FALL OUT BOY – LIVE IN SINGAPORE

Singapore Indoor Stadium, 10th February 2009.

Pete Wentz it seemed needed a hug last night. During Fall Out Boy’s appearance at the National Indoor Stadium he seemed at odds with the other members of the band, or them with him. It was odd to see a band so well known for their tongue in cheek attitude appear to be so solemn. I have seen Fall Out Boy before on the tour for their first major album From Under the Cork Tree and the band that greeted me last night was a very different one to back then. The wide eyed and youthful playfulness was replaced with a much more serious and focused act. Not that this detracted from their performance at all, Fall Out Boy were as tight and solid as ever, displaying the arsenal of songs that has taken them from underground Emo/Punk clubs to the Stadium tours that they fill today. 

Starting with Thnks Fr Th Mmrs from 2007’s Infinity on High album, the band ripped through a set of both old and new material and worked the crowd when it was needed, calling for the audience to join in on the obvious sing along parts and playing each song with vigor. Patrick Stump’s guitar playing and vocals never fail to impress, and he was in fine form last night. Picking through This ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race and Nobody puts Baby in the Corner, the singer faltered rarely and delivered his vocals superbly. At one point there was rare interaction with the crowd from Stump when he thanked them for helping him remember some lyrics when his guitar dropped out of tune and he forgot the words. Stump usually leaves talking to the crowd to Wentz and it was nice to hear him speak, despite Wentz’s snide comments to the front man when this occurred. 

The crowd was treated to a cover of Kanye West’s American Boy before bursting into Sugar Going Down and also played Michael Jackson’s Beat It. One thing of note was the amount of material the band played from their previous albums; this outweighed the songs from their new one Folie a Deux. They did play the lead single from the album, I Don’t Care, this saw the lights on the stage dropped and LED effects appear on the bands instruments which was both fun and entertaining to watch. Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes made an appearance, a song the band admitted they had not played many times live, and also American Suitehearts which is one of the more melodic songs from their latest album.

Fall Out Boy closed with Saturday from their 2003 debut album Take This to Your Grave. It brought to a close a very good set that certainly had many sections of the crowd pleased with what they had witnessed. It was at this point that Wentz handed his bass over to the guitar player from support group Hey Monday and decided to fling himself into the crowd for that much needed hug. Despite the best efforts of security, and even a stage hand who literally tried to rugby tackle him, Wentz dived into the sea of hands and took a good five minutes to find his way back out again, knowing that at least Singapore loves him dearly.      

(Adam Gregory)

JEREMY JAY

 

JEREMY JAY Slow Dance (K)

There’s nostalgia, there’s referencing, and then there’s full out anachronism-baiting. Jeremy Jay’s sophomore album, Slow Dance, left me in a bit of a shock from the get-go. Swirling synthesizers and echoing drums…I did a spot of bewildered googling to make sure Kevin hadn’t pulled a fast one on me and sent me an obscure retro album. His promotional pictures didn’t do much to clear matters up: the fella dresses like he stole his dad’s chuck-away clothes and teenaged hair. The 70s pop stylings even extends to the font used on his album cover. I think it’s quite safe to say that Jeremy Jay isn’t exactly the most suitable frontman for Generation Y. 

Jay might have possibly upped the record’s accessibility factor if he could have married the quirkiness of the era with modern-style pop melodies, but unfortunately he seems to have inherited the fashion and none of the innovative, elegant spirit that characterized that time. Jay’s apparently received rave reviews, but listening through the half-hour long record, I found little to sustain my interest and change my initial opinion of him as a retro revivalist throwback act. For all its nostalgia, Slow Dance lacks the wit and invention that characterized the groundbreaking times of the 50s, 60s and 70s. 

To be fair to Jay, the record picks up towards the end with a few moments that worked for me, such as the soft piano breakdowns and high-school prom grooves of Will You Dance With Me, and the disco-inspired riffing on Breaking The Ice. But moments of magic alone do not the good record make; there is a certain discipline that is lacking amongst the self-indulgent retro wallowing of Slow Dance. 

