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

BON JOVI

BON JOVI The Circle (Island)

Still going strong after more than two decades, Bon Jovi returns with its latest album – The Circle – which debuted at pole position on the Billboard Album Charts. Quite an achievement. So how do they do it? The music itself is still in many ways Springsteen-lite and you wouldn’t think would appeal to the kids of today, who are either into R&B Hip-Hop, Post-Punk revival or Inane Pop.

On The Circle, Bon Jovi shake up their New Jersey rock ‘n’ roll, with a subtle nods to fellow 80s contemporaries like U2 and Metallica, not to mention the (risible) hair metal of that era. So its big choruses, fist-pumping anthems, power ballads and other predictable stuff.

Really, this is for the casual Top 40 listener, which I know is the majority of music-loving folk out there. Also includes a DVD to offer an incentive to purchase for the chronic downloading generation. I guess you could say I’m on the fence on this – I don’t hate it but I wouldn’t recommend it either.

KEN STRINGFELLOW LIVE IN SINGAPORE

The mark of a truly accomplished singer-songwriter is the ability to win over an audience totally unfamiliar with said singer-songwriter’s work. I’m pretty sure that most of the audience at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre were the usual weekend casual visitors who had no clue who the gaunt gentlemen with the black-painted fingernails was.

But the crowd exhibited its appreciation when Ken Stringfellow (best known as part of the 90s powerpop band The Posies), stood on the bleaches (instead of the stage) to belt out his intricate pop tunes without the benefit of a mic. Demonstrating an impressive set of pipes, guitar technique and superior songcraft, Stringfellow entertained the largely neophyte audience with his passion, talent and good humour.

Drawn mainly from his three solo albums, Stringfellow’s two sets were a sheer pleasure to behold. The musicians amongst us, were fixated on his chord shapes and structures, nodding our heads in unison with every nuance. Indeed, 2010 has gotten off to a magnificent musical start, with more to come…

Official Site

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

FLORENCE + THE MACHINE

FLORENCE + THE MACHINE Lungs (Universal)

Electro-alt-R&B. Something like that. Kinda like Yazoo, y’know the duo of Alf Moyet and Vince Clarke in the 80s, if anyone of you can remember that far back. Dynamic, muscular and forthright – Florence Welch and friends present “in-your-face” pop music that challenges perceptions both lyrically and musically.

Howl is a prime example as the song threatens to overwhelm with over the top strings and screaming vocals as Florence sings – “If you could only see the beast you’ve made of me/I held it in but now it seems you’ve set it running free/The saints can’t help me now, the ropes have been unbound/I hunt for you with bloody feet across the hallowed ground”.

The violent imagery is carried on into Kiss with a Fist, a rockabilly number where Florence recalls Chrissie (Pretenders) Hynde with lines like “A kick in the teeth is good for some/A kiss with a fist is better than none”. Good stuff.

The rest of Lungs is just as intriguing as Florence + the Machine brings diverse musical and lyrical ideas to the table with a firm foundation in 80s post-punk, which is perfectly fine in my book. An emerging artist to watch…

Florence + the Machine is performing live in Singapore (supported by the xx) on Sunday, 7th February 2009 at the Esplanade Theatre at 8pm. Tickets available at SISTIC.

Official Site

MySpace

DARYL HALL JOHN OATES

DARYL HALL JOHN OATES Do What You Want Be What You Are (RCA/Legacy)

If anyone deserves the deluxe retrospective multi-disc box set treatment, it’s got to be Daryl Hall and John Oates, don’t you think?

What makes Hall & Oates so special? How about being one of few acts to have been able to effectively blur the lines behind pop, rock and soul? And if you’re into numbers, how about SIX #1 hits on the Billboard charts and THIRTY-FOUR charting singles in the Billboard Top 100, all told? Not enough? Then what about SEVEN RIAA platinum albums and SIX RIAA gold albums?! Basically, the most successful pop duo in history.

For me, its all about the sheer eclecticism of the music and those amazing tunes, as always! And cool, cool vibes.

