ELEMENTALISM

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With lofty ambitions, the NUS Arts Festival presented Elementalism, a concert featuring four of the brightest lights of S-ROCK whereby each band would represent one element. Arty farty, eh? Ignoring the slightly pretentious aspirations of the organisers, there’s no denying the extremely good taste of selecting these four bands, all of which certainly meet the PoP stamp of approval!

Allura opened the show and proved to me once again why they are probably the most underrated band in Singapore. The way they go about mixing and mashing genres is thrilling to behold. Take for instance, new song Rain which had so many twists and turns that it was a wonder how the band managed to keep it all coherent. It’s heartening to note that band are not resting on their laurels and are working hard at the new stuff. I am certainly looking forward to new recordings.

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Fire Fight poured heart and soul into delivering some familiar fan faves like Fires At Night, Train Song, Hours and Candala. New songs were also steadily eased into the set (The Dreamer) but probably it would take a few more listens to fully appreciate them. Still, Josh certainly exhausted himself to put up a show for the appreciative audience. With new album on the horizon, these are exciting times for followers of the Fire Fight.

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Can I say just that Shirlyn Tan is hot?! Together with her band, the Unexpected, Shirlyn was decidedly more old school than the other bands on the agenda but with her muscular singing and the tight musical backing, the crowd were treated to a competent set of country, folk and rock numbers. Also, Shirlyn provided a cheeky moment with an unexpected cover of Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side. Methinks I need to keep a closer eye on Shirlyn!

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For some arcane reason, the sound system that served the earlier bands adequately completely fell apart when it was the turn of the Great Spy Experiment to take to the stage. First the bass, then Saiful’s guitar and finally the drum kick went AWOL and certainly the power of those magnificient songs were impacted. Notstanding the multitude of technical difficulties the band faced, the crowd were still entertained, singing along to those wonderful songs. Of the new songs, the Lights is beginning to shape up to be a monster – from Mag’s new wave synth growl to the dizzying chorus and the shoegazing denouement – this song is gonna have legs when it is finally recorded and released. I wait with bated anticipation at the prospect.

Pix by Nor Asyraf and Donald Soh.

THE SHINING (1980)

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“Here’s Johnny!”

The Shining’s impact on pop culture is undeniable. Legendary director Stanley Kubrick’s reimagining of Stephen King’s tale of a haunted hotel has, despite initial critical and commercial failure, stood the test of time to emerge as a horror classic. The strength of The Shining is in Kubrick’s deft manipulation of mood and atmosphere and of course, Jack Nicholson’s manic performance.

Kubrick used King’s book only as a bare template (to King’s chagrin) and created something totally different. Whilst, King’s book focused on the hotel’s plan to assimilate little Danny’s powers, Kubrick shifts the focal point to Nicholson’s character and the attempts of the hotel to reclaim his spirit. In Kubrick’s hands, The Shining became a commentary on the disintergration of the nuclear family. The concept of a father betraying his wife and children has been replayed in families the world over.

For those who have never watched this classic, kindly note that the horror is played out not in cheap shocks or gore but in the realization that something is just not right. The scenes where Jack’s wife discovers that her husband has been typing out “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” on volumes of paper, where Jack encounters a naked woman in Room 237 who is not what she seems and everytime little Danny has a vision, are particularly chilling.

Not for the fainted hearted with unhinged imaginations.

The Shining (Two-Disc Special Edition)

RACHAEL YAMAGATA – LIVE IN SINGAPORE

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WHY I ADORE RACHAEL YAMAGATA by Rachael Teo

I have to admit. I am a sucker for female singer-songwriters, such as the likes of Sarah Mclachlan on rainy days, Jewel in her early days, Tori Amos on bad days, and of course, the gloriously gorgeous-sounding and looking, Rachael Yamagata.

I can’t recall who was the kind soul who introduced me to her music. Regretfully, that was only after her performance at Mosaic in Singapore back in 2007. When I first heard her stuff, I was sold. Her sultrily grand vocals, crushingly sentimental lyrics, lush arrangements and frequent use of stringed instruments (cello and violin, my favourite combo) got me hooked. Very soon, she became my travelling companion, coffee mate and refuge on lonesome days.

The allure of Rachael Yamagata lies not with her wide array of themes splashed across her songs, but the ability to draw even the most inexperienced of listeners into her world of forlorn love, pining and hope with one single theme as the backdrop – Love. Being someone who has never been in a relationship, I find myself hopelessly captivated by her stories, wrapped up in her memories and savoring her pain as she croons, whispers, or at times, even growls into my ears through my Audio Technica headphones. There’s something about that voice that naturally grabs your attention and begs you to stay. It’s sultry, smoky, and somewhat reminds me of a cup of rich, strong black coffee layered with a dollop of cream. A touch of class and a beacon of strength beneath a silky smooth exterior.

