SWEET APPLE

SWEET APPLE Love & Desperation (Tee Pee)

Distilling all that is strange and wonderful about rock music into sublime three chord nuggets that sound fresh yet familiar is the achievement of indie rock uber-group Sweet Apple.

Consisting of Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis (drums, guitars & vocals), Cobra Vedre’s John Petrovic (vocals & guitar) and Tim Parnin (guitars & vocals) and Witch’s Dave Sweetapple (bass & vocals), Sweet Apple cover as wide a range of rock approaches as possible with nods to slacker rock (I’ve Got A Feeling), Southern rock (It’s Over Now), psychedelic blues (Hold Me, I’m Dying), stoner rock (Blindfold), fragile melancholy rock (Dead Moon), blues rock (Crawling Over Bodies) and cock rock (Never Came).

By now, I think you get the picture – Love & Desperation is every true rockers’ wet dream. Let it be yours.

Official Site

Myspace

DINOSAUR JR LIVE IN SINGAPORE

Not quite sure why I haven’t been hyping this milestone gig but I guess I’m only human (except that I don’t screw around behind my wife’s back with girls half my age – sorry, couldn’t resist!). But here it is, the band that defined slacker rock and set the stage for Nirvana to breakthrough the mainstream in 1991 is coming to our shores.

The original line up of J Mascis (guitars), Lou Barlow (bass) and Murph (drums) no less, invade Singapore next Tuesday to put the “indie” back into alt-rock. Don’t miss ’em. Check out the video of Start Choppin’ below.

BLACK FRANCIS

BLACK FRANCIS NonStopErotik (Cooking Vinyl)

The nom de plume “Black Francis” made its first appearance as the alter-ego of Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV in 1987 in the Pixies’ official recorded debut – the mini-album, Come On Pilgrim. After the seminal band broke up in 1992, Black Francis morphed into Frank Black and Thompson used this name in 15 albums released over the course of 14 years.

Black Francis “returned” in 2007 with the Bluefinger album and the follow-up LP, NonStopErotik indicates that perhaps Black Francis is back to stay. Musically, NonStopErotik attempts to bridge the gap between the Pixies and Frank Black i.e. edgy guitars mixed with minimal electronic sounds, a process which probably began with the Frank Black Francis album, released in 2004, during the Pixies reunion.

Thus, tracks like Lake of Sin, Six Legged Man, Wild Son and When I Go Down On You (great title, eh?) reveals traces of the irreverent, hard-edged and atonal elements of the Pixies oeuvre. Whilst songs like O My Tidy Sum, Rabbits, Wheels and Corrina come across with the greater pop-rock sensibility that Frank Black represented. The album also includes a version of Wheels, the Flying Burrito Brothers classic.

Overall, NonStopErotik clearly establishes Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV/Black Francis/Frank Black/whatever as a true iconolastic rock singer-songwriter of our times. Good, quirky fun.

Check out Six Legged Man below.

Official Site

Myspace

+65 INDIE UNDERGROUND

+65 Indie Underground, the essential 3-CD retrospective of the S-ROCK scene from 1980s to present day (with greater emphasis on the 90s revival) is now available online at getupmerch.com.

Now, why is this CD set “essential”? Well, whether you’re Singaporean or not, the CD set contains 50 tracks covering a wide range of genres and styles, and I’m certain that there’s something for everyone here.

I have been listening to rock & pop music of every ilk for the past 30 years and a serious music reviewer for the last 20, so I believe that I’m qualified to make the following assertions. The music on +65 Indie Underground is as good as anything that passes for “indie/alt-rock” coming out of the USA, UK or Europe.

Definitely, of our current bands, the likes of A Vacant Affair, Great Spy Experiment, I Am David Sparkle, the Observatory, Lunarin, B-Quartet and Electrico would be able to hold their own. For our classic 90s revival outfits, the music of Force Vomit, Livonia, Plainsunset, Sugarflies, Stoned Revivals, Etc, Concave Scream, Stompin’ Ground, Humpback Oak, the Oddfellows, Padres and Zircon Lounge have stood the test of time. Well, I dare anyone to make a case against these assertions. Go ahead, I’ll be waiting…

But if you’re a S-ROCK musician (singer, songwriter, band member, whatever) then, it would be criminal for you not to possess a copy of +65 Indie Underground. This is not mere hyperbole. I have been speaking to several young musicians and they have absolutely no clue about the aforementioned 90s bands. Which is why this retrospective is so essential not only for those of us who lived through those heady times and are feeling nostaglic for the good ol’ days but music lovers everywhere needs to know (and acknowledge) the power of S-ROCK!

Okay, enough preaching. Go and get hold of +65 Indie Underground NOW!!!

RADAR BROS

RADAR BROS. The Illustrated Garden (Merge)

The Radar Bros. are probably the quintessential 90s alt-rock band. Having released 5 albums (before The Illustrated Garden), they have distilled the Pixies-Flaming Lips-Dream Syndicate vibe perfectly. Y’know, equal parts country-folk and psychedelic rock. Throw in copious amounts of the inspirations of Neil Young and Pink Floyd and voila! The Illustrated Garden!

