DAVID MEAD

DAVID MEAD Almost and Always (Cheap Lullaby)

It’s a bitch being a musical genius. The last couple of years have not been kind to singer-songwriter David Mead. After spending 2007 living in Brooklyn, Mead separated from his wife and returned to his native Nashville in early 2008, initially landing in a room in his father’s basement for a few months. Mead confesses “The change was a little paralyzing. I had left pretty much everything but my books and a few lamps in Brooklyn, and there I was, back in Nashville, well into my 30’s, doing manual labor and wondering what was supposed to happen next.”

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PoP RECOMMENDS | POP POWER!!! : THE HEAVY BLINKERS – THE NIGHT AND I ARE STILL SO YOUNG REISSUE

Wow. Talk about a blast from the past! Today, Canada’s Label Obscura has reissued one of the best independent pop albums of the early 2000s – The Night And I Are Still So Young by The Heavy Blinkers. This is the first time this classic album will be released on vinyl.

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RALEGH LONG’S GORGEOUS DEBUT IS HOVERING DANGEROUSLY CLOSE TO GREATNESS

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I met English singer-songwriter Ralegh Long last year when he visited Singapore and found him to be an unassuming, down to earth chap. You can listen to my interview with Long here. What I particularly liked about Long was the deep commitment to his craft and that he found inspiration from cult singer-songwriters like Robyn Hitchcock and Epic Soundtracks. This dedication can be seen in his songwriting, which can be best described as ‘traditional’ and ‘old-fashioned’ in that it relies on sophistication, orchestration and courageous musical choices to get the job done. Certainly not a bad combination! On his debut album, Hoverance, Long delivers a robust collection of deceptively simple songs that beg for closer inspection. Utilising tools of emotional resonance like pedal steel, a string quartet and woodwinds, Long imbues a baroque-like feel to the songs that engender a melancholy ambience that is impossible to ignore. I caught up with Long via email to get him to talk about how he put this gorgeous album of heartfelt songs together.

What were your inspirations for the mood and atmosphere generated for the album?

The mood and atmosphere came from sounds I’d had in my head for a while. I’ve always heard woodwinds in particular as a kind of synthesiser. I guess the pedal steel element came more accidentally. I asked Jack Hayter (Ex-Hefner) to play on a song called “Elizabeth” off my previous E.P The Gift and then we worked more and more closely together until he now plays in my band.

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MARKETA IRGLOVA – LIVE IN SINGAPORE [REVIEW]

It’s hard not to be smitten by Czech singer-songwriter Marketa Irglova. The young ‘girl’ from the Once movie, with her naive charm and baby-face appeal certainly captured the hearts of the audience at the Esplanade Recital Studio on Thursday night. Backed by Aida Shahghasemi (on Daf and vocals), Rob Bochnik (on guitars and vocals) and Joe Doyle (on bass) – the latter two also being part of The Frames and Swell Season – the music was presented in subdued tones, which suited the surroundings perfectly.

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PETER LACEY – WORLDS END AMATEUR MELODRAMATIC SOCIETY BALL

THE SKY IS FALLING!

British singer-songwriter Peter Lacey has been slogging away in the salt mines of sophisticated sixties-channeling pop-rock for over a decade now and it’s clear that for Lacey, it’s all about making the kind of music that he loves and that pays tribute to his musical heroes. Lacey has consistently drawn from the deep influential well that includes the works of Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney, Nick Drake, Van Morrison, Burt Bacharach, Elvis Costello, Andy Partridge and Marin Newell.

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WORLD BLANKET

This is Pop!

Popular music (as opposed to classical music) has been around for eons. Well, in its modern incarnation since the 1950s in any case with the arrival of rock n’ roll. And I am pretty much satisfied with that concept. Sure, we can talk about some superficial difference between pop, rock, country, folk, soul and so on but what’s the point?

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LUNARIN

The Midas Sessions

Let me put a personal perspective on this review. I was fortunate enough to open for Lunarin (Linda Ong, Ho Kah Wye & Loo Eng Teck) last year at an acoustic performance at The Library @ Esplanade. The trio was augmented by Natalie Soh (violin) and Victor Ong (cello) and the set list included new songs and re-interpretation of tracks from Chrysalis and Duae and in truth I was enthralled by how gorgeous and magnificent these chamber pop songs turned out to be. After the gig, the band mentioned an intention to record an EP of these acoustic songs and I was so enthused that I almost felt that I had to bully them into recording a full-length album.