This 4CD set contains 74 tracks, all those hits, choice album cuts, live and unreleased recordings to round this up nicely. Although, Hall & Oates hit their purple patch in the 80s, they cut their teeth in the 70s, covering a wide range of genres. The 1st disc brings us up to 1977’s No Goodbye, the duo’s first compilation. Highlights include the epic ballad Waterwheel (off Whole Oats), She’s Gone (off Afternoon Luncheonette), Is It A Star? (off the Todd Rundgren-produced War Babies) and It’s Uncanny (off the aforementioned No Goodbyes). Not to mentioned early singles from pre-duo era in the 60s, which basically derived from a love of Philly Soul and the Temptations.

The 2nd and 3rd discs basically contain my personal Hall & Oates playlist as tracks from wondrous albums like the eponymous “Silver Album” (with the guys in full glam mode), X-Static, Voices, Private Eyes, H2O and Big Bam Boom turn out magnificient song after magnificient song. This is where I go misty-eyed, sing-a-long and simply groove to Sara Smile, Wait For Me, The Woman Comes and Goes, How Does It Feel To Be Back, Kiss on my List, You Make My Dreams, Everytime You Go Away, Head Above Water, Did It In A Minute, I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do), One On One, Go Solo, Say It Isn’t So, Out of Touch, Method of Modern Love and Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid. Whew! What an incredible rush!

The last disc loses steam somewhat and a little focus with the duo’s commercial success beginning to ebb at the end of the 80s. Still tracks like Everything Your Heart Desires and Change of Season are worthy additions to the canon. The set closes with two previously unreleased songs, a 2007 live version of the “title” track (a true statement of intent, if there ever was one) and a re-recording of Dreamer, a song Hall wrote in 1972. Both songs indicate the light has not dimmed despite advancing years.

What more can I say? Every PoP visitor must own this essential collection – yes, you deserve some Hall & Oates in your lives! Whether you’re a rock scholar or a casual listener, there’s enough of everything in the art & craft of Hall & Oates that you will become besotted with – I guarantee it! Enough of the hard sell, go and get it and to Daryl and John if you’re reading this, thanks for the wonderful music!

Official Site

BLAKES

BLAKES Souvenir (WE ARE OK)

The success of the Beatles in the USA, signalled the first wave of the British Invasion as bands like Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Who made their collective mark on the American rock consciousness. The result was garage-rock, with the Seattle music scene playing a significant role with the likes of the Sonics, The Kingsmen, Paul Revere and the Raiders and the Regents.

Certainly, Seattle band the Blakes carries on the tradition of its predecessors with this faithful revocation of classic 60s garage-rock. Souvenir is filled to the brim with raucous, rollicking rave-ups that never compromise on the melody department. Band out of time? Maybe but if you dug the recent garage-rock revival of White Stripes and Jet, certainly the Blakes punch above their own weight and mix it up with potent doses of powerpop as well. Something for everyone.

Official Site

MySpace

CLARE AND THE REASONS

CLARE AND THE REASONS Arrow (Frog Stand)

If you were a mad scientist and discovered a means to distill the talents of Paul McCartney, XTC, John Cale and Brian Wilson and add a huge dollop of female sensibility, you’d probably end up with Clare and the Reasons. This Brooklyn-based band follow up their critically lauded debut Movie with an even more accomplished pure pop effort. Rather astonishing actually.

Eclectic at its core, the music on Arrow mixes and mashed chamber pop (with lush classical arrangements), electronica (throbbing, pulsing synth patterns), music hall quirkiness (check out the bizarre cover of Genesis’ That’s All!) and general pop mellifluousness.

Together with Elizabeth and the Catapult’s Taller Children, Arrow might just be the pop album of the year!

Essential, of course.

Official Site

MySpace

+65 INDIE UNDERGROUND

image001

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.

AS TALL AS LIONS

You_Can't_Take_It_with_You

AS TALL AS LIONS You Can’t Take It With You (Triple Crown)

You want irony? How about a band that tries their damndest to squeeze in every conceivable genre and style into 3-4 minute songs and then illustrates the point on their album cover? So can it be done? Heh.

