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Dec 032014
 

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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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Dec 032014
 

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By Nikita Wong

One hit wonders Hoobastank (remember “The Reason”?) gave us a deeper insight of their journey during the press conference held at Hard Rock Hotel. Commemorating their success as a band for the past 10 years, Hoobastank revealed the struggles they had to overcome as they parted from their record label.

According to the band, record labels were only concerned with producing the “The Reason” Mark II and were not genuinely interested in the well being of the band or their music. Being independent now, the band is able to allow their creative juices to flow.

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Nov 282014
 

Directed by Don Hall & Chris Williams

With all the super-hero properties available to Disney Animation upon the acquisition of Marvel Comics, Disney opted for an obscure book titled Sunfire and Big Hero 6. The subsequent film adaptation is only loosely based on the comic, severing all links to the Marvel Universe – except for the utterly pointless Stan Lee cameo.

When you consider that the sequel to the vastly superior The Incredibles remains in limbo, one would have thought that Disney should have left super-heroes well alone. The result is predictable – very poor superhero tale that is high on sentimentality but light on plot.

That said, one cannot fault the character designs, the top notch animation and likeability of Baymax. However, the clunky narrative, the one-dimensional supporting characters and Baymax-size plot holes prevent Big Hero 6 from being taken seriously. Obviously aimed at young children, that is the only reasonable way of approaching this dumb flick.

Nov 232014
 

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2014 has been a very good year for made-in-Singapore pop music with more album/EP releases and more live performances to capture the imagination of the music-loving public. One significant factor has been the EP Grant administered by the National Arts Council which awards the sum of S$10,000 to a band/artist applicant for the cost of recording, production, marketing and launch of a 4-song (minimum) EP. This EP grant not only gives the successful band/artist the platform to share the music but also generates business activities for producers, recording studios, sound engineers and venues. In short, the grant has been a boon to the local music scene as a whole. Thus far, 15 such bands/artists have benefitted from this grant – including Celina Kimble, Gentle Bones and Gareth Fernandez.

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Fernandez’s debut eponymous EP was launched at The Barbershop by Timbre – a relatively tight venue (in terms of space) – but that didn’t stop singer Fernandez, his four-man backing band The MommaShop (Sikai Goh – Keyboards/Organ, Titus Ng – Bass, Anson Koh – Drums, James Lye – Guitar), three-man horn section (Daniel Chia – sax, Vignesh Mohandasan – trumpet, Deric Tay – Trombone) and a duo of backing singers (Tok Xue Yi & Andrew Mark Oh) from bringing the (Arts) house down with a scintillating display of sinewy soul-R&B prowess. The sound throughout was fairly competent when considering the challenge of 10 persons on stage to deal with and there was hardly any issue with the sound that got in the way with a full and complete enjoyment of the show in front of us, the audience (which consisted mainly of hip and trendy twenty-somethings, include well-known local musicians like The Sam Willows, Joel Tan (aka Gentle Bones) and members of hot indie bands like Stopgap and Take Two).

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The show opened with the crowd parting like the red sea and the band making a dramatic entrance resplendent and looking sharp in their suits before Fernandez made his way to the stage. Drawing mainly from the songs off his debut EP and a couple of choice covers, it was all systems go right from the moment Fernandez and band launched into a feisty Physical (also the opening track of the EP) which sounded more authentic than the recorded version when sans the cheesy electronic keyboards. When you consider how sophisticated the song arrangements tend to be, the talent and effort demonstrated by Fernandez and band was impressive.

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My personal favourite moments arrived with passionate renditions of Movin’ On and Northern Lights – songs imbued with the classic soul vibes of the 60s & 70s. The former had Fernandez engaging the audience with a call-and-response that all in attendance participated in whilst the latter brought the crowd to a collective emotional high (or low, depending on your perspective) with its fragile piano balladry and prayerful sentiment (“Come back home”). With well-worked covers from Allen Stone, Justin Timberlake and Sam Smith operating as appropriate fillers (in the absence of more original material), there was a welcome surprise with Heart Walls, an original explicably left off the EP – a suitably impassioned albeit heart-breaking rant about a severed relationship.

