ALBUM REVIEW: COTTON MATHER – DEATH OF THE COOL

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Photo credit: Valerie Fremin

Background
Highly acclaimed 90s Pop Underground faves Cotton Mather returns with a new album after an absence of 15 years! Death of the Cool contains singer-songwriter Robert Harrison’s pure pop meditations on Chinese philosophy – in particular, one song each for each hexagram (or reading) of the I Ching! How 60s can one get?!?

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ALBUM REVIEW: PJ HARVEY – THE HOPE SIX DEMOLITION PROJECT

PJ Harvey

Background
PJ Harvey is an English musician, singer-songwriter, writer, poet, and composer. With new album The Hope VI Demolition Project, Harvey has now released nine LPs. Harvey wrote the songs during her travels to Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Washington D.C. with photographer/filmmaker Seamus Murphy between 2011 and 2014.

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LIVE NEWS: SINGAPORE WRITERS FESTIVAL 2015 – WRITING FOR THE EARS

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In Each Hand a Cutlass

An excellent sign that Singapore music is slowly (but surely) permeating the mainstream consciousness is the clutch of music events to be held in the upcoming Singapore Writers Festival, from October 30th to November 8th 2015, organised by the National Arts Council. 

Kicking off is Island of Dreams, an instrumental rock concert at the Victoria Theatre on 30th October, featuring In Each Hand a Cutlass and I Am David Sparkle, two heavyweights in the local indie scene.

From epic rock bombast, the music gets all stripped down and fragile with Story Songs by Tiny Ruins. Kiwi Hollie Fullbrook returns to Singapore on 1st November at the Chamber, the Arts House.

Finally, we have Dimensions and Demons, with artists from literary and musical disciplines collaborating on works to be presented on 5th November at the Esplanade Recital Studios. Writers Dave Chua, Daren Shiau and Stephanie Ye have been rehearsing with musicians weish (.gif), Riot !n Magenta and Ferry (Giants Must Fall) for the past few months for this co-presentation with The Esplanade.

Power of Pop will be in the thick of the action with reviews and interviews but so can you. The Festival organisers have kindly offered a pair of tickets to each of the above events to lucky PoP visitors.

Now, you can only select one of these events to apply to – simply write in to kamcomusic@gmail.com with a 5o-word note on why you love Power of Pop so much! (Also include your full name and NRIC No., please) Oh and let us know which event you would like to attend and voilà (!) you could be on your way. (Winning entries will be published here! Be warned!!)

First come, first served and all that jazz. The decision of Power of Pop regarding the identity of the lucky recipients shall be final & conclusive. Closing date is 27th October.

More info at https://www.singaporewritersfestival.com/nacswf/nacswf.html

PoPTV: BUCKEYE KNOLL – HALFWAY HOME [OFFICIAL VIDEO]

A breezy folk-rock for your approval this lazy Sunday afternoon. Check out the picturesque video for Buckeye Knoll‘s pleasing “Halfway Home”. There’s something about the tune that reminds me of the 90s Pop Underground and that’s a GOOD thing!

Bandcamp (FREE): http://tinyurl.com/9qlpz6c
Itunes: http://tinyurl.com/8bqq8kz
Spotify: http://tinyurl.com/8bc6c22
Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/9evktzs

Official Site

PoPTV: THE MOUNTAIN GOATS = CRY FOR JUDAS [OFFICIAL VIDEO]

Official music video for “Cry for Judas” by The Mountain Goats, taken from the album Transcendental Youth, out now on Merge Records. Rather sprightly tune for dark religious themes – typical Mountain Goats fare, then! The video expounds on this idea brilliantly. Check my review at TODAY of Transcendental Youth.

 

RICK MURNANE

GOOD AS GOLD

There is a familiar, endearing (yes even enduring) quality about Rick Murnane‘s Wednesday Child. It is something magical that is rooted in the sounds of classic timeless pop music – birthed and nurtured throughout the golden age of the 60s and 70s. Murnane, with the help of his friend (in this case neighbour, Chris Collingwood of the Fountains of Wayne – who played drums and engineered the album) has concocted a fabulous collection of memorable pop tunes that recall the jangly, psychedelic folk-rock majesty of the Byrds, the Beatles and the Searchers, with a larynx that is reminiscent of both John Lennon and Roger McGuinn. Wednesday Child is the kind of musical treasure the card-carrying members of the Pop Underground spend hours obsessing over.

