ROB BONFIGLIO

ROB BONFIGLIO Bring On the Happy (Damask)

If you’re interested, its pronounced “Bon-feel-e-o” and it sounds “G-R-E-A-T”!!! (Sorry, couldn’t resist)

Bonfiglio is an old ‘friend’ of sorts, I loved his former band – Wanderlust – who managed a wonderful major label debut – Prize – before falling prey to RCA’s unrealistic expectations. The band released its second album with Bruce Brodeen’s Not Lame label before calling it quits.

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JOHN LENNON DVD

Come Together: A Night for John Lennon’s Words and Music (Eagle Vision)

In the wake of 9/11, this musical tribute to John Lennon took on a resonance and poignancy which is hard to describe. In October 2001, musicians and actors chose to pay their respects to the numerous men and women who tragically lost their lives in that fateful day in history through the words and music of John Lennon.

It is therefore difficult not to feel the emotion behind every tune and speech delivered in this heartfelt event. Perhaps that is why some of the performances are particularly powerful eg. Cyndi Lauper – Strawberry Fields Forever, Alanis Morissette – Dear Prudence & Shelby Lynne – Mother, in particular took me somewhat by surprise. 

Definitely worth picking not only if you’re a fan of the artists who participated or a John Lennon fan.

PoP10 – STEVE CARAWAY

 

Reading Steve’s replies, I realized that we both are besotted with Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom. Good taste, man. 

1.Why play music?

I HAVE to, it`s like breathing to me.

 2. Who are your influences?

The Beatles, Elvis Costello (the Deity) Tom Petty, The Replacements

 3. What is success?

To be able to do what I love over and over again.

4. Why should people buy your music?

See above.

 5. Who do you love?

My family, Leo Fender.

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

To make someone get that thrill like I had upon hearing a great song for the 1st time.

7. Who comes to your gigs?

Sad, lonely, broken men…and really hot college girls.

8. What is your favorite album?

I have two, Revolver and Imperial Bedroom. Geoff Emerick sits at the right hand.

9. What is your favorite song?

It changes daily.

10. How did you get here?

Listened to my favorite music, constantly sought out the new, practiced, wrote, refined my craft, and then elbowed my way into the room.

Steve Caraway’s album, Hurricane Season is out now.

PoP CLASSIC SONG

DEBASER (off Pixies’ 1989 album Doolittle)

Bizarrely, I had Rolling Stone to thank for my introduction to the weird world of Pixies. After a hiatus of three to four years, I returned to rock music in earnest in 1989. Sometime in early 1990 in one of those “best of” issues, I came across Doolittle and Pixies. And the opening track was – Debaser – and immediately I was hooked by the sheer energy, the incongruous sweetness of Kim Deal’s vocal and of course, Black Francis’ visceral delivery. That last 30 seconds always gets me jumpin’! Believe me, there would have no Nirvana without Pixies…

“Girl is so groovy…”

CLUES

CLUES – Perfect Fit (off the album Perfect Fit)

With Alden Penner (ex-Unicorns) and Brendan Reed (ex-Arcade Fire) in their ranks, there’s no doubting Clues’ indie cred. The title track to their debut album is an interesting hybrid of gypsy roots and music hall vernicular. Promising.

Download: Perfect Fit

Courtesy of RCRD LBL

STEVE CARAWAY

STEVE CARAWAY Hurricane Season (Indienink Music)

You know how they say that folk only listen to the music they loved when growing up? That explains the popularity of classic rock radio formats to people who were teenagers in the 70s and 80s. But what mystifies me to this day is why these same people are so heavily resistant to artists/bands who play the SAME kind of music that they love. Why is that so?

Take the music of Steve Caraway, which uncannily evokes the pop-rock of the 60s and 70s, I mean how can fans of classic jangle pop, new wave, piano ballads, country rock, psychedelic rock not enjoy such spot-on tracks as Before You Run Away, When I Change My Mind, No Looking Back, Rabbit and Push?

Seriously music fans, there is a lot to admire on this faithful recreation of a beloved era, not least Caraway’s gift at turning a melody on its ear with an unexpected chord change. It’s obvious that Caraway has poured in precious time – not to mention blood, sweat and tears – to ensure that the music is good enough to stand up to his influences and inspirations.

I must admit that I’ve been rather harsh on power pop artists recently because of their closed straight-jacketed approach but am glad to report that no such problem is evident on Hurricane Season. 

Check out Steve Caraway’s Myspace page.