My biggest complaint, apart from the secondhand Cure riffs and juvenile rhymes, would be the production sound on this record. Jeremy Jay really does himself no favors with today’s music-listening audience with the Martin Hannett and Joy Division aping. In 1979, the spaciousness was revolutionary and groundbreaking. In 2009, Jeremy Jay just sounds hopelessly dated.

Slow Dance sounds too much like a disparate combination of elements from the past few musical eras, but crucially ignores the most important era of all: the present. Strictly for fans only.

(Samuel C Wee)
Check out Jeremy Jay’s Myspace page.

ORPHAN SONGS

 

ORPHAN SONGS Self-titled (Self released)

There’s a certain plaintive brilliance to the way that these Scandinavian singer-songwriter types curl around the words of the English language. Just listen to this line taken off the debut album of Orphan Songs, the vehicle of Swedish musician Carl Otto-Johansson: “There were dragons there, of course/ and a million dollar horse/and a girl with pretty hair/and an endless flower bed.”  Maybe it’s the fact that English is not their first language, but there is a certain brevity and genius of juxtaposition to these words that feel alien yet familiar at the same time.

Otto-Johansson himself is the ex-frontman of Swedish band Eyedrop, and Orphan Songs is the introspective, introverted aftermath of their break-up as reflected upon by Otto-Johansson. One would expect an album written and subsequently developed under such consequences to be melancholic, mid-tempo and pensive. You’d be half-right with that assumption, but then again you’ll miss out far too much of the subtleties on this record. It’s much more wonderfully diverse than one would expect.

The record consists mainly of acoustic-guitar based pop melodies, with the occasional piano or harmonica colors bleeding in. Second track Dream On is one such perfect example, low-key and dreamy with a whiff of Americana. The Land Of The Free itself is mentioned on America, a depiction of America as the liberty fable it is for children in a Morrison meets-Rattle And Hum Era U2 number. 

Track six on the listing finds Black and White, all pearls and falsetto chorus with a tinge of blackness and spiritual depth. There are a few fillers here that feel more monotone than mesmerizing, such as Accidentally and Rosemary. The moments of magic that occur, though, do brilliantly to lift the album.  Standout track here, The Young and the Brave, is one such example. It isn’t so much streams of his consciousness as yours, and you’ll find yourself murmuring along presciently without looking at the lyrics sheet as the song builds towards a driving crescendo of shimmering, stirring goodness. 

It has to be said that Orphan Songs is not so much a collection of paintings as it is sketches. Otto-Johansson’s lyrics are evocative and impressionistic instead, and one is more likely to call to mind moods, colors and emotions that lush soundscapes while listening to this record. That’s okay. It’s a record that at times meanders and would probably have been better for a bit more discipline and a shorter track listing, but that’s okay too. This is a record made for those rainy nights and afternoons when everyone is out and you settle down with a warm cuppa. 

(Samuel C Wee)
Check out Orphan Songs’ Myspace page.

LUNAR NODE

LUNAR NODE Exploring Unknown Territory Ep (Wallwork)

Instrumental rock music escapes me somewhat, especially if there’s no properly discernible melody line. Alright, so who says, any music needs to have a melody line, in the first place? Granted, you could have a collage of sounds and call it experimental music, if you like.

But that’s not what new S-ROCK band, Lunar Node, are about. Taking its cues from Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky et al, Lunar Node, similar to other S-ROCK instrumental bands like I Am David Sparkle and Amateur Takes Control, strives to create mood, atmosphere and an emotional connection sans lyrics.

Consisting of Daniaal, Asyral and Gerald, Lunar Node formed a year ago to – in their own words – “create music that would connect people through eclectic and emotive sounds”. Well, listening to their debut Ep – Exploring Unknown Territory – I’m not quite sure if the band has achieved its stated goal, right off the bat, but by all accounts, it has certainly tried its best to.

