THE POSIES Blood/Candy (Rykodisc)
BLOOD RED SHOES Fire Like This (V2)
VERSUS On the Ones and Threes (Merge)
Those of you hankering for the good old days of late 80s/early 90s indie-alt-rock will be mighty pleased with this new album (in ten years!) from Versus. Remember when the “indie” rock bands of the day were influenced by legends like the Kinks, ELO and Neil Young rather than other predecessor indie bands?
On the Ones and Threes is an accomplished work by a mature group of writers/musicians. The album never remains static in terms of songwriting, arrangements and musicianship. Tracks like the bright Invisible Hero, the energetic Cicada, the sophisticated Into the Blue and the sweetly droning Pink Valhalla have high melodic quotients, which will appeal to all listeners who like their rock, poppy. Whilst songs like Nu Skin, Erstwhile and the title track are slightly edgier affairs.
Much of the sweet and pleasant moments on On the Ones and Threes rather belie the pervasive cynical themes as lead singer/guitarist Richard Baluyut explains – “Well, I’m just a dark person, and I get more nihilistic the older I get.” Perfectly summed up I suppose on the final track (On the Ones and Threes) – “Yes I am the number thirteen/In elevator society/Why be superstitious/When we’re all just specks of dust/You can’t help it and I can’t stop it.” A brilliant juxtaposition of contradiction between lyrical concepts and melodic themes.
One of the better “indie” rock albums you’ll hear in 2010, I’d wager.
On the Ones and Threes will be released by Merge Records on 3rd August.
THE ROSES Traveller (Self-released)
When I received this latest single from The Roses, I honestly did not expect Traveller to sound like it does. Gone is the quirky crunch of Apple of My Eye, to be replaced by an introspective, Joy Division/early Cure-channeling pop-dirge, mixed in with slide guitar to boot, to keep things interesting.
Well, color me impressed again! The vocals are also miles away from the mischievous persona of Apple of My Eye, instead we have this melancholy Ian Curtis wannabe instead. But it works!
Simple but bloody effective. Everything is in their proper place – arrangements, instrumentation and that guitar solo is close to perfection. Sorry if this all sounds hyperbolic but there’s so much promise and potential here (these boys are 16!), it’s scary…
Check out The Roses at http://www.myspace.com/therosesrockwithyou.
You can download Traveller here and let me know what you think…
David Vandervelde is a singer-songwriter that has interested me recently with his intriguing take on country-folk-soul-pop. What Vandervelde does is to filter a 70s classic pop-rock agenda through alt-rock sensibilities. In 2010, Vandervelde (via Secret Canadian) released four digital singles, which will now be collected on 12″ vinyl (cover art above, available on 3 August). My favourite of the lively bunch is Learn How To Hang (Great title! Listen below) which sounds to me like feisty hybrid of REO Speedwagon and Jesus and Mary Chain, if you can imagine that. Vandervelde probably sums it up himself best on the Lindsay Buckingham-channeling Wave Country. Certainly, David Vandervelde is one singer-songwriter to keep a close eye (and ear) on.[audio:http://www.powerofpop.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/learnhowtohang.mp3|titles=David Vandervelde – Learn How To Hang]
SHELLSHAG Rumors in Disguise (Don Giovanni)
The guy Johnny “Shell” plays guitar (and sings) whilst the gal Jen “Shag” plays drums (and also sings). I know what you’re thinking – White Stripes, right? Well, yes and no.
I mean, sure, that “fact” ties Johnny & Jen to Jack & Meg somewhat but as I’ve often ranted and raved, its all about the songs. What do they say? Let’s put it this way, it’s refreshing to listen to a band that knows its shit y’know. At its most basic, Shellshag songs string together the history of lo-fi melodic fuzzed-up guitar rock drones – The Velvet Underground, the Stooges, T. Rex, the Ramones, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Jesus and Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Guided by Voices, Pixies, Nirvana – all feature as choice inspirations for these stripped down paeans to pure rock bliss.
In songs like the groovin’ Resilient Bastard, the relentlessly drivin’ He Said She Said, the slowburning caustic Get Right and the primal Rock and Roll Ruined My Life, Shellshag demonstrate that they possess the right influences and the means to express them creatively to deserve the attention of all discerning rock lovers.
Fifteen tracks of consistently and dynamically intriguing songs with little filler merits a PoP recommendation. Check Shellshag out. NOW.
Free download – Crashing Rockets
Here’s a new band to get really excited about. Admiral Radley consists of members of two great alternative rock bands viz. Jason Lytle & Aaron Burtch (Grandaddy) and Aaron Espinoza and Ariana Murray (Earlimart) and the band is issuing its debut album on The Ship label come July 13th.
Listen to I Heart California, the title track of the upcoming album, and you will be assured that this new aggregation will certainly do justice to fans of their parent bands. Four plus minutes of Lytle’s quirky vocals, buzzy guitars and sweet keyboards with Lytle waxing lyrical about his home state. Bliss!
Review to come…
LAFARO s/t (Smalltown America)
When I got in touch with Belfast indie label Smalltown America regarding And So I Watch You From Afar, the label requested a review on Lafaro. To be honest, I wasn’t impressed with what I heard on their Myspace but didn’t let that stop me from asking for a review copy and now I’m certainly glad I did!
Pardon me, if I must declare that this is one of the hardest rockin’ debut LPs I’ve heard in too long a time. I mean, anyone can be heavy for heavy’s sake but to be able to make it exciting and visceral at the same time is a thrilling gift. Basically a perfect meeting of metal and hardcore punk – and I don’t mean metalcore – Lafaro’s face melting RAWK is something to behold.
Imagine if you must, the marriage of Metallica and Fugazi and the kick-ass attitude of Lemmy and you might just about get a glimpse of where Lafaro are coming from. Consisting of Jonny Black (guitar/vocals), Dave Magee (guitar), Herb Magee (bass) and Alan Lynn (drums), the band take no prisoners with pummeling yet catchy material such as the old school riff-tastic Tupenny Nudger, the drivin’ Chopper is a Fuckin’ Tout, the hectoring Not A Song and the Pixies-channeling Great Conversations Remembered: No 36 – Jeff Hinton.
Damn objectivity – I LOVE LAFARO!!!!!
Music Video of Tupenny Nudger below.
POWER OF DREAMS Immigrants, Migrants and Me (100% Music)
Irish band that formed at the end of the 80s, released a couple of albums to acclaim and then disbanded in the mid-90s. By all accounts, rather obscure on the world stage but certainly ripe for re-examination. 1989’s Immigrants, Migrants and Me was the band’s debut LP and this 20th Anniversary edition is the perfect time to discover the joys of the Power of Dreams.
Hard to discount the inspirations of fellow countrymen U2 and the Waterboys on this collection of acoustic guitar-favoured Irish-accented rockers and those are good reference points to take into account when listening to this excellent album. Songs like the breezy The Joke’s On Me, the bouncing Does It Matter, the dreamy Had You Listened and the dynamic Stay, are reasons enough for fans of 90s alt-rock to check this out.
And there’s a 2nd disc of bonus material as well, consisting of demos recording, singles and live tracks to provide a fairly comprehensive picture of Power of Dreams’ music during this period. One definitely for the fans but neophytes should also consider jumping on the bandwagon as well.
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.
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 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.
+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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.