I hate to be facetious about references and inspirations but does vocalist Dan Nigro remind you of Sting? Well, As Tall As Lions does possess the dynamic, restless nature that the Police had in spades. Sure, the infectious melodicism may be lacking but I’d argue that the incandescent music of You Can’t Take It With You has as much commercial potential.

There’s just so much going in songs like the subtly explosive Circles, the freewheeling Sixes and Sevens, the exotic title track and the relentlessly cool Go Easy (See the Love), that its almost hard to imagine that those are the opening four songs! Masters of contrasting moods, inflections of diverse sonic worlds and flat-out brilliant instrumentation, this wildly creative group deserves the time and effort from rock scholars to simply listen…

The rest of You Can’t Take It With You never finds the band compromising its unique vision as it continues to throw everything and the kitchen sink into the mix. Get ready for the Beatles, U2, the Police, Pink Floyd, Jeff Buckley, Lou Reed, Van Morrison, Kraftwerk, New Order, Leonard Cohen, Radiohead and then some, figuring in the rhyme and reason that is As Tall As Lions.

Official Site

MySpace

THE JAYHAWKS

Picture 13

THE JAYHAWKS Music from the North Country (American)

For me personally, the Jayhawks has been a band I have tried to emulate when I started putting together a new band – the Groovy People – about two years ago. Basically, classic pop-rock with an alt-country edge, a sonic representation of Gram Parsons’ mythical Cosmic American Music.

This 3CD deluxe edition of this Jayhawks retrospective provides a pretty good enough idea of what this excellent band was/is about. “Was/is” because the band has been on hiatus since the last album, 2003’s fine Rainy Day Music. Disc one cherry picks the band’s five official albums – Blue Earth, Hollywood Town Hall, Tomorrow the Green Grass, Sound of Lies and the aforesaid Rainy Day Music. Disc two features rare and unreleased tracks whilst disc three is a DVD of music videos and EPKs throughout the band’s career.

Regular PoP visitors will be aware of how much I loved the Jayhawks, I still listen to them whenever I need a “pick-up” and songs like Trouble, Angelyne, Smile, Blue, I’m Gonna Make You Love Me are mainstays on my playlist. Not to mention that Sound of Lies remains one of my favourite albums of all time.

What is even more impressive is that after the departure of co-founder Mark Olsen (after Tomorrow the Green Grass), the band actually became stronger as Gary Louris, Tim O’Reagan, Marc Pearlman and Karen Grotberg delivered timeless music that still resonates today.

The remastering of these great songs has worked wonders as even an longtime fan like me is finding new delights from this oft-heard repertoire. So I can’t recommend Music from the North Country any higher. Every PoP visitor MUST have this compilation in their collection and after your appetite has been whetted (and it will be) and you want know more, go to the albums in order of preference – Sound of Lies, Tomorrow the Green Grass, Rainy Day Music, Smile, Hollywood Town Hall and Blue Earth.

Bloody essential.

The official site.

MySpace

MORE! SINGAPORE 60S

Picture 8

VARIOUS ARTISTS More! Singapore 60s Treasures From the Vault (Universal)

After the warm reception given to the 5CD retrospective of the Philips Singapore 60s back catalogue, Universal Singapore has released a 2-CD follow up. Again, the sound isn’t the best it can be since the original masters are long gone but as an archival record of an exceptional epoch of Singapore music, this set is again essential for all fans of that era.

Being born in 1961, I was obviously very young when these records saw light of day but certainly I can vaguely remember the buzz that these Singapore bands generated in this heyday of Singapore music. The influences of the likes of Cliff Richards & the Shadows, the Ventures, Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers and of course, the Beatles is clearly apparent on these records. A fair mix of covers and originals are showcased here, with no discernible distinction between the two, a testament to the songwriting talent on these shores even in those bygones days.

