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…

VAL EMMICH

 

VAL EMMICH Little Daggers (bluhammock)

A friend of mine once remarked to me that real reviewers never give only good reviews. If that’s the case, I’m afraid that actor/musician Val Emmich, currently appearing on Ugly Betty, is not helping my credibility any, as I’m absolutely besotted with his latest album, Little Daggers. 

The album title refers to the way Emmich has crafted his songs: first as alluring nuggets of melodic and colorful pop that inexorably draw one in close, then as deep and introspective daggers of lyrical sophistication. Departing from his previous moodier, emotive sound, Emmich produces an album of upbeat, jaunty pop that incorporates elements of folk, country, reggae and rock. Subtle sonic details and nifty hooks such as handclaps, whistles, doo-wop harmonies make the album a delight to run through, even as the bittersweet melancholy of Emmich’s lyrics take root in your mind.

One gets the feeling that this is an album made by a man at the peak of his musical creativity. Despite his vast musical vocabulary, however, Emmich opts to infuse the album with subtle sophistication instead of grandiloquent overindulgence, highlighting rather than over-whelming the gorgeous melodies on display. It’s a decision that pays off with a wonderfully full-bodied album that works on whichever level you want to take it to.

First track on the album, The Lucky Ones, is headboppingly catchy with an infectious vocal hook and peppy cynicism topped off by a chorus as sticky as any radio single you’ll hear this year. Get On With It is just as stickily catchy and is probably the best track on the album, with an exploding chorus, thumping drums and lyrics that make me jealous in my capacity as a lyricist (the album title takes its name from the last verse in this song, by the way). Got A Habit Now is a lyrical confessional about alcoholism and is probably the rawest track on the album, with it’s no-holds-barred approach that, in Emmich’s own words, “lays it out on the table”. Other choice picks on the album include Wake Up Brand New and We Still Bleed, the former an edgy rollicking piece that is sure to be an awesome live performer and the latter a enthusiastic, upbeat Americana track with some sweet touches towards the end, like the lovely bit of whistling that makes one sit up and go, “Where did that come from?” 

It’s an album bittersweet in its marriage of beautiful melodies and somber lyrics, and its all the much better for it. Like a deep, satisfying hit of dark chocolate, Little Daggers will stay with you long after its finished playing, and is likely to be one of those albums that will soundtrack your life at some time. Buy this gem, because it’s a guaranteed keeper. 

(Samuel C Wee)

Check out Val Emmich’s Myspace page.

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 …

DURAN DURAN DVD

Duran Duran – Classic Albums: Rio (Eagle Vision)

Guilty confession. I must admit that I was slightly taken aback when I read the email promoting the release of this DVD. Since when was Rio considered a classic album? I mean, seriously! So that piqued my curiosity to get a hold of this review copy.

After watching the DVD, it appears to me that the real significance of Rio was more as a fashion statement – the return of glam rock and the rise of the new romantic movement (e.g. Visage, Spandau Ballet, Kajagoogoo) than a musical one. The other significance of course was that the rise of Duran Duran and the popularity of Rio coincided with the advent of Music Television i.e. MTV.

In the truly depressed Britain of the early 80s – Thatcherism, unemployment and not to mention the Falklands War – the sound and vision of Duran Duran (which really updated Bowie and Roxy Music) was a breath of fresh air and the British kids embraced the band completely. 

I enjoyed the outline of the band’s history as well as snippets of songs from the debut album (especially Planet Earth and Girls on Film), which I consider vastly superior to the overrated Rio.

However, to be fair, especially to Nick Rhodes and John Taylor, it is clear now that Duran Duran was influential in properly melding dance (alright, disco) beats with bright guitar pop and certainly influential on subsequent successful acts like the Killers. Although, I cannot help but snigger when I hear the band members waxing lyrical about their place in rock history. 

So, unless you’re a rabid fan or a Classic Albums completist, I would suggest you skip this one and try to locate the Who’s Next DVD. I still am.

THE SMITH BROS.

THE SMITH BROS. Restless (Self released)

Power pop can go a few ways. From the sophisticated multi-layered works that the likes of Jellyfish excel in or the adrenalized crunching melodic rockers that the Foo FIghters seem to spit out for fun. Somewhere in between, we have the earnest & sincere folk-pop-rock that seems to have locked in the Beatles in their jangle phase circa Rubber Soul.