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JEREMY

Alpha & Omega | Guitar Heaven (Jam)

Singer-songwriter Jeremy (Morris) has been self-releasing his eclectic, versatile & prodigious musical output since the 90s and his voluminous repertoire runs the gamut from powerpop to progressive rock to instrumentals. Jeremy also writes and produces worship music in powerpop form and that’s what Alpha & Omega is premised on with titles like Let It Shine, I Just Want to Praise You and With God All Things Are Possible filtered through mainly jangle-pop and folk-rock.

Guitar Heaven, on the other hand is a all-instrumental album performed almost exclusively by Jeremy on acoustic guitar. Lyrical content is absent but there’s no denying the intent of songs like Glory Road, Kingdom Come and Jesus Loves Me. The fact that Jeremy is able to release two albums (simultaneously) with such diversity in sonic approach is a testament to the man’s talent and vision.

Check out the video of Glory Road below.

Official Site

BLURB-O-RAMA

With the Decemberists’ new album – The King is Dead – adopting a clearcut country-folk-blues direction (review to come) and the UK music scene spawning it’s own dedicated 70s retro-country-folk scene (Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling, Noah & the Whale, Bombay Bicycle Club et al), it’s almost tempting fate to suggest that there is a neo-country wave coming in 2011. There’s nothing particularly new of course about all this, as we’ve had country-rock bands since Gram Parsons joined the Byrds and convinced to play the Grand Ole Opry and the Band got out from behind Dylan and began making its own brand of wild alchemy at the Big Pink but… I for one will be over the moon if this all comes to pass. In the meantime, here’s a few country-folk-blues gems you may have missed in 2010.

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FIERY BLUE

FIERY BLUE s/t (Doubloon)

The self titled debut of Fiery Blue, an indie folk rock band sparkles with its soft edges yet evocative lyrics. Created by the efforts of songwriter, Paul Marsteller, vocalist Simone Stevens and producer/multi-instrumentalist Gabe Rhodes (alongside the legendary Hunt Sales and Quinn Vogt-Welch), the album seems perfect for a lazy afternoon. Its aural harmonies of folk, rock and indie are easy on the ear.

The eighteen tracks of the album flow and blend into the other, telling a complex story with very simple words and soulful music. The vocals are solid and provide an effective picture to the artistic intentions of the band. With the tracks Magic and Hide Away, one slips into daydream easily and relaxation is achieved.

Official Site

(MJ)

TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS

TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS Mojo (Reprise)

Why is Tom Petty such a cool cat? Because first and foremost, Tom Petty is a fan. Listening to his considerably impressive oeuvre, it is clear that he has assimilated all his favourite bands/artists (Dylan, the Beatles, the Byrds, the Kinks, Hendrix, the Stones, the Band) and concocted his very own psychedelic-folk-rock-country-blues style.

Mojo is Petty’s 12th album with the Heartbreakers and the first since 2002’s controversial The Last DJ. With Petty turning 60 (!) in October this year, Mojo sounds like the work of an assured master, assisted by the best sidesmen around viz. Mike Campbell (guitars) and Benmont Tench (keyboards).

The 15 tracks on Mojo hearken back to the heady late 60s, even as bands/artists began to throw off the fanciful effects of LSD and returned to the roots of American rock music. Thus, electrified blues-rock is the prominent direction here in songs like Jefferson Jericho Blues, Running Man’s Bible, I Should Have Known It, Takin’ My Time and Lover’s Touch.

However, Petty’s vaunted classic rock eclecticism is still very much evident in tracks like the psych-jazz workouts of First Flash of Freedom, Dylan-Young folk-rocking Trip to Pirates Cove, the sweet rock ‘n’ roll jivin’ Candy, the country-folk American beauty of No Reason To Cry, the rasta vibe of Don’t Pull Me Over and the wonderfully epic Beatlesque Ksoul-blues closer Good Enough.

Call me an old fart if you like (but never boring!) but this gloriously retro-delic album represents all that is precious about our rock music. Long may you run, Tom.