As with any music composed mainly of guitar effects and smashing cymbals, the five songs here tend to bleed into a indistinguishable whole and thus, eclecticism may be hard to attain. Sounding very much like 60s psych rock (Syd-era Floyd), 70s space rock (Gilmour-era Floyd) and 90s shoegaze (Ride, Chapterhouse), the songs on this Ep never stray too far from that template to produce fairly engaging music. My personal favorite is the closing Voiding the Negative, with its cascading guitar appregios and explosive percussions which build up to a satisfying sonic crescendo and ultimate climax.

Not the finished product, by any means, but it should be interesting to observe where Lunar Node move on from here. 

Check out Lunar Node’s Myspace page.

If you’re interested to know more, come down to the launch of Lunar Node’s Ep on 7th Feb (this Saturday) at 8pm at the Arts House.

MARYKATE O’NEIL

MARYKATE O’NEIL Underground (71 Recordings Collective)

Last year’s mkULTRA Ep was a tasty appertiser for the main course, Underground, and by all accounts, its a sumptous feast! Underground (MK’s third album) encapsulates all that is wonderful and delightful about pop music. And when I use the term “pop”, I am talking in the classic sense, as in the kind of music that the world lapped up from Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Carol King, Laura Nyro et al, all those years ago. 

Thus, the eleven songs on Underground bear testimony to MK’s grasp of melody, reverential pop sense and literate lyricism. Whether intentional or not, Underground can be split into two halves. The first five songs are sophisticated, smart pop that combine technical brilliance and instinctive coolness. Tracks like the smooth Green Street (last heard on mkULTRA with the line “And I lived back in the village/Where there’s no more any sign of Dylan” prominent), the melancholy Easy to Believe At First, the countrified Nashville (resplendent with its Harrisonesque slide guitar), the provocative Saved (where MK protests against being judged), the Nyro-Rundgren channeling Mr. Friedman (and perhaps my favorite of the lot) and song #10, the Honeys produced by Brian Wilson influenced One Thousand Times A Day.

The rest of Underground tends to a little more folky, with MK’s acoutic guitar high in the mix, whilst MK either tugs at your heart strings or challenges your thinking processes. The wistful Me, the Bee and the Miner, the strident title track (“I don’t wanna leave the underground” the declaratory statement of intent), the pleading Attention, the twangy Joe Jackson cover – Different For Girls and the closing So Long, a loving tribute to the late great George Harrison – “I have found religion/I follow the sun/I don’t care a smidgeon what you are/Or who you have done”.

Simply magnificient! An essential for 2009.

Check out Marykate O’Neil’s Myspace page.

Here’s the music video for Nashville. Enjoy!

LADY GAGA

LADY GAGA The Fame (Universal)

In the CD sleeve, new dance pop sensation Lady GaGa thanks Andy Warhol, David Bowie, Prince, Madonna and Chanel. And listening to her hit debut album, The Fame, its the influence of Madonna that comes across strongly. Yes, you can’t mistake the 80s vibe that permeates this highly commercial effort. 

This former Interscope staff songwriter has taken a bold step into the limelight and is credited with co-writing every single song on The Fame. Nothing exceptional, I might add, the music is a typical modern mix-up of hip-hop R&B, electro-dance-pop with emphasis on the groove and hooky choruses, notably on Poker Face, Eh Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say) and Just Dance.

The lyrical concepts are also typically aimed at the groin primarily. Here’s a sample – 

“I wanna take a ride on your disco stick” (Lovegame)

“Need a man who likes it rough” (I Like It Rough)

“Let’s go see the Killers and make out in the bleachers” (Boys Boys Boys)

Disposable teen fare? No doubt. 

The Singapore edition includes Disco Heaven as a bonus track.

Check out Lady GaGa’s Myspace page.

HERE WE GO MAGIC

HERE WE GO MAGIC Here We Go Magic (Western Vinyl)

To call Here We Go Magic a band is a pretty loose term, yes they consist of three members and appear under one name, but the real driving force and creativity behind Here We Go Magic is Luke Temple and this band and album are pretty much him just under another name. Brooklyn born Temple is joined by Baptiste Ibar on bass and Peter Hale on drums but this appears to be purely for touring and live purposes, there is no doubt that this is Luke Temple’s ideas and creation.  