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And while it is accurate to pay due credit to the fabulous musicianship on display, the star of the show was Fernandez with his sparkling vocals, physicality, stage presence and casual banter, which won the hearts and souls of the rapt audience in a manner that would suggest that Fernandez deserves to showcase his promise and potential on bigger stages in the future.

(Originally intended for TODAY newspaper)

Photo credits: Cherlynn Lian

Nov 232014
 
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Photo credit: Dawn Chua

Always a boon when given the opportunity to catch Singapore rockers in their element. AND when a good cause is the rationale behind the music event then it is time to pause and consider exactly what that cause is. For the organizers, it’s simple and clear.

Through our event, we hope to generate awareness among youths and reduce the stigma associated with people living with HIV/AIDS. Its time to change our perspectives and #RethinkAIDS!

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Nov 152014
 
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Photo credit: Jared Rezel/Symmetry Entertainment

The Singapore music scene is crying out for more small to mid-sized venues that can host brilliant artists that do not command the mainstream attention of an Ed Sheeran or a Pheonix. Beep Studios – located in Bukit Merah – operates mainly as a recording studio but has of late, been the location of great shows from Deafheaven, Deap Vally, MONO and last night (8th Nov), Wild Beasts.

The UK band is touring Asia and squeezed Singapore between Bangkok and KL and sounded no worse for the wear and tear. A good-sized crowd did not have to squeeze into Beep Studios but were entertained and thrilled by an excellent performance in fairly intimate settings. That is the beauty of a gig like this – it feels like the band is playing in a large living room!

The music of Wild Beasts (viz. Hayden Thorpe, Ben Little, Chris Talbot & Tom Fleming) provides a fine balance between indie rock and electro-pop with Thorpe, Little and Fleming adept at exchanging instruments so that different musical textures, timbres and approaches might be attained. Drummer Talbot was expert in coming up with intricate patterns that drove the ethereal tunes rhythmically.

The voices of Thorpe and Little (falsetto and baritone respectively) captured the attention of the rapt crowd brilliantly. Songs like “Mecca”, “Daughters” & “A Dog’s Life” highlighted these attributes succinctly and even though the pulse never quite quickened with the band’s chilled out groovy vibes, there was no denying the passion.

Thorpe made a little joke about not leaving the stage for the obligatory call-back (basically, the venue could not accommodate that aspect!) and so remained on stage to deliver the songs that would have been their encore. Which was fine and removed the usual awkwardness about the encore’s artificiality. A lusty “Wanderlust” turned out to be the high point of the gig for me, as the performance concluded. Overall, the perfect venue for a mesmerizing sonic experience.

Thanks to Symmetry Entertainment for making this review possible. 

Nov 012014
 

MicahOlsan

There’s much to admire on this new EP from Micah Olsan & the Many. According to his bio, “Micah has been an active performer in the Midwest music scene for the last seven years. His diverse songwriting takes folky storytelling, interlocking guitar parts, and passionate, soaring vocals and places them smoothly on top of a funky, jazz and world-infused rhythm section. Micah’s writing draws on influences from Paul Simon to Radiohead and the Talking Heads.”

Certainly, tracks like “Trouble” and “All Around” will appeal to the punters who love trawling blues-rock pubs with the songs’ authentic roots demeanor. One to consider. Check it out at Bandcamp.

Official Site

Oct 262014
 

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It’s easy to get a lil cynical about Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters‘ marketing their upcoming new album Sonic Highways by way of a eight-part documentary series on HBO. But the cynicism will evaporate when one watches the first episode as Grohl and co record in Chicago and proceeds to pay tribute to the Chicago musicians who made a difference – from Buddy Guy to Cheap Trick to Steve Albini to Naked Raygun. This is done with a love, respect and fervour that demonstrates once again that Grohl has his heart and soul in the right place – he’s one of us…

Check out the complex yet visceral opening track from Sonic Highways, “Something From Nothing”….

Oct 252014
 

JoieTan

Singer-songwriter Joie Tan, with her debut single “Stay”, wants the romantic feelings expressed therein to be shared with like-minded listeners. Inspired by her own personal emotions regarding her real life boyfriend, “Stay” is a simple plea in song from a girl to a guy who she wishes will stick around. Check out the heartfelt music video below (with its When Harry Met Sally vibe).

