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Mar 312015
 

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NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS – CHASING YESTERDAY

For some reason, this latest album from the ex-Oasis man sounds uncannily like Pink Floyd! Unfortunately, it’s the post-Roger Waters version – probably the poorest incarnation of the legendary band – with several guitar passages echoing the work of Floyd’s David Gilmour. It’s still more listenable when compared to most new modern rock though and that’s an inditement.

OF MONTREAL – AUREATE GLOOM

Speaking of Pink Floyd, psych-pop veterans Of Montreal returns with a smashing new album demonstrating that the influence of Floyd founder Syd Barrett continues to resonate strongly with the band. Fans of chronic psychedelia need to have some Aureate Gloom in their lives!

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Mar 272015
 
Photo by Erik S. Lieber. (L-R: Anne-Marie Stehn, Jim Allen, Sean McMorris, Robert Sorkin).

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!

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Mar 262015
 

Ransom

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.

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Mar 182015
 
Photo credit: Teck Io

Photo credit: Teck Io

Whatever the genre, nothing gets more attention in a song than a powerful, distinctive female voice. Dedicated music fans should be familiar with Eugenia Yip from her vocal antics with jazz-rockers The Steve McQueens. However, Ginny (as she likes to be called), also fronts electro-outfit Riot !n Magenta, ably backed by Hayashida Ken (synths), Khairyl Hashim (guitar), Sulaiman Supian (bass) and Ritz Ang (drums).

R!M have been somewhat under the radar despite having played Baybeats 2012, launched a debut EP – R3B007 – at Esplanade Recital Studio in 2013 and even opening for CHVRCHES last year. But no doubt that will all change with the release of the new EP, Voices.

The four tracks available on Voices reveals a mature sonic agenda that continues to channel a strong trip-hop-soul vibe that highlights Ginny’s idiosyncratic vocal stylings and melancholy lyrics that emphasise the damage that relationships inflict on humans.

“Love is not supposed to be a chore” (“CTRL”) and “I can’t unhear the things but you said it” (“Told You So”) – words that put the songs in perspective, heartfelt emotions hard to ignore. Supported by pristine electronic beats and ambience, it is so easy to be swept away by the music on this EP. Not to be missed.

Connect with Riot !n Magenta

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/riotinmagenta
Twitter http://www.twitter.com/riotinmagenta
Soundcloud https://soundcloud.com/riot-n-magenta

Mar 172015
 

RaleghLongHoverance

I met English singer-songwriter Ralegh Long last year when he visited Singapore and found him to be an unassuming, down to earth chap. You can listen to my interview with Long here. What I particularly liked about Long was the deep commitment to his craft and that he found inspiration from cult singer-songwriters like Robyn Hitchcock and Epic Soundtracks. This dedication can be seen in his songwriting, which can be best described as ‘traditional’ and ‘old-fashioned’ in that it relies on sophistication, orchestration and courageous musical choices to get the job done. Certainly not a bad combination! On his debut album, Hoverance, Long delivers a robust collection of deceptively simple songs that beg for closer inspection. Utilising tools of emotional resonance like pedal steel, a string quartet and woodwinds, Long imbues a baroque-like feel to the songs that engender a melancholy ambience that is impossible to ignore. I caught up with Long via email to get him to talk about how he put this gorgeous album of heartfelt songs together.

What were your inspirations for the mood and atmosphere generated for the album?

The mood and atmosphere came from sounds I’d had in my head for a while. I’ve always heard woodwinds in particular as a kind of synthesiser. I guess the pedal steel element came more accidentally. I asked Jack Hayter (Ex-Hefner) to play on a song called “Elizabeth” off my previous E.P The Gift and then we worked more and more closely together until he now plays in my band.

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Mar 162015
 

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Am beginning to despair at The Walking Dead. Group characters are dropping like flies in Season 5. A bit of an overkill, I would argue. Yes, I understand the dynamics of this dystopian future reality but it’s still ultimately a TV show. It’s almost dark for the sake of being dark. As more is revealed, we discover that Alexandria is not the paradise we imagined (as expected) and in sharp contrast to our group, the Alexandrians are not willing to sacrifice their lives for their fellow man.