Of course, entire careers have been based simply on this – Teenage Fanclub comes quickly to mind – and this is the chosen mode of expression of The Smith Bros. Consisting of Mike Clark (Bass & Vocals), Pat Dollenmayer (Guitar & Vocals), Kris Philips (Drums) & Brian Pack (Guitar), the Smith Bros. dive in, fully-committed to their singular powerpop vision.

Which, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, makes this album something of an acquired taste. Personally, I have no objection to 14 tracks sounding similar in style and approach but the songs would then have to really possess strong and memorable melodic and instrumental hooks. 

Unfortunately, this is not a quality that comes immediately to the fore on Restless. Instead, what we are left with, is an album that is clear in delivering a set of ascertained expectations (i.e. TFC-derived material) and if that’s all you’re looking for, then Restless will certainly fulfill such requirements. With heart as well.

THE NEW UP

THE NEW UP Broken Machine (Self-released)

I guess the New Up fancy themselves as new wave revivalists. And in most ways, they would be absolutely right. After all, the melding of crunching guitars and bleeping synthesizers was a product of the early 80s. The press release even talks up singer ES Pitcher’s ‘uncanny’ resemblance to Siouxie Sioux and Chrissie Hynde. 

Well and good. Whilst as trippy psych-rockers go, the New Up do the job in getting the fundamentals right. What I do appreciate and admire is the band’s ability to mix the harsh with the sweet, the soft with the hard without forgetting how to squeeze in the odd memorable tune to keep things appealing for melody junkies like me. In that respect (and only that), there are faint echoes of Grandaddy on this EP.

For that reason, tracks like the driving major seventh Ginger Tea and the sophisticated raving Libations strike me as the perfect direction for the band to pursue. Till then, this 5 track EP will do.

URGH! A MUSIC WAR

1981.

20 years old.

I pop into a cinema (can’t remember which) with my girlfriend to watch this strange movie called Urgh! A Music War.

What’s it about? Non-stop concert footage of bands I mostly never heard of. My main intention is to catch the Police who are “headlining” the film. 

What I get is an unforgettable introduction to the likes of OMD, Echo & the Bunnymen, XTC, the Go-Gos, Gang of Four, Joan Jett, Devo, X, Magazine and Gary Numan. 

Basically, a hot selection of post-punk bands on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Really for me, the highlight was Gary Numan’s rendition of Down in the Park, sitting in a moving (sofa?) chair as he sang, appearing very Dickian and Bowiesque, I fell in love with Numan and I would leave the cinema to pick up every Numan/Tubeway Army record I could find. (More of Numan in another post!)

I still haven’t come across a DVD of this life-changing movie but this clip of Down in the Park will do for now…legendary…

THE BREAK AND REPAIR METHOD

THE BREAK AND REPAIR METHOD Milk the Bee (bluhammock)

The Break and Repair Method’s Milk The Bee opens with the upbeat, cheery This City (is bound do us in), where Paul Doucette’s vocals are very honest and heartfelt- he manages to go from hopeful and optimistic to shattered and distraught while retaining a strong intensity. Who’d have guessed he was Matchbox Twenty’s drummer?

The piano/keys are a prominent feature throughout the album, and they add a touch of child-like simplicity and innocence. The instrument serves as the starting point for those songs, which make them interesting and rather different for someone who’s used to guitar-driven work. 

I love that every song seems to tell a different story, from a different place. It feels like Paul is sharing a journey with you, filled with highs and lows. There is joy, wonderment, heartbreak, disappointment, strength and lots of passion. Also great grooves on songs like I’m At A Low, and a slightly haunting atmosphere in songs like Calling All Electrical Print make for an intriguing collection.

Milk The Bee closes with The Most Somebody Can Know, a slow but beautifully intense song that one could imagine was written about an elderly couple looking back on their life and relationship.

There’s loads of intensity on this album, and it’s always different and refreshing while retaining a fundamental pop sound. I really enjoyed it, and will be listening to it for a long time to come.

(Visa)

Check out the Break and Repair Method’s Myspace page.

THE ORGAN

THE ORGAN – Don’t Be Angry (off the album, Thieves)

Rustic folk is making big waves as cutting edge, artistic modern rock music. Looking at Vancouver-based quintet, The Organ, one would be taken aback by the melancholy music they create together. Don’t Be Angry is a good example, sounding like a relic from a different age. With echoes of The Decemberists, Don’t Be Angry is a good introduction to the ambitious sounds of The Organ.

