LAZER CRYSTAL

LAZER CRYSTAL MCMLXXX (Thrill Jockey)

Old school electronica rocks! Lazer Crystal is a synth pop duo hailing from Chicago and yet another group of young musicians to be deeply influenced by the works of 80s electronic pop pioneers. I get a little mixed about groups like Lazer Crystal. Whilst I am happy that new bands are building their music around 80s synth pop, I just wish that it didn’t sound so derivative and therefore not bringing the genre forward in any way. Kinda like Oasis and the Beatles, I guess.

Myspace

SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFE

I really only started buying albums with a passion in the very late 70s. Back in the day of course, we didn’t have internet so we had to rely very much on magazines to discover new music. Remember that in the 70s and 80s, the Singapore government was very anti-pop culture and we were constantly bombarded with the message that Western culture was decadent. And so, you had to be rather dedicated to the cause if you wanted to get your hands on great new music.

Around that time, I discovered post-punk with the movie Urgh! A Music War – a film that changed my life forever. One of the artists that really got my attention was Gary Numan (see the clip below). He performed Down in the Park live and it was mind blowing. Not only was the music something I’d never really heard before – genuinely – but he sang sitting down in a motorized chair – awesome!

Numan made synth-pop a mainstream phenomenon in the UK as his singles and albums became best-sellers and deeply influenced much of British music for the better part of the 80s. Well, it certainly made me passionate about synth-pop and led to many acquisitions of albums by fellow practitioners like OMD, Human League, Depeche Mode, Yazoo and the like.

Gary Numan was very much at the forefront of the movement and personified this futurist attitude. However, Numan was often maligned by the British rock press and his popularity waned in the late 80s, a period where synth-pop – once so edgy was hijacked by the mainstream and turned into soul-less muzak. Isn’t always the case?

So it often amuses me when I hear synth-pop fascimiles coming out from modern US rock scene in 2010 –  it all began in the 80s, kids. I guess imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all.

OWL CITY

OWL CITY Ocean Eyes (Universal Republic)

I despair of the mainstream in 2010.

Sure, I can understand the rappers and Lady Gaga and how they figure in the grand scheme of things. But not Owl City.

I mean is this guy for real? The press releases try to paint him as the great white hope of indie pop. The fact is Owl City is as mainstream as they come. With auto-tuned, pre-fabricated crap that just happens to be presented in electronic format and suddenly this guy is “synth-pop”?

His sanitized vocals annoy the hell out of me, with every electronic sound so clean and perfect, this is how synth-pop would sound like if it went Disney!

So this is the mainstream’s answer to “indie-pop”? Emasculated and soul-less, saccharine and dumb? I guess so…

Sure, its popular and commercial, which is fine with me. Just ease up on the hyperbole. As long as you can ignore the awesome electronic music that has come before, you can put this on and pretend that Owl City is the absolute bee’s knees.

Me? I’ll be listening to my New Order singles compilation.

FYFE DANGERFIELD

FYFE DANGERFIELD Fly Yellow Moon (Self-released)

Dangerfield is, of course, the frontman of delightfully quirky BRIT award nominated indie rock band, Guillemots. On his self-released debut album, Dangerfield does not stray too much from Guillemots sonic agenda. Perhaps less wildly eclectic than his full-time band, Dangerfield’s material here is slightly more conservative and traditional when compared to his work with Guillemots.

The tracks on Fly Yellow Moon, mostly consist of piano-centric songs, informed by epic melodies with downbeat sentiments. Thus, songs like the wistful title track, the plaintive ballad Barricades, the nostalgic High on the Tide, the folky Livewire, the pastoral Firebird and the fragile Don’t Be Shy provide the perfect soundtrack for those melancholy late nights. In this regard, Dangerfield recalls the moody genius of Nick Drake.

Fortunately though, Dangerfield is clever enough to mix the melancholia with stabs of hysterical fun e.g. the violently bubbly When You Walk in the Room (which comes across like mad Mika), the post-punk revival piece Faster Than the Setting Sun, where Dangerfield uncannily channels Ian McCulloch (Echo & the Bunnymen), the ELO-ish soulful She Needs Me and the throbbing electronica of Any Direction.