Originally trained as a painter and mural artist, Temple soon took a transitional stumble into music and found his true calling. Releasing his debut solo album, Hold a Match for a Gasoline World, in 2005 he showcased his undoubtable talent as a songwriter and musician. This followed with more success on his 2007 album Snowbeast, which gained awareness from a wider audience when Make Right with You featured on Grey’s Anatomy (the show responsible for Snow Patrol being EVERYWHERE during 2006).

Starting with Pieces, Here We Go Magic instantly brings to mind comparisons with Paul Simon, it has a very tribal, looping beat that repeats, layered with simple vocals that sing nothing more than a single sentence. Much of the album is like this and it works very well, creating a structured clutter of instruments for the listener, just enough that it doesn’t become too crowded or claustrophobic. Temple produces a truly interesting and unique sound, parts of the album did remind me of the whole psychedelic rock/folk sound of MGMT but you don’t get the impression that he is trying to jump on that band wagon. Fangala, the most instantly striking song melodically on the album, breezes along like a daydream, making it impossible for you not to tap to the beat and drift off beyond the walls of your room. Ahab starts with a bluesy and gritty riff mixed with softly sung, haunting vocals, truly demonstrating how varied Temple’s sound is. He is not content with staying on one particular track and delights in deviating from it. 

If I had one criticism of Here We Go Magic it would be that it does lull after the first four songs of the album. The beautiful Tunnelvision is followed by Ghost List which is an atmospheric and haunting song containing no words or beat, just sound effects and distortion. This much slower pace continues right up until the concluding track and I felt it could have been broken up with the bouncier tracks at that start. When the album does come to conclusion though with Everything’s Big you are not left disappointed from the experience, the song feels my head with images of Paris and a misty morning walk along the Seine for some reason, it is a very stripped down song compared to the rest of the album and more simplistic in it’s structure and could almost be from another artist. This is Luke Temple’s gift though and what makes Here We Go Magic work, the fact that his influences and creativity is so wide and varied. 

(Adam Gregory)

Check out Here We Go Magic’s Myspace page.

BORIS SMILE

 

BORIS SMILE Beartooth EP (Count Your Lucky Stars)

Fronted by the vocals and guitar of A. Wesley Chung, Boris Smile are a collection of musicians (eight in total) and a whole community of friends who make guest appearances on their work. Based in California, their Beartooth EP offers a short but sweet sample of their music and what they have to offer. 

Opening track Beartooth (Spooky Version) is a mix of acoustic base, driven bass and machine gun drumming building to a conclusion of spooky backing harmonies. The real issue I have with this track is the vocals, there is no doubt that singer Chung has ability but the chorus is just so off key it is to the point of distracting. He repeats the words Bear Tooth and it is almost painful how Chung wanders and struggles to deliver the line. I am not one to criticize singing, I have not got the most angelic and powerful voice myself, and I can understand how in the slacker folk rock genre this is seen as appealing, but it is just not for me. 

Later tracks however do not suffer so badly from this problem. Hour of the Wolf is a melancholic and soulful song with emotional vocals and excellent female backing that really compliments the main hook of the song, Everybody loves you but yourself. It is bordering on Emo but my eyes refrained from rolling because despite this it is a very good song. 

Tut Tut is definitely the one song on the EP that made me sit up and really listen. It is a beautiful song full of melody and a cacophony of sound and instruments that draw the listener in. I had images of a Friday evening when listening to this song, knowing that the working week is done and your mind can finally concentrate on meaningless and stress free thoughts, with the troubles of the world sliding away at least for a couple of days. 

The last track on the EP, Books with Blank Pages, is quite an ironic title because the song almost feels like a non-event. It passes by without any real significance. It is a difficult song to listen to though after the previous song Program Me to Love which is an amusing robot love song about a synthetic being wishing for the emotion of love, the song skirts on the side of being too cheesy for it’s own good but just manages to save itself from disappearing over the edge.  