GENTLEMEN AUCTION HOUSE

 

GENTLEMEN AUCTION HOUSE Christmas in Love (Emergency Umbrella

As I walked past my local shopping centre the other day I saw that workmen were busy beavering away putting up a Christmas tree. I stopped and watched them in slight disbelief, it is early November and last time I checked Christmas is at the end of December. Being from a much colder climate I have never seen a Christmas Tree up when it is humid and sunny so this was an odd experience for me. It seems that Christmas gets earlier every year lately, but of course Christmas is about money these days and the earlier the better. Imagine my surprise then when I was handed a Christmas EP to review this week…..has the world gone mad?

Gentlemen Auction House is a seven piece band from St Louis, Missouri and are currently touring on the back of their successful debut album Emergency Graveyard. In between the release of the new album and touring the band thought that it would be a good idea to release a Christmas themed EP, something they had had on their ‘to do’ list for some time. So singer Eric Enger holed himself up in his basement for a couple of weeks, cracked the Air Con down to a wintery temperature and came up with Christmas in Love, a poppy dedication to everyone’s over commercialized holiday!

Starting with A Banner Year the EP doesn’t have a massive shift from the band’s album or original sound. This EP may be a gimmick of sorts but it is certainly not a move in a new artistic direction. This is GAH’s signature sound of American College Folk/Rock with a sprinkling of fairy dust and glitter balls. Singer Eric Enger’s voice reminds me of part River Cuomo of Weezer and part J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. Their sound is a collection of guitars, piano, drums, trumpets, xylophones and even flutes which are all used to perfect effect to add to the Yuletide flavor of the EP. 

The two tracks that really stand out for me are On the Rooftops, which strongly reminds me of the Rentals with the dual male and female vocals and Christmas in Love, the title track for the EP and closer. Both songs have a perfect melodic sound that captures the feeling of winter and opening presents. You can almost imagine the setting of the videos being in a snow covered forest with a log cabin and the band toasting marshmallows around an open fire.

Fans of the band will love this EP and I like the idea that they have had in trying to give them something unique for the holiday season. Although when I first came across this EP I had the fear that I would spend most of it cringing at the Christmas references but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I only felt this on rare occasions. Most notably Here Comes Santa Claus, GAH’s take on the old classic, there is nothing particularly wrong with this song but it drips with Americana  and blatant cheese, there is not a chorus of children here but they would not be out of place should the band have decided to add them.

If you are looking for an early blast of holiday season joy then check this EP out.

(Adam Gregory)

Check out GAH’s Myspace page.

Download: On the Rooftops

NOW PLAYING

SUNDAY AFTERNOON (off Rachael Yamagata’s Elephants/Teeth Sinking Into Heart album)

Never really cared for Rachael Yamagata before – even though she’s even performed in Singapore (but thanks to our very own Rachael), I’ve been listening to this lovely torch-blues song virtually non-stop. It’s deep and visceral and, carried over with that gorgeous emotive voice, rather irresistible. Here’s a live version I found – dunno why but I actually got a Pink Floyd vibe from this. Album review to follow…

“There is blood on my feet as I’m walking away…”

PoP CLASSIC SONG

NIGHTS ON BROADWAY (off the Bee Gees’ 1977 album, Main Course)

The Bee Gees were one of the first pop bands I ever became a fan of – loved their late 60s/early 70s hits like New York Mining Disaster 1941, Melody Fair, How Can You Mend A Broken Heart etc. They seem to disappear in the mid-70s but in 1977 they reinvented themselves as an R&B outfit. Main Course would contain both sides of the Bee Gees sound – classic chamber pop as well as the nascent disco-infused pop. Nights on Broadway is a brilliant hybrid of both as the opening muscular R&B morphs into a gorgeous ballad and then drives to an ecstatic denouement. Fantastic!

“Blamin’ it on…”

LANTERNS

LANTERNS Apocalypse Youth (Self released)

Noise pop, ah, you’ve got to love its exciting blend of painful distortion and shimmering melodic structure. From the shoegaze era and beyond, the bands who have been able to strike a fine balance between the two seemingly polar sonic qualities, have always been a bit special.

Add San Diego’s Lanterns to the esteemed list of devout noise poppers. Consisting of Lowell Heflin (Vocals/Guitar), Sean Liljequist (Bass), Adam Piddington (Guitar), Loren Hiew (Drums), Lanterns have produced a visceral EP, full of epic intent and widescreen lyrical concepts. 

From the moment the EP opens with the manically, potent chords of Midnight Psalms (Alright!), you know you’re in for a thrilling ride. End-Time Blues steps back ever so slightly to deliver an intricate lattice of spaced out riffs and pummeling drums.