A fine debut album by all accounts, a no-brainer for Guillemots fans, and recommended for lovers of Brit-pop (e.g. Lightning Seeds, World Party et el).

Official Site

Myspace

RJD2

RJD2 The Colossus (RJ’s Electrical Connections)

If you’re a fan of the critically acclaimed TV show, Mad Men, then you would be acquainted with RJd2’s work. Yes, folks, RJd2 (Real name – Ramble John “RJ” Krohn) is responsible for that magnificent theme song. Starting out mainly as a sample based instrumentalist (ala DJ Shadow), RJd2 has evolved into playing all the instruments heard on his albums and even venturing into singing as well. The results have been stellar, by all accounts.

The Colossus is RJd2’s latest album – the first on his own record label – and it is a wonderfully eclectic mash-ups of genres and styles underpinned by a strong sense of melody. The basic premise being – what if you took cool music from the 60s & 70s, like classic pop, prog rock and infused it with a modern hip-hop sensibility? Totally works for me.

Moving from epic soundscapes (A Spaceship For Now) to wide-eyed pop (The Shining Path) in one swoop summarizes what this album is all about. Add to it the McCartneyesque mellifluousness of Games You Can Win, the jazzy ambience of Tin Flower, the lusty vibrancy of Let There Be Horns, the Motown-inflected Walk With Me and what we have is a classic pop album, pure and simple.

Highly recommended!

Official site

Myspace

+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.

TRENTALANGE

Trentalange

One of the better albums I had the pleasure of reviewing in 2009 belongs to Barbara Trentalange. You can check out my review here. Well, I’m glad to be the bearer of good tidings as Barbara has made available a free download of a 5-track EP called B-Sides. Believe me, nothing remotely B-grade about these songs.

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Track listing: –

01. In This Darkness

02. Way Down Where the Wind Blows

03. Changed Love

04. Lover

05. Time

What are you waiting for? Here’s the link.

Oh yeah, you have till 1 Jan 2010 to download….

Official Site

MySpace

BOY WITHOUT GOD

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BOY WITHOUT GOD Your Body is Your Soul (Make)

The music of Boston native Gabriel Birnbaum is just about as quirky for the alter-ego he has selected for himself. By quirky, I mean – short of absolutely brilliant. “Defy expectations” should be every card-carrying artistes mantra and certainly BOG overturned my cart when I put it in the CD player (i.e. my macbook). That said, its certainly not for every taste as the hyperbolic hybrids of anti-folk, electronica and jazz may jar initially until you embrace the sheer chaos meets rustic songcraft agenda in evidence here.

Official Site

MySpace

KID CUDI

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KID CUDI Man on the Moon: The End of Day (Universal)

As regular visitors to the Power of Pop will be aware, I’m not that big on rap. But I know enough about music to appreciate that once in a while, an artist comes along to transcend the limitations of his (or her) chosen genre. Typical hip hop is relatively easy music to make, utlizing stock beats and standard phrasing. The equivalent of aural wallpaper.

That’s why Kid Cudi with his new concept album, Man on the Moon: The End of Day, is such a refreshing breath of air! This experimental and distinctive debut album is chock full of left-field sonic ideas and deep concepts. Don’t get me wrong, its still rap but Kid Cudi embellishes his tracks with different rhythms and intriguing progressive approaches.

For instance, Simple As… plays around with spoken word in a manner reminiscient of Kraftwerk, the hit single Day N Nite (Nightmare) is brash with bright keyboard sounds, Enter Galactic (Love Connection Part I) comes across like vintage Barry White disco, Pursuit Of Happiness is full-blown 80s electro-pop with guests MGMT and Ratatat and Hyyear has a smooth loverman vibe that is irresistible.

It’s ambitious and harbours widescreen intent and that is pretty good in my book for someone who is very much rap-phobic. Check out Man on the Moon: The End of Day, even if you hate rap.

Official site

Myspace

CHRIS CORNELL

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CHRIS CORNELL Scream (Mosley Music/Interscope)

Frankly, I only know Chris Cornell as the rock singer who fronted popular bands like grunge superstars Soundgarden and Audioslave. Guess I should have realized that the cover image of Cornell smashing a guitar was a metaphor for the album’s music as well. Of course, the other clue is the fact that Scream is produced by Timbaland!

