ALBUM REVIEW: STOPGAP – TOTEMS

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by Lenne Chai

As popular as modern indie pop-rock was in the early noughties (I am tired of the ‘post-rock revival’ moniker), it does not seem to have caught on in a big way amongst Singapore indie rock bands. What I am referring to, are the bands that have been influenced by The Strokes, Vampire Weekend & Arctic Monkeys, and in that respect, apart from Cashew Chemists, the only local indie band that has successfully taken a crack at this style is Stopgap.

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ALBUM REVIEW: A GREAT BIG WORLD – WHEN THE MORNING COMES

AGBW

Ian Axel and Chad King of piano pop band A Great Big World (AGBW) seem to have hit on that elusive formula that makes their songs both irresistibly catchy AND strikingly authentic. 

A mere 12 hours after hearing their sophomore album When The Morning Comes in its entirety, I was already easily singing along to the big melodic hooks and memorable choruses of every song. At the same time, the unique vulnerability in the words being sung was reeling me in, giving these (otherwise pretty simple) lyrics an emotional depth you wouldn’t normally expect from “happy clappy” pop tunes.

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ALBUM REVIEW: SQUEEZE – CRADLE TO THE GRAVE

squeeze-live-2015

Some respite for true pop lovers from the onslaught of the prefabricated anti-music dominating the current Billboard charts in the form of a new Squeeze album! Yes! When frontman Glenn Tilbrook was in Singapore last year, he mentioned that the band was recording a new album and here it is – Cradle to the Grave – the band’s first album of new material since 1998!

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ALBUM REVIEW: JEFF LYNNE’S ELO – ALONE IN THE UNIVERSE

Jeff Lynne ELO

For most of its first run, Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) operated as a band. However, in effect the success of ELO was really down to one person viz. singer-songwriter-musician-producer Jeff Lynne. Thus, this album of new material — the first since 2001’s Zoom — is credited to “Jeff Lynne’s ELO” and perhaps rightly so. Though personally, ELO would have done it for me — I mean ELO fans know who is the force behind those wonderful songs.

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ALBUM REVIEW: PLATE’S DEBUT ALBUM IS A FANTASTIC VOYAGE OF SOUNDS AND FEELS THAT DESERVES OUR ATTENTION

PLATE

Zhong Ren Koh is probably one of the most talented musicians in Singapore that you have never heard of. Well, to be fair, if you are a hardcore S-ROCK fan, you might remember Zhong Ren playing bass in Basement in My Loft or sessioning as a cellist for Hanging Up the Moon, Victor Low or Alise.

But really, what you should realise is that as Plate (with support from drummer Jason Cruz and violinist/co-producer Yi The Seow) – Zhong Ren (on (vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, cello, glockenspiel, drum machine!) is one of the more exciting singer-songwriters out there in the #sgindie wasteland. And here’s the evidence: a nine-track debut album (Tear Down the Marketplace) with a maturity and intensity that belies Zhong Ren’s own personal under-stated style and underscores the artistic depth of what can still be achieved in 2015 with indie rock.

The easiest reference point for Plate is Radiohead & perhaps early Muse (especially on the opening tracks “Revolutionaries and “Building With Sticks” but that is only the starting position for Plate). On the atmospheric, cinematic folk of “River”, “Nest” & “Landslide”, Plate echoes the work of Hanging Up the Moon and Leslie Low, plundering the 1970s British electric-folk scene for raw inspiration.

There is a strong melancholic vibe on Tear Down the Marketplace that is fairly relenting – on “Straphanger” & “Expanse” Zhong Ren explores the lower register of his vocals to induce a depressive mood and again, displays the range of his inventiveness – ever restless to find the suitable ambience for the song. It’s difficult not to respond emotionally to what the compositions convey.

Though this album has been out for a while now on Bandcamp (see below), Plate is planning a general release on 31 October with live shows to follow. For more info, follow Plate at https://www.facebook.com/platemusic.

ALBUM REVIEW: BACK TO BASICS FOR BRYAN ADAMS ON GET UP!

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Honestly, have never been a fan of Canuck heartland rocker Bryan Adams but on his latest album, producer Jeff Lynne (ELO) is the only reason I am recommending Get Up! And of course, Lynne’s fingerprints are all over this ode to rock ’n’ roll, even though Lynne has only one co-writing credit here – the mid-tempo 80s pop sheen of “Do What Ya Gotta Do” which smacks of Lynne’s collaborations with Tom Petty and Roger McGuinn. Ironically, the most ELO-channeling track of all – the gorgeous ballad “We Did It All” was written by Adams and songwriter partner Jim Vallance.