Her latest album, “Elephants. Teeth Sinking Into Heart” has much to offer. What I love most is her vulnerability coupled with her wry sense of humor. Lyrics like “You have blood on your hands and I’m feeling faint. And honey, yeah you can’t decide” artfully portrays the anguish of a lover in wait. Others like “I don’t want to get too close to you and I don’t want you close to me. There’s a backdoor waiting just for you if this isn’t what you need.” shows her tongue-in-cheek perspective of a relationship not to be taken too seriously. But listen carefully and you’ll find a girl whose heart has been battered and bruised by losses. Instead of merely wallowing in the muddy ponds of depression, Rachael opted for the brave choice of sharing her pain, vulnerability and hopes with a people who are ready and willing to listen, displaying a feminine strength in her heart songs that beckons my attention.

Who knows? She just might intrigue you too with the sheer power of her music that promises to guide you through a journey of love and relationships. A road that is well-travelled and explored. Personally, I can’t wait to be blown away by her when she swings by the Esplanade on the 15th of April.

Tickets are on sale now at all Sistic outlets!

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Rachael Teo is a talented Singaporean singer-songwriter and you can hear her music at www.myspace.com/rachaelteo

POMEGRANATES

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POMEGRANATES Everybody Come Outside (Lujo Records)

A Cincinnati band with a fruity name comes as a refreshing surprise with their second album Everybody Come Outside, to be officially released on April 14th 2009.

This conceptual indie pop serving refuses to be sub-labelled and therein lies its freshness. Strongly following the success of their debut album Everything is Alive released mid last year, this delightful confection, takes you on a journey of a young man leaving his home, only to be abducted by a time traveller..

In the band’s own words:

Everybody, Come Outside! is a group of songs that we will hope to use to share some thrilling times we once heard about, with some people we don’t know yet. Featuring the likes of a restless youth, eager to find himself, a gypsy captain leading a team of rag-tag time-travelers, and the worn, yet ever-trustworthy, wormhole cruiser, Corriander – fantastic dreams will ensue!”

From the get go, you’re intoxicated by the rock-fuelled, atmospheric guitar riffs, combined artistically with the thunderous beats – this is the title track, Everybody Come Outside. And truly, you are encapsulated by the fresh, bright aura of the moving pictures painted in your mind by vocalists Joey Cook and Issac Karns.

The contrast of their voices (one sounding very high-pitched, almost female and the other with a sombre indie tone), blend amazingly well to give you a two-toned effect of the atmosphere, whether it’s in tune with a solitary drum beat or the jangly notes of a guitar. This was evident on Beachcomber, the second track from the album, which follows almost like a page turner, with The Land Used to Be.

Expect each of the 11 tracks in the album to lead comfortably into the next. Certain tracks echoed of The Lightning Seeds and a subdued Ziggy Stardust era, almost ethereal/magical. The final track – Acoustic, is a 13 minute melody that puts a whispery close to the journey, with the lush pluckings of the guitar and the siren-like synth, coupled with the subtle echo of a live crowd, it’s like a lullaby for your senses.

I have to applaud the quartet’s ability to boldly experiment with different types of sounds and string it altogether like a pop-corn necklace. It actually works and it’s an album to be savoured as a whole – aquamarine and wildlife sounds included.

(Charlotte Lourdes)

Check out Pomegranates’ Myspace page at www.myspace.com/pomegranatesart

POP10 – MITCH FRIEDMAN

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1. Why play music?

All my best ideas involve words and melodies. It’s a great challenge for me to compose and record a song, as I have no ability to write musical notation, nor am I a very adept musician. And I love a great creative challenge. It keeps me busy.

I also love a good song more than anything I can think of other than a good food. And I’m a terrible chef.

2. Who are your influences?

The Kinks, XTC, They Might Be Giants, R. Stevie Moore, The Residents, Noel Coward, The Monkees, Adrian Belew, Elvis Costello, Jonathan Richman, Captain Beefheart, The Mommyheads, and way too much TV!

3. What is success?

Success would be having as many people as possible hear what I’ve done, and have as many of those people as possible enjoy it.

Success would also be having songs with a sense of humor and playfulness be taken seriously as actual well-crafted music, instead of instantly being classified as novelty or children’s fare.

