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

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

BROOKVILLE

brookville

BROOKVILLE Broken Lights (Unfiltered)

Let’s play six degrees of separation, shall we? Let’s see, Brookville’s main man is Andy Chase. Chase and Adam Schlesinger are both in Ivy. Then, Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood form the nucleus of Fountains of Wayne. Of course, Chris and I played at Baybeats together in August! 5 degrees!

Pardon my self-indulgence but I always need to keep things interesting when reviewing CDs. Fact is, I’ve been criminally negligent in taking so long in reviewing Broken Lights as it is a sumptous album that every serious Pop enthusiast will thrill to. Think of Broken Lights as a loving paean to all things British indie twee pop married with muscular melodicism of 80s blue-eyed soul-pop. A perfect combination, believe me!

Did I just say, soulful and twee? Yep! Sure, Chase and co never quicken the pace too much but this album contains enough jazz-inflected, soft-pop channeling R&B nuggets that bridges both sides of the Atlantic to make this appealing to the US pop underground and the British indie dance scene.

From start to finish, the songs are immaculate as Chase creates his own world of Rhodes keyboards, spidery fretplay, Spectoresque percussion and breathy vocals, which will easily transport the unsuspecting listener to bliss. Highly recommended.

MySpace

Watch the music video for Great Mistake below.

MARIE DIGBY

Marie_phixr

MARIE DIGBY Breathing Underwater (Hollywood)

When Marie Digby was last in Singapore, I was invited to interview her in person. To be honest, I didn’t give it a second thought until I watched a couple of her youtube videos. The girl is hot, no doubt! I even considered taking a day off to meet her in the flesh. But of course, I didn’t. This fact – exotic good looks (Digby is Irish-Japanese) – sometimes works against female singer-songwriters when critics tend to assume that hotness equals lack of talent whatsoever.

A quick look at the CD sleeve will reveal that one, its filled to the max with glamour shots of Digby and two, all the songs are co-written by Digby and a slew of other folk. To be honest, its hard not to be cynical. Especially when you actually listen to the tracks on Breathing Underwater. Pretty generic stuff, with the typical pre-fabricated rampant auto-tuning that is robbing many of these pop divas of any soul whatsoever.

hn-marie-digby-1

I mean, to be brutally frank, I would say that any of our S-ROCK grrls viz. Rach, Ling or Inch, would easily give Digby a run for her money in the creativity stakes. BUT in the final analysis, its all about the image and the hype isn’t it? Crucially, possession of this CD is more about buying into the the Marie Digby package – beauty, sex appeal etc – rather than the music. Sad but true, doesn’t stop anyone from gawking but there you go…

THE BEATLES REMASTERS

Picture 1

THE BEATLES Remasters: Stereo Box Set (Apple/EMI)

Like many others, I was skeptical (and a tad cynical) when news was released about the re-issue of the Beatles back catalogue in a new remastered CD format. In fact, days before the 090909 release date, I was convinced that I would only purchase selected titles. So here I am having acquired the stereo box set for a princely sum… with absolutely no regrets!

It’s seems odd that Apple/EMI took 22 years to remaster the first CD re-issue (back in 1987) but perhaps the delay was actually a blessing in disguise as obviously technological advances have resulted in a remaster package EVERY Fab Four fan will take pleasure in.

After the harsh, tinny, weak ambiance of the ’87 re-issues, listening to the remastered albums is akin to hearing these wonderful LPs for the first time again. No mere hyperbole dear PoP visitors – this is the real deal!

The improvement in the aural experience is shocking… vocals have greater clarity (harmonies can be easily distinguished), electric guitars are crisper, bass/drums are punchier and the balance of the musical components is perfect. The overall warmer sound is probably closest to the vinyl so far.

Considering that most of the albums were originally recorded and presented in mono, the fact that the stereo versions sound so “right” is a minor miracle and a credit to the engineers who toiled over the remastering over four years. The early albums really benefit from this process – the Please Please Me LP really springs from the traps and the recording is so fresh, it sounds like it was made yesterday.

Sgt Pepper is also a revelation – especially Fixing A Hole, She’s Leaving Home and Getting Better – as I always thought that even the stereo vinyl was possessed of a shoddy demeanour. Of course, my top 2 Beatles faves viz White Album & Abbey Road are simply sonically astounding e.g. Back in the USSR seems to rock harder, Dear Prudence’s guitar riffs chimes brighter, While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ organ resonates stronger, Here Comes the Sun’s synths shine through, Golden Slumber’s performance is more powerful and so on…

What more can I say? All my doubts have been proven wrong. If you are a Beatles fan (and I guess you are) then this box set is the holy grail and there’s no good reason not to add this to your Beatles collection. Oh, one more thing, the box also contains a DVD collecting the mini-documentaries found in Quicktime format on each disc and the samples of the remastered tracks sound even better there – does that mean a DVD-Audio version of this set can be expected soon? The mind boggles.