Judging from the music styles (not to mention the group names), it is evident that Cliff Richards & the Shadows provided a very strong model for many of these bands e.g. Heather and the Diamond Four, Henry Suriya & the Boys, Steve Lorainne & the Clansman and so on.

For fans who picked up the first set, More! Singapore 60s is a must-have. Good songs with excellent performances recommended for lovers of 60s music.

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.

b-sides_lores

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

MERIT

2339-arson_cover

MERIT Arson is for Lovers (Self-released)

I apologize if sometimes I get jaded with much of modern “alternative” rock especially everything sounds the same and all “cookie-cutter” like. So I’m pleased to announce that whilst the songs of Merit do contain some of the cliches of modern “alternative” rock, because of the carefully worked instrumentation and arrangements, not to mention Brenna Merritt’s fine vocal prowess, I can safely give this enjoyable album a PoP recommendation. Better yet, the entire album is available for free download here.

MySpace

DESERTERS

pale_morning_deserters_album

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

JON GOMM

jongomm

JON GOMM Don’t Panic (Performing Chimp)

Virtuosity should never be an end in itself. Believe me. Jon Gomm (like Tommy Emmanuel) has cottoned onto utilizing the acoustic guitar in unique ways. Basically, the guitar is used to produce every sound heard on Don’t Panic. Well and good in itself but what about the songs. Nothing earth-shattering mind, serviceable pop-rock with jazz fusion touches but coupled with said virtuosity, Don’t Panic offers enough distinctive sounds and music to keep most short attention spans in our modern rock world.

Official Site

MySpace

THE PABLOS

Pablos

THE PABLOS EP (Self-released)

Wow, what a gem! The opening track, ‘Lose Control” had me hooked from the first beat. Brilliant, faultless production! Great jangly guitars, lovely, creamy bass tone that is appropriately smooth or aggressive when necessary, very solid grooving drums and great, dirty rock-and-roll vocals that have been sorely absent from popular music for far too long. X-factor oozes from every song, everything is exquisitely, tastefully done and comes together beautifully with lots of raw energy. Dancy, upbeat and totally appropriate for a Victoria Secret’s Fashion Show- which is one of the best compliments I can think of for this sort of music. You simply can’t help but start nodding your head and tapping your feet.

The music is well written, genuine, convincing, catchy and immersive. Lots of great dynamics which keep the songs interesting and make them feel like they ought to go on forever.  Would love to catch these guys live- so much infectious energy! Would be incredibly well received at a music festival, in a small club, anywhere really! Their songs needs to be in movies and advertisements already. This is the sort of musicianship that makes other musicians sit up and pay attention.

A total pick-me-up. Love it. Very rarely does a band excite a music reviewer this much. People need to hear this! It must be shared! These guys really need to be famous, three songs are enough for me to say that this is Grade A classic rock right here. I honestly can’t think of any way that this music could be any better. More, more! If they had an album out I would buy it immediately!

(Visa)

MySpace

Facebook

ONEREPUBLIC

Wakingupone

ONEREPUBLIC Waking Up (Universal)

It must pretty much suck when you set out to emulate your musical heroes viz the Beatles and U2 and all people hear is – Coldplay!

But that’s the dilemma that OneRepublic find themselves in. Sure, they employ a fair bit of pseudo-classical pinao riffs and falshetto choruses but surely Coldplay didn’t invent that! My opinion? OneRepublic is much better than what Coldplay pass for nowadays.

Okay, done and dusted.

This new album is firmly aimed for the commerical heart of the modern rock scene but that’s fine with me as long as the artistic core remains intact. There’s loads of intriguing shapes and sizes in terms of tunes, arrangements and instrumentation on Waking Up to keep things interesting. Good enough for me!

CLOSEAPART

closeapart

CLOSEAPART Hologram EP (Self-released)

I hate to say this about a S-ROCK band but whilst the five songs on this EP seems to possess a promising blend of cool vibes and structures, I’m afraid the songs themselves don’t quite pass muster. I just get the nagging feeling that the whole exercise is an just that – an exercise.

