There is a dream-like quality about the opening songs on Irish pop-rock evangelists Pugwash’s new album, Play This Intimately (As If Among Friends). The first six tracks have a pleasing and enveloping mellifluence that functions as an effective panacea for the ills of the modern (pop) world. Mid-tempo numbers like “Kicking and Screaming” and “Lucky In Every Way” will bear the familiar hallmarks of the Pugwah oeuvre – a comfortable rhythm, note-perfect harmonies, sympathetic guitar patterns and memorable singalong tunes. “Feed His Heart With Coal” has a clever train motif running through the track which recalls the work of XTC whilst “Just So You Know” is a brilliant ballad laced with spy movie themes.
The rockabilly ditty “You Could Always Cry” is the one concession to a heightened tempo and “Hung Myself Out To Dry” possesses a feisty McCartney-esque music hall jaunt (with a chorus melody Macca himself would be proud to call his own!).
But when “Silly Love” slows down the pace once more, it feels… right. There is a sense of ease that is hypnotic and mesmerising.“All the Way From Love” will no doubt entrance Roy Orbison lovers with its wondrous channeling of the Big O and “We Are Everywhere” is a slow burning Beatlesque psychedelic pop ballad that delivers an appropriate ending.
Recorded at The Kink’s Konk studios, this new album is everything Pugwash fans would expect from their heroes and much more. With the band’s own heroes Ray Davies (The Kinks), Andy Partridge (XTC) and ELO’s Jeff Lynne guesting on a couple tracks — not to mention The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon on keyboards — there is a genuine feeling that all is right with the world.
It all makes sense – this is as close as you can get to pop perfection in 2015.
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!
MUSICComments Off on TEXTING FROM THE EDGE: GIN WIGMORE PULLED ON MY LEG!
Being on the periphery of the Singapore music industry is at once a privileged and awkward position to occupy. At worst a ‘failed musician’ and best a ‘conscientious objector’, I am the ‘cool uncle’ infamously derided in that pointlessly ageist Other Sounds review from years back, and the ‘influencer’ music peeps want on their side until my usefulness has run its course, and then I am kicked to the curb. But still I plod on – texting from the edge…
Gin Wigmore is a 29 year old singer-songwriter hailing from New Zealand and now based in Los Angeles. Thanks to Rdio Asia (hey Elvin, Kurt & Robin!) and Universal Music Singapore (Yo! Kheng, Sarah & Danny!), I was invited to a special showcase at Rdio’s cozy office at Ann Siang Hill yesterday (Saturday, 11th July). Gin is a wiry, hyperactive, tattooed, Slayer-tee wearing singing dynamo and having her (and wonderful backing band) deliver three highly jacked acoustic songs an arm’s length away was certainly memorable (the free flow Sailor Jerry’s did not hurt either).
Not only that but Gin also needed to come forward and pull on my leg (probably cuz she felt that this old fart was not appropriately moving to the beat) – which was a cheap thrill to be added to the collection. Definitely three songs was too short but a tasty teaser of what Gin and band could deliver. Later on, she mingled (No, Gin, Food Republic is NOT representative of Singapore food!) and I got a chance to speak to some of her band members – a mixture of folks from NZ and USA – and as usual, the music provided a means to connect.
The morning after, I am reading up more about Gin, listening to her music and realising that until the exact moment I stepped into Rdio, I was quite ignorant of her and her music. And I am wondering now whether there was more that could have been done with the time spent with Gin and her band, that the Singapore music scene could benefit from. Or maybe not. But at a bare minimum to be better prepared the next time – sorry but this is not a Seinfeld episode – I need my learning points and key takeaways!
Bottomline? Gin Wigmore is an old soul – producing music that crosses genres without apology and compromise and the kind of rock ‘n’ roll that Power of Pop believes in and champions. Listen to Gin’s new album Blood to Bone and appreciate everything I am saying…
MUSICComments Off on KID WAVE – THE 90S ROCK REVIVAL IS TAKING ITS OWN SWEET TIME BUT GOOD MUSIC IS WORTH WAITING FOR…
I don’t really give a shit too much right now about the personal dynamics of Kid Wave – what their collective history or politics is and what not. Right now, all I care is that this is new music that fires my imagination and energises in a manner that so much new music is unable to do and that’s all I fucking care about.