By the time, Creation Myth bolts out of the stalls, you’re breathless in an attempt to keep up. Reminiscent of JAMC’s invocation of the Spectoresque wall-of-sound, Creation Myth is almost bubblegum in its melodic agenda but backed always by punishing waves of feedback-drenched guitar delights. Desperation Wolves, Beacon Flames keeps the momentum alive with the slightest hint of a Bo Diddley back beat and cascading guitar patterns. 

Finally, Electric Warrior Kisses provides a respite (of sorts) with a bizarre hymn enveloped with white noise screaming out from every note. Every sound is fuzzy and distorted, even what sounds like an accordion. Then it’s over… and you can catch your breath again. 

So come on and feel the noise with Lanterns…

Check out Lanterns’ Myspace page.

Download: Creation Myth

KRISTOFFER RAGNSTAM

 

KRISTOFFER RAGNSTAM Wrong Side of the Room (bluhammock)

The success of Sweden in exporting their musical talents abroad has been well documented. From Abba to Carola Haagkvist, Roxette to The Cardigans, and Jens Lekman to Kristoffer Ragnstam, the musical fertility of the Swedish is undeniable. 

Apart from being a music writer’s nightmare, however, they also have a penchant for creating gloriously fun and tasty pop. Case in point? Kristoffer Ragnstam’s new album, Wrong Side Of The Room.

It’s no secret that Ragnstam is often compared to Beck Hansen, due to the elaborate ambitious arrangements that are similar to both artists. Comparing Beck with Ragnstam, however, is rather akin to comparing Zinedine Zidane with Cristiano Ronaldo. Both players are wonderfully versatile in their own right, but the former infuses his style with a methodical, at times cynical attitude, whereas the latter goes about his job with a pervasive sense of flamboyant glee. Nowhere is the latter attribute more obvious than on Ragnstam’s new release, Wrong Side Of The Room.

Room starts off with a deliciously cheeky opener in the opener, Stop On Top; “I wore sunglasses today, ‘cus I robbed a bank yesterday”. It’s precisely the kind of irreverent music that catches you off-guard and pokes a laugh out of you, then goes to warp speed and takes your breath away. 2008, the subsequent track, takes a sly poke at self-serious folk troubadours who attempt to turn every song into a philosophical discourse, but is in itself post-punk self-depreciating with a heavy wallop of New Wave energy. The album proceeds to swing its way through thumping rhythms, whirling loops and cheeky Bob Dylan references on lead single, Swing That Tambourine, before it reaches the title track, which is itself an addictive if unlikely marriage of blues, folk and dance music. 

The fun continues on Mee, If You Were A Melody, which is an infectious musical instrumental swirling with keyboard hooks that leads into the catchy and impassioned May I Admire Her. The album closes with a bit of quiet folksiness on Of All Summers that is mesmerizing in its simple acoustic vibe that builds up to a stirring crescendo.

It’s a thumpingly tasty collection of songs that Ragnstam has put together here, one that does nothing to dispel the legends of Swedish music genius. It’s still all a tad too undisciplined and structured in the use of hooks and lyrical ramblings to be a monster hit on radio, but it’s glorious, juicy fun. Sink your teeth in.  

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

PoP10 – FAREWELL FLIGHT

A indie band in the true sense of the word – self managed, self booked and self financed – Harrisburg band Farewell Flight is totally DIY! Why, they even answered our PoP10 themselves (sorry, couldn’t resist)

