Clare and the Reasons‘ engaging brand of soft chamber pop is reason (pun intended) enough to stop whatever you’re doing and pay attention to the video of the gorgeous European sounding “The Lake”, the new single from upcoming new album KR-51. Review to come.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
Having been twice released from recording contracts, by RCA and Nettwerk, you would be surprised to learn that Mead hasn’t packed it all in. And what is the man’s crime? The ability to produce sophisticated pop that touches you in the heart, mind and soul. That’s what! Of course, the problem with the music business is that critical reviews only go so far if the unwashed masses aren’t forking out cash for your albums.
Really, folks, the kind of music that Mead delivers is a rare commodity and his dilemma has been shared by peers like Aimee Mann, Jon Brion, XTC, Eric Matthews, the High Llamas, the Aluminium Group et al. On Almost and Always, Mead’s fifth album, he is joined in the songwriting department by Bill Demain, best known as an integral part of soft pop duo Swan Dive. The result is an album of the highest quality in every aspect and listening to it, you cannot but come to the inescapable conclusion that it is nothing short of a travesty that Mead does not receive the recognition that he deserves.
The beauty of Almost and Always is that most of the tracks here are pretty stripped down, with little to accompany Mead’s gorgeous high-register larynx but acoustic guitar and piano. In such environments, melodies are severely tested and in this respect, Almost and Always passes with flying colors. And when Mead deems it necessary to embellish his captivating songs, he does so with aplomb with baroque instrumentation that will send chills down your spine.
This is an album that must be experienced from start to finish, and its difficult to name highlights but I certainly have fallen head over heels in love with Blackberry Winters, with its incredible chorus and its breath-taking vocal harmonic middle-eight; Rainy Weather Friend, with its jaunty demeanour and incandescent tune; From My Window Sill, with its rustic melancholia and breezy personality; Last Train Home, with its 70s country inflections and Jimmy Webb-channeling melody and Little Boats, a old world piano ballad with a smidgen of a Disney movie theme vibe.
2009 has been a good year for good old fashioned pop-rock, and certainly David Mead’s Almost and Always is up there with the year’s best. The highest PoP recommendation!
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.
Let me get this off my chest right from the get-go. The best way to enjoy J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness is to watch it in IMAX 3D, switch your brain off and simply enjoy the ride. The visual spectacle should be able to remove all your concerns about plot holes, character motivations and […]
Will be in England with TypeWriter for the next two weeks. Back on 20th May. In the meantime, come and visit Power of Pop as often as you can – there’s still loads of content here for you to explore. Cheers, Kevin […]
This is special. I’ve first came across Esther Lowless back in 2007 as the frontperson of the now-defunct Indus Gendi and was duly impressed by her vocals, songwriting and keyboard playing. With respect to the last matter, enough to have her on board as part of The Groovy People and she contributed amazing vocal […]
The 90s alt-rock revival continues apace with singer-songwriter Sam Page weighing in with a knowing album of edgy melodic rock n’ roll numbers that bring to mind the likes of Dinosaur Jr, Gumball, Sebadoh and Buffalo Tom. There’s little doubt that J Mascis weighs in heavily as a positive influence on Page’s work as evidenced […]
Iron Man 2 was only half a movie, in my humble opinion. The first half was quick-paced and exhilarating but then the wheels came off and the movie came to a tired conclusion. The sequel did well at the box office but one sensed that director Jon Favreau had lost interested in the franchise that he had […]
A promising sign of a developing indie music scene is the ability to embrace different styles of music where the key factor is not ‘genre’ but an appreciation of ‘good’ music. Melodic pop-rock quartet Tricks & Cider is a wonderful example of this. I first met singer-songwriter-guitarist Victoria Ho (above, far left) a few years […]
Last Friday (19th April) Fred Perry launched a vinyl exhibition at the Fred Perry Laurel Wreath Collection Shop, held in conjunction with Record Store Day, which is curated by #vinyloftheday and record store Vinylicious and showcases over 100 exclusive vinyl editions alongside all-time favourites. For me personally, it was a strange experience to find vinyl […]
Thursday’s (April 18th) S-ROCK gig at Night & Day Bar was significant for two things. One, it was the debut performance of Bored Spies (Cherie Ko, Sooyoung Park, Orestes Morfin & Adel Rashid) and two, it was the final performance (before a short hiatus) of everyone’s favourite spector-gaze band, Obedient Wives Club. Of course, most […]
Multi-platinum selling singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles has revealed the title to her highly anticipated third studio album, The Blessed Unrest, which is set for release on July 16th through Epic Records. The album’s first single, “Brave,” was co-written by Jack Antonoff from the band fun. and will be released at all digital retailers next Tuesday, April [. […]
“Beyond the Ashes” is the second teaser off the upcoming album, EMO FASCISM – due in August. Catch Kevin Mathews/The Groovy People play “Beyond the Ashes” next Friday, April 26th at Identite 9.3 – KAMCO MUSIC at Home Club from 8pm. Cover is $12 (one free housepour and free entry to Kicks! afterwards). Also on […]