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Jan 302015
 

STEVENWILSON

It’s called Hands. Cannot. Erase. and it already deserves to be hailed as one of the albums of 2015! Known primarily for his progressive rock work with Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson is a singer-songwriter-instrumentalist that is able to encapsulate myriad rock styles into a pleasing whole.

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Jan 272015
 

Screen shot 2015-01-27 at AM 09.46.46

Tim De Cotta (Bass/ Vocals), Audrey Tengkey (Piano, Keys and Synth) and Teo Jia Rong (Drums) make up TAJ, bringing forth an exciting new venture, and great contribution to Singapore’s contemporary jazz scene.

Now the above (from the Darker Than Wax press release) sums it up pretty well. 70s jazz fusion lovers (with emphasis on ‘fusion’) will dig TAJ’s debut EP – The Astral Journey – for its grooves, virtuosity and attitude. Followers of old school soul-R&B-funk will thrill to the authentic spirit behind songs like “Taj Yo’self” and “Old Town MOFO”, not to mention the dreamy title track that demonstrates so much emotional resonance, it’s hard not to fall in love with Audrey Tengkey’s fingers… and the sultry vocoder-ized vox on “Daydream”. Too much sexy. Something for everybody here! Get in!! Now!!!

But of course, we wanted to know more about the folk behind the awesome music and so I present to you… TAJ, in their own words…

How did the band get together?

We got together by chance actually. It was 2012 when Tim and Audrey went with the Singapore contingent to MIDEM in Cannes, and through rehearsals for this showcase Audrey and Tim got to know and like their musical styles in their respective bands. So when they came back Audrey invited Tim to an open jam session at LaSalle with other young musicians and students. It was a shed session to just have fun and also to try new things. Drummers, keyboardists, bassists and turntablists even. So JR was one of the drummers there and as the jam went on, it was clear that the chemistry between the 3 of us whenever we were on our instruments together was really strong! We didn’t just jam the songs per se but we moved and evolved them in a matter of minutes. So eventually, we started meeting more and more often, till it became just exclusive to the 3 of us, jamming covers and then eventually writing our own music. It happened very naturally and faster than usual, also because we became great friends. TAJ was born and on 1 Oct 2013, we released our single “The Astral Journey”.

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Jan 262015
 

The_Imitation_Game_poster

Directed by Morten Tyldum.
Written by Graham Moore.
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Matthew Goode and Keira Knightley. 

Before discussing the merits of the film, it was ironic to discover that the movie was rated NC-16 for “homosexual references” in Singapore. Thus, despite receiving a royal pardon for his criminal conviction for gross indecency, Turing is judged again in this risible manner. Ah well.

Apart from that, there is nothing notably negative about The Imitation Game. The actors are all on their game – Cumberbatch delivers a stunning performance. The narrative jumps around from time to time in a satisfying non-linear fashion. And the grand injustice meted out to Turing before his death is given its due as a horrifying third act.

The message behind The Imitation Game is clear enough – prejudice is inhuman and those that stand out as different should be treasured not vilified. Of course, much of the human drama is glamorized for effect – Turing’s role in breaking the Enigma code and the relationship with Joan Clarke (Knightley) – but necessary to design an effective plot.

An enjoyable ‘message’ film that really should be seen by everyone from 12 upwards.

Jan 252015
 

helix-season2

Syfy series Helix is back and while it retains much of the key features of season one (i.e. deadly pathogen, CDC involvement, death, gore, immortality and conspiracies), season two differs significantly in having two separate storylines (one in the present, and one in the future). Yes, the LOST flashforward is back!

Curiously, there are a few parallels with LOST – besides the flashforwards, the CDC team is trapped on an island, there is a cult group headed by an enigmatic leader and secrets kept within secrets. Two episodes, there is much to recommend the show with — after one absorbs the disorientating changes from the season one finale.

Jan 252015
 
CliffYeo_FutureIslands_005

Future Islands by Cliff Yeo

What was my day like at Laneway SG 2015? Really good fun actually, meeting loads of cool music people (you know who you are!), boozin’ and enjoying pretty useful festival food as well. The people watching was fruitful – looking at the sweet young things in their hipster outfits made me feel like an anthropologist (okay, not really).