There’s no denying that Adams sounds invigorated by Lynne’s influence, keeping the songwriting simple, yet allowing the sophisticated arrangements to elevate the basic pop-rock material. That’s no hiding the agenda behind feel good rockers like “Go Down Rockin’” and “That’s Rock and Roll” & the years peel away with ease. Who cares whether the hipster generation will Get Up or not. That’s their problem.

And if you’d like a free CD of Get Up! (and why wouldn’t you?!), Universal Music Singapore are giving away 5 copies if you can answer this question.

Who is the producer of Bryan Adams’ Get Up!?

Send your answers to kamcomusic@gmail.com with your full name, NRIC No., mobile number and of course, home address and a Get Up! CD is yours! First come, first served. Power of Pop’s decision on who is or isn’t a winner is final and conclusive. (For Singapore residents only)

ALBUM REVIEW: BEST COAST’S CALIFORNIA NIGHTS IS POWER POP GOODNESS SO WHY DO THEY GET THE HATE RESERVED FOR HIPSTER BANDS?

BestCoast

Best Coast is one of those bands that critics love to hate. There’s the common accusation that the hype over the band is over singer Bethany Cosentino and the gossip surrounding her life and not the music. Trolls claim that Best Coast’s music is simple and dumb, writing the band off as any kind of musical force.

While I do agree that Best Coast’s music is simple, that in itself does not make the music dumb. To be honest, the kind of power pop parlayed by Best Coast has been bettered decades ago by The Muffs, Essex Green and Dressy Bessy but compared to what passes for modern pop in 2015, Best Coast is a breath of fresh air!

Like Vivian Girls and Cults, Best Coast owes a huge debt to the 60s girl groups, 70s power pop and 80s indie pop and there’s nothing wrong with that if one is able to crank out infectious numbers like “Feeling Ok”, “Heaven Sent” and “So Unaware”. More power to Best Coast – keep the pop coming!

ALBUM REVIEW: DON HENLEY’S CASS COUNTY BRINGS US BACK TO HIS COUNTRY HOME

Don Henley

The Eagles loomed huge and cast a long shadow on popular music from the mid-70s onwards with “Hotel California” being one of the most requested songs of cover bands. But for me, Eagle Don Henley’s The End of the Innocence (1989) remains one of the most important albums ever produced.

Since that time, Henley has only released one solo LP (Inside Job in 2000) before Cass County, of course. What is surprising is that Henley has gone back to the early Eagles country-rock to underpin his latest rumination on life and politics. For that reason, Cass County is probably his best work since The End of the Innocence. But just in case, you needed convincing, Henley managed to rope in a couple of stellar guest stars viz. Mick Jagger (“Bramble Rose”), Merle Haggard (“The Cost of Living”) and Dolly Parton (“When I Stop Dreaming”).

But more than that, the contribution of ex-Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch to the songs and production does make a significant difference.

Considering the country-folk thrust of Cass County, perhaps it is ironic that the most satisfying track here is the new single, “Take A Picture Of This” which is not country at all. Instead it is a wistful pop-rock ballad that the likes of John Lennon and Jeff Lynne (ELO) would probably have written – one that reflects on a baby boomer marriage gone sour. Thematically (if not musically), it hearkens back to one of Henley’s finest moments, “The Heart of the Matter”, and for that reason, Cass Country is one new album that will be closely treasured by yours truly.

ALBUM REVIEW: DRUG CABIN DELIVERS RETRO-DELICIOUS MAGIC WITH NOT ONE BUT TWO ALBUMS!

Drug Cabin

Just when I began to despair about whether any one out there in the modern pop wasteland is making authentic pop-rock still… I discover that there are flickering embers of hope. If you know where to look.

Well, Drug Cabin viz. Nathan Thelen (ex Pretty Girls Make Graves) and Marcus Congleton (ex Ambulance LTD), probably feel the same way as I do cuz the band released TWO LPs earlier this year which demonstrate that there is potentially timeless pop-rock being produced even in 2015! The 2 albums are Yard Work and Wiggle Room and there’s not much to distinguish between the two. My guess is that duo had so much music that they needed to put it all out at the same time. But I am sure that true blue pop-rock lovers will not have any complaints about this move.