Buy at Amazon

THE BRITANNICAS

THE BRITANNICAS S/t (Kool Kat Musik)

I guess you could say that the Britannicas (Magnus Karlsson – Guitar/Vocals, Herb Eimerman – Bass/Vocals, Joe Algeri – Drums/Vocals) offer a encyclopedic approach to their power pop music making. The eponymous album covers quintessential power pop viz. 60s Merseybeat (Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Beatles), jangle pop (the Searchers, the Byrds) and 70s classic pop-rock (Raspberries, Badfinger).

Recorded in the members’ home studios spread out over three continents – Sweden, USA and Australia – the execution of the pristine power pop ideas suffers a little due to this, in my view. In particular, I feel that a fair amount of the vocals just do not complement the music and lets down the overall melodic content somewhat.

That said, a number of songs do offer sumptuous tunes (Eg. Stars, Ordinary Day and Blue Sky Grey) with welcomed diversions into country and chamber pop, that raises the material above the technical and production difficulties. I would certainly recommend the Britannicas to lovers of power pop the way it was meant to be approached and presented.

Myspace | Kool Kat Musik

SETH SWIRSKY

SETH SWIRSKY Watercolor Day (Grimble)

Sometimes I truly believe that the reason why Power of Pop exists is so that I can ruminate about albums like Watercolor Day.

I’ve heard folks talk about rock ‘n’ roll as “classical music” to modern rock but really its more like the groundbreaking music of the 60s and 70s – y’know true pop music. You know what I mean. And like classical music, true pop music can only be properly performed by accomplished craftsmen, experts in the form.

Someone like Seth Swirsky.

Swirsky is a published songwriter in his own right, having penned notable songs for Taylor Dayne, Al Green and Rufus Wainwright, amongst others. But not only that, Swirsky has – with his debut solo album, Instant Pleasure and with The Red Button – demonstrated an uncanny affinity to distill the key ingredients of true pop music to serve pop lovers a veritable feast of sophisticated melodic gems.

Now with his second solo album – Watercolor Day – Swirsky continues to build on his brilliant work with music that is firmly grounded in the Beatles, Beach Boys, the Byrds, the Kinks, the Zombies, Left Banke, ELO, Harry Nilsson, Badfinger and their numerous followers.

Immaculately produced (by Swirsky and Cloud Eleven’s Rick Gallego), the 18 tracks on Watercolor Day will transport the willing listener to another time, when melody was king and dense arrangements/productions were the order of the day. Drawing from the inspirations of Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, Todd Rundgren, Lindsay Buckingham and the like, the lush production on Watercolor Day will thrill scholars of the art of true pop.

I’m glad to say that together with Mark Bacino’s Queens English, Watercolor Day is proof positive that true pop is alive, well and kicking ass!

Official Site

Myspace

TEENAGE FANCLUB

TEENAGE FANCLUB Shadows (Merge)

What more can I say about the Fannies? In the 90s, albums like Bandwagonesque, Thirteen, Grand Prix and Songs From Northern Britain supplied the soundtrack of my life. Building attractive structures from the foundations of the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Neil Young, Gram Parsons and Big Star, the Fannies have been an endearing source of musical epiphanies.

That said, I found the last two albums – Howdy and Man-Made – a little jaded, as if the band had run out of ideas. After an absence of five years, the Fannies are back with their ninth album – Shadows – and by all accounts, the break has certainly done them a world of good.

Stylistically, Shadows sounds closest to Songs From Northern Britain with its mellow, pastoral approach. No distortion, no modern-day special effects, the production is kept very clean and is highly reminiscent of Big Star’s #1 Record, with its gleaming guitars and sparkling vocal harmonies.

I don’t want to highlight any particular track because Shadows very much hangs together as a singular entity. Meaning that its an album in the former sense of the word, like Rubber Soul or Revolver was in the good old days. Warm memorable melodies are the order of the day enveloped with the appropriately lush production. So, check out Shadows and do listen from start to finish… best swallowed whole!

Official Site

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POPLAND – CAMOUFLAGE

Here it is – a nostalgic look back at the Crowd/Popland via the final Popland single, Camouflage. You can download the Camouflage EP at Bandcamp. Thanks for the support through all the years!

HUMPBACK OAK

HUMPBACK OAK Oaksongs (Self-released)

It has been annoying me no end that so many young musicians in Singapore have not heard of Humpback Oak. Not even my aspiring singer-songwriters. Well, its not their fault as until yesterday, the three Humpback Oak albums – Pain-stained Morning, Ghostfather and SideASideB – have all been out-of-print and the record label that released them, now defunct.