Download: Don’t Be Angry.

Courtesy of RCRD LBL.

VISA

I’m a very loud, extroverted person who enjoys good company, conversation and style. I’m full of energy, love to face life head-on, and believe that rules are guidelines meant to be challenged. While I’m a big-picture person, I also tend to be sensitive to how small things make a big difference- be it in art, music, or life itself.

To me, music is about expression. It’s created by the artist to be experienced by the listener- be it on record, or live performance. A successful musician, to me, is able to effectively connect with his audience. As a musician and songwriter, it is my ultimate aim to share with you how I feel, and have you take something away from it. As a music lover, I enjoy experiencing this from other musicians as well, whether they are touring professionals or weekend warriors.

So why do we do it? Why do musicians write, play, perform and share music? Why do ordinary people pay money to listen to records or go to shows? I believe it is because that at the end of the day, no matter how mundane and meaningless life seems to get, music allows us to share something special with other people. It reminds us that deep down, we’re all the same, and that it is a privilege to be alive.

Visa also plays bass and sings in a power trio called Armchair Critic. Check out their Myspace page.

HOSPITAL SHIPS

 

HOSPITAL SHIPS Oh, Ramona (Graveface)

To be completely honest, I’m not too familiar with the work of Jordan Geiger with his other bands, Minus Story and Shearwater. But that’s alright, because after having gone through his debut album as a one man band under the name of Hospital Ships, I’m his latest fan. 

An intimate, deeply personal and confessional record, one gets the impression that the album was born when Mr. Geiger sat down one day at his table, took a look at his diary and went, “Hey, let’s turn this into an album!” The result is an LP that is by turns deftly ingenious as well as starkly revealing.

Album opener, Bitter Radio Single, is a short but captivating two-minute piece of sonic candy that gradually builds up and bursts into life towards the end. Fourth track on the album, The Shots I Drank, is a dreamy tune that sounds like it could belong on Pet Sounds, if not for the bittersweet melancholy that underscores the dreamy drunken saccharine quality of the melody. 

Indeed, most of the songs here sound like they‘d be more comfortable existing on dusty vinyl instead of digital, with a wonderful stripped down and sparse bedroom feel that could have come right from the 50s or 60s, and a fragile sensitivity evoking memories of a time more innocent and pure. It’s rather fitting then that most tracks on the album run under three minutes, such as the excellent Girls, a simple two-minute monologue about lost adolescent love set amidst lush acoustic sensibilities.

Title track, Oh Ramona, is a heartbreakingly simple love song, with a nakedness so intensely private one feels slightly voyeuristic for intruding. Your Heart is one and a half minutes of a song heard over an old radio, weaving in and out of your consciousness like a half-forgotten favorite tune, while the longest track on the album, I Want It To Get Out, is about as clever as Geiger gets on this record with the production.

Most tracks here never make it past mid-tempo, but that’s alright. These is no blazing stadium-rock epic, but instead an album to be slowly savored. A soft, quiet, and private affair, Oh! Ramona was made for those rainy days when all you want to do is curl up in an old cozy recliner with a cup of hot chocolate, close your eyes, and reminisce about an old lingering love. Listen to Geiger’s voice cooing in your living room. He just might be singing about you. 

(Samuel C Wee)

THE HUNDRED IN THE HANDS

THE HUNDRED IN THE HANDS Dressed in Dresden/Undressed in Dresden single (Gigantic Music/Tangled Up)

In my humble estimation, there are two major trends going on in modern pop-rock right now viz. alt-country and synth-pop. The Hundred in the Hands consist of ex-Boggs Jason Friedman and Eleanore Everdell and the electronic duo has released its debut single as a free download.

The ‘A’ side (such as it is) is a kooky reggae-fied piece of choppy guitars and atmospheric keyboards with Everdell’s plaintive vocals playing counterpoint. The ‘B’ side is a dubbed-up version, with backward sound effects, restless horns, punchy percussion and throbbing bassline making for an intriguing mix. 

Whilst the melody quotient isn’t much to write about, its the overall cool vibe that thoroughly works for me. So pick up this excellent piece of ear candy while you can.