Purchase “Stay” from iTunes.

Oct 172014
 

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GONE GIRL
Directed by David Fincher. 
Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris & Tyler Perry

When you are watching a movie, you want to like it – after all, you are spending time and money to watch the movie so… wouldn’t you want to like it? I find that increasingly, the more visual eye candy the movie throws my way, the more amenable I am to accept the story flaws that inevitably crop up. But in the case of Gone Girl – director David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best selling novel, there are no special effects to distract from the plotline and thus, one would think that it would be easier to determine how successful the story-telling was.

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Oct 172014
 

BarrBros

There’s quite a fair bit of country music out there that’s popular but sadly, it’s mostly Top 40 mainstream pop fare that never challenges the mind and instead panders to the lowest common denominator. For something more cutting edge in the country music sphere, we need to continue to look at Alt-Country. Thankfully, that aspect of country music is still thriving (creatively, if not commercially) and one prime example can be found in Sleeping Operator, the sophomore effort from the Montreal-based Barr Brothers (viz. Brad Barr, Andrew Barr, Sarah Page, Andres Vial).

It’s always a wondrous experience when an artistically-minded band blends country with rock ‘n’ roll to produce soulful music that leaves the listener satisfied. To these ears, songs like “Wolves”, “Even the Darkness Has Arms” and “Half Crazy” recalls the likes of Steve Earle, The Jayhawks and even early WILCO – a wonderful evocation of Gram Parsons’ Cosmic American Music. The melodies glide effortlessly and the exotic instrumentation complements the same perfectly to send sympathetic listeners into country-folk-pop-rock bliss!

Official Site

Thanks to Nick Whitcomb for the recommendation!

Oct 152014
 

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Y’know I am always griping about how pop-punk all sounds the same but of course, that accusation can be leveled against any music that stays within its constrained ‘genre’ limits. Case in point – Rhett Walker Band. The band unashamedly describes itself as a Southern Rock/Christian Rock group and its new album – Here’s To The Ones – actually opens with a sermon snippet before launching into the rousing blues anthem “Clone”.

The rest of this album stays true to type, more or less, which halfway through is a bit too much unless you are a diehard fan of Southern Rock (or a bible thumper). There are good instances of country-folk-pop on view – the title track is a breezy delight and “Love Like Jesus” was probably written with worship bands in mind – but overall, Here’s To The Ones will only appeal to the converted, which is a pity.

Official Site

Oct 142014
 

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Just downloaded the new Thom Yorke album – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes – via BitTorrent. And it was totally legit. Yorke has, in the recent past, condemned streaming sites for exploiting artists and thus it was interesting to find out that Yorke is using a BitTorrent site to sell his album. The digital album is US$6 and the bundle comes with 8 tracks and one video (of single “A Brain in a Bottle”). The single and video are available for free – as a teaser presumably for the album. Check it out at https://bundles.bittorrent.com/

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GEEK OUT! DRACULA UNTOLD

 FILM  Comments Off
Oct 072014
 

DRACULA UNTOLD
Directed by Gary Shore.
Starring Luke Evans, Sarah Gordon, Dominic Cooper & Samantha Banks.

There was a time Dracula was portrayed as a monster. Nothing suave or romantic about him, for sure. But of course, in these modern times, the vampire has become a sex symbol and Dracula is the King of Vampires! Eschewing any reliance on Bram Stoker’s classic storyline, the producers of Untold have opted instead to create an origin story for Dracula set in the 15th century. A good idea that has seldom been examined in the movies but sadly, the execution is an absolute letdown.

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DISCOVERED @ SPOTIFY

 MUSIC  Comments Off
Oct 032014
 

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Couple of recommended new releases you should be listening to at Spotify.

AMPLIFIER – Mystoria

This Manchester hard rock band has been around since the late 90s and their 5th studio full-length is a wonderful distillation of 70s classic rock that include knowing references to Black Sabbath, Genesis, Rush & Pink Floyd. Tastefully done to emphasize both melodic and metallic aspects, this is one of the kind of rock music that should be getting more attention in 2014! Singer-guitarist Sel Balamir is the main attraction here as his vocals and superb guitar work takes center stage in every single track. Check out “Magic Carpet”, “Cat’s Cradle” & “Crystal Anthem” for maximum rock ‘n’ roll!