4. Why should people buy your music?

Because they’d have a hell of a time trying to download it illegally since no one will be putting up a bit torrent of my stuff!  They should also buy it because I could use the extra empty space in my apartment that is now being taken up by boxes of about 800 copies of my cd. And finally, if you buy a copy of my cd you get music, some really fun artwork/graphic design, and a ton of reading material. It’s a fine value for the money.

5. Who do you love?

I love whoever loves me back!

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

If I could get a song or two in a film or TV show, I think that would be a great achievement. If people have as much fun listening to my songs as I had in creating them, that would be the ultimate prize.

7. Who comes to your gigs?

No one, because I don’t play live. And if I did, I fear I’d get the same turnout.

8. What is your favorite album?

A boxset of all the albums I own. Seriously though, you have to be kidding if you think I can pick a favorite album. The best I can do would be to tell you what my favorite album is at the moment, which could change at any moment. And that would be “Jen Olive” by Jen Olive.

9. What is your favorite song?

See #8!  If I had to pick an all-time favorite song, I couldn’t. But how about a song that has been a favorite of mine for the longest time period? “Pure Imagination” from the original Willy Wonka movie.

10. How did you get here?

I started writing and recording songs for my college senior thesis in 1985, and haven’t stopped since. Just now I am beginning to come up with results that accurately resemble what I’ve been hearing in my head all along, but didn’t have the skill/patience/talent/time/confidence to make it happen. I still don’t quite have it, but I’m getting closer with each new song I record.

Mitch Friedman’s album Game Show Teeth is out now.

THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD – PT 2

The 2nd installment of The Long and Winding Road, an article published in the No Finer Time to be Alive book on the S-ROCK scene of the 90s.

The Eighties was a lost decade for me and my muse. Other commitments stood in the way. My bandmates had flown over to the other side of the world, I had to serve my country, spend four years paper chasing, get-a-job and marry my sweetheart. My songwriting continued a pace as and when time permitted. On the odd year that my displaced colleagues returned, we recorded whatever material we could. In 1983, I sat at the piano and came up with My One And Only, a demo recording was made the following year. Most who heard it wasted no time to tell me that it would be a hit. And though I had faith in my own material, I knew that that would never come to pass. Or so I believed.

The local scene saw the sporadic releases from the likes of Heritage, Dick Lee and Zircon Lounge but no matter how accomplished the music was, as usual public consciousness was hardly dented. In the mid-Eighties, Before I Get Old or BigO( ‘Singapore’s only independant rock magazine’ )was born from the ashes of the defunct Sunday Monitor and with it the seeds of a local music scene was sown, though fruition would only be seen in the Nineties.

Whilst marginally interesting, my own attentions were not focused on these events and in fact entertained absolutely no thoughts of ever achieving anything substantially with my music. But i was soon to change my views-thanks to a certain gentleman named Patrick Chng.

It was 1989, the ubitquitous Chris Ho’s Pop Life article featured a motley trio of odd fellows who were touted by Ho as the next big thing locally. I poured through the contents of that piece religiously. What interested me most was that the band had released their own demo tape ( Mild ) independently! Definitely, I had missed out on something the past couple of years. My mind and heart raced, if these ordinary boys-next-door-types could do the business, there was hope for all would-be closet musicians. It certainly suggested the possibility to me.

Fuelled by this renewed optimism and faith in what could be achieved in the music scene, my bandmates and I decided that this was the year that things would finally happen for us as a group. With that in mind we set down to record as many songs as possible with the hope of releasing them either with an established record company or even independantly.

Thus during my bandmates’ summer vacation, we spent some time holed up in a bedroom – a true-blue homestudio and emerged with a few genuine tunes. That then, we concentrated on the next task-convincing someone somewhere that our material was worth a shot on the commercial market. I managed to obtain a few names from a former lawschool classmate who worked with COMPASS and certain phonecalls were then made.

Deja vu gripped me hard as we sat in the producer’s office. I had been given to understand that this person could give us the lowdown on our chances in the local music scene. If he was impressed enough, he would take us on and make that recording deal a reality. And so, it really seemed like the years had been peeled back to ten years before with that WEA A&R rep as the producer slided our latest demo cassette into the tape player. He would listen to a bit of each track and then fast-forward to the next one a thoughtful look passing over his bearded face everytime a new song was heard. I glanced at my bandmates – it seemed ( to us anyway ) that he could not but be impressed – our stuff was hot!

When he finally stopped the tape for the last time, he looked at us with a  slight smirk and in the most patronising of tones asked, ” Are you guys fans of the Lettermen ?”

Silence.

He continued, ” Is that why you call yourselves the Watchmen ?”