Yeah, so the fact that NME wants so much to shag Kid Wave is alarming but going beyond that hype bullshit, there is the music that recalls the wonder of the 90s, where melodic rock of the 60s – 80s was gloriously regurgitated to grant us a shimmering amalgam of 60s psych-blues, 70s rock and 80s indie pop.
So Wonderlust – what a great album title – is yet another brick in the wall of keeping out all the mediocre pap that flood our airwaves on a daily basis as songs like “Honey”, “Baby Tiger”, “Walk On Fire”, “I’m Trying To Break Your Heart” and the title track raise the hopes of this melodic rock geek that pop salvation is upon us.
Fuck real music – this is genuine, authentic, bona fide rockin’ pop & roll!!!
MUSICComments Off on NEIL YOUNG CONTINUES TO RUN AND RUN WITH NEW ALBUM THE MONSANTO YEARS
On new album The Monsanto Years, Neil Young seems re-invigorated with new backing band Promise of The Real, to deliver one of his feistiest works in recent memory. Rather like Living With War (2006), the politics might be a little too obvious but there’s no faulting the songs that Young and gang have come up with – full of vim and vigour.
Full of country-folk inflected rock ‘n’ roll, songs like “A New Day For Love”, “People Want to Hear the Love”, “Workin’ Man” and the title track come across like vintage Young, except with very modern references (highly anti-corporation rhetoric against Monsanto, Starbucks etc) – which I suspect will endear the evergreen Young to a new generation of music lovers. But of course, for Young, the album reflects the continuation of the hippie dream, which has been part of Young’s raison d’être since the 1960s.
“Old soul” is probably an apt description of singer-songwriter Theodora’s muse.
This 18 year old has a perceptive creativity beyond her tender years with an artistic sensibility that reflects a subtle maturity. This is already painfully obvious when listening to her debut single “Lines”, written about the loss about a loved one – “I sit in silence in the memory of you”.
Now here’s a thoughtful video – lovingly crafted by director Leonard Soosay – that represents visually the emotions that “Lines” evokes, with style and finesse.
Theodora’s debut EP is planned for the end of the year – keep a close watch on that, dear readers.
In the meantime, check out the gorgeous video for “Lines”.
Here are six new releases – spread across the three streaming services (based in Singapore) – that get the Power of Pop Recommendation!
YOUNG BUFFALO – HOUSE
The album opens with a deceptive synth-pop motif before morphing into a Vampire Weekend cliche before the gorgeous melodic power pop channeling chorus kicks in! Inventive chord progressions, bouncy energy and stack o’ tunes marked this as a winner! https://www.facebook.com/youngbuffalo
MUSICComments Off on JAKE AND THE COWBOYS SET TO CORRAL SINGAPORE MUSIC LOVERS AT BEERFEST ASIA 2015
These pop-rockers have just the right vibe for Power of Pop! Jake and the Cowboys are the 2nd band to be featured in PoP’s SWAM coverage. Words by Jarred Wall.
Why is it important for you to play in Singapore?
Beerfest Asia 2015 will mark our first international gig, so we are extremely excited to share our music to a market that we feel are going to really enjoy our sound. Jake and the Cowboys are fresh and exciting and provide a live performance which rivals that of the best.
It also proves timely for us as we have just finished completing a successful crowd funding campaign to record our next single ‘She Said’. The response we received from our fans was fantastic and the project itself has really provided us with a new platform to engage our fans and make them feel a part of the band. It also provided us with a chance to give something back to the fans for all their support. For example, fairly soon we will be heading to one of our fans houses to do some gardening and wash their car and then after that, we will be providing an exclusive performance to a group of fans, on top of cooking them a meal! We wanted to give the fans something different and put a personal touch to it. Of course these rewards were some of the more unusual ones, fans also had the opportunity to receive signed CD’s and digital downloads of the new track. It’s now closed but feel free to check out the project at http://www.pozible.com/project/195487
After spending a few days in the studio with Joel Quartermain of well known Australian Act Eskimo Joe, we were extremely happy and proud of the final product. We see the networking opportunities that we will be exposed to in Singapore as a great opportunity to source airplay in the region and ultimately future performances down the track. We will be armed in hand with ‘She Said’ Single’s!