On Yard Work, songs like the mid tempo breezy “California”, the country-folky “Dogs”, the laid back syncopated “Hollywood” & the disco-rock channeling “Jesus” stake their claim on 60s/70s rock, with a shimmering pedal steel bringing it home.

On Wiggle Room, songs like the tongue-in-cheek “Steely Dad”, the earthy “Ruby”, the sophisticated “Wonderful” and the easy-going title track, sound like a continuation of Yard Work – or is it the other way round?

Fact is, at a total of 56 minutes, both albums could have been released as one monster of a 22-track instant classic and to be honest in this digital age, it does not really matter too much.

Not only that but if you add the eponymous 6-track mini-album from 2012, what you get is a bumper crop of tracks that are wondrously inspired by the classic pop-rock music of the best rock decade of all time (see Spotify playlist below). In all probability, Drug Cabin and their sterling work will go under the radar somewhat but if like me, you don’t give a shit about trends and only want to listen to great music, then Drug Cabin is the place for you!

http://drugcabin.com/

ALBUM REVIEW: THE JAM – ABOUT THE YOUNG IDEA

TheJam!

I have been in love with The Jam (viz. Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton & Rich Buckler) for so long that sometimes I take them for granted. Yeah, you know what’s that like, right? I can still remember the exact moment I first encountered the band.

It was at the old Funan Centre Department Store sometime in 1980 and I was fishing through the record bargain bins and I found the In The City and This is the Modern World LPs on cheap sale! (Aside – that’s where I got hold of Elvis Costello & the Attractions’ Armed Forces as well)

And that was that. Truth be told, I was that enamoured with the first wave of punk, when it happened and it did not help that The Sex Pistols was banned in Singapore. But from the moment I heard “In the City”, it did not sound so much like punk as a revival of Sixties pop i.e. The Beatles, The Who, The Small Faces, The Kinks etc. So I scoured record stores to find more albums but only got hold of the then newly released Sound Affects. Only then I took an interest in finding out more about the trio in the music magazines.

And boy did I! Since much of the albums & singles were not available here, I had to mail order quite a bunch – mind you, those were the days, when bands did not necessarily release single tracks on albums and by the time, The Jam released its swan song – The Gift (1982) – I had more or less completed my collection.

In the 33 years since Weller broke up The Jam, I have been kept up to date with all the re-issues and compilations, with the Direction Reaction Creation boxset, the pick of the lot. However, this new compilation – About the Young Idea (a quote from “In The City”) – somewhat slipped under my radar.

Listening to this compilation, I must say it’s serviceable if you are a newbie and apart from an unreleased demo of “Takin’ My Love”, there’s no surprises here for diehards. Sound-wise again, nothing revealing from these particular remasters. As expected, all the singles are here (classics like “Going Underground/The Dreams of Children”, “When You’re Young”, “Strange Town”, “Town Called Malice”) and deep cuts like “English Rose”, “Away From the Numbers” and “To Be Someone”.

Like I have mentioned before, that 1997 boxset is all you need is you are an obsessed fan like me. But this compilation works if you have just begun your journey of discovery of one of the finest rock bands of all time.

ALBUM REVIEW: DEAFHEAVEN – NEW BERMUDA

Deafheaven

It seems like a disservice to Deafheaven to simply describe the band (George Clarke, Kerry McCoy Daniel Tracy, Stephen Clark & Shiv Mehra) as a Black Metal outfit.

Sure, the music carries all the hallmarks of the extreme metal genre viz. fast tempos, shrieking vocal style, heavily distorted guitars played with tremolo picking but Deafheaven is much more. Halfway through the opening track (“Brought to the Water”) of their new album, New Bermuda, the song takes on an incongruous atmospheric dream pop tone that changes the emotional tone significantly before it ends with a solo piano playing the chord progression! Unexpected.

After the critical acclaim showered on sophomore effort, Sunbather, it’s comforting to note that Deafheaven have not compromised their high standards on New Bermuda. It would not be out of place to suggest that this is what progressive rock sounds like in 2015 – the exploration of new frontiers and exciting cross-pollinating hybrids indicate that talented and courageous music creators are out there on the fringes of modern rock making fresh & wildly innovative popular music.

