Scottish indie pop has a rich history going way back to Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, Altered Images, The Bluebells and Lloyd Cole & The Commotions back in the heady days of the 80s. Say hello to Glasgow’s Tuff Love, who carry on this tradition with sunny, tuneful guitar pop that recalls a special time.
Best Coast is one of those bands that critics love to hate. There’s the common accusation that the hype over the band is over singer Bethany Cosentino and the gossip surrounding her life and not the music. Trolls claim that Best Coast’s music is simple and dumb, writing the band off as any kind of musical force.
While I do agree that Best Coast’s music is simple, that in itself does not make the music dumb. To be honest, the kind of power pop parlayed by Best Coast has been bettered decades ago by The Muffs, Essex Green and Dressy Bessy but compared to what passes for modern pop in 2015, Best Coast is a breath of fresh air!
Like Vivian Girls and Cults, Best Coast owes a huge debt to the 60s girl groups, 70s power pop and 80s indie pop and there’s nothing wrong with that if one is able to crank out infectious numbers like “Feeling Ok”, “Heaven Sent” and “So Unaware”. More power to Best Coast – keep the pop coming!
Will we ever see a band like Nirvana again? It’s hard to believe that the Nevermind album – which changed the face of the music industry in the early 90s – is now 24 years old! And since the decline of rock ‘n’ roll music in the late 90s, no other rock band has come remotely close to replicating the impact of Nirvana. Yes, we have had successful rock bands since viz. Nickelback, The Strokes, The Killers, Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay et al BUT relatively speaking, these have been minor successes when compared to the seismic pop culture impact of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Beyonce and the like. Artistically as well, most of these aforementioned bands have failed to deliver.
Curiously enough, the last time critics declared the demise of rock ‘n’ roll was in the late 80s, when Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston ruled the roost, but as the wheel turned rock bands like R.E.M., Nirvana and the Seattle grunge scene ascended to the top of the charts. Well, it’s almost 25 years now and there appears to be no sign of rock ‘n’ roll ever returning to those levels of influence in the mainstream pop industry.
Still, that does not mean that good rock ‘n’ roll music (whether in the guise of pop-rock, indie pop, hard rock, electro-pop, blues rock, garage or punk) wasn’t being made in the last 15 odd years, it’s just that the environment of the music industry has been altered so drastically that it is virtually impossible for what happened in the early 90s to occur once again. The decline in record sales, the rise of singing contests (American Idol, X-Factor etc) and the ubiquity of Youtube, has meant that the major labels have had to hedge their bets and cynically control the musical output and fan appreciation thereof.
This has resulted in the most basic pop formulas viz. hip-hop/R&B accounting for the lion’s share of the chart action. These are 3 of the top 5 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 right now.
The one main thing connecting all three singles is a highly designed discipline to present the melody/rhythms as simplistically and repetitively as possible so that the hooks are very easy to remember. A deliberate lack of musical sophistication that dumbs down to the lowest common denominator creating an audience that is not able to appreciate anything that does not sound like what it hears on a non-stop basis on the radio. The perfect marketing tactic.
In fact, guitar rock is totally absent for the Top 20, with the nearest example being Maroon 5, and even though the music video for “Sugar” shows the band with guitars, it does not sound like there are any guitars on the song itself! In fact, it adheres greatly to the hip-hop/R&B formula with Adam Levine’s vocals heavily auto-tuned. Talk about soul-less! Going down the rest of the chart will depress any fan of rock ‘n’ roll with the genre’s utter lack of representation.
So, are the rumours true? Is rock ‘n’ roll dead? Well, not at the grass roots level of course, as both in the USA and the UK, there continues to be scores of bands who create great rock ‘n’ roll music, it’s just that even with the oft assumed ability of the internet to connect bands and fans, it’s the major labels leveraging on radio stations, streaming services and Youtube (again!) who will have the attention of mainstream music fans.
There’s the rub. If the major labels feel that the new rock ‘n’ roll have the fan base to make them sit up and notice, then they might feel the need to throw money that way. The question is — will the youth of today ever get tired of the formulaic pop stars being paraded before them? Will they ever hunger for something different enough to alter their listening habits? The signs have not been encouraging. The irony is that whilst the internet is always being trumpeted as the champion of free and alternative choices, the harsh reality is that the internet is still ultimately the tool of our corporate masters to dictate what food we should eat, what clothes we should wear and of course, what music we should listen to.
However, for those of us who are able to think critically for ourselves, the internet provides a means of escaping these corporate shackles and we can only do this by supporting the bands that do not conform to the grand masterplan of our overlords. Then, these bands might have the opportunity and liberty to create the kind of music we desire and love. So, is rock ‘n’ roll in a crisis? Not if rock ‘n’ roll fans continue to support the right bands and be evangelistic about the music they love.