Download: Dressed in Dresden/Undressed in Dresden

Watch: Videos of Dressed in Dresden/Undressed in Dresden

THE DEAD TREES

THE DEAD TREES King of Rosa (Milan)

This took me by surprise! I mean, to experience a melange of power pop and alt-country as potent as that found on this wonderful debut from Portland’s Dead Trees is a pleasant shock. Add a smidgeon of Britpop cool into the mix and the result is almost pop majesty.

Genre-bending? Check! Eclectic? Check! Cross-hatching? Check!

I must say that King of Rosa has been on heavy rotation for a while now and the opening salvo of the psychedelic Brit-rocking OK Standby, the catchy Beatlesque Shelter and the jaunty Beach Boys via the Shins evoking My Friend Joan, She Never Asks confirms Dead Trees’ intent to throw every classic pop-rock reference into the mixer and set the controls for the heart of the sun…

And the beat goes on – the Replacements-referencing Killer in Me, the mutant twangy Instrumental, the smile-inducing rhythmic I Have, I Want, the straight ahead rave-up Loretta, the melancholy jazz-bluesy Let Me Sleep, the sloppy dirge Twin Cities and the folky New England Skies.

Yes, boys and girls, this one’s gonna be on the Power of Pop Albums of the Year list. Believe me…

Check out the Dead Trees Myspace page.

Download: Shelter

JOHN LENNON DVD

CLASSIC ALBUMS: John Lennon – Plastic Ono Band (Eagle Vision)

No better music DVD series around than the Classic Album series. And certainly, Lennon’s debut solo albunm deserves the Classic Albums treatment. 

So you get the whole song-and-dance: the history, the interviews, the original recording tapes and of course, the music. 

Plastic Ono Band is a stark, visceral work and a thing of grace and beauty at the same time. The songs expressed almost everything that Lennon was feeling at that time of his life. Thus, the best insights come from the people closest to him during the recording viz. Yoko (of course), Ringo Star and Klaus Voormann. 

I have nothing personal against Yoko but her views have been replayed over and over in numerous past interviews and her sessions reveal nothing new. Ringo is always a delight in his deadpan manner but it is Klaus Voormann who steals the show with his thoughts about John and also his way with a bass and piano (he actually plays the intro to Isolation!)

I’m glad to say that I thought I knew the Lennon story front and back, thus it was a surprise to learn that Phil Spector did not in fact produce the album but rather John and Yoko did. Surprising because I’ve always loved the spare production and use to marvel how Mr Wall of Sound was able to handle the stripped down approach. Now I know he never did! More respect to John and Yoko!

There’s not much twiddling that engineers Phil McDonald and Richard Lush can do with this as the instrumentation is so basic but that only emphasizes the genius of the album. If you’ve never listened to Plastic Ono Band, then I highly recommend that you do so and then watch this DVD for the complete picture. Enjoy…

NOW PLAYING

BAND OF HORSES – No One’s Gonna Love You (off Cease to Begin – 2007)

Yeah, this came out last year but this melancholic stunner is really beginning to grow on me. I’ve always been aware of its delights but it was hearing it on an episode of Chuck that secured its repeat mode status for me.

POP10 – SPRINGHOUSE

Strap yourself in for one of the most interesting PoP10 thus far from Mitch Friedland and Jack Rabid out of Springhouse. Enjoy…

1. Why play music? 

Mitch: I always listen to music and really get inspired by listening to all different composers.

Jack: It’s by the far the most creative-visceral thing I do, and there’s a satisfaction in being creative with other people in concert (in both senses of the word) that’s like no other. And when people respond, openly and warmly at a gig, it feels like a warm bath of utter and all-encompassing joy!

2. Who are your influences?

Mitch: So many.  But I do have Heroes ( not the TV show either) Let’s see,  David Crosby, Paddy McAloon, Ralph McTell, Adrian Borland, David Sylvain, Emitt Rhodes, maybe in that order.

Jack: Anyone who is creative, smart, funny, and in direct terms of the band, anyone who writes and records songs I can’t stop singing along to. Examples: Beatles, Kinks, Hollies, Who, Wire, Catherine Wheel, For Against, Neil Young, Beach Boys, ahh, heck the list is too long.

3. What is success?

Mitch: It’s hard to gauge success as a musician. I mean as a father I feel I didn’t do a bad job with a really cool seventeen year old son.  He likes Weezer. But, if someone comes to me and says he loved one of my chords or compositions it makes me feel like a success.

