It’s December and there are about 25 days left in 2015. As good a time to reflect and look back at the music of the year via a Spotify playlist. Here’s the songs we dug from January, which includes material from The Decemberists, TAJ, Gaz Coombes, Catfish & the Bottlemen et al. Enjoy!
In my preparations for week 3 of WRITING ABOUT ROCK MUSIC, I had to conduct research on electronic music subgenres and re-discovered my love for 90s UK Techno. Interestingly enough, after Synthpop had tipped over into saturation in the late 80s, I had sworn off electronic music but the discovery of Aphex Twin (above) re-ignited my interest in all things electro again.
Compared to the popular electronic dance music of the modern era (viz. Trance, Hardstyle and House), 90s UK Techno seems to be an artistic expression and not merely serving as pure dance music, with exponents of the genre dealing with both electronics and sampling very creatively.
With that firmly in mind, I put together 40 of my favourite electronica tracks with a bias towards 90s UK Techno viz. Chemical Brothers, Orbital, The Prodigy, Future Sound of London and of course, Aphex Twin. This, to me, is what electronica is all about – so, please enjoy and share!
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!
Ironically, on the day the USA celebrates its independence day, I want to pay tribute to one of Canada’s finest singer-songwriters, the enigmatic Bruce Cockburn!
I first heard Cockburn when, in the early 80s, a friend – who was then studying in Winnipeg (in Canada, la!) – sent me a mixtape of Cockburn and I was seriously blown away by the man’s genius. Also, Cockburn is a Christian but had a very different perspective from your standard gospel singer (check out “Dweller by a Dark Stream” and “Gospel of Bondage”) – a perspective I have grown to appreciate more and more in recent times.
In addition, Cockburn has remained politically aware throughout his career and has never compromised his artistic integrity (listen to “Nicaragua” and “Call It Democracy”) – for these qualities I admire him greatly and count him a definite musical influence.
The Who turned 50 years old last year and their pioneering pop-rock music remains relevant no matter the year.
Formed in 1964 by Pete Townshend (guitars, vocals), Roger Daltrey (vocals), John Entwistle (bass, vocals) and Keith Moon (drums), The Who started life as a mod band but quickly outgrew that tag and have been a seminal influence on hard rock, progressive rock, heavy metal, glam, punk and alt-rock genres during their most vital years, mainly 1964 – 1978. Drummer Moon died in 1978 and The Who never recovered from that loss. Entwistle passed away in 2002 and though Townshend and Daltrey still tour and even recorded one LP together (Endless Wire), the band is understandably a pale shadow of its former self.
This playlist covers those crucial 14 years when The Who were perhaps, one of the greatest rock bands in the world. With the high resolution streaming available at Deezer Elite, most of the tracks sound amazing, resonating with the primal energy upon which the band built its legendary reputation.
Recently, I declared ‘war’ on the post-punk revival – aren’t you people sick and tired of it yet?!?!? Anyways, I decided to do something about it so here’s my Deezer playlist of my 50 favourite post-punk songs! Enjoy!!
What makes new music worthy of anyone’s attention? Is it merely the fact that it’s contemporary and in a style and fashion that is popular and trendy? The pop music scene prizes glitzy superficiality over substance of any form to such an extent that the very art and craft of songwriting is in danger of withering away and going the way of the dinosaur.
Which is why every now and then, the discovery of a new singer-songwriter that adheres contrarily to the classic formats of 60s and 70s pop-rock is like a breath of fresh air, in a heavily polluted environment. Thus, ladies and gentlemen, in the background set out before, we give you Max Jury.
Jury released 2 EPs in 2014 – Something in the Air and All I Want: The Sonic Factory Sessions – and these seven incandescent songs represent some of the most promising rock ‘n’ roll (in the classic sense of that term) material of the last decade or so.
Songs like “Christian Eyes”, “All I Want”, “Black Metal” and “Something in the Air” uncannily channel the likes of John Lennon, Gram Parsons, Alex Chilton, Todd Rundgren et al through the razor-sharp perspective of a 21 year old American singer-songwriter.
We managed to get in touch with Max and he kindly responded to our queries.
How does a 21 year old get into someone like Gram Parsons who died 20 years before you were born?
I’m fascinated by the story and myth of Gram Parsons. I originally got into his solo work through Ryan Adams. And then I started listening to The Flying Burrito Brothers and his work with The Byrds.