I’m sure you’ll agree with me that the hip and cool factor of the above references is high. And the songs on The Illustrated Garden bear this out as well. There is a weathered feel about the melodies and angular shape to the arrangements which strikes a fine balance between the classic and indie rock genres.

Highlights include the world-weary The Headlights, the obtuse and edgy Rainbow, the whacked out bluesy Quarry, the Syd Barrett-channeling People.

Official site

Myspace

TWIN TIGERS

TWIN TIGERS Gray Waves (Old Flame)

I’ll make matters clear before I proceed: I’ve never really been much of a fan of indie music’s so called lo-fi chic, which to me just sounds like an excuse for bad production and awful mixing. Granted, I’m no audiophile, but the blood in me just boils when I hear a record like Athenian four-piece Twin Tigers’ full length debut album, Gray Waves. Because there’s no two ways around it: the record sounds awful.

That’s not to say the band itself is bad: their deep-fried, dirty shoegaze brand of garage rock is relentlessly catchy at times with pop hooks and melodies that will perk up your ears. But there’s only so much the human ear can take of mindless distortion and flat-sounding reverb before you switch off the record, which is exactly what I ended up doing. It’s a crying shame because songs like Red Fox Run, which features a mildly interesting guitar riff, sound like they’d be immensely catchy if the melody and lyrics weren’t so frustratingly indecipherable. Some songs, like the previously released Sexless Love, sound interesting enough to almost keep you listening on, but then you hit a dry patch like the effortless boring and tuneless Feathers, and what spark of patience the good songs had ignited is mercilessly extinguished. By the time you reach the ending songs of Crystal Highway (which features an excruciatingly painful, distorted vocal track) and Island, you’ll be wishing you had a physical copy of the album just so you could fling it across the room and imagine you were aiming it at the sound engineer. “Take that, and let’s see if you ever dare to radio-distort another vocal again!”

I can’t say this is a completely objective review—I already excused myself from all such pretensions in the first line anyway. It’s just an awful pity because from their live performances on YouTube, they seemed like such a promising proposition. Let’s just chalk one up to debut LP studio inexperience, and keep our fingers crossed that the next record won’t sound like it was recorded in a toilet.

(Samuel C Wee)

FOR AGAINST

FOR AGAINST Never Been (Words On Music)

Don’t you just love bands that are ahead of the curve? Lincoln, Nebraska’s For Against were one of the few US bands who were deeply influenced by the British post-punk of the early 80s, and during the period from 1985 to 1997, operated as a one-band post-punk revival. And at a time, when the post-punk era was terribly unfashionable, as well!

Even when For Against re-surfaced in 2002 with Coalesced, the post-punk revival had barely taken its first tentative steps. Thus, the value of For Against in these musical times cannot be overstated, their place in the scheme of things has to be recognised. Last time out, with 2008’s Shade Side Sunny Side, For Against proved that they are still a major force in the alt-rock world.

Never Been is the latest release and the band seems intent to downplay or de-emphasize its post-punk associations to a certain degree. Whilst the guitar techniques and sounds continue to retain the atmospheric timbre of the big music of Echo and the Bunnymen/the Waterboys/Comsat Angels and the sombre approach of Joy Division, there are now additional colours in the form of keyboards and harmonic vocal arrangements in tracks like Of A Time and Per Se.

I hate to admit this but I prefer it when For Against does not screw with the formula and and focus on what they do best i.e. post-punk. Therefore, tracks like the resonating Sameness, spine tingling Black Willows and downbeat You Fade, evoke the power and dynamism of the post-punk genre with aplomb.

Official site

Myspace

U2

U2 The Unforgettable Fire Deluxe Edition (Interscope)

1984. The year Orwell warned us all about, proved to be an excellent year for rock music.

Amazing albums like the debut Smiths album, Psychedelic Furs’ Mirror Moves, Born in the USA from the Boss, Madness’ Keep Moving, REM’s Reckoning, Ultravox’s Lament, The Pretenders’ Learning to Crawl, Ocean Rain by Echo & the Bunnymen, Bruce Cockburn’s Stealing Fire and of course, the Unforgettable Fire.

A year before, U2 broke big time with third album, War, which hit #1 in the UK and #12 in the USA. War was a strident anthemic rock album, easily identifiable for its huge drum sound, a signature motif of producer Steve Lillywhite. However, with the next album, U2 elected to change course somewhat and enlisted the aid of avant garde producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. The result – the experimentally accessible Unforgettable Fire.

I remember how shocked I was when I first put needle to the vinyl and out came A Sort of Homecoming with its unusual drum patterns and soundscapes, as Bono sung lustily on top. Magic! A memorable moment. The rest of The Unforgettable Fire sustains this edge as U2, Eno and Lanois pushed the envelope and more or less set the stage for the world conquest to come in the shape and form of The Joshua Tree, three years later.

25 years later, the remastering of this classic stands up pretty well, together with a 2nd disc of b-sides, live tracks and remixes and a 3rd disc (DVD) of videos and documentaries. Add to that a glossy book and prints and what you have is a Deluxe Edition that lives up to the name.