Jack: Music I am proud of, because I genuinely love hearing it those occasional times when I listen to something I actually played on. In a more general sense, it’s setting a goal to accomplish something, like a song, an album, a new issue of my magazine, or making my wife or child or my friends happy, and being satisfied by its accomplishment!

4. Why should people buy your music?

Mitch: Well it used to be buy.  Now its download, steal, borrow or just listen to myspace.  It may sound bitter , but it really isn’t. I like the fact that everyone is on an equal ground.  If you do decide to buy I just hope it brightens your day, your life.  I love to dance while no one is looking or play air guitar, drums to whatever music makes you love music in the first place.  So, thats the satisfaction I get when you buy our cd. One other point is that I wanted Bruce Licher our cd designer, to make a piece of art that you would be proud to own and not want to throw out.

Jack: The Licher art is really big for me. It shows that we really care about the art of our music, and that we think the music itself is as creative and joyful and soulful and invigorating as the art. Too much product (and album art) is so disposable, so why indeed buy it when you can get it for free. We aspire to music that feels like a worthy art purchase, something lovely and moving to add to your life, like a good painting or a great book.

5. Who do you love?

Mitch: My family. My bandmates. Sandy Denny. SGI

Jack: Those who are dear to me, anyone who says something appreciative or encouraging about my magazine or band that I put so much heart, love, and work into, and so many great artists and thinkers who inspire me and make life spicy instead of mundane. Too much life is mundane, but with a little work, you find books, movies, people, nature, music, good coffee, etc etc and then you’re not feeling bored.. 

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

Mitch: That songwriting is still a craft and possibilities still remain.  We don’t have to rehash rock and roll into a game for the xbox. Though I heard it’s fun. There is still ground to be broken like the new Joan as Police Woman cd.   What’s next, Folk Band the game?  

Jack: To make someone obsessed with one of our songs or albums the way I sometimes go crazy over a record, like that Sloan LP last year, Never Hear the End of It, that took over my life for weeks on end. It’s such a gift to my feelings when someone says we did that to him or her! I kid you not. My greatest memory was hearing the crowd singing along at our 2002 reunion gig in Washington D.C. What an indescribable feeling!! In order for them to know the words of an obscure-ish opening act, they really had to have loved our songs! Wow! Mitch once said in Rolling Stone he wanted our music to give people the “shiver affect,” and that is what I want too!

7. Who comes to your gigs?

Mitch: I hope young and not so young.  It seems that people in their 40’s may feel that they are being pushed aside by the newer bands.  Their music may not appeal to them.  So, I hope that my music balances the old with the new. 

Jack: Last time in 2002 it was an equal mix between older friends and fans glad for a chance to hear us one more time and chat with us after the show, which is just wonderful, and a whole bunch of people who said they regretted not having seen us before we broke up or having discovered us after! Including some teenagers who weren’t even born when we released our albums in 1991 and 1993! Whoah!

8. What is your favorite album?

Mitch: Really it would be by the decade and genre.  I could say I was in love with Bryter Layer or Pet Sounds or Odyssey and Oracle. Later on Never Mind the BollocksSteve McQueen, McCarthy records. Leige and Lief.  I still will listen to those Lp’s but other things take their place.  I can’t get enough of the Honeybus right now and I love Grouper.  I would love to do a Springhouse tribute to her music. 

Jack: Ha, that changes every week. The closest thing I can come up with is the Kinks-Arthur or the entire Beatles catalog! Or how about Jerry Lee Lewis Live at the Star Club. Or Or Or Or ….

9. What is your favorite song?

Mitch: Maramalade- Reflections of my life. Played the hell out of that song as a teenager. 

Jack: Oh, man, so many so many so many! How about I Am the Walrus? or What Do I Get? There are thousands! 

10. How did you get here?

Mitch: Thats like saying how did you get From Now to Ok.  Getting from now (which for me was my breakdown) to ok (where acceptance and a will to go forward). I prefer Ok.
 
Jack: I think my parents liked each other! (ta-dum) The rest was up to me. Other answer: I reinvented myself when I was just out of junior high school and became a punk rocker and took the name Jack Rabid. That was 30 years ago! I’ve been loving life for the most part ever since. 
More information about Springhouse and its new album at its Myspace page.

SO SO GLOS

THE SO SO GLOS Tourism/Terrorism (Green Owl)

What happens when you stick 4 brothers, who grew up in a microcosm of chaos, in a hovel by the train tracks?

