a sweet larynx set up Aussie singer-songwriter Bryan Estepa’s sophomore album quite nicely. Cool folk tunes abound e.g. Aches and Shakes, Different With You, Star and Worry Me None, which will certainly get you humming along.

Not that it’s all sweetness and light, there’s enough twang in tracks like I’m Going, Myself, Skipping Days et al, which highlight Estepa’s debt to the alt-country crowd and swing the mood into definite melancholy country territory. 

But a key milestone is the Beach Boys tribute to the youngest Wilson brother, Carl, an unusual choice in itself as I’ve come across numerous tributes to Brian and even Dennis (Fleetwood Mac’s DW Suite) but kudos to Estepa for giving Carl his props.

There are many parallels here with the new Gary Louris album and that can only be a good thing. A mature effort with a deep focus on song craft whilst never veering too far from the country-folk-pop format. What’s not to like? 

FLYBAR CD LAUNCH

Singapore band Flybar launch their debut album – Scream Without Raising Your Voice – this Friday at 7.30pm at the Esplanade Recital Studio. Tickets are $5 a pop and available from Flybar’s website

Album review to come.

WEEZER

WEEZER “Red Album” (Geffen)

I once commented that Weezer has not made a bad album. Yet.

Not that the spanking new sixth (third eponymous) album by Cuomo and company is a poor one. What it is – unfortunately – is uneven and inconsistent, not terms one usually associates with Weezer. 

Perhaps this disappointing quality has more to do with Cuomo’s decision to grant his band mates a greater say in the make up of the material here. In fact, the second half of this so-called Red album features guitarist Brian Bell, drummer Pat Wilson and bassist Scott Shriner on lead vocals. Also, Bell and Wilson wrote Thought I Knew and Automatic respectively whilst Shriner receives a co-writing credit on Cold Dark World. 

I’m not entirely convinced that these collaborations necessarily resulted in this dip in form for Weezer or whether Cuomo himself has become jaded of the Weezer concept. 

Still, the first half of the album contains a couple of tracks that live up comfortably to the Weezer legacy and the album does go a little pear-shaped once Dreamin’ makes its appearance. So let’s concentrate on those 1st five songs, shall we?

Troublemaker opens the collection promisingly with its sharp rhythms, incisive chorus and investigative profile of the typical rock star – 

“I’m gonna be a star and people will crane necks to get a glimpse of me and see if I am having sex and studying my moves they try to understand why I am so unlike the singers in the other bands” 

The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn) is what you might call mildly experimental seeing as it jumps from rap to gospel to to acapella to pop-rock in the course of its almost six-minute duration. Combined with a knowing, tongue-in-cheek lyrical intent, Greatest Man is certainly one of Weezer’s more intriguing songs.

Pork and Beans is basically Cuomo’s reaction to being instructed by his record label to write more commercial material for the new album as the cynical chorus declares – 

“I’m-a-do the things that i wanna do/I ain’t got a thing to prove to you/I’ll eat my candy with the pork and beans/Excuse my manners if i make a scene/I ain’t gonna wear the clothes that you like/I’m fine and dandy with the me inside/One look in the mirror and I’m tickled pink/I don’t give a hoot about what you think”

Ironically, the suits may have gotten exactly what they wanted!

Heart Songs is possibly the highlight of the album – a sentimental mid tempo paean to Cuomo’s influences as he namechecks John Lennon, Pat Bentar, Quiet Riot, Bruce Springsteen and Gordon Lightfoot. But Cuomo dedicates an entire verse to the band that kick-started Weezer’s career – 

“Back in 1991 I wasn’t havin’ any fun/’Till my roommate said ‘Come on and put a brand new record on’/Had a baby on it/He was naked on it/Then I heard the chords/That broke the chains I had upon me/Got together with my bros in some rehearsal studios/Then we played our first rock show and watched the fan base start to grow/Signed the deal that gave the dough to make a record of our own/The song come on the radio/Now people go – this is the song” 

No prizes for guessing who Cuomo is referring to…

Everybody Get Dangerous is a catchy little number about teenage rebellion – possibly based on Cuomo’s own life experiences. I expect it will go down well with the Weezer Army live!

Well, that’s all I really want to say about the “Red” album – a great half of a middling album is better than none, eh? Where does Weezer go from here – well, rumor has it that an album is being readied for 2009 even now. Wait and see I guess, until then – 

“Everybody get dangerous/Everybody get dangerous (Boo-ya!)”

The Incredible Hulk

“You wouldn’t like me when I’m … hungry” (in Portuguese).

If you’re a fan of the Hulk TV series starring the late Bill Bixby, then you will enjoy the various nods to the show in this latest film adaptation of everyone’s fave green behemoth (e.g. Courtship of Eddie’s Father turns up on Brazilian TV, Lou Ferrigno’s cameo, the score’s evocation of the TV theme etc). And it does so without sacrificing the authentic flavour of the original Marvel comic and it consigns Ang Lee’s version to irrelevance. 