Well, I’m happy to report that in order to remedy this imperfect situation, the band has self-released (and self-assembled) this wonderful 4-disc retrospective boxset which includes the aforementioned LPs as well as a disc of rare tracks from their early “demo” cassettes (presented in mp3 format). I braved the extreme heat today to pick up my copy (No. 161/500) and it has definitely worth the time, money & effort.

The sound on the discs is immaculate, even the rarities come across well – maybe even better than how they first sounded on cassette! – and the sheer wealth of material here is staggering. Also included, the band’s earnest attempts to cover Dylan e.g. Like A Rolling Stone, If Not For You and of course, one of my favourite S-ROCK songs – Twang Bar Kings’ Daddy in the Lift – with Leslie Low still on helium (and you can also find the song on +65 Indie Underground compilation).

More than a mere exercise in nostalgia, Oaksongs is positive proof of the eminent worth of S-ROCK’s special 90s revival and a milestone in the musical history of our island nation. Not since the early days of independance did our rock and pop music reflect the creative and artistic edge that Singaporeans are capable of, like the 90s. If there’s anything to be nationalistic or patriotic about our country, it is the fact that Humpback Oak is/was one of our very own – to treasure and to proclaim and yes, to enjoy…

Apart from the fine music – the band has spared no effort in making Oaksongs a complete experience for its admirers. Thus, the boxset design is something you have to savour in 3-D (though the pix look cool, huh?) and over at the band’s official site, even newbies will be treated to tons of information to pick through and devour. Oaksongs surely qualifies as one of the best retrospective collections anywhere.

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Myspace

KEN STRINGFELLOW

Ken Stringfellow – out of the legendary powerpop band the Posies – will be performing two sets at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre on Sunday, 10 Jan 10 at 7.30pm and 8.45pm respectively. Malaysian singer-songwriter Mohd Jayzuan will be opening. Do not miss this once-in-a-lifetime gig. Especially when its FREE. Brought to you by the great folks at Walk On Music.

Myspace

PLASTICSOUL

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PLASTICSOUL Peacock Swagger (Self-released)

A little bit of pop trivia before we begin. “Plastic Soul” is of course, a term originally coined by an unknown black musician to describe Mick Jagger. Paul McCartney cited it as an influence on the album title of Rubber Soul. Whilst David Bowie described his excursions in soul and funk with the Young Americans album also as “plastic soul”.

So now you know.

Which does indeed help to put pop underground band Plasticsoul’s classic pop agenda into some perspective. For fans of genuine powerpop (and NOT the pathetic modern rock/emo punk posturing calling itself “powerpop”), Peacock Swagger is a mini-godsend as the album is chock full of the right influences viz. the Beatles, the Byrds, the Kinks, the Stones, Badfinger, Nick Drake, Todd Rundgren and every other top-notch classic pop follower down the line & through the intervening years.

Definite highlights include the ambitious opener You Sentimental Fucks/Life On Other Planets, the folky Cancer, the pastoral What Do You Wanna Know Rock and Roll, the countrified Shame, the fragile soft pop channeling San Francisco and the blistering Cock Rock 101.

It’s gratifying to know that the pop underground that gave me so much solace and excitement in the late 90s remains alive and kicking with bands like Plasticsoul.

Official Site

MySpace

DESERTERS

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DESERTERS Pale Morning (Popboomerang)

Not to be confused with the Malaysian band of the same name, these Deserters are Aussies. However, like their Malaysian counterparts, the Oz Deserters managed to combine heartfelt melodies with a roots rock sensibility that is always pleasurable. Perhaps Pale Morning channels Cosmic American Music is a more obvious manner but I am certainly not complaining. PoP visitors will know that alt-country will always hit the spot for yours truly and when delivered with a touch of Beatlesque magic which Deserters accomplish on many occasions here, its pop bliss!

MySpace

JEREMY

Jeremy-Journey_to_the_Center_of_the_Heart

JEREMY Journey to the Center of the Heart (Jam)

Jeremy Morris is another powerpop stalwart that Power of Pop has had the honor of reviewing for close to a decade and I must admit that this latest release from the ever prolific Mr Morris may be his best yet! Sure, Jeremy never quite strays from the formula viz. jangly Byrdsy guitars, sunshiney melodies, happy positive lyrical concepts and a vocal approach that is halfway between Lennon and McGuinn – but if that’s what you dig, well, Jeremy delivers consistently EVERY time.