You get a cacophony of aggression and urgency, a seam-stretching externalization of messages suppressed by a burgeoning deluge of omnipresent global troubles, impatiently awaiting release.

Enter the So So Glos, a high-energy group hailing from Brooklyn, one among the numerous cradles of the hardcore movement. These boys are obscenely loud and in-your-face, and that’s just the way they like it. They want you to sit up and listen to what they have to say, and if you don’t, they’ll try their level best to drag you into their world, face-first and fists pumping.

On their upcoming shortplayer (that’s halfway between an EP and an LP, or about 27 minutes, if you were wondering) release Tourism/Terrorism, the brothers are set to drive home their brand of infectious punk rock n’ roll, replete with gang vox, snarling skapunk attitude, and enigmatically enough, tasty flavours of a more tropical sensibility; chiming, compressed surf-punk rhythms, ukeleles, and even a tambourine; weaved seamlessly into the focused anarchy. Think a bastard child of the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Bob Marley, a Black Flag record, and enough beer to cause bodily harm by volume.

That’s not to say that this entire release is one homogenous, searing punk rock anthem from start to finish. There are a number of slow breaks between verses and medium-tempo pieces to lull the less sprightly into lapses of musically-altered consciousness, such as Love Or Empire a track carried by nothing but sparingly-overdriven, lightly-picked electric guitar chords and the sneering vocal stylings of singer Alex Lavine. Or Throw Your Hands Up, another track that deviates mildly off-tangent from the rest of the album, with a sound more inclined towards an early European powerpop formula.

Production-wise, this is definitely not one for the audiophile. The values are somewhat sketchy, with a marked imbalance in the levels of a number of tracks, but look, IT’S A PUNK ROCK ALBUM. That’s where the grit is, and therein lies the attitude; the allure,  if you will, that has kept the spirit of the punk movement alive from generation to generation. 

So fine, maybe their timely messages of heightened social awareness may not have been conceived as a direct response to the current load of crap we, the world at large have managed to dig ourselves into, but with solid tunes like these to deliver them, at least we have proof that all is not lost. In the incomprehensible vastness of our world, it’s easy to be apathetic towards social responsibility, but there exist those who remind us that perhaps the most effective catalyst for change is simply, the Man in the Mirror.

Overall, a refreshing release and I, for one, am eagerly anticipating what these boys have to offer next.

(Sherwin Tay)

Check out the So So Glos at their Myspace page.

SHERWIN TAY

I reckon this, like all good introductions, should begin with a name. Case in point; me. 

My name is Sherwin Tay, and I am a second-year Mass Communications student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. It was part fate, part interest, and a whole load of passion that fuelled by decision to enroll in the course, but I’ll spare you the gruesome details of my academic journey since you’ve already mentioned that you’d like this to be a short and sweet write-up about myself. 

Since I was young, I’ve always maintained a keen interest in writing. My love affair with weaving stories and penning down experiences from my excessively anecdotal life (I swear, so many interesting things happen to me every day for no apparent reason, it’s unbelievable; I scarcely believe it myself sometimes, but it’s just one of those things I’ve grown to accept over the years) began, as with most kids who share similar interests, with Enid Blyton. I’d imagine going on these epic adventures through my bedroom and backyard, flashlight in hand, sometimes at strange hours of the day, and these would further fuel the stories forming in my head.

At least, until my mom would stick her head out of the window to remind me that I still had homework to do.

I guess you could say that I’ve never really grown up per se. I still explore the world through the gateway of my mind on a regular basis, and in a way, that was what led me to music.

Fate works in mysterious ways. It’s been 6 years since I attended my first gig, and looking back, I’ve already done so many things that I would have never seen myself doing as a kid, all of these a result of my interest in music. Now far be it beyond me to proclaim myself a competent musician; I am in fact, far from it.  More than half a decade on (which is a long time on my terms, I’m only 18  =p), I am still learning new things every day.

A keen interest in music was the also what led me to become involved in writing for Gilarock, as well as several other independent publications including Fresh! and Angles (both defunct right now), as well as school publications and a pilot project titled Zero Base, which dealt with local entertainment reviews, and was managed by a senior of mine (this project too, has become defunct, sadly). I’ve also contributed press materials for my former secondary school (Anglo-Chinese School Independent), such as brochure content and press kit inserts.