I was so comfortable and chilled out that I wasn’t even bothered by the fact that most of the music was average at best. Also, rock bands were showcased in the afternoon (where the audience was smaller) but it all felt like an afterthought.

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Jan 232015
 

ArrowS03e10

After the apparent death of Oliver Queen at the end of the mid-season finale, how do the Arrow team carry on without their intrepid leader? Not very well by all accounts, as they get their asses whupped by Vinnie (“I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!”) Jones’ silly Brick character. Which is just as well that Olly returns from the dead at the end of this episode. Spoiler? What spoiler? You expected CW to kill off its lead character? Seriously??

But at least, the Arrow’s absence pushes Laurel Lance to put on Black Canary togs and kick arse – so it’s win – win for everyone, eh? All good fun and at least they didn’t milk Olly’s death for too much cheap emotional shots. Although… it’s always cool to see Felicity all vulnerable and so on. Normal service to be resumed? We shall wait and see…

 

Jan 222015
 

american_sniper2

Directed by Clint Eastwood.
Written by Jason Hall. 
Starring Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller.

So will the real American Sniper please stand up? The film, a biographical account of Navy SEALs sharpshooter Chris Kyle –  deadliest marksman in U.S. military history – has split US audiences down the middle. From liberals decrying it as jingoistic propaganda to conservatives hailing it as a tribute to a deserving war hero.

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Jan 212015
 

Re-Wind

The original line up of Miami Power Pop legends, The Wind, are back with their first release in 30 years….Re-Wind!

Singer-songwriters, Lane Steinberg & Steven Katz (aka Steve Barry) have worked together as both the creative force behind The Wind (1981-1988), and as a duo under the name Tan Sleeve (1998-present).

Now that drummer Steve Burdick is back, Re-Wind represents the trio’s first recordings for over 25 years and for power pop fans, it’s good news. Very good, in fact. The moment “Fight Like a Girl” kicks in with its guitar arpeggios and floor toms, it’s obvious that the band has lost none of its chops and sets the tone for the rest of this album. The warm balladry of “Let Me Show You How It’s Done”, the jaunty jollity of “Weak Spot” and the folk-rock of “Yes and No”demonstrate The Wind’s mastery over the melodic rock form, complemented superbly by the high production values. Re-Wind is a great-sounding album and comes with our highest recommendations.

We managed to pick Steve Katz’s brains to talk about the return of The Wind.

What was the impetus to re-form The Wind?

When Lane Steinberg and I look back on all our musical endeavors over the years, both together and separately, the early years of The Wind was the high point, due to the chemistry we had with drummer Steve Burdick. Steve had played drums on several songs on all the Tan Sleeve CDs. So it was almost The Wind, but not quite. Making a whole album as The Wind seemed like a logical step that we should have taken awhile ago.

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Jan 162015
 

Rundman

The best part about running Power of Pop for over 15 years is the opportunity to interact with artists who are as obsessed about music as I am. Case in point: singer-songwriter Jonathan Rundman whom I first got a review request from, in 1998! Since then, we have remained in contact whenever Rundman had a new release – which I was more than happy to review. So it’s particularly satisfying to write about Rundman’s latest release – LOOK UP!

Rundman is the classic pop-rock singer-songwriter as he combines elements of country-folk in a smart amalgam of 60s and 70s pop and rock influences and certainly fans of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Neil Young and Bruce Cockburn will warm to his music easily. After all, when melodic pleasure meets with clever lyricism, it isn’t too demanding to desire further investigation.

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Jan 152015
 

GarfieldsBirthday

For better or worse, Garfields Birthday is a Power of Pop kind of band. Meaning that the music of Garfields Birthday upholds all the principles that Power of Pop believes must exist in order for music to be vital and powerful. Strong melodies with classic pop-rock arrangements and an uncompromising attitude to make music that is all about… the music.