With two episodes left till the end of the season, the series is building up to a climax that will most probably end in tears. Who will be left standing? I shudder to think.

Mar 162015
 
IEHAC

Daniel Sassoon, Nelson Tan, Sujin Thomas, Jordan Cheng, Amanda Ling

One of the perks of being a rock journalist is getting advances of new releases and it’s even more satisfying when you get a chance to listen to cutting edge rock music that is made by good friends as well. As regular visitors to Power of Pop will be all too aware, I have been a rabid fan of In Each Hand a Cutlass since the early days and whilst guitarist extraordinaire Daniel Sassoon (Livonia, Electrico) has always been the band lynchpin, the musicians Sassoon has surrounded himself with over several lineup changes have always been some of the best in the business.

IEHAC’s debut A Universe Made of Strings was a powerhouse in its own right but seems almost like a kindergarten school outing when compared to the new album, The Kraken. As dynamic as those individual tracks were, they cannot hold a candle to the cohesive ambition displayed on this astounding work. Helmed by the legendary L.A. producer Brad Wood, there is a consistency running throughout the LP that compels the listener to sit entranced for the entire duration, breathless at the wonder and awe that the music evokes, somewhat effortlessly.

As its centrepiece is the mammoth title track, broken down into four parts, for easier consumption. “The Kraken” is almost a treatise on rock music itself, finding ways to incorporate diverse strands of the best rock styles that have inspired millions over decades. Once again, this is progressive rock in the best sense of that term – not merely a genre identifier but a statement of artistic intent. Equal parts post-rock, prog-metal and psych-rock, this epic number brings the unwary listener across dimensions, a witness to interplanetary warfare and the birth and death of galaxies! One never questions the lack of lyrics for even a micro-second as the music speaks volumes.

If the album only contained “The Kraken”, it would already be worth the price of admission but add to that the power and majesty of tracks like “Ouroboros” and “Heracleion” and the picture is perfect. Essential but you already knew that.

IEHAC launches The Kraken on 24th April 2015 at the Esplanade Recital Studio. Tickets available from SISTIC.

In the meantime, listen to the first single “Satori 101″

Connect with IEHAC online

Web http://www.ineachhandacutlass.com/
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/IEHAC
Twitter http://www.twitter.com/IEHAC
Bandcamp http://ineachhandacutlass.bandcamp.com/

Mar 152015
 

Here’s a review from February, 2003.

ForceVomit

FORCE VOMIT Give It Up For The Trustfund Rockers

Force Vomit viz. Nizam, Dino, Neng & Wan Vomit, requires some explanation for music fans unfamiliar with the peculiarities of Singaporean indie rock. Force Vomit position themselves somewhere between the punk pop of the Ramones (hence the ‘family’ names) and the colloquial Malay brand of Western rock called ‘Mat Rock,’ Force Vomit bring an alternative sensibility to what is very much mainstream Malay rock vernacular. Except that the ‘Mat Rock’ Force Vomit deals in, is more of a 60s variety, incorporating elements of Dick Dale surf rock, the Shadows’ slick instrumental rock and Buffalo Springfield folk rock into their approach.
Make no mistake, this is distinctive stuff and something many outside of South East Asia would be totally unfamiliar with its angles and perspectives. The melodies may be a tad clichéd and at times too common for comfort but Force Vomit attacks its chosen targets with verve, aplomb & yes, tongue firmly in cheek. How else could one describe such passionate guitar dynamics as found in “Liberator,” “Siti,” “Johnny Levitate,” “Aisakos Don’t Die” & “The Kids Don’t WTF”?
Guaranteed to screw up every conception one might have of what modern Western rock may achieve, let these mischievous sonic anarchists thrill, amuse and entertain you.