CHRISTOPHER OWENS – A New Testament

This is good old fashioned country gospel music that one is unlikely to hear on the hip and cool playlists in 2014 – until now, of course. Kudos to Owens for breaking away from the crowd with this gorgeously authentic tribute to classic country-folk/R&B gospel. A New Testament (typically religious reference from Owens) is evidence that there is plenty of goodness to mined from classic pop-rock, especially in the right hands. One of the albums of the year, no contest!

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I really don’t give a shit about what ‘genre’ a band/artist is considered to be a part of, I only need to know one thing – is the songwriting any good? Well, Dark Waves (aka Nick Long) certainly possesses the songwriting chops to keep my attention on its debut eponymous EP. ‘Memorable melodies & appropriate arrangements’ is always my mantra when it comes to assessing music and virtually every song here fits the bill. I am truly digging “The Heartbeat The Soul” and “Echo” immensely. Keeping a close eye on Dark Waves…

… still there’s more …

Oct 012014
 

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As you can see from my blurry pictures, the Biltmore Cabaret was absolutely packed and rocking for Glass Animals last night. Playing songs mainly from their lovely debut LP - Zaba – the quartet hypnotized the young-ish audience with its dynamic mix of indie pop and EDM vibes. Everything seemed to happen in a slo-mo trance as frontman Dave Bayley bedazzled the crowd with tasteful melodies & sharp guitars whilst the insistent groove keep the momentum going into 7th heaven. Songs like”Black Mambo”, “Gooey” & “Walla Walla” had the kids in dance extacy!

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Sep 292014
 

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Singapore born and raised hip hop duo Trick blew the crowd away at Hood Bar and Café with a fast tempo heady rushed of lyrics. Supported by AMPed and hosted by Gerald Koh, the place was teeming with girls who were trying to catch a glimpse of their idols. Often resembling Jay Park and T.I., the duo threw the crowd off their feet with covers such as “Ringa Linga” by Taeyang.

Trick showed us how covers should be done, as lyrics were being changed to fit their personal styles into the songs. It is not something which every band is doing hence making them unique.

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Keeping the crowd “Up All Night”, with hits such as “BPM” and “The Life”. My personal favourite was “BPM” as the high energy level brought out the essence of the song together with the hypnotic groove which left the audience sashaying their hips away.

To commemorate their success, champagne bottles were popped and a cake was being presented upon to the duo by die hard fans. Some lucky fans were fortunate enough to have themselves sprayed with champagne by Richard.

Ending their set with their latest single “Sunshine” an acoustic strip down approached was being adopted. The audience were certainly in for a treat as they smiled widely when the performance drew to a close. Excited fans started to flock to the meet and greet both to have their photos taken with Trick.

Trick certainly gave it their all as they interacted with their fans, whose live set was a dynamic blast of  pop music that remained engaging throughout.

Photographs by Cherlynn Lian – www.onefiftythree.com

Thanks to SONY Music for making this review possible. 

(Nikita Wong)

Sep 282014
 

Directed by Omori Tatsushi. 
Starring  Eita, Matsuda Ryuhei, Maki Yoko, Masatoshi Nagase, Kora Kengo, Maro Akaji, Omori Nao, Iwasaki Miku.

Caught this excellent Japanese movie’s world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Brilliant story telling in a matter of fact style. The plot itself started out slowly enough but once the key factors were introduced, the movie felt like an emotional roller-coaster in slo-mo. Actually, the 2nd movie of a trilogy, Disconcerto revolves around the antics of odd couple Tada (Eita) and Gyoten (Ryuhei) as they try to come to terms with their past and deal with the pressing issues of the present.

Director Tatsushi keeps the sophisticated narrative simple whilst revealing details about the lead characters bit by bit. There is an inherent sadness in both leads that impacts their actions. Significantly, their individual plans are interrupted by little children, a lesbian couple, a cult, protesting old folks and the Yakuza! Despite all that, the duo still manage to plough through life in their inimitable manner.