What do you hope to take away from the experience?
We hope to learn a few things about the Singaporean market and what the people like. Eventually our aim would be to have our music receive airplay in the region as we feel our music will be quite well suited to the people and well received.
The networking opportunities are also a great chance for us to make some crucial contacts in the region which we hope will lead to future exposure for Jake and the Cowboys. We want to make the most of the opportunity and what the city has to offer, particularly in the way of music.
MUSICComments Off on KAMCO MUSIC: TYPEWRITER’S INDIAN HEAD MASSAGE NOW AVAILABLE ON ALL DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION PLATFORMS
TypeWriter will be debuting new material from upcoming EP at Baybeats 2015 and will also be featuring new drummer Robin Chua (Livonia, Shelves). The band will be playing at the MIXTAPE stage on 26th June at 11pm. In the meantime, you can download/listen to their 2010 album, Indian Head Massage.
MUSICComments Off on PoPTV – SINGAPORE ROCK RECOMMENDATIONS
Regular visitors to Power of Pop will be aware that my definition of “pop” is pretty wide. But of course, in the context of modern pop (read: vacuous) , that definition becomes somewhat irrelevant for my purposes. Also, if I say “rock ‘n’ roll”, most people will think of the 50s (read: dated) and so, sometimes I need to be uber-specific and say “country-folk-pop-rock” to describe the type of pop music that I love. Hope that clarifies. From that perspective, I wanted to share very specifically, the bands and artists in Singapore whom I feel fit that particular bill and hope that you’d discover some new music to love as well.
CHEATING SONS – JEFFERSON (LIVE)
Though still unreleased, this country-folk masterpiece always resonates with me whenever the band plays it – which in my view is not often enough!
Pick up the new Cheating Sons album from Bandcamp.
HANGING UP THE MOON – THE DIVERS
Sean Lam (aka Hanging Up the Moon) somewhat resists any attempt to associate his wonderful music with that of the past (which I appreciate) but seriously folks, this gorgeous music is highly evocative of early 70s folk-rock. And what is the problem with that??? Beautiful.
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.
MUSICComments Off on LAZY LIONS LET OUT A POP-ROCK ROAR WITH WHEN DREAMING LETS YOU DOWN
Photo by Erik S. Lieber. (L-R: Anne-Marie Stehn, Jim Allen, Sean McMorris, Robert Sorkin).
There is a quiet self-assurance in the manner in which New York melodic rock outfit Lazy Lions approach their music. Certainly, a band has to be if it decides to play in the 60s/70s pop-rock sandbox. The pop-rock of the 80s to be more precise, as the band lays claim to the influences of Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Joe Jackson, The Cars and Crowded House. The tunes have an easy charm about them – on songs like “Tiny Little Cracks” and “Diane”, it’s not difficult for the unwary listener to begin humming to the refrains. Quirky numbers like “Let the Bad Times Roll” and “Scientific” help to keep thing somewhat interesting. Songs tend to be mid-tempo as a rule and a change in pace now and then would not have hurt. That all said, the slinky “You Can Run” and the smoky “Creep Across the Night” offer enough of a variation to demonstrate promising versatility. But if it’s straight-ahead rocking pop songs you want then “February” and most of When Dreaming Lets You Down, will not… erm… let you down. Jim Allen shared with us a couple of his thoughts about the band and their music.
Why did the four of you come together as Lazy Lions?
We had all done a lot of different things individually. I put out three records as a solo singer/songwriter, Rob had been a classical French horn player (who just happened to also be a killer guitarist), Anne-Marie had been in a band that ended up on a major label and did a ton of touring, and Sean had played with Richard Lloyd of Television besides being a singer/songwriter himself with solo albums out. To be totally honest, I just heard somebody say the words “lazy lions” one day and thought “What a great band name, I’m gonna start a band and call it that!” So I did. That’s really how it started!