So… it is really a special feeling to finally be listening to this wondrous album. Not as hodge-podge as its origins might suggest as the old and new material blend together as a coherent whole. The organic sounds and timbre of the acoustic instruments mesh so well together that one would never imagine that Lunarin was equally deft at loud metallic noises! Certainly the success of this album indicates the breadth and depth of Lunarin as songwriters and artists. Shorn of the wall of metallic sound, these songs breathe and shine so brightly that anyone listening in cannot fail but be engaged.

Amongst the new material, the likes of Ghost, Right of Sleep and Wednesday cut right through to catch the listener’s attention with Right of Sleep’s hook-laden approach making it the perfect choice for lead single. If only Singapore radio would shake off its irrational prejudice against local music, I am certain that Right of Sleep would soon become a staple. Anyone familiar with the two previous albums would be rather astonished to hear the fresh incarnations of Zero Point Red, Midas and Coralline as almost independent entities distinct from their metallic cousins. In fact, Zero Point Red clearly stands a fair chance of being the second single off The Midas Sessions. A definite highlight is the live version of the acoustic rendition of the epic Serpentine which retains its majestic quality whilst adding hitherto unknown deeper layers to its widescreen ambitions.

A breathtaking achievement that belies the hard work and effort behind the scenes, The Midas Sessions is a worthy addition to the burgeoning Singapore rock canon.

Check out the music video of Right of Sleep below.

Right of Sleep from lunarin on Vimeo.

Lunarin launch The Midas Sessions on Sunday 15th January 2012 at 8pm at the Pigeonhole. Admission is FREE.

Official Site

SARAH BLASKO – LIVE IN SINGAPORE

SARAH BLASKO As Day Follows Night (Universal)

Songs that transcend genre are the forte of singer-songwriter Sarah Blasko. Originally hailing from Sydney, Australia (and now transplanted in the United Kingdom), Blasko appears to mine the similar vein that fueled the imaginations of Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Bjork and Fiona Apple. Ethereal creatures that based their otherworldly songs on structures borrowed from jazz, classical, folk and music hall traditions.

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THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS

THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS Together (Matador)

For a decade now, this Canadian “indie” supergroup has been providing to discerning music lovers, sophisticated pop-rock of the highest order. Together is the band’s fifth album and lives up to its illustrous predecessors. As usual, Colin (ex-Zumpano) Newman is the ring-leader of this exotic circus with the usual suspects onboard viz. Neko Case, Dan (Destroyer) Bejar, Kathryn (Immaculate Machine) Calder, John (Evaporators) Collins, Kurt (Age of Electic) Dahle & Todd (Limblifter) Fancey. In addition, the presence of guests St Vincent, Zach (Beirut) Cordon and Will (Okkevill River) Sheff. And if you’ve not heard of these other fine underground bands, then the New Pornographers is a good introduction to their wild talents.

It’s comforting to know that in a world of pre-fabricated pop fodder, a band like the New Pornographers is allowed to exist and thrive and music this inventive and reverent continues to be made. Imagine the inspiration of the Beatles, the Byrds, the Beach Boys, Badfinger, ELO, Queen, Jellyfish stirred vigorously to produce a sumptuous pop feast and you get a good idea of what a New Pornographers album sound like.

With Newman and Bejar providing the songs and with Case and Calder supplying vocal counterpoints, the music on Together is a joy to listen to, pure and simple. How else can you describe the lush dynamism of Moves, the powerful confection of Your Hands (Together), the chiming drive of Silver Jenny Dollar, the epic balladry of My Shepherd, the rustic charm of Valkyrie in the Roller Disco and sweet atonal lo-fidelity of We End Up Together?

Pop scholars will spend days and weeks dissecting the myriad levels offered by Together but if you just love good music, you will find much to savor as well.

Official Site

Myspace

MARK BACINO

MARK BACINO Queens English (DreamCrush Music)

When I first started the Power of Pop – back in 1998 – I focused pretty much on the US Pop Underground which was vibrant at the time. One of its chief proponents was New Yorker Mark Bacino and his wonderfully sweet powerpop album Popjob, an album which was prominent on my playlist back then.

Five years later, Bacino released Million Dollar Milkshake, which moved me to describe it as “a 12-track journey into the heart of soft pop bliss where the aim is to please, sooth and caress (all in a family-oriented way, of course!) the jaded rock and pop enthusiast”.

Well, it may have been seven long years but on 18th May, that third Bacino album – Queens English – will finally be released and I am glad to report that it’s definitely worth the wait!

It’s been a while since a “traditional” powerpop album has excited me in this way. With Queens English, Bacino has developed his craft even further with the inclusion of baroque instrumentation (strings and horns) to imbue his soft pop leanings with chamber pop elements.