Official Site

COLBIE CAILLAT

Colbiecaillat-breakthrough

COLBIE CAILLAT Breakthrough (Universal Republic)

This is the new pop? I’m sorry but it’s hard not be cynical when confronted by an artist like Colbie Caillat. I mean, how could she fail? With her long blonde tresses and pretty face, she would always turn heads and get attention. Oh and the fact that her father, Ken, is a successful record producer and worked on Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and Tusk albums, I’m sure did not hurt, either.

The songs are pleasing enough, if a tad predictable, and Caillat’s has a good enough voice to carry the tunes but there’s a nagging suspicion that its all too pre-fabricated to be taken seriously. This is the kind of middle-of-the-road wallpaper music that the likes of Olivia Newton-John would bore us with in the mid-70s. Surely, with his connections, papa Caillat would have been able to come up with better songs – who knows get the great Lindsay Buckingham to contribute, maybe?

For casual pop fans only.

FOR THIS CYCLE

Frontcopy

FOR THIS CYCLE s/t (Big Ear Musica)

Weiwen Seah is For This Cycle. As improbable as it may sounds, this 16 year old singer-songwriter has been writing and performing for more than two years now and its no exaggeration to suggest that Weiwen is probably the “next big thing” of the S-ROCK scene now.

Putting aside the hype, there’s no denying the immense potential of Weiwen’s songwriting, not to mention the impressive fanbase he has built up in a relatively short space of time. This 5-song debut EP is testimony to Weiwen’s potential. Whilst Weiwen certainly takes a huge leaf out of the popular artists of his generation viz. Jason Mraz, Jack Johnson, John Mayer et al, he has the maturity and chops to vary his sound ever so slightly.

And thus, this debut EP features two tracks of a full-band line up (which include Livonia/Electrico alumni Daniel Sassoon), two tracks of guitar/percussion and one track of Weiwen solo. My personal favourite of the bunch is Paper Feet (which was probably the best performance at the recently concluded Live ‘N’ Loaded TV series) with its breezy jazz tone and incongruent melancholy mood – “I’ve seen it all from Taiwan to Missouri (pronounced as “misery”)/But I spent my days hiding in my shell, idly”. Coming close is the closing For What Its Worth with its U2 meets Mraz feel, very radio friendly with good positive vibes to boot.

For This Cycle (both the artist and the EP) are easy to get comfortable with, the force of Weiwen’s likable personality will penetrate your prejudices and defences effortlessly and tickle your senses. This is a solid start for the young man and definitely, Weiwen is an artist to watch carefully. Hopefully it’s the beginning of a long and exciting journey…

Check out For This Cycle at Myspace.

Music video for Paper Feet below. Enjoy!

WAYNE COYNE’S BIG ASS FANS

Flaming Lip Wayne Coyne talks about his big ass fan. Really.

And if you like the music in the background, you can pick it up here.

The song is Vortex Punch by Big Fresh.

Cool, huh?

More about Big Fresh in the days to come.

…still there’s more…

CLAIRE DENAMUR

claire-namur-recherche-prince-charmant-l-1

CLAIRE DENAMUR Le Prince Charmant (Source Etc)

The excitement that overwhelmed me when I got to review this album was indescribable. It’s not everyday one gets to enjoy and review French music. So bear with me while I walk you through the eclectic offering of this emerging French artiste – because you won’t be able to find anything else on her unless you comprehend French.

Denamur credits the variety in her music to her mixed family background – an Argentinian mother and a French-Dutch father and spending her early childhood in Toronto and then in upstate New York. Her influences range from Nina Simone, Edith Piaf, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd to Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. These influences are evident on her album, which makes it such a treat because she has a vulnerable, pristine quality to her voice.

The title of the album literally translates to “The Prince Charming” and all ten tracks on the album explore themes of attraction, love and disillusion but with gentleness and at a whimsical pace that you’ll feel the music embrace you while De Namur soothes you through it all.

Worthy of mention is Je Me Sens Nue (I Feel Naked), a track where Denamur likens to how she feels when she’s performing – stripped down/transparent and giving everything she has. The track itself sounds chirpy and has an easy flow of a modern jazz feel.

Another track Mal Aimee (Evil Aimee), echos of a beautiful Spanish guitar which cues in this stripped down, quiet South American ballad, complete with harmonious vocals. Elio, the last track of the album is in a similar vein, it goes a step further with its tropical feel and Denamur’s vocals serving as a melodious lullaby.

My personal favourite is the second track from the album, Ah les Hommes (Ah Men). The bluegrass feel of this track is a hauntingly beautiful ode to men.

Le Prince Charmant is out now and should be on your list if you like jazzy, bluesy European fusion and French flair with your glass of wine.

(Charlotte Lourdes)

Check out Claire’s Myspace page. Video of Prince Charmant follows.