Mar 142015
 

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To be honest, after the intense drama over Olivia’s kidnapping, it was hard to imagine how the series could ramp up again after that high. But this episode hints at a whole new ball game, with the introduction of Susan Ross the new Vice-President and Huck’s wife reporting B613 to the Attorney-General, there’s a whiff of something dark and sinister on the horizon.

That all said, it was rather annoying to see Olivia sulking throughout the entire episode. Yes, I get that she suffered through an awful ordeal but you would think she would be used to all the nonsense by now. Or maybe not.

Mar 122015
 

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Things are finally cooking in Agents of SHIELD! Asgardian Lady Sif returns chasing a Kree warrior (in disguise) and the latter explains Kree history regarding the Diviners, Terragenesis and (without saying the word) the Inhumans. Also, Skye is outed as an Inhuman and Coulson, May and team do their best to protect her but things are not peachy within the ranks. Mack and Bobbie are working against their team-mates and whilst it seems par for the course for a spy drama, it is an annoying plot device after all the HYDRA nonsense.

What is significant is that it is obvious that the Agents of SHIELD will feature strongly as a lead-in to the Inhumans movie – which is still years away though. It is great though that the MCU continues to be brought more into play – just resolve that Mack-Bobbie conspiracy ASAP!

Mar 122015
 

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This episode was all about the secret origins of Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) and an emotional one at that. Ehramantraut was such a popular character on Breaking Bad, that it is so intriguing to finally get to see a bit of his backstory. Considering that we are still in prequel mode for Better Call Saul, this episode not only plants the seeds for the relationship between our titular character and Ehrmantraut, it offers us a glimpse into the latter’s soul that was previously unfathomable.

At the very end, when Ehrmantraut breaks down in front of his daughter-in-law over the fate of his son, it’s impossible not to feel the pain in his eyes and the helpless sense of regret. Quite possibly, the best in the series thus far.

Mar 102015
 

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What’s going on? Why are our intrepid gang of survivors acting like the bad guys? How am I supposed to feel about Carol threatening a young child in order to conceal a secret? Are Rick and company totally unable to adapt to normal life and trust anyone now?

These questions and more will plague you as you try to understand the fundamental changes confronting our favourite characters on The Walking Dead. Despite the apparent peace and calm of Alexandria, Rick, Carol and Daryl are expecting the worst and are acting accordingly.

This will all end in tears. It is guaranteed.

Mar 082015
 

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Got to hand it to the folks behind 12 Monkeys – not only have they managed to deepen the emotional resonance of the characters in the series but they have continued to used the time travel plot device to heighten the dramatic tension well throughout. In recent weeks, the series has given due focus to the ‘present day’ scenario of 2043 and in this episode we are introduced to Colonel Foster, the leader of Spearhead (a military colony where Jones and Whitley once lived) who stands in the way of the repair of the time machine and the recovery of Cole from the past.

Yes, Cole was not killed – though the reason why is probably worth the price of admission – as was suggested in the previous episode. There is superb misdirection in this respect as Dr. Raily attempts to find out whether Cole survived the airstrike or whether he was successful in altering the future. What do you think?

Mar 072015
 

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Things come to a head in this episode as we move ever closer to the finale. The ambitious Amy makes her play against Michael – the result of which is discovered by Julia thirty years later! Amy also figures in negotiations with Sarah to secure the return of her immortal child (in one of the creepiest sequences thus far).

The Coast Guard returns to St. Germain with its officer-in-charge spouting cliches after cliche and the CDC team – now led by Alan – head out to get to the bottom of the pantagen, once and for all. Meanwhile, in the future, the plot gets more and more convoluted. Hopefully, the loose ends will tied up soon.

Mar 062015
 

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After the stress and the pressure of Olivia’s kidnapping, Scandal is brought down to earth with a hard bump with an episode that reflects the recent controversies in Ferguson and New York regarding the killing of unarmed African-American men by the police. Yes, it’s a relatively simple and un-convoluted plot but highly effective. By the end, the viewer will be brought to tears by the emotion of the message. A very strong episode, that does not need too much elaboration.