1. Why play music?
It’s what moves us – it’s what we’re passionate about.  We’re not in it for the money, because we don’t make any.  We live to be on the stage, performing our art for 5 people or 5,000 people.  We care about creating quality music that has originality and depth but can still be appreciated by many different people with different tastes.  We honestly couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  
2. Who are your influences?
We have a ton of different influences, but to name a few:  Death Cab, Coldplay, Interpol, The Smiths, Tom Petty, Radiohead, Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s, and Nada Surf.
3. What is success?
I guess there are different ideas of “success” to different bands, but to us I think success would mean being able to survive and pay our bills solely by playing music.  Right now we tour 6 months out of the year, but also work crappy jobs the other 6 months out of the year when we’re home to pay our bills.  The day that we can focus entirely on music will mean success in our eyes.  
4. Why should people buy your music?
Because it’s different than 99% of the crap that’s out there today, and buying our music helps us to not break up.  
5. Who do you love?
Everyone.  Seriously.  We feel that’s what we’re called to do in this life.  That means the industry executive who tells us we aren’t marketable, the homeless man we meet outside of a show, our families, our friends, and our enemies.  
6. What do you hope to achieve with your music?
We hope to make a difference in people’s lives, and to create worthwhile art that’s appreciated by a wide range of people.  In a way we’ve already achieved these goals on a small level, but we’d love to do it on a much bigger scale. 
7. Who comes to your gigs?
Scene kids, moms, adults, teens, twenty-somethings, our moms, college kids, high school kids, middle school kids, your moms.  
8. What is your favorite album?
If you mean our favorite Farewell Flight album, then of course Sound.Color.Motion. — our newest release and our only full-length.  We are extremely proud of this LP.  If you mean of favorite album of other bands, then you’ll have 4 different answers from our 4 members, if we each could even choose a favorite album.
9. What is your favorite song?
Again, not sure if you mean of our songs or in general.  Of our songs I don’t think we could really choose a “favorite” — but there are some we like playing more than others (Over, Begin Again, Slow, America Will Break Your Heart).  If you mean in general, again, you would have a hard time getting each of us to pick a specific favorite song.  There’s just too much good music out there (see and listen to the influences we listed).
10. How did you get here?
A lot of hard work, endless touring, sleeping on floors, playing as many shows as possible, being broke, and in general sacrificing everything we have to play music.  Also, exactly where is “here?” 

Farewell Flight’s album, Sound. Color. Motion, is out now.

PoP CLASSIC SONG

WAITIN’ FOR A SUPERMAN (off the Flaming Lips 1999 LP, The Soft Bulletin)

The Lips’ Soft Bulletin is my favorite album of the 1990s. Sheer pop perfection. Waitin’ For A Superman is the most poignant song that Waybe Coyne and company have ever written. That fragile chorus always brings tears to my eyes… is help on the way? Sure hope so…

“it’s just too heavy for a Superman to lift…”

MIKE DUNN & THE KINGS OF NEW ENGLAND

MIKE DUNN & THE KINGS OF NEW ENGLAND The Edge of America EP (P is for Panda)

“At the end of the day, the song is the most important thing.”

That and the fact that there is a Tom Petty live album at the feet of Mike Dunn on the album cover of this thoroughly pleasing six-track EP. Call it alt-country, call it indie rock or even call it old school retro-pop-rock. Whatever. No escaping that it’s all about the song, never mind the trappings.

Which is an easy enough handle on down to earth indie rockers (with an alt-country twang) like Paper Candy, The Queen, Get Up and Breathe. No disputing the visceral appeal of these tracks to fans of Paul Westerberg, Bruce Springsteen and of course, Petty.

But for me, the highest praise is earned by the country piano ballad, City Still. Now how many (ostensibly) indie rockers would risk his indie cred with something as warm as this. More than that, how many can actually sound authentic and pull it off with such aplomb. The closing folky American Dreaming confirms this sensibility with its rustic tone and Dylanesque harmonica leaving the listener with a tinge of hope amidst the melancholia. 

Yup, Mike Dunn & the Kings of New England is a band to watch, certainly. Get in on the ground floor as P is for Panda is offering the EP for FREE! Definitely a worthy addition to your music collection.

Download: The Edge of America

Check out Mike Dunn’s Myspace page.

Thanks to Sameer for the heads up.

DOWN THE TRACKS

Down the Tracks: The Music That Influenced Led Zeppelin (Eagle Media)

Yes, it’s a little bit of a gimmick but I guess if using the name of Led Zeppelin brings a few rock fans into getting this well-crafted documentary of the original blues legends, then more power to the folks behind this!

Of course, it’s not all about the blues but a good 80% of this DVD is dedicated to the likes of Charley Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson, Bukka White, Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf. Very educational as music journalists and historians talk about the genesis of the blues and the legacy of these bluesmen. Significantly for modern rock, Waters and Wolf were highly influential in presenting the blues in what we now know as the rock band format. 

The tail end of the documentary highlights the influence of rock ‘n’ roll (Elvis Presley), skiffle (Lonnie Donegan), acoustic folk (Bert Jansch/John Renbourn/Davey Graham) and literature (Tolkien) on the work of Led Zeppelin. 

Interesting on its own terms but if you’re expecting to hear Led Zep music, look elsewhere.

FAREWELL FLIGHT

FAREWELL Sound. Color. Motion (Self released)

Pennsylvania’s Farewell Flight are no strangers to hard work. The band have been touring none stop since lead singer and main songwriter Luke Foley decided to set up the band in it’s current incarnation and head out on the road almost two years ago. Drawing comparisons with Death Cab for Cutie, Nada Surf and Jimmy Eat World’s softer moments, Farewell Flight released their full length album this year, Sound.Color.Motion. A mixture of three EPs hence the name. 