Since the mid-90s – the height of Britpop – Garfields Birthday has been sporadically releasing EPs and albums that have never failed to adhere to the classic pop-rock aesthetic, even as this kind of music continues to be marginalized in the mainstream pop world.

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Jan 132015
 

echodrone

A band that lives up to its name! SF outfit Echodrone finds a nice balance between 90s shoegaze and new millennial electronica, covering the gamut from driving rock to ambient textures with equal intensity. Consisting of Brandon Dudley, Eugene Suh, Jim Hrabak, Mike Funk & Rachel Lopez, the quintet has been active since 2005 and latest album – Five – finds the band in an assured place creatively, bringing together the pleasing elements of soaring guitars, pummeling rhythms and hypnotic motifs to produce a work that hits all the right buttons.

We got in touch with Echodrone to find out more about what the band are about.

What are the records that inspired your sound?

I think you can see a wide variety of influences in our music :)

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Jan 122015
 

The-Babadook-Poster

Written and Directed by Jennifer Kent.
Starring Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman.

Who or what is The Babadook? In the context of this horror film, it is the supernatural creature that terrorizes widow Amelia and her young son, Samuel. The monster turns up mysteriously in Samuel’s cupboard as the titular character in a pop-up book entitled Mister Babadook.

From that point in the film, the Babadook slowly imposes its frightening agenda on mother and son, till it’s an open confrontation that does not – to Kent’s credit – resolve in a clichéd manner.

From the psychological angle, perhaps the monster represents unresolved issues that Amelia has failed to address, concerning the untimely death of her husband and Samuel’s father.

Within the virtually one location premise (the residence), Kent delivers genuine scares without having to resort too much violence or gore (or special effects) – the terror is induced very much by pacing, cinematography and music and for the most part, work very well.

Essential viewing for horror movie fans.

Jan 112015
 

Frank_movie_poster

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
Written by Jon Ronson & Peter Straughan
Starring  Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scott McNairy and Michael Fassbender. 

What is music? A business? Yes, certainly but what about art? Of course, but sometimes music is life and there’s nothing more. For Jon (Gleeson), music is the ticket out of his mundanity as he dreams of becoming a professional pop songwriter.

Then rather serendipitously Jon ends up playing keyboards in the experimental outfit Soronprfbs, fronted by the enigmatic Frank (Fassbender) who wears a papier-mâché head 24/7. Despite his seemingly best intentions, Jon attempts to use the Soronprfbs – and especially Frank – to further his own agenda to be a successful musician.

Along the way, manager Don (Scott McNairy) and band colleague Clara (Gyllenhaal) try to dissuade Jon from setting Frank down the road to public acceptance but Jon is undaunted, with predictably disastrous consequences.

Taking inspiration from real life quirky musical geniuses like Captain Beefheart, Daniel Johnston and most of all, Chris Sievey’s Frank Sidebottom persona, Frank is a superbly dark comic take on contemporary pop culture’s need to flatten any unique idiosyncrasy into compliant uniformity.

For everyone who believes that pop music needs to remain strange and magical, this one’s for you.

Jan 102015
 

Theory_of_Everything

Directed by James Marsh.
Written by Anthony McCarten.
Starring Eddie Redmayne & Felicity Jones. 

The Theory of Everything is a beautiful film. Beautifully shot, beautifully scored but ultimately, it is a story about two beautiful people who had to reinvent themselves and their relationship constantly in the face of challenging life circumstances.

The acclaimed theoretical physicist Stephen J Hawking (Redmayne) is by now quite well-known even in pop culture circles. What is less known perhaps is the journey that both Hawking and his former wife Jane Wilde Hawking (Jones) took to make him the icon that he became despite suffering from debilitating motor neuron disease.

Director Marsh treats both sides of the story diplomatically and sympathetically, although perhaps – especially in the third act – at the expense of narrative clarity. Events are rushed somewhat and real life details are fudged to keep the characters on the good side of the audience.

Whilst Redmayne’s stellar performance is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime distinction, equal credit must go to Jones for portraying Jane’s stoic determination to support her husband. Which is fitting, considering screenwriter McCarten based his screenplay on Jane’s memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen. 