Beartooth EP is certainly an interesting collection of songs and shows a lot of potential. I am not completely convinced that Boris Smile will be a permanent fixture in my record collection but I am sure that there will be days that I will revisit this EP and perhaps find more to like about it, despite Chung’s vocal style and sometimes more cringe worthy moments. Will I await a full length album with bated breath? Not likely, but I certainly will give it a passing glance to see what this band is capable of with a larger scope of material to showcase. 

(Adam Gregory)

Check out Boris Smile’s Myspace page.

JESSIE KILGUSS

JESSIE KILGUSS Nocturnal Drifter (Self released)

“I consider all of the arts to be interconnected and think there is fluidity in the boundaries between them. Many of my favourite singers started out in some other artistic discipline; Joni Mitchell with painting, Leonard Cohen as a scholar/poet, David Bowie as an actor…” – Jessie Kilguss

Classically trained actress turned singer, songwriter – Jessie Kilguss’ Nocturnal Drifter is the second album, following Exotic Bird.

This Brooklyn singer’s sultry, husky, intoxicating vocals command the tone on each track.  Collaborating with production team Super Buddha, this feast of echoes, question-like harmonies, emphasize her vocal and lyrical foray into the likes of one of her idols – Mitchell.

The first track Gristmill captures you with the easy, cabaret-like atmosphere as Kilguss laments about life in a densely populated city with savvy, lyrical flair. This is then followed by the post-rock beats of Americana, again beautifully weighed by the soulful plea of Kilguss’ vocals.

Almost all of the ten tracks on this album showcase a different character being channelled to tell a story and to Kilguss’ credit – done seamlessly and without a hitch in the flow of the desired plot. A testament to tapping into the creativity of being in character with her training as an actor and painting the desired backdrop and tapestry of each piece with her talent as a songwriter and her unique voice.

You’ll be able to find at least one track, if not three, that you’ll relate to, just because it’s been delivered to you in a manner you can’t resist nor deny. Mine would be 31.

A tidbit that made me smile: She lives with her canine companion: Mr Walter Peanuts.

(Charlotte Lourdes)

Free Download: A Little Place Behind My Eyes

Check out Jessis Kilguss’ Myspace page.

DRIVING ON CITY SIDEWALKS

DRIVING ON CITY SIDEWALKS Where Angels Crowd to Listen (Red Plane/Count Your Lucky Stars)

“Driving on City Sidewalks was formed out of a genuine love for music…” according to Barry Mielke of this two piece Ontario band.

Their EP, courtesy of Red Plane Records and Count Your Lucky Stars is titled Where Angels Crowd to Listen and it is an emotion-driven album with a heavy emphasis on psychedelic post rock-infused guitars and raw vocals on some of the five tracks.

For someone who started recording music in his basement about a year and a half ago, the journey of the band seems to be a story out of a fairytale. Actively promoting their music on MySpace and being discovered by a French Label – Red Plane Records, both Barry and Darryl have set their sights on moving ahead with their brand music.

The track that stands out on the EP in my opinion would be Farewell to knowing it all. A 9 minute offering that leads with dreamscape-like soft guitar notes and kicks up the intensity by more than a couple notches with a steady flowing rhythm of crash cymbals and cranking it out in the final two minutes with brazen, heavy guitars.

This is definitely one not for the masses but the beauty of it is held in the originality of its offering and in the quiet stirrings of the story being told. 

An interview featuring Barry is featured on Stereosubversion.

(Charlotte Lourdes)

Check out Driving on City Sidewalks Myspace page.

LARS HORNTVETH

LARS HORNTVETH Kaledoscopic (Smalltown Supersound)

Much is to be said when time has to be scheduled to listen to an album. It’s been a long time coming and that is what Kaleidoscopic had me doing.

Kaleidoscopic is the follow-up to the critically acclaimed debut album, Pooka, by Jaga Jazzist and The National Bank leader Lars Horntveth.