We were too flabbergasted to come up with a suitable reply. What the hell was he talking about? We adopted the name because we loved Alan Moore’s comic. And no, we were decidedly not fans of the Lettermen.

It got worse. ” You guys are too old to make it in the local scene ”

Huh? I beg your pardon? Yes, we were in our late twenties then, but I daresay we were not knocking on the doors of the old folks homes. Not yet anyway.

He elaborated on his twisted logic. ” The only people who buy local English music are the kids. These kids want to see a young face. Let me show you what I mean.”

At which point he produces from his drawer a cassette and plays it for us. Commercial and inconsequential, the music contain the typical radio fodder of the day.

“Disco”, I said, rather disdainfully. I was corrected. ” Soul music, from an album called the First Time.”

And for those who were still in diapers back during those exciting times, this release introduced to the kids such notable personalities like Shawn De Mello and Jessica Soo.

” Nobody in Singapore wants to listen to local versions of the type of music you guys are creating. There’s no market for it.” so concluded our expert on the Singapore scene.

Disappointed and a little deflated by this man’s completely negative analysis of our craft, we trooped out of his office a dejected lot. Personally, I’ve never taken this kind of situation well. I regarded it as a slap in the face. Furthermore, with my partners leaving for the States again, things were again looking bleak. I had resigned myself to the fact that our last chance had come and gone.

… and there’s more …

LIVE N LOADED S1E7

Here’s a double whammy review as I attended the recording and am watching the TV show now. Let’s get right to it, shall we? The first two bands did warm-up sets 30 minutes before the show. Soul singer Fendi and the Fuze Collective got things going and did alright, though his singing was slightly pitchy. Backed by a kick-ass band with ex-Stoned Revivals guitarist Munir and the lovely Christine Sham on keyboards, Fendi delivered a competent soul-funk number that was good enough, I suppose.

Freaky Z impressed me with a full band line-up and skanky ska-reggae that I actually dug! How often can I say that in Singapore, eh? Saturday was the track and it was natural, smooth and hypnotic. This guy rules a stage like very few S-rappers (heh! just coined that) can. Note to self – keep a close eye on Freaky Z!

Expose!. Sometimes this can mean that your bad qualities are exposed to the general public, y’know. Take Atria, the “viewers’ choice”, I don’t mean to be cruel but the vocalist looked shell-shocked and sounded worse! The band was not much better, playing out-of-tune riffs as the song plodded on a slow boat to nowhere. Seriously, folks, these guys are not ready for national TV and anyone tuning in would certainly have tuned out.

My Noise apprentice Nick Tan was next. Man, you can tell that Nick was nervous but despite that, his strong melody comes through. The band is a little mish-mash and the song – Take Me Away – deserves a better arrangement but Nick’s gonna learn from this invaluable experience and move forward. Well, at least, the song is pretty listener friendly and that’s a start!

Full Pledge Munkies – which Red Jumpsuit Apparatus nailed as “ska” just from the name (heh!) – promised much with their horn section but the unimaginative ska-punk on stage ruined expectations. Cue moshing. The rhythms were inconsistent and the horn section and singer veered wildly off pitch. There was just no control on stage and the whole performance was just too messy to be enjoyable.

Being a former ACSian, it behooves me to completely dismiss the Sonic Youth entrants from RJC (!) – Chameleon Juice. Their jazzed up cover of golden oldie Cry Me A River was passable though the singer had quite a mature voice, although she lost steam at the end. As usual, I will gripe about having a school band play on TV when their performances should (for now anyway) be confined to their school auditorium. Still don’t get it…

Pub singer Michaela Therese is someone that I’ve heard good things about. But she was disappointing, performing her original track – Kismet – one of those modern jazz-tinged hip-hop R&B, which never quite got off the ground. It seemed like Michaela’s torchy voice was not well served by the beat, the rhythm or the bland tune. But still, there’s enough raw talent to suggest there may be more to Michaela that meets the eye (and ear).

So it was down to S-ROCK veterans Astreal to save the day. And boy, did they! With new boys Jason Ang and Joseph Chian augmenting the nucleus of Ginnette Chittick and Muhammad Alkhatib, the band showed everyone in the studio what S-ROCK is all about. An attitude, a sound and an indefinable star quality. The new blood seems to have invigorated this stalwart band and the three tracks performed (one and a half on TV) were awashed with sonic waves, Ginnette’s pixie-like vocals and pummelling percussion. A great way to end the night.

Next week – Fire Fight! Leeson! Can’t wait!

…and there’s more…

MITCH FRIEDMAN

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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

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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

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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

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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.