Rachael and I

I will be 48 next month.

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

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


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

Set list – 

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

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

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

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

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

… still there’s more …

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


Here’s an interesting Watchmen movie tie-in. A 12″ picture disc of My Chemical Romance’s version of Dylan’s Desolation Row. In case you’re wondering what that has to do with Watchmen, of course, the title of Watchmen #1 – At midnight, all the agents…, is a line from Desolation Row. If this sounds good to you, the disc may be purchased here. Personally, I would have preferred the original but I guess the youth card played heavily on the minds of Warners marketing executives. Discs look cool though…



PIT ER PAT High Time (Thrill Jockey)

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

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

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

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

Check out Pit Er Pat’s Myspace page.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




It’s a rock concert cliché, really, an oft-familiar sight at rock concerts: the applauding, adoring crowd lifting a wall of adulation around the triumphant homecoming rock band heroes. Nothing out of the ordinary, right? To paraphrase Paul Celan, rock music is a sort of homecoming. What made this particular scenario different, however, was that the baffled but very much thrilled rock band on stage hailed from a town 9200 miles away from the venue of the concert. 

To tell the truth, I didn’t really rank myself as a Stars fan when I decided to attend this concert together with Kevin. I had heard of them, sure. How they started off doing ambient, melodic electronica before discovering the art of actually playing instruments on their 2005 breakthrough album, Set Yourself On Fire, and how they’d garnered themselves quite a fanbase overseas as their fame steadily spread. Still, they only existed on the fringes of musical consciousness before then. Which was why I surprised myself when I accepted Kevin’s offer to attend the concert with him. 

It’s been said that the audience is a rock band’s most crucial instrument. Stars certainly appeared to have taken that maxim to heart as lead vocalists Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan worked the crowd into a storm throughout the concert by throwing roses into the audience. Initially there were some technical issues pertaining to the sound, which resulted in the very odd sight of Campbell running off stage during Amy’s vocal turns to shout instructions to the sound technicians.

No technical problems, however, could keep Stars from the audience that night. The audience was enthusiastic and positively overjoyed from simply being present at the concert, and their enthusiasm was infectious as the band replied stirringly in kind, producing that certain sort of magic to a live performance of a song that studio performances can’t achieve. Thus it was so that numbers such as Ageless Beauty, The Night Starts Here and Calendar Girl transformed from the quietly mesmerizing tracks they are on the various albums into positively ethereal experiences that spellbound the audience into closed-eyed singalong abandon. In fact, it was almost a religious experience, transcendental in the degree of surrender the audience trusted to the band, as Kevin remarked midway through.  As the band launched into a gleeful performance of Elevator Love Letter, I felt every inch of cynicism and apathy within me melt away and willingly gave myself over to the infectious singalong chorus.

One moment defined the concert for me. Midway through the encore performance of Calendar Girl, Torquil embarked on his own personal Lake of Genesareth moment, falling into the audience feet first. The clustered crowd at the front of the stage willingly carried him out of the stage as he walked unsteadily upon the uplifted palms of the crowd members. 

He reached the seated areas, and did not stop. As the band played on the hypnotically captivating bridge of the song, Torquil waded further into the crowd, every step on the seats of the audience a relentless invasion and attack on the distance between the band and the audience. “I’m alive,” he screamed, the soft hook from the song transforming now into a statement of intent and a declaration of faith in the audience.

It’s oddly contradictory that the distance between the audience and the performer is only as long as the link that binds them together: music. The size and sweep of the music performed can be crucial to how closely a band connects to an audience. But in that one perfect moment, as Torquil tilted his head back and howled a wordless cry of grace, gratitude and carthatic emotion at the audience that reached out at him with outstretched hands, they were together as one in that sweeping anthem of perfect intimacy. 

“We are Stars, and so are you,” proclaimed Torquil just before they left the stage for the last time. It was a statement that rang profoundly true in more ways than one. 

(Samuel C Wee)

From my vantage point, it was clear that Stars were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm that swept over them like a tidal wave from the sell out crowd. Torq joked about having lost a $100 bet that the audience would be composed of Canadian English teachers rather than true blue Singaporeans and that probably summed up the delight and surprise at moving over a 1000 tickets in Singapore.

But that is the power of the internet, surely, indeed, the power of pop! 

Initially, I was shocked by the shoddy sound and perhaps the band was affected by that challenge as well as Stars opened their set a tad tenatively. But once they got into their collective stride, there was no stopping them. With each succeeding song intro being drowned out by the crowd’s besotted response, it seemed that there was an electric exchange between band and audience (that frankly is not that common in Singapore) that swell into a crescendo of mutual adoration. 