Sure, tracks like the power balladic The Ghost in You and the mid-tempo dynamic Medicine have the 90s Britpop veneer that propelled the likes of Oasis and Ocean Colour Scene to superstardom. Not to mention that the opening A Whisper in the Wire and the throbbing Red Eye, delivers enough faux U2-Radiohead-Coldplay impact to please most casual modern rock listeners.

In other words, it’s pretty well put together and should appeal to fans of the abovementioned bands. Still, I cannot escape the annoying feeling that there should be more. I don’t deny the hard work and craft that went into these songs but where’s the spark? I mean, its a little a bit too much by the numbers and dare I say, too derivative for my tastes.

That all said, there’s just about enough going on in Hologram EP to justify investigation especially if you want that modern alternative rock vibe ala The Killers and the like.

MySpace

SARAKULA

sarakula

SARAKULA City Heart (Self-released)

Aussie powerpop is one of the best on the planet. No disputing that. Too many to mention, in fact.

Add Sydney singer-songwriter Joel Sarakula (or just plain Sarakula) to the list, who like Billy Joel and Ben Folds favours subtle keyboards over guitar crunch. So maybe more soft pop than powerpop. Whatever.

The vital ingredient is of course, a melody that rings true in your heart and soul. Sarakula’s approach is easy on the ear with emphasis on jazz chords and mid-tempo rhythms. 60s/70s pop music is a weighty influence. Certainly a light Beatlesque touch is evident throughout (circa Let It Be/Abbey Road).

Bottom line is that its good old fashioned pop music that sadly, goes too much under the radar in these modern times. It’s jaunty, heartfelt and vibrant mostly with the highlights being the dynamic Cold War Love, the pulsating City Beat, the driving Matchstick Girl, the Lennon-channeling Driving with the Devil and the ornate Marlene.

For true pop buffs, Sarakula is worth investigation.

Official Site

Myspace

KEVIN MCADAMS

kevinmcadams

KEVIN MCADAMS It’s My Time To Lose My Mind (Self-released)

Drummers are a special breed eh? Especially when they also sing and write their own music. Notable examples – Ringo Starr, Phil Collins, Don Henley and Andy Sturmer. Well, Kevin McAdams played drums for indie rock outfit Elefant and his new solo album It’s Time To Lose My Mind is proof that there are more to drummers than the cliched jokes will let on.

With Elefant guitarist Mod Alien on board as producer, this enjoyable album is a fine blend of powerpop, new wave and post-punk influences and styles, with an emphasis on catchy melodies throughout. McAdams primarily instrument here is keyboards and without degenerating into fey Keane/Coldplay histrionics, McAdams utilizes different keyboard sonic approaches in a fashion recallin the likes of Todd Rundgren, Ivy, Paul McCartney, Grandaddy and the Cars.

There’s a freewheeling, devil-may-care, eclecticism in memorable tracks like Start Over Again, The Bannerman Nightmare, Hourglass, Small Town Livin’ and the like. Fans of modern-day D-I-Y pop masters like Jason Falkner, Jon Brion and Brendon Benson will thrill to Kevin McAdams.

Myspace

GRACE BASEMENT

GraceB

GRACE BASEMENT Gunmetal Gray (Undertow)

As as if it wasn’t already enough that St. Louis’ Grace Basement manages to deliver a pleasing reading of fine melodic alt-rock influences like Wilco, Flaming Lips, Guided By Voices and Superchunk, the band also incorporates more rustic instrumentation into the powerful mix. Thus, we are treated to the likes of fiddle, viola, lap steel, banjo, harp, accordion, concertina, horns and even uilleann pipes, which brings the band’s sophomore album to an entire different level.

You’ve gotta respect the attention to textural detail that singer-songwriter-producer Kevin Buckley pays to these pop tunes – wonderfully indebted to the Beatles, XTC, the Beach Boys and Big Star for melodic invention. There is a magical balance between the sweet and raw qualities that blending the genres of powerpop and country-folk-blues results in. I am rather taken by this unique-sounding album. From the pulsating opening There He Goes onwards, one is never quite sure what twists and turns the impressive material would take, completely subverting expectations at all the right places. Which to me, is a testimony to a creative mind in action.