Regular visitors to Power of Pop will be aware of my obsession with British pop-rock, from The Beatles to the Who to the Kinks to the Stones and on and on and on… Since the end of the 90s (and the demise of Britpop), I have always been hoping for a revival of British pop-rock (and I do not mean the post-punk revival like The xx! Ugh!!)
Well it’s now 20 years since the heyday of Britpop and surveying the British pop-rock scene in 2015, there appears to be a couple of promising acts that hopefully will make the grade to generate enough buzz for this particular brand of pop-rock to dominate once again. In fact, I have found 20 bands that fit the bill completely – check out my playlist below and do let me know if you have other recommendations?
Seems appropriate to start this series with Bob Dylan, doesn’t it? Considering that The Beatles are currently not on any streaming service, Dylan deserves top billing. After all, can one imagine talking about singer-songwriters without mentioning Dylan’s massive influence?
The man is the very definition of the modern folk troubadour but more than that, Dylan’s legacy extends to rock as well, of course. For me personally, I remember hearing Dylan on the radio when I was a kid – especially his well known early folk songs but I really got into his work (ironically enough) – with his controversial Christian conversion album Slow Train Comin’ (1979), which explains why I kick off the playlist with “Precious Angel” (which also features incandescent guitar work from Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler). Including “Make You Feel My Love” was necessary to provide Dylan’s continuing relevance as Adele’s cover version proved conclusively. The rest of the playlist focuses mainly on his seminal 60s/70s works. Enjoy!
Squeeze was without doubt one of the seminal bands of the 80s post-punk era, combining elements of pub-rock and Beatlesque pop-rock to produce a highly melodic and intelligent brand of pop music. Glenn Tilbrook – whose distinctive tenor graced almost all the best Squeeze songs – will be playing a “one-night-only” show at Hero’s (69 Circular Road #01-01, Boat Quay). Tickets available from www.dashtickets.sg now!
Tilbrook has a new album out called Happy Ending and its chock full of the well-constructed, sophisticated pop that Squeeze was legendary for. Check it out!
Alright, so technically October ain’t over yet but seeing as how much we love to jump the gun – here’s a mixtape/playlist of new music PoP discovered this month. Don’t forget to submit your favourite tracks of 2014 via Spotify playlist to info AT powerofpop DOT com by the end of November, if you want to win them Spotify Premium Accounts (for six months). In the meantime, enjoy…
10 songs in 18 minutes – this is a playlist that lives up to its name! Drawn from the early days of hardcore punk – as young North Americans inspired by the Punk & New Wave of Heavy Metal explosions in the UK in the late 70s, began to express themselves in this new and exciting ‘genre’. Yeah, there are probably more fine examples of early hardcore to be found out there but this only takes 18 minutes to listen to, so this will be the quickest rock history lesson ever.
2014 has been a good year for music, make no mistake about that! And as the year draws to a close (yes really!), it’s time to take stock. Power of Pop will be announcing soon a tie-up with the kind folks at Spotify Singapore for you to share with us your favourite 12 tracks for 2014. Stay tuned for the details to come your way very soon. In the meantime, here’s a playlist of 12 tracks that made the Power of Pop alive again this year! Enjoy!
Y’know I am always griping about how pop-punk all sounds the same but of course, that accusation can be leveled against any music that stays within its constrained ‘genre’ limits. Case in point – Rhett Walker Band. The band unashamedly describes itself as a Southern Rock/Christian Rock group and its new album – Here’s To The Ones – actually opens with a sermon snippet before launching into the rousing blues anthem “Clone”.
The rest of this album stays true to type, more or less, which halfway through is a bit too much unless you are a diehard fan of Southern Rock (or a bible thumper). There are good instances of country-folk-pop on view – the title track is a breezy delight and “Love Like Jesus” was probably written with worship bands in mind – but overall, Here’s To The Ones will only appeal to the converted, which is a pity.
PoP is on a quest to discover the best contemporary bands out there trading in classic pop-rock, power-pop and garage-rock and we aim to please ourselves as often as humanly possible. The Singles viz. Vincent Frederick (guitar/lead vocals) and Nicky Veltman (drums/back-up vocals) are the real deal! This LA based duo have just released Look How Fast A Heart Can Break and it is a winner. It’s fair to say that they don’t sound like any one band directly but there’s certainly a healthy dollop of Big Star, The Replacements, T. Rex and more, in their musical agenda. Best part is that it gets hearts pounding and adrenaline rushing for all the best reasons. Check ’em out!