Thus, the guitar is conspiciously absent from this predominantly electronic effort as Cornell and Timbaland explores a sound that can probably be best described as hip-hop-rock. Which to these ears is pretty mainstream and should appeal to a broad range of listeners, bringing in new fans without alienating the existing fanbase.

Personally, I appreciate a good hybrid of electronic pop and rock styles and Cornell’s excellent voice does manage to ease rockist tendencies into considering alternatives. The music is edgy in parts but a little bit too synthesized for my taste though I appreciate the effort Cornell has expended to forge a different sound. Call it a failed experiment then.

Check out Chris Cornell’s Myspace page.

ANDIE FRANCOEUR

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ANDIE FRANCOEUR Morning Light (Self-released)

According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, the label “folktronica” seems to have originated in the British press, having come to encompass performers and bands that include elements of ambient electronica, folk, jazz, classical, and even hip-hop. At face value, there is plenty that can go wrong with trying to combine the disparate sound and approache of folk music and electronica.

Andie Francoeur herself is the eldest daughter of a classic rock/blues artist & trained for 16 years as a classical pianist which makes her forays into so-called folktronica a puzzling choice. Having teamed up with producer/auteur Jazno (from Mercymachine) in 2005, Morning Light is the product of this collaboration and experimentations into the earthy and synthetic.

To be honest, for the first half of Morning Light, this hybrid does not quite work for me as the fake orchestral/exotic instrumental sounds overwhelm the torchy melodies on Fallen Out, Tears I Did Not Cry, Cloud Number 9 and Love Song. BUT beginning with Nothing, a thoughtful commentary on religion and parental relationship (which is the same thing), the electronics play a proper supporting role to the songs – which certainly rise up to the occassion. It does not hurt that a gorgeous pedal steel pulls all the (heart) strings to deliever an emotionally satisfying exercise.

The rest of Morning Light – the confessional title track, the fragile & musical Ordinary Romance and rather straightforward alt-poppy These Thoughts – provides enough promise for future projects. For the moment, Morning Light is bit of a mish-mash of good intentions but that 2nd half is certainly worth the price of admission, especially when Francoeur goes a little more trad/country-torch on us and brings the wailing pedal steel to the forefront.

Check out Andie Francoeur’s Myspace page.

BLACK MOTH SUPER RAINBOW

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BLACK MOTH SUPER RAINBOW Eating Us (Graveface)

Joy! I mean when band members refer to themselves as Tobacco, Power Pill Fist, Father Hummingbird, The Seven Fields of Aphelion & Iffernaut rather than Tom Fec, Ken Fec, Seth Ciotti, Maureen Boyle & Donna Kyler, well, you just know that you’re in for a treat!

Black Moth Super Rainbow is what you may call a modern psychedelic rock band. No, they don’t really sound like Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd or Roky Erickson/13th Floor Elevators (maybe in tiny doses) BUT armed with electronics and an ubiquitous vocoder, BMSR certainly give the likes of Flaming Lips, MGMT and Tahiti 80, a run for their money. And it does not hurt one iota that David (Mercury Rev/Flaming Lips producer) Fridmann is on the boards.

Basically, BMSR are particularly adept at combining the disparate elements of trippy psych-rock, smooth soft jazz-pop and epic synth riffs into one heady melange that has no problem in leaving a smile on this reviewer’s face. Despite the electronica underpinnings, BMSR’s sonic approach is organic and there’s no doubt that they are a ‘proper’ band.

The vibe on the new Eating Us album is always chilled, with intriguing keyboard patches, dynamic rhythm section work and that other-worldly vocoder-drenched vocal. Here’s an collection of tracks you can easily “float upstream” to but with enough muscle to ensure you never fall off the deep end.

The great strength that Eating Us possesses may also be its most notable flaw, the songs do tend to merge into one aggregation after a few listens but that could just mean that the album is one which you can comfortably listen to from front to finish. There is a warm consistency that lends itself to repeated airings. And that, my dear friends is a good thing.

Check out BMSR’s Myspace page.