Much of Bacino’s lyrical concepts deal with his family life especially in songs like the jaunty Muffin in the Oven and the cheeky piano ballad  Camp Elmo. In fact, there is an altogether welcome absence of angst throughout Queens English, which is indeed refreshing. Songs like the funny rockin’ title track (Queens, NYC not Queen of England, heh!), the music hall-channeling Happy, the lushly orchestrated Bridge and Tunnel and the folk-poppy Ballad of M and LJ, complete this picture of contentment.

Musically, Bacino never strays too far from his strengths, keeping faith with his fabulous melodies and the inspirations of the Kinks, Elvis Costello, Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach and Jellyfish. Which is fine in my book. If there is only one powerpop album you pick up in 2010, it would have to be Queens English.

Official Site

Myspace

HORSE FEATHERS

HORSE FEATHERS Thistled Spring (Kill Rock Stars)

I firmly believe that country songs are some of the most soulful and emotionally wringing sounds ever produced on this Planet Earth. Singer-songwriter Jason Ringle (aka Horse Feathers) understands this concept perfectly. So what does he do? He records his achingly fragile country-folk compositions with moving strings (i.e. violins, violas and cellos) arrangements and authentically rustic instruments (i.e. banjos, mandolins, saws and celestes).

With tracks primed to touch the soul, Thistled Spring is not targeted at the casual pop listener, but at serious music lovers who are able to appreciate the atmosphere and mood contained in such gorgeous songs as Starving Robins, The Drought, Cascades, As A Ghost and the title track.

This is an album to dissect and absorb over and over again, to capture every nuance – but definitely worth the time and effort.

Free download – Belly of June

Horse Feathers at the KRS site

Myspace

CLARE AND THE REASONS

CLARE AND THE REASONS Arrow (Frog Stand)

If you were a mad scientist and discovered a means to distill the talents of Paul McCartney, XTC, John Cale and Brian Wilson and add a huge dollop of female sensibility, you’d probably end up with Clare and the Reasons. This Brooklyn-based band follow up their critically lauded debut Movie with an even more accomplished pure pop effort. Rather astonishing actually.

Eclectic at its core, the music on Arrow mixes and mashed chamber pop (with lush classical arrangements), electronica (throbbing, pulsing synth patterns), music hall quirkiness (check out the bizarre cover of Genesis’ That’s All!) and general pop mellifluousness.

Together with Elizabeth and the Catapult’s Taller Children, Arrow might just be the pop album of the year!

Essential, of course.

Official Site

MySpace

SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFE

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Anyone out there remember the Asian financial crisis of late 1997? It was my first real experience of an economic recession and by early 1998 it had hit really hard, resulting in a pay cut and general gloom all around. The Pernice Brothers’ debut Overcome By Happiness was released on Sub Pop that same year and it just seemed to express everything I felt during that melancholy year.

“You don’t feel so overcome by happiness/You’re broke/Do you think you might scrape your life together just in/Time to find you’ve got no piece of mind (Overcome By Happiness)

“Its a long way to fall/When you find out how it never was/Its a long way to fall/When you find out it never happened at all” (Crestfallen)

And it didn’t hurt when the music enveloping these fine lyrics resonated with the echoes of Teenage Fanclub, Big Star, the Bee Gees and the Beach Boys.

Lead singer and principal songwriter Joe Pernice has consistently produced great pop albums since then and expect a review of his latest effort soon.

…still there’s more…

ALMOST CHARLIE

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ALMOST CHARLIE The Plural of Yes (Words On Music)

There are a few things that a casual listener should take note of, concerning German band, Almost Charlie.

First, singer-composer Dirk Homuth possesses a nasal vocal style that is borrowed heavily from the late great John Lennon. Uncannily so, in fact.

Second, lyricist Charlie Mason is not part of the band and in fact has never even met Homuth before! These song collaborations have been carried out over the internet. What will they think of next?

Music-wise, Almost Charlie (oh, I get it now!) parlays a chamber-folk-pop sensibility that is pleasant enough without being too deeply affecting. I suppose you could make comparisons between the musical approach here and the Beatles’ own folk-pop excursions on Rubber Soul & Revolver. Or you could easily discern references pointing to another late great, Mr Elliot Smith.

Overall, the vibe one gets from The Plural of Yes is a likable evocation of Beatles circa 1965, and if you’re into that era then this album is for you. Simply put, good music for those melancholy rainy Sunday afternoons.

Check out the band’s Myspace page.

A clip of a lively rendition of Leaving is Easy follows…