One talking point that always arises when this band are mention is their religious background and Christian beliefs. Farewell Flight are at pains to point out that they are in no way connected with the Christian music scene and strongly wish not to be lumped into this pigeon hole, as strongly as they believe in their faith. Farewell Flight are not a band singing about Jesus or putting any of their ideology into their music, this is not a band aiming to preach or convert and certainly not trying to spread the word of the Lord. Luke Foley has said himself that they do not wish to use their religious beliefs as a way of selling music and if not for the fact that this issue has followed the band you wouldn’t even be aware that they are Christians. Sound.Color.Motion deals with topics on a more human level and not religious one, and their music is more beautiful for it. 

The opening track on Sound.Color.Motion, Lullaby for Insomniacs, gently draws you into Farewell Flight’s world; the song is so openly touching and peaceful yet deals with the depths of despair and alcoholism. A voice in the dark, Foley’s delivery is almost soaked in whiskey as he calls to the lonely and sings for the lost. Foley’s lyrics connect strongly with the listener, you have a feeling that he has been to these depths and is not sure what the answer is himself. 

Foley’s voice is harrowing and touching at the same time and is definitely the strongest vehicle at the front of Farewell Flight’s convoy. His melodies both lift and break you and there is a rawness to it that truly aches with his music. Accompanied by the guitar work of Timmy Moslener and complimented by the piano, Farewell Flight has a strong ear for melody and warmth which is evident on Widower where Foley sings ‘Turning thirty five, I still sleep alone at night’. Far from being uplifting and praising this beautiful world, Foley sees all of its faults and tragedy. 

Usually bands like this do not do much for me, I find that they lack energy and don’t wander too far from the beaten track in their compositions. It is true that Sound.Color.Motion does lull in the middle and sometimes feels like it is dragging its feet, but it cannot be denied that they offer something more than the Coldplays and Snow Patrols of this world. The drumming in particular injects a great deal of energy to the album, evident on Slow with the marching band beat and thunderous ending to the best song on the album Over.

The touring ethic has certainly paid off judging by Sound.Color.Motion, and Farewell Flight definitely deserves it.

(Adam Gregory)

Check out Farewell Flight’s Myspace page.

TAB THE BAND

TAB THE BAND Long Weekend (North Street)

It must be my time for bad band names lately, firstly I had Paper Round Kid, not the most amazing moniker in the world….then I got Boo and Boo Too….enough said! So when TAB the Band dropped in my ‘to do’ pile I rolled my eyes to the heavens and asked out loud ‘are musicians even trying anymore????’. You see TAB the Band consist of Tony Perry, Adrian Perry and Ben Tileston….get it? TAB! Ingenious! It honestly sounds like something a bunch of 10 year olds would come up with when deciding what to call themselves! It is hardly inventive. 

However you see with TAB the Band I think I may have stumbled upon the reason why they have such a bad band name. Firstly you will notice both Tony and Adrian share the same surname, a surname that adores the halls of Rock Stardom and beats success beyond that of imagination…yes it would be the surname of Joe Perry, lead guitar player and one half of the toxic twins of Aerosmith. ‘Surely they are not his sons???’ I hear you say….well yes they surely are. This to me explains why the name is so bad, both Tony and Adrian knew from the moment this band formed they would be forever known as ‘Joe’s boys plus some drummer dude’ so why bother putting in much effort on a name when that will follow you around for life?

Long Weekend, TAB’s second full length album, is a slab of retro rock, bluesy twang and adrenaline filled swagger that hits you at two hundred miles an hour and doesn’t let you catch your breath. The album is literally over swiftly after it has started. Opening track Backseat Lover bears the inescapable hallmark of Daddy’s early work in Aerosmith but with TAB’s own take on it. It is almost as if everything in music from the late seventies onwards didn’t happen for TAB and they are completely unapologetic about this. 

Looking Pretty, Pretty does give a slight nod in the direction of Queens of the Stone Age but then Where She Was On Monday plants TAB’s feet firmly back in the past of the Rolling Stones. TAB are straight forward and to the point, they are a power trio with gritty guitars, thunderous bass lines and hammering drum beats layered in blues and part country with the sliding guitar on ‘Apple of an Eye’. They are no strangers to sing along choruses either with ‘My Baby is Fine’ which hooks you straight away and almost makes you stomp your feet and rowdily sing along.  