Yes, PoP visitors, the ball is in YOUR court…
In the meantime, check out the Power of Pop playlist at Spotify highlighting 30-odd British guitar rock bands you should be supporting! Please FOLLOW!
Love X Stereo‘s “We Love, We Leave” gets a music video that visualises its conceptual thrust perfectly. The video itself is ambitious, arty and yes, sexy – leaving a throbbing mess that usually comes as a result of conjugal action. The song, already a powerfully appealing single in its own right lifts off when set to these tempting visuals. Kudos to all involved. Don’t feel guilty if you enjoy it too much…
KAMCO Music started life as KAMCO Records in 1998 – a label through which I could self-release Popland’s Groovy album. 17 years later, KAMCO Music (physical releases are so passé) embarks on a new adventure with digital distributor Believe Digital with the re-issue of my three solo releases thus far.
Previously released only on Bandcamp, this EP is now available at iTunes, Amazon (etc) and the relevant streaming platforms for the first time. Contains the radio-friendly “I Want What I Can’t Have” and you can buy it for a reasonably low price.
My first album since 2001, was released on the 20th anniversary of my first LP, Democracy (with Watchmen). Notably distinctive for containing mostly jazz-pop numbers (!) and also having a single rejected for radio play by Mediacorp Radio viz. “Beyond the Ashes”. Now you really need to pick this up!
Originally released under the Watchmen moniker (and also only on Bandcamp), I have decided to reclaim @midnight EP as a solo release. Significant for featuring a youthful incarnation of The Groovy People viz. Esther Low (keyboards), James Lye (guitars), Low Han Quan (drums) and Brian Leery (bass). Mid-priced as well! Enjoy…
As you can see from my blurry pictures, the Biltmore Cabaret was absolutely packed and rocking for Glass Animals last night. Playing songs mainly from their lovely debut LP – Zaba – the quartet hypnotized the young-ish audience with its dynamic mix of indie pop and EDM vibes. Everything seemed to happen in a slo-mo trance as frontman Dave Bayley bedazzled the crowd with tasteful melodies & sharp guitars whilst the insistent groove keep the momentum going into 7th heaven. Songs like”Black Mambo”, “Gooey” & “Walla Walla” had the kids in dance extacy!
The latest UK indie sensations? Glass Animals have so far released a couple of singles and EPs but it is their excellent debut LP – ZABA – that their tremendous potential is revealed. Again, for me what makes the Oxford quartet distinctive is their ‘classic’ songwriting. Stylistically, the songs might be indie electro-centric but the strong melodies recalls 80s era Depeche Mode and Sting.
For contemporary references, one might think of Bombay Bicycle Club or perhaps Alt-J but the over-arching emphasis on ‘classic’ pop tunes is the clincher for me! I am thoroughly enjoying the eclectic music inflections in the songs like jazz-soul (“Cocoa Hooves”), world music (“Wala Wala”) and straight-up R&B (“Gooey”) – all enveloped with a knowing contemporary indie pop sheen that will have the indie kids grooving in the aisles.
And… thanks to Nick Whitcomb (Light Organ Records), I will have the opportunity to catch Glass Animals live (!) in Vancouver. More info here! Hopefully, someone brings them to Singapore soon as well!
Some weeks back, Celina Kimble launched her new EP at the Arts House and whilst it was a fairly short set – it was full of Celina’s typically emotionally powerful songs backed by a competent band. All told, it was a solid performance by Celina and band. The word is that Celina will be selling her EP at Starbucks outlets and will be doing a couple of performances there as well. Stay tuned for more details.
An indie pop band that eschews all the conventional trappings of expectation is to be received with open arms! Sure, singer Jen Goma has the typical femme twee pop vox and the tunes are way simpatico but everything else tries to get as far away from ‘normal’ as possible.
Meaning: we get distinctive soundscapes that mix electronica, shoegaze and ambient approaches which act as sonic envelopes for the love letters of words and melody that make up these unique songs. Thus, the tracks on Sea When Absent have the advantage of being familiar to indie pop fans and yet arty enough to satisfy the edgier music enthusiast as well. Best of both worlds!
Highlights include the viscerally sweet “Byebye, Big Ocean (The End)”, the chirpy drone of “MTLOV (Minor Keys)” and the schizoid girl group channeling “Oh I’m A Wrecker (What To Say To Crazy People)”. Definitely one to savor and particularly ripe for closer inspection.