Official site

Myspace

Undertow Music

JEFF LARSON

Picture 2

JEFF LARSON Heart of the Valley (Human Nature)

With all the pre-fabricated, soul-less crap that tries to pass itself off as modern-day pop music, it is certainly heart-warming and encouraging that pure authentic pop continues to be created. Over the years, I have always depended on singer-songwriter Jeff Larson to provide a uplifting antidote to all the cynical hyped-up callousness.

For his latest magnum opus, Larson puts himself into the hands of Gerry Beckley (of 70s legends America) for this interesting project. Basically, Larson sings songs written, performed, arranged, engineered, recorded and produced by Beckley and the results are the stuff that dreams are made of.

Of course, I grew up with that fabulous debut America LP, and Heart of the Valley resonates with the same warmth, mellifluence and charm. I make no apologies for recommending this instant mellow classic, chock full of chiming electric guitars, spine-tingling pedal steels, folky sentiments, tight vocals harmonies and memorable tunes.

Official site

Myspace

STRANGEFINGER

strangefinger

STRANGEFINGER Into the Blue (SideBMusic)

The problem with a band in 2009 having classic pop-rock influences (if you can call it a problem) is that sometimes those very influences are so pervasive and so overwhelming that such bands tend to become derivative and worst, retrogarde. It’s all well and good preaching to the converted who may be easily impressed but beyond being able to reproduce the sounds and styles of their musical heroes, what can these bands offer to music fans in this day and age?

Yes, folks, you’re probably guessing that I’m going to say that the above paragraph does not apply to  Strangefinger. Well, yes and no. Sufe, this Californian band – Freddie Lemke (vocals, keyboards), Blake Engeldorf (bass), Patrick Mercier (guitar) and Joaquin Spengemann (drums) – which it seems, does not take the music of their forbears for granted. Of course, the keyboards-oriented material is closely aligned to classic pop-rock of the 70s, too close at times and definitely, criticism due to this fact may be levelled at the band.

That said, there is a looseness and healthy irreverence about the whole process that holds Strangefinger back from that particular abyss. There’s no doubt that Into the Blue will appeal to the fans of the Pop Underground, especially considering that Jellyfish’s Chris Manning produced the album. In addition, the knowing references to the Beach Boys (the early 70s version), Billy Joel, Harry Nilsson, 10cc (the Stewart-Gouldman edition) and the odd McCartney-isms on Into the Blue will endear it to powerpop fans rather effortlessly.

And…?

In the final analysis, Into the Blue is a collection of well-produced and highly crafted pop songs that whilst seemingly exists in a time bubble, I detect a certain verve and tenacity about the album that is pretty much hard to ignore or dismiss. I believe that Into the Blue is one of those musical works that requires a couple of listens before a full appreciation of its strengths may be discerned. Perhaps it’s more than a sum of its intelligent touches, smart moves and stylistic flourishes. Pop fans would do well to give it a chance to do so…

Myspace

ANDY KIRKLAND

cdkirkland1

ANDY KIRKLAND No Name Gallery (Ink Music)

Melbourne-based Kirkland used to front Aussie pop-rock band Lynchpin and No Name Gallery is his first solo venture. Lynchpin’s sophomore effort – Hand-Picked Words – was a firm favorite with yours truly and bascially, No Name Gallery delivers the same quality pop delights and thrills. On this solo debut, Kirkland favours the melodic invention (love that term) of Beatles/psych-rock influenced artists like Crowded House, Robyn Hitchcock, The La’s whilst leaving behind the more countrified elements found on Lynchpin’s Hand-Picked Words.

Let’s put it this way, if you’ve always liked the concept of Oasis i.e. Lennon-channeling singer fronting latter-era Beatlesque soundscapes BUT hated the half-baked, lazy and sloppy execution of the Gallagher brothers, then I strongly recommend Andy Kirkland’s No Name Gallery.

Official Site

Myspace