In my spare time, as you may have already figured out by now, I enjoy writing, poetry, prose, fiction, nonfiction, basically, anything and everything, my style is pretty adaptable, as well as skateboarding, food, and guitar (a treble of other passions in my life that I spend my whole week in complete and total devotion to, secondary to school work, of course. cough cough)

(I think I need to start cutting down on the food a lil too)

Local music is one of my pet subjects. I lived, grew up, and played in a band, through the days when we had to sell 50 tickets to play at Gas Haus to a crowd of 20 people. I was at IJ studios when the shit hit the fan and the police swooped in. I was at the Esplanade when the The Suns returned to Singapore and played there to a maximum capacity crowd. I know what it feels like to have to wait 3 hours to play a show. I know what it feels like to be screened for carrying instruments onto the MRT. Most of all, I know and accept that there is a whole host of talent sitting here, but sadly, it’s been suppressed numerous glass ceilings which are destroying more and more opportunities with each passing day. In a way, I see writing, reviewing, and critiquing as my way of giving back to a community that pretty much saw me through my growing years. 

Round of applause for Sherwin, please.
… still there’s more …

POP10 – PAPER ROUND KID

 

Humour mixed with the candour is how Paper Round Kid tells it…
1. Why play music?

If just listening to music is not enough to deal with all the emotions of the mind, then you gotta play.

2. Who are your influences?

Neil Young and Dylan would be high on my list as they tell stories, and sharing stories is a way of bringing people together, it’s nice to feel you’re not the only one losing…or winning.

3. What is success?

Success can be many different things, but lying next to someone you wanna be with is pretty good.

4. Why should people buy your music? 

If it makes them feel less alone and they like to bop around with a drink celebrating the fact that it’s the shit things that happen in your life that can sometimes be the most soul developing, then buy it. Well that’s one reason.
 
5. Who do you love?

Disregarding the obvious, I love Bukowski, he kinda just got on with it and he respected his own talent.

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

Peace of mind, a good time and maybe a little bit of justice here and there for good measure

7. Who comes to your gigs?

I try and get there!

8. What is your favorite album?

I wear them out, but the good ones bounce back. Joni Mitchell – Blue, always sounds fresh. 

9. What is your favorite song?

Sinnerman – Nina Simone

10. How did you get here?

Well ten follows nine 🙂 
Love helps, so I hope via a night of mutually enjoyable sex.

Paper Round Kid’s Submarine album is out now.

FISHTANK

FISHTANK Make Nice (WMUM)

Immediately recognizable on Fishtank’s Make Nice album are killer, infectious songs from their live set such as Conversations, I Want Out, Race and Yahoo Superstar. While there is no substitute for catching these guys live, they do manage to capture a good amount of their energy on this record.

The album begins with a moderately energetic song Walk Away, which manages to transition smoothly from a milder, chill-out vibe to a stronger, more frantic and energetic one. It then continues to rise and peak with the subsequent songs as well..

The Fishtank formula seems to be as follows- a powerful and highly addictive bass/drum groove that sticks in your head, fluid and energetic transitions which involve the whole band, and simple but effective and memorable lyrics and melodies. There are some flavours of reggae, ska, surf-rock, and even a bit of a Red Hot Chilli Peppers vibe (especially on track 2, Young and Out).

Zaid’s vocals shine in the slower passages, such as in One Shot, with expressive vibrato and projection. Anjas’ bass plays a prominent role throughout the album, taking charge and driving the songs effectively and tastefully.

The album ends with the same amount of fervor, tirelessness and energy that the band is renowned for, both on and off-stage. If age has taken anything away from them, it certainly doesn’t show in their music.

As always, no album is perfect and there were a couple of things that I didn’t really enjoy. Some of the songs feel like they drag on a little longer than they should, and the album is slightly monotonous. Perhaps it would have been more interesting if they had allowed themselves to deviate more from their formula. While all the songs have intense energy, perhaps it might have added more depth to the album if things mellowed down at some point.

All in all, Make Nice boasts excellent musicianship from Asmail, Nizam, Anjas and Zaid. Every song is strongly held together with the finesse that only comes from years of experience. Fishtank know what they do best, and are not afraid to prove it. Quirky and with never-ending energy, Make Nice is just the thing you need as a pick-me-up on a dreary day.

Check out Fishtank at its Myspace page.

(Visa)