TAB the Band like their music straight forward, no nonsense and most of all they like it dirty and full of rock. They have a huge shadow to step out of but you get the feeling that they have no concerns about doing this because they are having too much fun to care. There is no doubt that although what they are doing is not revolutionary, it is exactly what they want to be doing and that is all that matters to them, with or without Dad’s name. 

(Adam Gregory)

Check out TAB the Band’s Myspace page.

PoP CLASSIC

THE GREAT SPY EXPERIMENT Flower Show Riots (Riot!, 2007)

You could say that I know most of these songs inside out, having heard GSE (viz. Fandy Razak, Khairyl Hashim, Magdalene Han, Saiful Idris and Song) perform on a number of occasions but hearing these polished recordings is something else altogether.

The crisp production and mastering (by Howie Weinberg no less) enhance the bright sheen of the songs, in terms of the ability to move your feet, touch your heart and feed your soul. I mean, Flower Show Riots sounds really good and stands up easily to any modern rock LP you may care to point out on the Billboard Album Charts. Not a claim one can honestly make in normal circumstances with reference to a Singapore band but I believe that there’s no exaggeration to declare Flower Show Riots a minor tour de force.

With a keen sense of what modern rock is groovin’ to in 2007 (with the obvious lookback to British post-punk) and a nod to the still-vibrant classic rock influences, the sharp, kinetic and ambitious guitar rock on display here is commercially accessible and artistically engaging to any rock fan anywhere in the whole wide world.

Check out the Great Spy Experiment’s Myspace page.

MARYKATE O’NEIL

MARYKATE O’NEIL mkULTRA (Nettwerk)

Recent singer-songwriter-centric music tends to be decidedly folkie but some of us do remember a time when pop-rock artists like Randy Newman, Billy Joel and Elvis Costello would combine literate messages with well-worked music.

O’Neil belongs somewhat to the old school and on this EP taster (before the release of her third full length – Underground – in 2009), O’Neil fully confirms her talent at fashioning smart pop songs from the foundation of thoughtful lyrics.

The opening Green Street combines major seventh chords patterns with a treatise on navigating NYC. Add a imminently singable chorus and the effect is complete. This search for direction continues somewhat with jazzy acoustic guitar and a plaintive cry from O’Neil – “I’ve lost the map that takes me home”.

The angry Nothing I Say Or Do finds O’Neil confronting a loved one about a bad attitude, set to the soundtrack of minor-key folk, “everything I try is always wrong” she laments. The mood actually gets dimmer with the melancholy Trouble. Framed around an inventive vocal arrangement, O’Neil circles her guilt and regret (“even I knew – trouble”) on herself.

Well, O’Neil has described the concepts behind these songs as “a bit about the darker side of NYC downtown life” so I guess the downer tone should not be a surprise.

The EP closes with two covers – the wistful Without You (Randy Newman) and the disorienting, resigned, ironic Happy (written by Jill Sobule and Adam Schlesinger).

Not the home run, fans may have been expecting but think of it as an intriguing preview before the main event of Underground next February.

Check out Marykate O’Neil’s Myspace page.

COOL HAND LUKE

COOL HAND LUKE The Sleeping House(Lujo)

Christian rock music is a curious thing. On the one hand, you have Christians who shudder at the slightest hint of an electric guitar, who still brandish about fiercely old burnt Beatles records and who insist that rock and roll is the work of the devil. On the other hand, you have Christians of postmodern design and thinking who insist that rock music is the church’s way of remaining relevant and contemporary to modern day pop culture. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, the undeniable fact is that for some time now, Christian rock bands have been slowly edging their way into the mainstream, and no other record illustrates this point better than rock band Cool Hand Luke with their fifth album, The Sleeping House.

Following in the footsteps of radio-friendly Christian bands such as Switchfoot, Relient K and The Fray, Cool Hand Luke present an album that is by turns, liquid and expansive in sound with broad strokes of cinematic color, with an edgy darkness though that sets this album apart from previous efforts. Lyrically, Mark Nicks explores themes of faith, hope and sacrifice, all Christian standards, but with a raw edge born out of a palpable desperation that could be interpreted either as the fervor of faith or the confession of doubt.

The Sleeping House starts off with the liquid minute-and-a-half introduction entitled Fast Asleep, with lovely lush melting soundscapes that is reminiscent of U2 during their experimental 90s, though without the electronica infatuation. It’s a indicator to the strength of the sonic identity of the album that when the second track, Cast Your Bread started, I was blithely oblivious, still thinking that it was a very long first track I was listening to. 