When I saw Dublin sextet Buffalo Sunn play at Beer Market for Music Matters Live ’14, I was entranced by their wondrous approximation of country-folk-rock and post-punk styles into a pleasing whole. Having four brothers in the lineup – the musical Paxton men (Daniel the songwriter, guitarist and lead vocalist, Neil on keys, guitar and backing vocals, Conor on keys and guitar and Ruairi on bass) – sure helps in producing those heavenly harmonies. Together with Donagh O’Brien on drums and Patrick McHugh on vocals and guitar, the Paxton brothers as Buffalo Sunn made for a formidable band, as many in the audience at Music Matters Live found out.
On a personal note, I had the chance to talk to the band’s management team (Elvera and James Butler) and discovered that the band are mates with members of Pugwash, whom I had met last year in London! In that light, I felt it appropriate to make available the recording of my conversations with the band last week in the Green Room at Music Matters Live.
First off, we talked about Sweet Jane and similarities with The Beach Boys…
Next, the band discussed why it was important for them to play in Asia…
Is it a good time to be a musician? The band weigh in with their thoughts on how technological developments have impacted their music…
We wrapped up with a discussion on the Buffalo Sunn music videos on YouTube and the master plan for world domination…
Well, that’s it!
Look out for Buffalo Sunn’s debut album coming soon. In the meantime, check out the music video of the latest single, “By Your Side” below.
_inhabit is the new EP from Pleasantry, due for release on 21st March. I was fortunate enough to listen to a sneak preview. Here goes…
“Habit” starts off with a jangly indie-pop vibe but truly resonates as Samantha Teng, Isa Ong and guest singer Weish provide a collective merry vocal jig. An uplifting spectacle.
“Owls” is an enigmatic, atmospheric slow burner built on an intricate rhythm guitar lattice. Josh Wei contributes a heartfelt violin solo during an 80s jazz-folk interlude. A spine-tingling moment.
“Near and Dear” is based on a duet between Samantha & Isa. Twee pop that tugs at your heartstrings. What the Millennials amongst you might describe as a ‘feels’ song. 80s indie pop evocations.
“Spent” is a gorgeous ballad premised on a chord progression the late great Roy Orbison might have utilized. All torch-like and dramatic – constructed to touch souls with guitars that shimmer with reverbs and echoes. Simply beautiful.
Here’s the schedule for St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival Singapore on 25th January. It’s heartening to see that Singapore acts have been given due respect and equal treatment as they should be. Apart from The Observatory, Vandetta and Gema, I am looking forward to The Jezabels, Kurt Vile, Frightened Rabbit and Savages.
I got into Lou Reed relatively late in life. 1989 to be precise – the release of the New York album, which I bought on cassette. That prompted me to investigate Reed (and the Velvet Underground, of course) in piecemeal form in the 25 years since.
As a rock scholar, it’s impossible not to recognize Reed’s importance to much of modern rock music – there’s really no point in setting out the sheer number of bands and artists that Reed had a tremendous impact on – suffice to say that Reed was influential. As a songwriter, Reed’s honesty and creative thinking was always challenging to me, with his lyric writing truly seminal.
His passing was hard to take – a sense that an era of rock music has ended. But Reed’s legacy will never be forgotten – the sound and attitude of indie pop & alt-rock bear his indelible stamp. Yes, Lou Reed may no longer be with us but his music will live on forever, something to cherish.
For the uninitiated, begin with Velvet Underground & Nico, Transformer and New York and work your way through from there.
“The music is all. People should die for it. People are dying for everything else, so why not the music?”
Well, basically, my favourite songs and why I love them to death…
HEAVEN KNOWS I’M MISERABLE NOW – THE SMITHS (1984)
When Paul Weller broke up The Jam in 1982, there was a huge vacuum in my life that his follow-up project The Style Council could not quite fill. I needed a band that could mean the same thing to me as The Jam did. In early 1984, the ever-dependable John Peel was championing a new band called The Smiths (viz. Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke & Mike Joyce) who had just released their third single (“What Difference Does It Make”) and eponymous debut album in January and February of that year respectively.
I love music of all kinds and generally dislike attempts at pigeon-holing. But of course, when you are trying to write about music it often becomes impossible to talk about ‘genres’. Since 80s “indie pop” has been treated as the artistic superior of pop-rock (which originated in the 70s and included the likes of Styx, ELO and REO Speedwagon – all of which were detested by the snobbish indie pop pundits) with its pioneers including bands like Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, Lloyd Cole & the Commotions, Felt, early Primal Scream and of course, The Smiths. By the late 80s, it was fairly agreed that the defining conventions of “indie pop” was jangling guitars, a love of ’60s pop, and melodic power pop song structures” and pop historian Jon Savage traced the origins back to the 60s (of course!) and to the eponymous third album of The Velvet Underground.