But ultimately, it is the relationship between Tada and Gyoten that anchors the movie well – in this respect, one can look forward to the next installment of Tada’s Do-it-all House with anticipation.

Sep 282014
 

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My first indie gig in Vancouver was at the Future Sound Club and by the time I got there, Smash Boom Pow – 2nd band on the bill – were already on stage. This young band certainly has some intriguing ideas – at some point even blending blues rock riffs with post-punk structures – but certainly the songwriting has much room for improvement. Nothing too memorable about most of their music although there was clear potential evident.

The headliners for the night – The Oceanographers – were definitely popular with the crowd. Although somewhat generic post-punk revivalist, there was also sufficient melodic development in their songs to suggest that the quartet had the promise of more sophisticated work ahead. Frontman Clayton Dupuis certainly had the cheekbones for the part and played the part of focal point credibly as the band led the frenzied crowd through danceable post-punk numbers that at least provides them with a strong foundation for further improvement. One to watch out for!

… still there’s more …

Sep 252014
 

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THIS IS HARDCORE

My first proper gig overseas went without any hitch whatsoever. Got a nautical wheel stamp on my inner right wrist to indicate that I was on the guest list! (Well, it was the Neptune Theater). The Neptune was a small venue with ornate trimmings and classical ambience. Stained glass images of gods and goddesses of the sea. Arrived early and was actually carded (!) as the floor was meant for ‘+21′ only!

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Opening band Cymbals Eat Guitars started at 8pm in the dot and played a lively 30-odd minute set punctuated by energy, passion and musical endeavor. Playing mostly songs from the new LP, LOSE, the crowd was suitably impressed and for me the final two songs viz “Jackson” & “Laramie” were outstanding with singer/guitarist Joseph D’Agostino and drummer Andrew Dole, the focal points. Definitely a band with tremendous potential as their style mixes up decades of rock & pop influences intelligently. I would love to see them do a full set in Singapore!

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Of course, all of us were waiting for the legendary Bob Mould and I daresay nobody was disappointed with his visceral delivery of melodic alt-rock that spanned the decades from Husker Du, Sugar and recent solo material. Right from the get-go with the triple punch of “Flip Your Wig”, “Hate Paper Doll” and “Changes”, you just knew you were in for a wild ride. The crowd went ape shit as young and old in the audience moved along to the high energy hardcore punk and sang along to those catchy tunes. What a killer combination – no exaggeration to describe Bob as a godfather of grunge (on equal footing with Neil Young) or a seminal influence on a slew of 90s bands that came in the wake of Husker Du (including Nirvana & Foo Fighters).

Backed by the amazing rhythm section of drummer Jon Wurster (Superchunk) and bass player Jason Narducy (Verbow), there was no stopping the intensity and dynamism emanating from stage as Bob, Jon and Jason managed to present old and new songs as a coherent whole – fast, loud & infectious. Thus, brand new instant classics like “I Don’t Know You Anymore” had no problem whatsoever blending in with legendary tracks like “Makes No Sense At All” (a blistering encore song).

But for me, the most memorable moment arrived when Bob slowed things down with “Hardly Getting Over It” (from Husker Du’s Candy Apple Grey) where Bob beat Neil Young at his own game – a feedback drenched country-folk ballad that sent chills down my spine and tears into my eyes. Truly incandescent. Bob sent everyone home happy with an obscure Husker Du cover of the Mary Tyler Moore theme – “Love is All Around”. There was little doubt in my mind that we were in the presence of a living rock n roll legend – thank you Bob Mould!

Thanks to Jesse O’Connor/Tell Your Friends PR for making this review possible!