Live, Stars were a harder edged proposition than their elegaic recordings would suggest. I personally enjoyed the strength of their melodic hooks in songs like Take Me To The Riot, What I’m Trying To Say, Elevator Love Letter, Undertow and of course, Ageless Beauty. Incandescent moments. This is a concert that will live long in the memory.



Excuse me, while I wax political for a bit.

In the 60s, Singapore had a thriving pop music scene with top bands like the Quests actually out-selling the Beatles at times. However, in the 70s, the Government deemed rock music to be decadent and undesirable and basically threw the baby out with the bath water. Long hair was effectively outlawed and pop culture in general was discouraged to such an extent that the local music scene died. Thus, in the 80s, there was no local scene to speak of as Filipino covers bands dominated the musical landscape.

In the early 90s, a revival of S-ROCK took hold as a combination of BigO magazine, supportive radio stations (Heart 91.3) and DJs X’Ho and Suresh Menon put Singapore music at the top of the radio charts and into the public consciousness again. But sadly, this revival did not last as the 1997 Asian financial crisis put money concerns back high on everybody’s agenda. 

However, in recent times, the S-ROCK scene has once again been in the ascendancy as the Government has realized the value and role of S-ROCK in making Singapore a vibrant global city. Which is why in January 2009, Mediacorp TV will be debuting a live music programme featuring S-ROCK! 

Live n Loaded promises to be more than just another music variety show as it will be on all media platforms – TV, Radio, web and print – and will “expose” local music acts and “showcase” local, regional and international music stars in front of 4.8 million people in Singapore, live every week.

Not only that but aspiring artists/bands can create profiles and upload music and stuff so that the general public may decide who is worthy to perform on the show. 

Well, that’s the concept, anyways.

Personally, I think it’s about time and always better late than never!

Power of Pop will of course be on hand to cover this significant S-ROCK event and hopes it will indeed achieve exposure for the S-ROCK scene. 

First off, this Saturday, at Scape, you can catch Astroninja, Allura, A Vacant Affair, Plainsunset & Vertical Rush. Then the live taping of the show on 27 January 2009. 8.30pm every Tuesday with the first show to feature Great Spy Experiment, Electrico and Ling, amongst others.

Check out Live n Loaded’s web page.

…and there’s more…



2009 begins tonight, boys and girls!

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

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

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

… and there’s more …


Supporting Spurs is sometimes oh so predictable. In the dying minutes of the match against Wigan, Spurs gave away a pointless corner and at the pit of my stomach, I knew a goal was coming. And when the ball inevitably hit the back of the net from Maynor Figueroa’s free header, millions (thousands?) of Spurs fans around the world screamed in unison – “I knew it!”

But really, Spurs deserved nothing from the game and this time the manager and the players shared the blame equally. It wasn’t so long ago that Spurs fans were taunting Juande Ramos with derisory “You don’t know what you’re doing?” chants (at Portsmouth, ironically). This time it seemed Harry Redknapp had lost the plot. Gambling with a 3-5-2 (or was it actually 5-3-2 or maybe a mutant 4-4-2?) with Ledley King in midfield, the opening minutes seemed to catch Wigan a little confused with Spurs formation but at the 20 minute mark, Wigan had sussed out Redknapp game plan and Spurs never got a whiff of Wigan’s goal again. 

Redknapp seemed to compound matters by replacing Pavlyuchenko and Modric with Bent and Lennon respectively (to little impact), deciding to leave the visibly injured Gomes on the pitch (he was static  at the deciding corner) and having to bring on the clueless Jenas (who was caught out by Figueroa for the goal) for the combative but concussed Dawson. Which all meant a toothless 4-4-2 by the end. 

In the post-match interview, ‘arry laid angrily into his players but surely he was equally at fault with his team selection. With the news that Jenas has been stripped of his vice-captaincy, all is not rosy at White Hart Lane now. The next three Premiership games – against Portsmouth, Stoke & Bolton – are absolutely crucial to Spurs immediate future…surely, Spurs are too good to go down, aren’t they?

Aren’t they?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Darren Boon)

Milk is in the cinemas now.


ANI DIFRANCO Red Letter Year (Righteous Babe)

It’s about a month to go before Ani DiFranco’s concert in Singapore (10th Feb) and I figured it was the appropriate time to share with you my thoughts on DiFranco’s 2008 record (and her 18th overall), Red Letter Year. Touted as DiFranco’s most lush and orchestrated work, Red Letter Year does recall the best recordings of such folk-rock luminaries such as Michele Shocked, Suzanne Vega, Bruce Cockburn and of course, Joni Mitchell. 