In the final analysis, it is clear that the film is as much about her as it is about him and the message of the movie is summed up in Hawking’s quote – “Where there’s life, there’s hope….”

The Theory of Everything is playing in the cinemas now.

Jan 102015
 

Seduced-poster

Directed by James Toback.
Starring Alec Baldwin.

The premise of Seduced and Abandoned is simple enough. Director James Toback and actor Alec Baldwin try to sell a film concept at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012, and basically make a documentary about the experience.

Along the way they interview influential directors like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski & Bernardo Bertolucci to get their takes on Cannes and the movie industry as a whole. The duo also talk to actors Ryan Gosling, Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger and James Caan.

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Jan 102015
 

Screen shot 2015-01-10 at PM 05.07.39

Dublin trio No Spill Blood do an excellent job in mixing up various cool influences to produce a visceral sound that fans of progressive metal will thoroughly enjoy. Consisting of Matt Hedigan (bass/vocals), Ruadhan O’Meara (keyboards/vocals) and Ror Conaty (drums), the band have concocted a debut full length that fans of Black Sabbath, Killing Joke, Trans Am & The Melvins will not want to miss. O’Meara’s keyboards is the distinguishing factor and the absence of a guitar does not diminish the immediacy or heaviness one bit. Tracks like the driving “Back to the Earth” & “Now II”, the dark electronic title track, the manic “Thinner”, the punk-ish “El Duurto” and the riff-tastic opener “White Out” bear testimony to the trio’s eclecticism in the midst of its consistent. sonic agenda.

Keyboardist/singer Ruad O’Meara kindly agreed to answer our probing queries via email.

Does the band name have anything to do with Island of Dr Moreau?

It does indeed, or more specifically the film version “The Island of Lost Souls”. Its also the title of an Oingo Boingo song, and its also where DEVO got “Are we not men” from jocko homo etc. It seemed fitting to get a bunch of references in at once!

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Jan 082015
 

turner big-2026

Written & directed by Mike Leigh.
Starring Timothy Spall.

Premiering at Cannes last year, Leigh’s biopic of famed English painter JMW Turner has already garnered a Best Actor award for Spall’s performance in the lead role and a special jury prize for the film’s cinematography for Dick Pope.

That just about sums it up really. Spall plays Turner as a brutish flawed man who had an unique ability to produce epic, awe-inspiring work which was extremely radical in its day. Pope manages to make virtually every outdoor shot a Turner painting and it is a wonder to behold! Check out the amazing of re-creation of The Fighting Temeraire (1839) below.

Turner-2

Leigh’s triumph with Mr. Turner is stringing together a loose collection of slice of life vignettes and filling them with all the relevant details to make that time and place come alive. The pacing is a little slow and nothing overtly dramatic happens but that’s the whole point of the exercise.

In the right hands, such evocative cinema is stirring and inspiring – Leigh and his heart-felt tribute deserves recognition as one of the best movies of 2014. Absolutely essential for art lovers everywhere.

Mr. Turner is in the cinemas now.

 

Jan 042015
 

The Drop Poster

Directed by Michaël R. Roskam. Written by Dennis Lehane.
Starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini.

The main strengths of this crime drama are two-fold. The performances are solid and the plot is well-constructed. Although, these plus points are almost undone by the snail-like pacing.

Prima facie, the film appears to be about former bartender Marv (the late Gandolfini is his last role in a feature) and his attempts to steal from his Chechen mafia overlords via the ‘drops’ that take place at the bar.

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Jan 032015
 

A_Walk_Among_the_Tombstones_poster

Directed by Scott Frank
Starring Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Boyd Holbrook, Sebastian Roche

Actor Liam Neeson’s third act has been defined by his role in Taken – the invincible, grizzled man of action on a mission – which he duly reprised in other action movies like Unknown, The Grey and Non Stop to great effect. In this respect, this crime drama is no different.

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Jan 022015
 

Automata-poster

Directed by Gabe Ibanez
Starring Antonio Banderas, Dylan McDermott & Robert Forster.