Mar 052015
 

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After the shocking (literally!) events of the mid-season finale, the Agents of SHIELD have to re-group and figure out how to move forward in light of Tripp’s death. Even as Skye is stuck in quarantine, Raina has been transformed into a spiky Inhuman (although she seems more like a typical Marvel Comic Mutant – Damn you, Fox) and is struggling to adapt to her new body and abilities. We are also given more information about Gordon, the teleporting Inhuman who will probably end up as Raina’s mentor.

As for Coulson, he takes lethal action against HYDRA as revenge for Tripp’s demise and it is ruthlessly effective, to say the least. Mac and Bobbi seem to have a shared secret (Are they HYDRA agents? That would be boring!) whilst Fitz helps Skye to keep her own transformation a secret from their SHIELD team mates. Interesting set ups for the conflicts to come. I do hope that more tie-ups with the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be seen in the coming episodes.

Mar 042015
 

HOC3-1

Much anticipated as it was, Season 3 of Netflix original series, House of Cards was a massive disappointment.

Having fought his way from Speaker to Vice-President to President, it was expected that our protagonist Frank Underwood would bring his own vicious brand of politics onto the biggest stage of all, with all the ensuing drama that implies. Instead, House of Cards 3 was somewhat hijacked by the writers to make Clare Underwood the protagonist and cast Frank Underwood as the villain in his own story. From the moment, she is appointed Ambassador to the UN (a preposterous wrong move that the series never quite recovers from), the writers rely too much on this crutch to generate the drama and conflict between the Underwoods.

All the usual obstacles to Frank’s ambitious machinations were nicely set up to create the appropriate tension and the guilty pleasures fans take in watching Frank succeed (by all means necessary) have always been the highlight of this series. But in the last three episodes, the series took an awful tangent with Clare totally acting out of character and somewhat upsetting all the expectations. To be honest, it was difficult to fathom Clare’s reasoning behind all her actions when compared to the character revealed in Season 1 & 2. Sure, Clare is fiercely independent and Machiavellian in her own right but what are the writers trying to say with her about-face? That women cannot be understood by men? That women are illogical and emotional and will act without just cause, if they did not feel right about something? All rather sexist, in my view.

And what about the whole Doug Stamper sub-plot? What the hell was that about? Again, a distraction and a confusing plot device that ultimately served no purpose. Worst thing about House of Cards 3 was that it ended with a whimper unlike the previous 2 seasons. After 13 episodes, one can only look back and conclude that the writers have run out of ideas and are stretching out the goodwill of the series for whatever it is worth.

*Sigh*

Mar 032015
 

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Truth be told, this episode – “Alpine Shepherd Boy” – was a letdown after the highs of the previous episode. Neatly divided into three parts, the opening act finds Jimmy MacGill realising that getting folks calling him might necessarily mean a good thing as his client prospects tend to be disappointing. However, with the second act – of Chuck getting arrested by police and winding up in the hospital – Jimmy gets the hare-brained scheme to mark out a niche in ‘elder law’ and extends his marketing to the old folks home.

And the show would have ended nicely enough there but that final act with Mike Ehrmantraut seemed awkwardly tacked on. That said, the situation Mike finds himself is tailor-made for Jimmy to come in and save the day.

Mar 022015
 

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Our gang of survivors begin to settle in at Alexandria but our favourite characters are waiting for the pin to drop. Who can blame them, after all the trauma that they have been through in the last five seasons? Halfway through this transitional episode Carl tells Rick that he is worried they would get ‘soft’ if they stayed in Alexandria and by the end, Rick is confident that being ‘soft’ is no longer a part of who they are and rather ominously declares that if the inhabitants of Alexandria are not good enough, then they would take over.

There are signs of tensions even in this superficially placid surroundings but one feels that Rick and company are well suited to handle any challenges and ironically, they might prove to be the biggest threat to the well-being and security of Alexandria.  A great turn of events and change of pace that as usual keep the proceedings intriguing. Kudos!