Which means, that DiFranco’s acoustic guitar is low in the mix and full band arrangements are the order of the day. That doesn’t mean that DiFranco has gone soft or ‘sold out’. Not when songs like Alla This contains a couplet like – “and I can’t support the troops, cuz every last one of them’s being duped” – hard hitting, for sure. The acoustic does come out for the motherhood-centric Present/Infant, where DiFranco sings – “But now here is this tiny baby/And they say she looks just like me/And she is smiling at me with that present infant glee/Yes, and I would defend to the ends of the earth/Her perfect right to be, be, be, be”. See, no mellow, sentimental gushing nonsense, new mother DiFranco is as strident as ever.

Or what about Way Tight, a powerful description of DiFranco’s relationship with her current life partner – “and I tell you what there is plenty wrong with you, stuff you’d sooner fight for than cop to but I think it’s just more reason why we are meant to be. People say I look like you and you look like me, we get this crazy combination of everything and nothing right. We are way way way way way way way way way tight” – sung to the gorgeous trad-folk guitar performance. Then there’s the religiously zealous defence of the Atom – “I have this great great uncle/Who worked on the atomic bomb/He got a nobel prize in physics and a place in song and I bet there were no windows and no women in the room when they applied themselves to the pure science of boom” – funny and yet awfully preachy at the same time.

Sure, it’s about the lyrics and concepts, not to mention the intricate and ornate instrumentation but the centerpiece of Red Letter Year, is DiFranco’s vocals, which is at turns warm, angry, joyous and loving, that manages to rein in the contrarian strands of environmental, anti-war, anti-religion, feminist and political rhetoric that permeates this intriguing album. 

Tickets for Ani DiFranco’s concert are available from SISTIC.

Check out DiFranco’s Myspace page.


CUT OFF YOUR HANDS You & I (Frenchkiss)

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

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

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

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

Check out Cut Off Your Hands’ Myspace page.



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

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

Check out the trailer here.




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



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



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



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

…and there’s more…



Redknapp and Defoe
Redknapp and Defoe

So what to make of Jermain Defoe’s return to Spurs? The moment Harry Redknapp was appointed as Spurs boss, this was firmly on the cards, so it’s no surprise I guess. But is it a good move and is it the right move? 

Well, in money terms, I would say that it’s a bad move as Spurs had to shell out an extra 6 million quid for a player they sold exactly a year ago. Not only that but obviously Defoe has re-signed on better terms as well so that more money lost. Surely, if they had re-negotiated more favorable terms in January 2008, Spurs would not have to go through this debacle. Although it could be argued that at that time, Spurs did not expect Robbie Keane to leave in the summer and Defoe was surplus to requirements. Or so ex-head coach Juande Ramos and ex-Director of Football Damien Comolli thought at the time.

In purely football terms? That’s really hard to say. Much will depend on how well Defoe links with Pavlyuchenko or Bent. Defoe is a natural goal-scorer and always gets himself into great scoring positions though his finishing sometimes lets him down. Spurs have definitely lacked fire power this season and if Defoe does his job, then everyone would have forgotten and forgiven the last 12 months. In any case, if anyone can get the best out of Defoe, it would be his mentor, Harry Redknapp.

Of course, seeing is believing so Defoe will have to prove himself tomorrow when Spurs take on Wigan at the JJB stadium. Wait and see…


Nite Owl

Nite Owl

The Watchmen movie marketing juggernaut continues to roll despite the uncertainty over the March release date (please!!!). 

Now Total Film has a couple of exclusive pix to share. Check them out here.



A Climate of Fear was played on Monday (6 Jan) night on Tan[g]kap Suxx’s show on unpopular radio. You can download the entire show from the link on the site. I must say that Tan[g]kap Suxx’s DJ style reminds me of the late great John Peel. So check it out for some great music – including yours truly. 

…still there’s more…


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

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

Continue reading “THE DARK KNIGHT DVD”


The Watchmen Japanese trailer is online and all you Watchmen geeks will be thrilled to know that it contains loads of previously unseen footage that serve only to reiterate that this movie is going to be one of the best comic book/sci-fi/speculative fiction/whatever movie of all time. 

Am I making all this up? Check out the trailer above, courtesy of Trailer Addict.



THE CORNER LAUGHERS Tomb of Leopards (Sandbox)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Sherwin Tay)

Check out The Corner Laughers’ Myspace page.



BON IVER For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar)

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

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

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

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

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

Check out Bon Iver’s Myspace page.



Amy & Evan
Amy & Evan

The Stars concert is only three days away. Go to the Greenhorn Facebook page and get the password for the discounted ticket price. Not much time left, so don’t hesitate. Hope to see you there!


SLOAN Parallel Play (Murder)

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

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

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

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

Check out Sloan’s Myspace page.


THE SPINTO BAND Moonwink (Park the Van)

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

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

Check out the Spinto Band’s Myspace page.



ASTRONINJA Kiss My Astro! (Self released)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Sherwin Tay)

Check out Astroninja’s Myspace page.