Sep 212014
 

On track #2 of BRONCHO‘s new album – “Class Historian” – the band unleash a hook so infectious it should be illegal. There is something indefinably timeless about the song even though it exists firmly within the post-punk revivalist milieu. I supposed it is impossible for bands like BRONCHO not to wear evoke the sound of their influences even if it is somewhat second-hand Arcade Fire by way of Interpol. At its most basic, BRONCHO parlays a generic fuzzy guitar-driven rock style into a indie pop structure that is at once familiar and unique – if that is at all possible. With Anglophile baritone vocals, drone-like bass, rudimentary mid-tempo drumming – it’s hard not to dismiss most of this album as an exercise in Velvets mannerisms but it’s hard to argue with the appealing nature of the tunes of “Stay Loose” and “Kurt”. I guess you could say that this 2014’s version of a guilty pleasure – a Bon Jovi for the post-punk set. (Dine Alone Records)

Sep 192014
 

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My first ever indie gig in North America! It might have been a modest affair at the LoFi Performance Gallery in Seattle but there was genuinely exciting music making going on in this low key event. It was $6 at the door and the crowd in attendance was sparse on a Wednesday night but there was no mistaking the passion the three bands had for their music.

I was particularly impressed by The Crush, who actually sounded even better as a live outfit! A very tight performance marked out by Jacob’s astute guitar playing, Daniel’s timely drumming & Kira’s stage presence. And the songs were good fun – flavored with melodic color and powerpop flair – the kind of wonderful pop music nobody seems to make anymore. Jacob worked his red Rickenbacker perfectly, optimizing its use with Byrdsy arpeggios, Paul Weller crunch & Mike Campbell virtuosity – a handy package to possess! Guess you could say I have a crush on The Crush! Haha!! (Facebook)

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Sep 192014
 
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Stephen Christian by Aloysius Lim

I often use observations at gigs in Singapore to comment on how things have changed. And this final show of Anberlin’s in Singapore certainly revealed a lot about how far our indie music scene has come. I first saw Anberlin in 2007 and whilst the crowd then was exuberant, that show did not come close to the excitement displayed by the audience at TAB last Friday (12th Sep). In addition, the opening band this time round – Caracal – were rapturously received by an audience that easily accepted a local band on stage unlike say 7 years ago when local bands were tolerated at best as a necessary evil.

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Caracal by Aloysius Lim

By the large, the main takeaway from this was the obvious mutual love between band and its audience – almost every song was sung in gusto, moshing broke out every and then & at the very end, the band was presented with a fan-made video that brought everyone in the venue (especially the band) to tears. All very sentimental, you will agree, but considering that Anberlin consists of men in their thirties (by and large) and is not a bunch pre-pubescent K-pop boys, the adulation is commendable.  That Singaporean indie rock fans are able to make an emotional connection to a band beyond basic functionality proves that there is indeed hope for the future of arts and music appreciation in our formerly cultural desert of a country.

Kudos to everyone who made this performance a smashing success. Take a bow!

Thanks to Upsurge Productions for making this review possible. 

PoP RECOMMENDS: PUGWASH

 MUSIC  Comments Off
Sep 182014
 
Pic by Ger O'Donnell

Pic by Ger O’Donnell

If like me you are besotted with classic pop and love the music of The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, ELO and XTC, then my question to you is – why aren’t you listening to Pugwash? And if this is the first time you have heard of this awesome Irish band, then your timing is impeccable.

A Rose in a Garden of Weeds: A Preamble Through the History of Pugwash (to be released on 23rd September) collects songs from the band’s 1999 origins through the present day and when placed together in one place like this, is probably the closest a classic pop fan will get to heaven in 2014.

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It is impossible not to fall in love with perfect pop songs like “Be My Friend Awhile,” “Apples,” “Answers on a Postcard,” “Fall Down”, “It’s Nice to be Nice” and so on and on and on. These 17 tracks constitute some of the finest pop music made since the new millennium and deserves as much attention as possible, if there’s any justice left in this cruel world.

I was lucky enough to catch the band live last year in London and believe me, it’s a wonder to behold. That Rickenbacker sound, those harmonies and infectious tunes will have you singing along in no time, unfamiliarity be damned! So check out the US tour dates below to make sure you don’t miss out on the fun, PoPies!

Check out the video for “It’s Nice to be Nice” below…

Sep 092014
 

DSC_7935_3 COMA. NeoDominatrix. In Each Hand A Cutlass._Final

New local promoters LivePOD got off to a great start as it brought to our indie scene, an instrumental rock event (at Hood Bar) that not only championed an acclaimed regional act – COMA – but also showcased our very own talented bands viz In Each Hand a Cutlass and NeoDominatrix.

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