The Incredible Hulk assumes the audience is aware of the character’s origin and in fact, is played out in the opening credits, so it jumps straight into the story proper with Bruce Banner (a phlegmatic Ed Norton) on the run from the US Army. The plot line moves quickly enough – setting itself up for the final confrontation between Hulk and the Abomination/Emil Blonsky (played with subtle menace by Tim Roth) – with little sub-plots (the tragic romance of Banner and Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, in usual wooden form)), the megalomania of General Ross (by-the-numbers performance by William Hurt) and the emergence of the Leader (camped up by Tim Blake Nelson) along the way to keep things interesting.

The action sequences are top notch and the CGI manages to keep the suspension of belief factor at a reasonable level. The film is basically everything you’d expect from a Marvel comic book movie with Marvel in total control. Meaning, the many references to the Marvel Universe will have the fanboys salivating in anticipation for that sweet moment when the Marvel Universe is revealed in all its glory in the Avengers movie. Of course, everybody knows by now that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) has a cameo telling General Ross that he’s putting together a “team” and that sets up the upcoming slate of Marvel films nicely.

PLAINSUNSET ALBUM LAUNCH

Now you may have read me complaining before about how inappropriate Zouk is as a venue for a rock show. And last night’s launch of Plainsunset’s instant classic of a new album was no different, sad to report. Despite all that, Plainsunset really did put on a ROCK SHOW! 

After 12 years together as a band, Plainsunset knows what it takes to entertain their devoted fan base. With Jon’s affable stage presence, flanked by Sham and Nizam’s kinetic energy and of course propelled by the indefatigable Ronny, who pummels the drum set so effortlessly – the powerful modern tuneful pop-punk that radiates from the quartet can get quite irresistible. The new songs were received with enthusiasm – Johari Window, Interference, River Song and Children – all lapped up by their adoring fans. 

But… almost by cue, once the band launched into an extended selection of their earlier old-school punk material, the body-surfing began in earnest! This is what the fans were waiting for and Zouk was converted into a Singapore indie mosh pit – a sight to behold! 

Even as the band closed out its encore with their signature song – Plainsunset – the buzz in the packed crowd was palpable as all agreed that they had witnessed a monumental gig – despite the technical sound glitches along the way – the strong stench of sweaty bodies permeated the club as the throng made its way outdoors. A magical night – made all the more enjoyable by great company – Mike, Song, Fir, Audie, Josh, Jon, Iain and so on. Thanks also to the WakeMeUp guys viz, Esmond, John, Jon, Sameer for making it possible for Power of Pop to be a part of Singapore music history in the making…

Pix by Fir.

PoP CLASSICS

XTC  Wasp Star (Idea)  2000

Two XTC albums in consecutive years (Three if you include Homespun demo collection — I don’t!)! The last time that happened was in 1984! The last couple of years have been strange for fans of the Swindon duo (viz Andy Partridge & Colin Moulding) – the enforced moratorium on new releases lasted a full seven years whilst in the meantime, bootlegs of demos (for various album projects – one orchestral, one guitar oriented and even a bubblegum concept album!) floated around the fan community and a book, Song Stories featuring write-ups of the new material was published.

The heightened anticipation and expectation appeared to be satisfied as Apple Venus Part I was released last year to almost universal acclaim.

With the promised follow-up, Wasp Star, XTC abandons the orchestral/pastoral conceits of Apple Venus Part I and delves into uninhibited, unabashed guitar pop or in Partridge’s own words – “It’s great to get our hands tangled up in electric guitar strings once again…this record has more hooks than a Long John Silver convention…” A humourous quip, which may be said in jest but closer to the truth than one, would dare hope. Twelve fabulous gems in a crown of pop glory that only get shinier with each succeeding play.

First significant factor is the telling contribution of Colin Moulding. The tepid songs on Apple Venus Part I (Frivolous Tonight and Fruit Nut) raised questions about Moulding’s songwriting prowess but glad to report that based on the evidence on Wasp Star, the Colin Moulding XTC fans know and love is still in the saddle. The folky eccentric Boarded Up sounds like an outtake from the Beach Boys’ quirkiest LP, Smiley Smile; In Another Life maintains Moulding’s interest in easy listening music – the recurring horn/harmonica riff accentuates the song’s rather quaint concepts – “I’ll be your Burton/You’ll be my Liz” and Standing In For Joe (originally intended for the bubblegum pop project), a paean to infidelity, comes across like a latter day Genesis/Steely Dan ditty but works nonetheless.

However, as usual, it is the genius of Andy Partridge that makes XTC what it is – one of the finest pop bands of all time. Whilst the emphasis on Wasp Star appears to have been hooks, hooks and even more hooks, this approach has not been at the expense of Partridge’s familiar word play and wit.

Take for example the thoroughly infectious I’m The Man Who Murdered Love, which deserves to be a song played on heavy rotation over the air waves if only to hear lines like – “ He was begging on his bended knee/For me to put him from his misery/He hadn’t worked at all this century/Said ‘I do a service for humanity'” screw up the sensibilities of kids weaned on the blatantly crass sexual imagery of modern day boybands and teen divas.