This creativity continues for the rest of New Bermuda in songs that never go under eight minutes (the epic “Luna” and the invigorating “Baby Blue” cross the 10 minute mark!) but never overstay their welcome in any way. Not falling into the inherent obsolescence of staying within genre boundaries, Deafheaven fly free of all constraints and totally against type have created transcendent rock music that even the most optimistic of us believers thought was now impossible!

ALBUM REVIEW: COLORWAY – THE BLACK SKY SEQUINNED

Colorway

Now this is what I call rock ’n’ roll! Colorway’s sophomore effort finds the trio once again burning their way through 10 tracks of 100% pure shots of classic pop-rock songwriting brilliance.

Singer-songwriter-guitarist F. Alex Johnson and the steady rhythm section of Dave Hayes (Bass/Vocals) &
J.J. O’Connell (Drums/Percussion/Vocals) have delivered the perfect antidote to those who believe that good old fashioned pop-rock music is somehow irrelevant in 2015.

If you think 5 Seconds of Summer is guitar rock, then you might want to keep sucking your pacifier – this is music for adults – where a penchant for smart lyrics & sophisticated songwriting are married with an honest application of rock instrumentation.

From the opening driving “Gen Exit” to the closing epic “Telephone”, it’s all tight as a drum without any flab whatsoever. No mean feat. Highly recommended!

Official Site

ALBUM REVIEW: MOONLAPSE – FADE CONSTRUCT

Moonlapse

Is it still metal without guitars and drums? Well, the purists out there will quite obviously growl – NO!

This is Moonlapse – basically, 21 year old electronic artist Ben Strick – who has recorded a five-track LP of progressive instrumental metal music on his computer!

Once you have gotten over the novelty of what sounds like progressive metal actually being electronic music, it wears off.

No matter how you try, technology has not been able to recreate the timbre of strings accurately yet.

Yes, you could probably get away with the drums and percussion but guitars? No way.

That all said, that should not be criterion to judge Moonlapse by. As progressive electro-rock, I can see Moonlapse generating a buzz but to be honest, after awhile you are going to be missing those guitars.

Full marks for effort though!

No information about when or where will Fade Construct be released. Updates at https://www.facebook.com/moonlapseofficial.

In the meantime, check out Moonlapse’s previous release.

ALBUM REVIEW: BREAKFAST MUFF: THE FEELS

BMUFF

What the fuck is ‘sparkle punk’? It’s probably an ironic made-up genre but that and the fact that there’s a song called “Cock” is what caught my attention.

Welcome to the world of Glasgow ‘glitter trash’ trio Breakfast MUFF. The Feels is the very anti-thesis of everything is ‘proper’ about popular music in 2015. Y’know lofi, shambolic, amateurish, three chords, low grade fuzzed guitars, disturbing lyrics, songs that never hit 3 minutes and singers who sound like they don’t give a fuck!

Musically it reminds me of edgy, post-punk guitar pop-rock of 1979-era XTC, The Slits, The Raincoats and Wire – which never hurts.

I’m just a bit concerned that The Feels might be a novelty record. I fucking hope not!

If you really must – https://www.facebook.com/BreakfastMUFF

ALBUM REVIEW: KURT VILE – B’LIEVE I’M GOING DOWN…

Kurt Vile

The name Kurt brought me back 18 years where Saturdays were spent jamming to “Aneurysm” and “Lithium” at a run-down studio in Yishun. I have always associated Kurt with the frontman of Nirvana but today, I was looking at a different Kurt.

B’lieve I’m Going Down… is Kurt Vile’s fourth album with Matador Records. On the cover, he shows off the bountiful hair of a metalhead, poses like a gypsy guitar virtuoso and wears a pair of skinny jeans too tight for comfort.

I did not know what to expect.

The first song “ Pretty Pimpin” starts with an acoustic guitar picking before he sings about the struggles of self-recognition, in a manner highly reminiscent of Elliott Smith. Shifting into a lower register Lou Reed-like voice for much of the album, he sinks you into the depths of relaxation with lyrics like, “When I go out/I take pills to take the edge off/or to just take a chillax/man and forget about it”. Vile has got good writing chops if you can ignore the ‘stoner’ vibe and dive into his words. In this sense, the album’s chillax direction may work against him as new listeners might let his words drift by .