Automata tries its best to be thought-provoking and edgy but fails miserably. Superficially, it does have a couple of thoughtful moments but once the protagonist Jacq Vaucan (Banderas) ends up in the desert, the plot runs out of steam. Conceptually, it ‘steals’ so many ideas from Blade Runner that it’s embarrassing.

For the first 30 minutes of so, the look of the city, Vaucan’s trench coat attire (with that private dick veneer) and the constant inclement weather smacks of Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi movie adaptation of Philip K Dick’s android classic, Blade Runner. But at least director Ibanez managed to keep the interest level at a reasonable level. But then the plot jumps the shark and nothing makes any sense from then on.

Not the worst sci-fi movie out there but that third act was simply awful. If nothing else, enjoy the minimalist soundtrack from Zacarias M. de la Riva (he probably owes Philip Glass royalties as well!)

Jan 022015
 

under-skin-poster

Directed by Jonathan Glazer.
Starring Scarlett Johansson.

Highly rated low budget sci-fi flick with ScarJo playing an alien seductress. Nothing really happens except for ScarJo luring unsuspecting horny Scots into her lair where their essence is drained from them, leaving their skin behind. Sure, you get ScarJo in the buff for your troubles and other eye candy in the form of bleak Scottish landscapes but more than that? Not much else to recommend itself in terms of story-telling, Under the Skin has a strong sense of the ‘arthouse film’ about it. You know, the kind that announces in every frame – “Look at me, I’m fuckin’ art!”. Not so much.

Jan 012015
 

RIgby

Written and Directed by Ned Benson
Starring Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy.

The hype over The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby has to do with presenting the story of a couple coping with the loss of a child from differing perspectives. However, it is really only hype. The actual reality of watching this movie is rather tedious. Very arthouse in approach, nothing much happens for long periods of time.

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2014 IN MUSIC

 MUSIC  Comments Off
Dec 292014
 

JPNSGRLS-Cornfields

Only one contender for PoP Album of the Year. JPNSGRLS epitomizes the best hope for the continuing history of Rock ‘n’ Roll even as the tsunami of prefabricated pop threatens to wipe our beloved music off the face of the earth. Nothing remotely hipster-ish about Circulation and thank GOD for that! Find out why below!!

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Dec 212014
 
Caracal-Live

Photo taken from the Caracal Facebook page.

Pride. I guess that was the emotion coursing through my veins as I watched Caracal deliver a set full of passion, dynamism and yes, even fun last Thursday at the launch of the new album, Welcome the Ironists, at the Substation.

The sold out concert attracted many familiar faces from the indie music scene but it was encouraging to see strange new faces, evidence that the scene is also appealing to newcomers, a very good sign.

I first caught sight of the band during Baybeats 2007 and it’s safe to say that Caracal is a totally different proposition as we come to the end of 2014. As they have grown older, the music has become slower and deeper, with tidy references to 90s grunge (Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees et al) cementing the band’s burgeoning reputation.

The prime examples being “God Damn Tree”, “Divergence” and “Entrepreneur” where the band displayed an unprecedented emotional heaviness. But the highlight for me was probably when singer KC Meals dedicated “Given Breath” to all the band members’ parents – a touching moment that resonated.

Another high point – the encore that included crowd favorite “Cheers to Love” when audience and the band truly become one. Yet again, a spine-tingling memory to cherish. All told, a thoroughly satisfying rock experience. Kudos.

Thanks to Kitty Wu Records for making this review possible. 

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Website: http://www.caracalnoise.com

Dec 032014
 

_MG_0009spectrum

Fuck nostalgia! For me, it’s always about the here and now – the singer and the song. Sure, you could describe singer-songwriter Glenn Tilbrook in those terms but that barely does any justice to the talent and wit that this man possesses. As the frontman of 80s ‘new wave’ band Squeeze, Tilbrook certainly had his time in the sun but the passing of thirty years have not diminished the artist’s ability to connect with an audience in a manner that escapes many younger musicians.

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