I would say that this is highly recommended but I can’t imagine anyone who is remotely interested in modern rock music who isn’t into U2 and wouldn’t already be interested in picking at least the single-disc version of the album. I guess this Deluxe Edition is for longtime fans like yours truly but its an acquisition that is certainly worth the expense.

Official Site

+65 INDIE UNDERGROUND

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VARIOUS ARTISTS +65 Indie Underground (Universal)

Finally! A proper retrospective S-ROCK document of the last 25 years. For that reason alone, anyone who has any links to the Singapore music scene in anyway imaginable must go out and purchase this epochal release now.

Stop & think.

The fact that this release is such a rarity and a treasure for true blue S-ROCK lovers is in itself an inditement on the scene itself. By right, the music found in this set should be readily available but unfortunately unless you bought the original releases in the 80s and 9os, there’s absolutely no way to get your hands on the music. Until now.

Caveat – of course, dear reader, you are aware that as Watchmen, I am featured in this release – so take comments whichever way you want. Personally, I was particularly interested in checking out the 90s-era bands and the representation is hard to fault viz. Corporate Toil, Oddfellows, Padres, OP, Twang Bar Kings, S.U.D.S. (YEAH!), Humpback Oak, The Pagans, Livonia, Concave Scream, Stompin’ Ground, The Ordinary People, Force Vomit, Plainsunset, the Lilac Saints, Etc, Boredphucks. A mean line-up.

Naturally, you could quibble about the absence of AWOL, the Shades, Swirling Madness, ESP, Pink Elephants, Mortal Flower and so on OR you could argue about the song selection but there’s no denying the power of all this wonderful music in one place, so to speak.

Personal faves – Padres’ Radio Station really brings back memories (classic S-ROCK anthem), Twang Bar King’s Daddy in a Lift – still sounds like its at the wrong speed (!), Livonia’s Veageance is Mine, Humpback Oak’s Circling Square, Boredphucks’ Zoe Tay, Stoned Revivals’ Goodil, Etc’s Adolesce & S.U.D.S.’ Braindead Nation.

I could go on but will probably wax lyrical and get too nostalgic (check out the Power of Pop blog for that). Suffice to repeat, that this is bloody essential… now if only we could get proper re-issues of the 90s albums

And the real issue is posed by X’Ho – “Is Singapore rock alive and free at last?” – hopefully +65 Indie Underground is a move in the right direction.

AS TALL AS LIONS

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AS TALL AS LIONS You Can’t Take It With You (Triple Crown)

You want irony? How about a band that tries their damndest to squeeze in every conceivable genre and style into 3-4 minute songs and then illustrates the point on their album cover? So can it be done? Heh.

I hate to be facetious about references and inspirations but does vocalist Dan Nigro remind you of Sting? Well, As Tall As Lions does possess the dynamic, restless nature that the Police had in spades. Sure, the infectious melodicism may be lacking but I’d argue that the incandescent music of You Can’t Take It With You has as much commercial potential.

There’s just so much going in songs like the subtly explosive Circles, the freewheeling Sixes and Sevens, the exotic title track and the relentlessly cool Go Easy (See the Love), that its almost hard to imagine that those are the opening four songs! Masters of contrasting moods, inflections of diverse sonic worlds and flat-out brilliant instrumentation, this wildly creative group deserves the time and effort from rock scholars to simply listen…

The rest of You Can’t Take It With You never finds the band compromising its unique vision as it continues to throw everything and the kitchen sink into the mix. Get ready for the Beatles, U2, the Police, Pink Floyd, Jeff Buckley, Lou Reed, Van Morrison, Kraftwerk, New Order, Leonard Cohen, Radiohead and then some, figuring in the rhyme and reason that is As Tall As Lions.

Official Site

MySpace

MERIT

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MERIT Arson is for Lovers (Self-released)

I apologize if sometimes I get jaded with much of modern “alternative” rock especially everything sounds the same and all “cookie-cutter” like. So I’m pleased to announce that whilst the songs of Merit do contain some of the cliches of modern “alternative” rock, because of the carefully worked instrumentation and arrangements, not to mention Brenna Merritt’s fine vocal prowess, I can safely give this enjoyable album a PoP recommendation. Better yet, the entire album is available for free download here.

MySpace

JON AUER/CHEAP STAR

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JON AUER/CHEAP STAR Two for the Money (Z&Zoe)

Here’s a cool tidbit from France. A split CD between the legendary Jon Auer (the Posies, of course) and French powerpoppers Cheap Star. Six cool tracks altogether, three each from Auer and Cheap Star make Two for the Money a nice acquisition for fans of 90s powerpop.

Cheap Star’s contribution is steeped in 90s jangle pop and college rock, informed by Neil Young, the Byrds, REM, the Posies et al, which maintains your interest without relying on being (too) derivative. Jon Auer, on the other hand, comes across like the master with his acoustic-based, electronic keys-infused tracks full of sophistication and populist charm.

Any music that Auer produces is worth your time…so come and get it.

Jon Auer’s Myspace

Cheap Star’s Myspace