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…
MUSICComments Off on FLYING THE POWER POP FLAG WITH RANSOM AND THE SUBSET
Power of Pop is always on the lookout for new music that stays faithful to the 60s/70s template for melodic pop-rock or rock ‘n’ roll or power pop. Ransom and the Subset – one fine example of this – is the brainchild of singer/songwriter/guitarist RanDair Porter. It’s latest album, No Time to Lose, was released in September 2014 but it’s always better late than never when it comes to great music. For Pop Underground fans, this is really a no-brainer – from the opening Jellyfish-referencing power chords of the infectious “Anna”, it’s clear that Ransom and the Subset has got what it takes to hypnotise like-minded fans of The Cars and Weezer. In particular, the single “Million Out of Me” is an effective ear-worm that will have melody junkies hitting repeat. Read what RanDair has to say about the band and the music.
How did the band get together?
I had a cover band together for the last few years – The band was called “Subset”, because the members were a subset of a band I had in High School. The bass player lived in San Diego and me and the drummer up in Seattle. I had become interested in recording some of my originals but, for whatever reason the project wasn’t something the of the other members were able to participate in. I called the project “Ransom and the Subset” – I did this because I wasn’t sure who would be singing on the project and I did not want to name the band after a single individual. There is no one named “Ransom” in the band.
Regular visitors to Power of Pop will be aware that I am always harping on there not being enough bands/artists parlaying classic pop-rock styles into modern rock. Well actually, that’s not entirely true. I mean, in the sense that there certainly are bands/artists who like me are rather besotted with the pop-rock music of the 60s/70s, it’s just a question of discovering them. And discovering these bands/artists I have been in the last couple of days (thanks in part to Ed Khoo’s recommendation of Tobias Jesso Jr). So, of course, I’d like to share just some of these discoveries with you, kind reader.
MUSICComments Off on CHARLIE LIM @ THE ANALOG FACTORY
Last night, spent time with Charlie Lim & the Mothership (and twenty plus lucky fans) as the band recorded a live in-studio performance at The Analog Factory. Organised by BEEP Studios, the idea was to provide a unique listening experience, where the music would be crystal clear courtesy of inline earphones courtesy of Aurisonics. Look out for the video to be uploaded soon!
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?
MUSICComments Off on THE CAMPBELL APARTMENT – KEEPING IT SHORT & SWEET WITH THE SUNDOGS EP
The Campbell Apartment, named after a bar hidden inside New York’s Grand Central Station, is the brainchild of Russian born singer-songwriter and oil painter Ari Vais. Ari’s new Sundogs EP is the proverbial breath of fresh air in a modern rock scene obsessed with superficialities. No such issues with Vais and his straightforward musical agenda. The songs take top priority – memorable melodies and relatable lyrics – clothed in classic pop-rock arrangements and instrumentation. Tracks like “Something in the Way” and “Heroic Audio Display” hearken back to a kinder & gentler times (the 90s), the last hurrah of the Pop Underground, where thought and effort are put into communicating a genuine emotional resonance through words and tunes. By the time one gets to the music hall jauntiness of final number “What Do You Think Of That”, it’s easy to feel a sense of regret that there isn’t more. But that’s the harsh reality of releasing marginalised forms of music in 2014. So if you love songs that balances intelligence with musicality, support The Campbell Apartment and the Sundogs EP! Find out below how and why Ari Vais does what he does!
How did you start writing songs?
I must have learned how to play guitar well enough as a 10 year old to learn a bunch of Beatles songs by the time I was in high school, and then Floyd, Zeppelin, finally some REM and Lou Reed songs, and then around 16, a slew of my own songs where the burst of writing didn’t cease until recent years. I still write but not as prolifically. I guess when I started as a teen, the tunes were based on traditional chords, as well as chords that I had no idea what they were, where my fingers were just doing some formation that happened to sound cool and go with the song, because I still didn’t know my way around a guitar that well, and trying for clever words or earnest poetic ones, hopefully with a tiny dash of humor, and a strong melody. The last bit was the most important, and very much still is.