Extremely 60s-centric in material source, songs like the gorgeous title track, the chiming Vanity Fare, the reverent Church of Byrds (a brilliant evocation), the raucous (for Jeremy anyway!) No More Lies and the dreamlike Sailing Homeward are reasons enough to give Jeremy’s latest a go.

For fans of the Beatles and the Byrds (circa ’65), Journey to the Center of the Heart is indispensable!

Official Site

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

JOE PERNICE

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JOE PERNICE It Feels So Good When I Stop (Ashmont)

Sub-titled “Novel Soundtrack”, this new Joe Pernice album is not per se a proper Joe Pernice album in the sense that Big Tobacco or Chappaquiddick Skyline was. In fact, the music here is meant to function as a soundtrack (promo also?) for Pernice’s new book of the same title. Yes, folks, not content at being one of the finest singer-songwriters of his generation, Pernice is now also a published novelist.

Bastard!

“I had always thought of Del Shannon as being right down there with Pat Boone. Why? Because I didn’t know what the fuck I was talking about.”

Yes, there are excerpts of Pernice’s book (narrated by the man himself) littered throughout the album with the soundtrack operating as a mixtape of covers of Pernice’s personal faves (I presume). So we get songs from Plush, Del Shannon, Sebadoh, Dream Syndicate, Todd Rundgren – even one from Mary Poppins – rendered in Pernice’s trademarked melancholy country-folk-rock style (with 80s post punk/new wave undercurrent).

Well, there is one original, the gorgeous (what else?) Black Smoke (No Pope) – an instrumental, no less – which really makes you wish that Pernice would bless us with a new Pernice Brothers album soon…

As the album closes with a morose Hello It’s Me, the significance of the title hits home, remember that bad joke about this guy banging his head against the wall repeatedly and being asked why he was doing so… there you have it…

Sure, It Feels So Good When I Stop – novel soundtrack – is a definite oddity but as an exercise of song interpretation, it’s definitely worth checking out, whether you get the novel or not.

Official site

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THE APPLES IN STEREO

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THE APPLES IN STEREO #1 Hits Explosion (Yep Roc)

I don’t mean to be rude but it doesn’t matter what kind of music you may personally dig, you need this truly awesome compilation in your life and like, NOW! Sure, the title is ironic but that’s irrelevant as this album takes the listener through 16 high-octane sweet chunks of pure melody. Believe me, swallowing this album whole will give you a sugar rush you’ll never forget.

You want genres? Well, powerpop, bubblegum, sunshine pop, merseybeat, jangle pop, freak beat, psych rock (and so on) are covered with much aplomb (and dollops of fun). Influences? Too many to mention but if it makes you feel any better, Beach Boys, Beatles, the Byrds, the Move, ELO et al.

#1 Hits Explosion is the perfect introduction-sampler to the wondrous delights of the Apples in Stereo, once you’ve picked up this gorgeous item you would do well then to check out them albums e.g. Tone Soul Evolution, Her Wallpaper Reverie and The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone.

So, what are you waiting for?

Official site

Myspace

CHRIS ENGLISH

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CHRIS ENGLISH Dreamtown (SideBMusic)

After numerous years in the music biz, singer-songwriter English has finally released his debut solo album – Dreamtown – and all I say is: why did it take so long to get such enjoyable/likable music to us? Huh?

Better late than never is probably a better response but fans of such texturally dense & melodic brawny artists like the Beach Boys, XTC, Alan Parsons Project and Peter Gabriel will be wondering how much joy has been denied them in the intervening years. Whatever.

On the album cover, English holds the much revered Rickenbacker guitar popularized by the Beatles and the Byrds and whilst, Dreamtown isn’t too heavy on the jangle pop, the chiming signature of this famous guitar does lend its dreamy allure to the magical quality of this strong debut.

The perfect soundtrack to melancholy Sunday nights (which it is as I’m typing this), Dreamtown will envelope with luscious harmonies and atmospheric vibes that will transport you to happier climes. Tracks like the psychedelic I Can See Everything, the gorgeous Autumn, the heady Into the Blue, sunshiny Summer Revisited and jangly The River, firmly establish Dreamtown as essential listening for the Pop Underground.

Check out Chris English’s Myspace page.

Download “I Can See Everything”