Cast Your Bread itself is a riddle of piano hooks and compelling vocals. Different elements work together to frame the central question of the lyrics and album, a paradoxical refrain drawn from biblical language used to demonstrate the principle of sacrifice and divine reward. The excellent track is followed by a driving mid-tempo rocker in the form of Failing In Love, as well as the thought-provoking Buy The Truth, which, though it covers no new ground with its message of spirituality over materialism, is worth the price of admission just for the piano melodies and cleverly crafted lyrics. 

This being Cool Hand Luke’s first release to the general secular public, it’s a bold move by the band, then, not to downplay the complexity of their lyrics. Instead, Mark Nicks openly discusses themes that might be alien to modern radio. Eye Of The Storm, for example, stands as a quietly defiant track to the conventional wisdom of blaming God for sorrow and suffering.  Built upon flowing piano hooks, it weaves its way through the various stages of loss before defiantly choosing to believe even in the face of tremendous sorrow. Incomprehensible Sleep is a compelling, reverberating track set in the mind of Jesus Christ, giving a nakedly personal and relatable perspective to the central figure of the album. “Don’t listen to the silence,” sings Nicks, before going on to plead, “Don’t you know that I will never lead you astray?” It makes for an interesting companion piece to U2’s 1991 Achtung Baby track, Until The End Of The World, which was set as a conversation between Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ.

If there’s a downside to the artful manner in which Cool Hand Luke have gone about constructing their fifth studio LP, it’s that the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts. The Sleeping House stands as a liquid, organic collection; themes and lyrics echo and flow into each other in a way that demands for one to take the album as a whole to be able to fully appreciate the lyrical ideas sketched out in this album. Though the album is reminiscent strongly of radio favorites U2, Radiohead and Coldplay, The Sleeping House lacks the pop discipline to truly craft a single that stands as a compelling song of its own, and that is probably Cool Hand Luke’s single failure here. Still, they have managed to create a piece of music that brims with thought-provoking lyricism and edgy instrumentation, and for that they should be applauded.

(Samuel C Wee)

PoP CLASSIC SONG

LOVERS IN A DANGEROUS TIME (from Bruce Cockburn’s 1984 Stealing Fire album)

Criminally unknown outside his native Canada, Bruce Cockburn possesses one of the finest discographies out there in rock history. 1984’s Stealing Fire may just be his crowning achievement and this song stands out as the best of a sublime bunch. Our good friends U2 even lifted an entire line for God Part II – “got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight”. These lyrics still resonate today… Sheer genius!

NOW PLAYING

HAPPY AS CAN BE (off Cut Off Your Hand’s EP of the same name)

Visa reviewed this a couple of days ago and I’m really digging its retro new wavy style. Robert Smith and the Cure’s inspiration features heavily of course but I like the whole package. COYH is based in New Zealand, which basically means that they’re pretty close enough for an astute promotor to bring down to our neck of the woods for a couple of days…

STARS LIVE IN SINGAPORE

Latest news from Greenhorn Productions – 

Please note that tickets will be available for PRIORITY BOOKING on 11 November 2008 from SISTIC. Fans of Greenhorn Productions Facebook Page will receive a password to be eligible for priority booking by the end of next week. The same password will also entitle you to a 10% discount on all ticket price categories.

General Public sales will commence on 12 November 2008.

Stars will be playing at the Esplanade Concert Hall on January 7th, 2009.

The band may be best known for its high energy songs but there is also a softer side to Stars. One of the tracks they still play live from their debut album – Nightsongs – is this sweet little number called Tonight. Check out the cute fan video below.

BOO AND BOO TOO

BOO AND BOO TOO No Tempo (Iron Paw)

Hailing from Lawrence, Kansas in the States, Boo and Boo Too (I know, terrible name) have a chaotic, piercing, shredding and wire strained mess of a sound that takes heavy influence from such bands as Sonic Youth and The Breeders with a good slab of melody to boot! Their debut album, No Tempo, brings to mind a night out where you crash into bed as the sun rises the next morning, not quite sure of whom you are and where you have been.

The album opens with a drunken slur of a song called I Know Nothing’s Alright and this pretty much sets the tone of what you are in for. The guitars crash together in an almost Blues thunderstorm and this has to be Boo’s biggest asset as a band. The sheer manic crescendo of sound that is being pushed and pulled between the different instruments in the line up is both beautiful and frightening at the same time. The singer slurs his words and utters almost incoherent lyrics as the pace of the song increases and descends into a storm of melody. Boo and Boo Too do this well, out of the mess often come pure gems that would not be out of place in many of today’s over hyped and processed poster boy pop/rock band’s songs, but this band are the furthest from that that you can possibly get. I’ll Be Your Whore and White Light, Dark Sheets are fine examples of this.