Overall, this album speaks about finding oneself by being more emotionally aware and going with the flow. Though I feel that Vile himself is in no hurry j – “Give it some time/Give it some time” on his last song “Wild Imagination”.

A good lofi indie rock/folk spin for your weekend.

(Brenton Huang)

Brenton recently completed my WRITING ABOUT ROCK MUSIC course. Find out more from KAMCO Music

ALBUM REVIEW: POP4 – SUMMER

Pop4

I am so sick and tired of defending ‘classic’ pop songwriting – why should the age of a genre ever come into the assessment of good music.

Anyways, thankfully I have a musical representation of this argument in the form of Pop4’s brilliant album Summer. Comprising of Scott McPherson, KC Bowman, Kirk Adams and Andrea Perry – a power pop brain trust, for those in the know – Pop4 exploits the diverse strengths of its members to provide one of the finer pop albums of 2015.

Highlights include the droll putdown “You’re No Aimee Mann” (which Mann herself approves of, it seems!), the delightfully ELO-channelling “Einstein and Sunshine” and the warm pastoral “Beautiful”.

There’s no doubt that we need more sophisticated melodic albums like Summer – no irony, no pretension, no pastiche – I am glad to declare that this is the real deal.

Official Site

ALBUM REVIEW: OLD DISORDER IS THE KEY TO NEW ORDER INVIGORATION.

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Does life have to make sense? Does music need to feel complete? Or is it the inherent contradictions that make music the life-affirming force it can be?

Did anyone expect a new New Order album? Hooky out, Gillian back? In case you are not keeping score, Hooky (bassist Peter Hook) announced in 2007 that New Order was over and that he was leaving. Eight years later, Barney Summer and the rest of the gang (Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert, Phil Cunningham & Tom Chapman) has somewhat taken up the challenge to prove Hooky wrong.

And whilst the end product is a sublime dance-rock album of the kind that the original New Order are considered the pioneers of, Music Complete is not really New Order, any more than Electronic or Bad Lieutenant were New Order. The name itself is meaningless – without Hooky’s bass, this is most definitely not New Order.

However, in the final analysis, it makes no fucking difference, does it? With all the electro-pop acts vying for attention in the modern rock wasteland, the old masters have come back from the dead to show the young upstarts how it’s done.

There’s no doubting Summer’s way with a melody (and dodgy lyrics) but it is in the rhythm and the beats that Music Complete excels – big beats, techno, house, disco all mashed up into a heady mixture. “Restless”, “Tutti Frutti” and “Stray Dog” (with Iggy Pop on vocals) all rise like cream to the top but it is in the final number “Superheated” that Music Complete well and truly soars with one of the finest New Order tracks since the glory days of the 80s. “Superheated” is five minutes of sheer electro-pop bliss. Close your eyes and it’s the mid-eighties again.

Gorgeous.

ALBUM REVIEW: DAVID GILMOUR’S RATTLE THAT LOCK ONLY WORKS WHEN HE REMAINS TRUE TO HIMSELF

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Ex-Pink Floyd singer-guitarist returns with a new solo LP that follows last year’s pointless Pink Floyd release – The Endless River – and Gilmour’s previous solo work, the magnificent On An Island (2006).

Sadly, Rattle That Lock – despite the promise of the excellent title track – is not a patch on On An Island and finds Gilmour trying out (rather unconvincingly) different musical styles that are far removed from his solo and Floyd work.

All of which is frustrating because on tracks like the instrumentals “5 A.M.”, “Beauty” and “… And Then”, Gilmour’s trademark guitar stylings shine through and all is well. Elsewhere, the choppy dance rhythms of “Today”, the anti-war balladry of “In Any Tongue” and the sprightly blues-romp of the title track remain the highlights.

Sadly, there are at least four tracks – “Faces of Stone”, “A Boat Lies Waiting”, “Dancing Right In Front Of Me” and “The Girl in the Yellow Dress” – where Gilmour’s attempts at eclecticism somewhat fall flat. Especially on that last named track where Gilmour fancies himself to deliver a pseudo-jazz standard with appalling results.

Presumably, Gilmour wanted to demonstrate his songwriting versatility but only emphasised his paucity in this department. Sobering to realise that it took Gilmour almost a decade to come up with enough songs to produce a new album. Floyd fans will enjoyed the highlights previously mentioned, which makes Rattle That Lock somewhat half-baked overall.