Giving I’m The Man Who Murdered Love a good run for its money in the sing-a-long stakes:

(1)                The bouncy ‘lovers rock’ inflected My Brown Guitar; about Partridge’s obsession – “You want some lovely, I got some lovely/In my yard, in my yard/There be inchworm, there be football/There be yardstick stir some lovely/Laying waiting naked for you” – um sex.

(2)                The dynamic rhythmically driven We’re All Light where Partridge collects a slew of dead-corny ‘pick-up’ lines and delivers it like poetry – “ Don’t you know/’bout a zillion years ago/Some star sneezed, now they’re paging you in reception/Don’t you know/Jack and Jill-ion years ago/Some dinosaur dropped the pail when it saw our reflection,”

(3)                The dumb monolithic guitar pattern that is Stupidly Happy finds Partridge in dizzy celebratory love mode – “ And if the Devil walks updressed in any disguise/I take him by the collars look him in the eye/I’m stupidly happy/Now you’re my defense/
I’m stupidly happy/It’s all making sense.”

(4)                The semi-autobiographical Playground portrays childhood as a time where you “never stop rehearsing, rehearsing for the big square world” and shares with us Partridge’s darkest moment – “Some sweet girl, playing my wife, runs off with a boy whose bike she’ll ride.”

(5)                The ska-jazz Sting-like You And the Clouds Will Still Be Beautiful is Partridge’s olive branch to his ex-wife – “We see flying saucers, flying cups, and flying plates/And as we trip down lover’s lane we sometimes bump into the gate/And I know thunder in your head can still reverberate/But no matter what the weather, you and the clouds will still be beautiful.” 

Every single one a potential hit single (in a perfect pop world of course)! 

Rather astutely though, Partridge manages to leaven the sugar high with well-placed thoughtful passages on his favourite topic – relationships with the fairer (or opposite) sex.

The rather painful dirge-like Wounded Horse once again concerns his failed marriage – “Well I bit out my own tongue like a wounded horse/When I found out you’d been riding another man.” Whilst on the other extreme, Partridge declares his worship of the female of the species in Church of Women – “Breathe ’em in until my head goes spinning around,” big sigh everyone!

With Wasp Star, XTC have made up for the prolonged hiatus since Nonsuch (if you consider an album every four years as “normal” frequency) both parts of Apple Venus had been completed without the considerable influence of Dave Gregory. Certainly the song arrangements have suffered for this, but speaking generally, Gregory’s absence has not proven fatal to the spirit of XTC. This is down mainly to Andy Partridge’s continuing belief in his art. There may be many “faults” in Wasp Star that detractors may make capital out of but in the circumstances and taking into account what XTC needed to achieve with this album, I would have to say that it is an unqualified success. 

MY ONE & ONLY

I’m proud to say that I get quite a few requests for an MP3 file of My One & Only. So, to satisfy the demand, I’m making the file available for 7 days or 100 downloads whichever comes earlier. (Yeah, it’s at yousendit.com). Click on the link below, enjoy and please let me have your comments. If this service is popular, I might do it for my out-of-print songs. Let me know, boys and girls.

My One & Only (from Democracy)

… still there’s more … 

PEEPSHOW

PEEPSHOW EP (Self-released)

Expect a shedload of EPs coming from young and aspiring Singapore bands in the months to come. Peepshow’s EP is up first. This is an earnest band that like many local bands wear their influences proudly on their collective sleeves. For Zaki, SK, Mikail, Yuk and Edmund, the primary musical inspiration is British pop and rock and as an obsessed Anglophile meself, that in itself is a damn good start! Here’s the blow by blow account.

I Know

A great opener with crunching guitars and synth undertones basically covering two chords. Very reminiscent of the Britpop era of the mid-90s, with a slight inflection of the post-punk legacies of New Order/Joy Division. In that way, I Know sounds a little like a Great Spy Experiment song. Which is a good thing, believe me. I like how Zaki deftly wraps his larynx around the catchy melody. A hit!

Why

This track begins very promisingly with echoes of the Verve and Oasis evident. But somehow, when the chorus kicks in, something goes terribly wrong and the song falls flat. A pity because the song itself has loads of potential but maybe lack of experience and guidance somewhat lets the band down. Zaki tries his best though…

Funky Song

Hahaha. This is a bit of a risky proposition but Peepshow pulls it off. So it comes across as serious and funny at the same time. Zaki’s camp delivery completes the illusion or picture (depending on your point of view) and the voiceover is hilarious. The instrumentation is spot on. A fine evocation of late 80s Brit-funk. 

Come Back to Me

Ah, twee pop with balls! Zaki is amazingly cool with his vocals – very original – he puts on a slight Brit affectation but with clear Singaporean overtones. Well done. Yet another radio-friendly tune that deserves attention for the way it subverts what we think of Singapore music. Colloquial yet western – a fine balance that works!

Special Someone

This one reminds me of Felt a whole lot (the guitar parts), which isn’t bad of course. At first listen, the laid-back vibe may be a little off-putting but the track gets stronger the longer it plays. It could benefit from a stronger hook though. Still, the fretwork has got me bopping in approval.

Overall, I would recommend that every Singapore music fan get hold of this EP as I believe that Peepshow has edged itself into contention as a local outfit to keep an eye out for.