Mar 012015
 

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Even as I find the leading actors utterly unremarkable (it is obvious they were cast purely for their good looks), I am enjoying Syfy’s re-imagining of 12 Monkeys for its proper exploration of time travel implications. Sure, even that is not perfect but one can appreciate the genuine effort. This episode seems to superficially wrap up the series (it does not of course, in reality) but it was intriguing the manner in which we were led to believe it was. The mechanics of time travel for James Cole (it is all past for him) and Cassandra Raily (living in real time) is that their shared experience may not be linear and that is the beauty of the story-telling. With the various changes in time that Cole is effecting, surely the question must arise is whether there is one timeline or are we witnessing the splintering of various alternate timelines. One suspects that the latter is a tad too sophisticated for a TV audience, even for a scifi drama series but wouldn’t it be nice?

Feb 272015
 

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What else was worth checking out in February? Here goes…

BLACKBERRY SMOKE – HOLDING ALL THE ROSES

An obvious choice. A real band playing real music. In this case, Southern Rock, country-folk and old time rock n roll make it simple. Recommended.

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Feb 262015
 

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Now, I will come right out and say that a lot of Oliver’s motivations on “Narda Parbat” make little sense. I mean, after everything that Malcolm Merlyn has done, why the hell would Oliver risk, not only his own life but that of Diggle’s, to save Merlyn? Kudos to John Barrowman for making Malcolm a deliciously despicable villain that nobody but nobody has any sympathy for. C’mon, at least Slade was utterly messed up in the head by the mirakuru in his system. So what’s Malcolm’s excuse?

Anyways, much of this episode feels like a re-tread of the one where Oliver voluntarily challenged Ra’s Al Ghul despite everybody (but Malcolm!) trying to dissuade him and for that reason it falls rather flat most of the way. It does seem that ever since the mid-season finale, Oliver has been guilty of incredibly stupid decision making! And… did anyone expect Oliver and Diggle to succeed, against the bloody League of Assassins? C’mon! That all said, I did not expect that final scene with Ra’s – alright, you got me there. Well done!

By the way, can someone tell me why Atom comes across as a second rate Iron Man? That is NOT the Atom, CW? WTF

Feb 252015
 

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In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers speaks to an aged Peggy Carter and tells her “knowing you helped found S.H.I.E.L.D. is half the reason I stayed”.

When Agent Carter was first announced, perhaps many thought that the story of how Carter “helped found S.H.I.E.L.D.” would be told. Instead, what we got was how Carter was marginalised at the SSR but still ultimately played a major role in stopping Leviathan from executing a diabolical plot to kill thousands of innocent people and take revenge on Howard Stark.

This final episode of the mini-series does what one expects it to, and with much aplomb. Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper and James D’Arcy provide the star power as Carter, Stark and Jarvis as required, whereas Chad Michael Murray (Agent Thompson) and Enver Gjokaj (Agent Sousa) are functionary at best. So while Agent Carter was a fun ride into the post-war MCU, hopefully subsequent mini-series will explore more seriously the founding of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Carter’s role in the same.

Agent Carter has done well to make connections with MCU films (unlike say, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and has exploited well the strengths of having a shared universe. Let’s hope there’s more to come.

Feb 252015
 

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By now, it’s plainly apparent that Better Call Saul as a series is going to be a proper examination of James M. McGill aka Saul Goodman. Vince Gilligan and company are in no hurry to rush through these opening episodes and instead letting the story of McGill play out naturally. It’s fascinating to see how McGill goes from struggling public defender and the perpetual loser to an opportunist seeing the possibilities in every situation. Sure, he is still a little awkward and a bit of a buffoon but this episode – “Hero” lays out the genesis of Saul Goodman for all to see. The straight and narrow seems to be a path rightly forsaken in exchange for success. For the audience, it is intriguing to witness McGill’s metamorphosis and to attempt to second guess each one of McGill’s moves as he manoeuvres himself into positions of favour.

Definitely in no hurry to go from this prequel sequence of events into the post-Breaking Bad continuity – hoping the series will stay with this timeline for awhile.

Feb 252015
 

CampbellApt

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.

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