However it is not all perfect. Too often while listening to No Tempo I found my mind wandering away from the album purely because it became too predictable. Many of the songs start off slowly before speeding up into mass orchestras of distortion that work well, but once or twice is enough. Obviously and No Tempo, the title song of the album, are both guilty of this but it is a pattern repeated on many of the songs. It could be argued that Boo and Boo Too are simply making noise for the sake of making noise. I would say that listening to their work you can hear this is not true, but they do need to break out from a pattern they have set themselves in once in a while. This happens in ‘Black Buggy’, but not often enough.

If I could give one piece of advice with this album it would be to skip right to the end before listening through from the beginning. It is here that Alleys in Whitechapel can be found and this to me is everything that Boo and Boo Too can be. The song is full of just enough cohesion but still falling over the edge and the singer surpasses himself here. His voice appears clear and somber for once with a slight lace of alcohol, letting go at the end of the song to push out a gravel strain scream that is perfection. 

(Adam Gregory)

Check out Boo and Boo Too’s Myspace page.

WEEKEND TRIP

Saiful/The Great Spy Experiment. Pix by Thomas Tan.

Saiful/The Great Spy Experiment. Pix by Thomas Tan.

WEEKEND TRIP: STAND UP FOR POVERTY Saturday, 18th October 2008, Youth Park

After an afternoon that threatened to rain completely out, the clear skies appeared just in time for October’s Weekend Trip. I arrived midway through Juxtapose’s set and whilst the quartet was commendably tight, the fact that they were playing jazz-funk (or funk-jazz), possibly the most risible music genre of all time, left me seriously underwhelmed. It didn’t help that the stage sound was so piercingly loud that it actually became painful to listen to the music. 

 

Bani Hidir/Page. Pix by Thomas Tan.
Bani Hidir/Page. Pix by Thomas Tan.

Which probably made an impact with the kind of approach Page had elected to adopt. Powerpop! Yes, folks, we finally have our very own true blue, bona fide POWERPOP band! Thank you, Page for making this powerpop junkie so happy. With crunching guitars firmly in hand and candy-flossed tunes coming of every pore, Page pummeled all and sundry into submission with its flighty originals and authentic Foo Fighters covers. Left a smile on this man’s face in any case.

 

Jack Ho. Pix by Thomas Tan.
Jack Ho. Pix by Thomas Tan.

Jack and Rai are seasoned veterans by now and they whiz through a short set with a mixture of songs off their In Stores Now album (Fa-La-La Song & Fiona the highlights, of course) and choice covers (a John Mayer piece had particularly interesting guitar work from the duo) to entertain the sparse crowd. Always guaranteed a good performance from the boys, even though they just got off five sets in Sentosa. The hardest working men in S-ROCK? No contest.

 

Esmond & Daren/Vertical Rush. Pix by Thomas Tan.
Esmond & Daren/Vertical Rush. Pix by Thomas Tan.

I took off to get a drink when Jack and Rai finished up and decided to watch Vertical Rush from the wings somewhat. The boys were mainly showcasing tracks from their new album – Of Real Dreams – and it was obvious that they were working their asses off to connect with the crowd with the band’s own take on current emo trends. Angels was the standout track but I’m not sure how well the meticulously-arranged sophistication of the new material went down. The hearts were definitely in the right places though.

 

Song/The Great Spy Experiment. Pix by Thomas Tan.
Song/The Great Spy Experiment. Pix by Thomas Tan.

All through the evening, there was a strange gap in front of the stage where you’d expect an audience. But the hole was considerably filled when the Great Spy Experiment took to the stage. Now, regular PoP visitors will know how much I love GSE but let’s just say that I’ve seen better from the quintet. The sound totally let them down and for some reason, the songs were played at hyper-speed! It didn’t matter to the crowd as they totally lapped it up – jumping, dancing and singing along – quite a contrast with the response to the earlier bands. Highlights for me were Late Night Request, Wasted (a new song dedicated to a lost friend), a frenetic Siti in the City (which benefitted from the pumping adrenaline) and everyone’s favourite, Class ‘A’ Love Affair. 

As usual, the grand S-ROCK people made it all that much more fun and exciting (and warm, too) viz. Fir, Thomas, Haykal, Dex, Visa, Sherwin, Poh Choo, Aaron, Charlotte and Rachael.

… and there’s more …