Comprising of one composition spaced out in 36:47 minutes, Kaleidoscopic can be very easily labelled as cinematic – One can’t help but see various scenes play out before your eyes as the strings and horns blend and bleed from one emotion to another. Guided by 41 members of the Latvian National Orchestra led by Norwegian conductor Terje Mikkelsen, with Lars himself playing piano, horns and clarinets – your senses are immersed in the electro-tinged ambience, orchestral carpet rides and a frantic race to a place only you know.

This album is above all an auditory trip that harnesses a listener’s visual power – a little frightening even but beautifully seamless as the shifts and switches in moods with key instruments, paint your inner world with a touch of noir, epic and vast horizons, tranquil and forest-lush hideaways, and even a simple side walk at dusk, with just a pluck of a harp. My favourite ride on this journey began at the 27thminute mark –  strings and Horntveth’s own piano playing wrap up the trip over the final ten minutes. An album that will be savored by any ardent fan of visual music journeys.

(Charlotte Lourdes)

Check out Lars Horntveth’s Myspace page.

CAW! CAW!

CAW! CAW! Wait Outside (Slanty Shanty)

A young band that starts off playing punk-influenced, textured rock and roll before expanding their canvas and horizons to include dreamily ambient, atmospheric experimenting?  We’ll ignore the obvious temptation to reference the four lads from Ireland here and instead tell you that underneath all the alien-sounding pyschedelia is a very well-honed pop sensibility that ensures the record remains firmly rooted in Planet Earth-style accessible melodies. Besides, Caw! Caw!’s brand of experimentation is much closer sonically to the art-rock of Radiohead anyway.

The record opens with a little patch of outer space and twinkling star guitars coloring the soundscapes on Escape The Red Giant, before rollicking drums intrude and set up the song for the entry of lead vocalist Tim Tsurutani’s half-whispered, half-drawling lyrics. It’s followed by easily the catchiest track on the album, Organisms, one that deftly blends indie-style sonic colors and irresistible tunefulness. Wrapped Up Neat In The Bible is equally catchy and cosmo-spacey, but towards the end of the track there is some truly virtuso screeching-guitar work that would make both Eric Clapton and The Edge proud. 

There’s some really solid songwriting on display here, but at the same time an unconventional approach to song structure that will keep you on your toes, such as on the rocker number Work, which is probably the closest thing to modern radio alt-rock you’ll find on this record. Penultimate track Rotten Ghost is a dark and brooding number teased onto a razor edge, and the album closes on the sprawlingly gorgeous piece, Sheets. 

A gorgeously beautiful record at times and unbearably catchy at others, Caw! Caw! might be a bit too loose and unstructured for the mainstream, but one gets the feeling that something might be lost if they were to work within the confines and rigours of a traditional songwriting structure. Underneath the experimentation though, is a intuitive pop discipline that will definitely serve them well in future. A brilliant record worthy of every praise. 

(Samuel C Wee)
Check out Caw! Caw!’s Myspace page.

THE SAFES

THE SAFES Sight of All Light (Self released) 

There’s much to be said for doing some research about the album you’re about to review before you go into it at full volume. I say this because my eardrums are still ringing from the aftershock of being blasted with the raw garage-rock opening riffs of The Safes’ latest EP, Sight Of All Light. (In my defence, I was attempting to listen in on the dialogue of a particularly stubborn Youtube video earlier on my headphones.)

The brainchild of the O’Malley brothers trio, Sight of All Light is their fourth release and second EP. Clocking in at just around 11 minutes long, The Safes waste no time in getting to the point as title track Sight Of All Light sets the pace and tone for the rest of the record with a driving drum pulse and massive, ear-filling guitar power chords that wrap around the vocals in a very 1970s Cheap Trick manner. Second track Troublemaker doesn’t depart much from the opener as ringing distortion underline the harmonies on the intro, before settling into an abrasive repetitive format for the rest of the song. 

The rest of the EP can pretty much be summed up in the same few words really, catchy, hooky choruses on top of crashing power riffs that leave no space for breathing. It’s hardly as boring as that description might suggest, mainly due to the length of the EP itself. The unprepared listener might come out shell-shocked after the 11 minutes due to the breakneck frenetic intensity at which The Safes plow through the songs, but a few repeats on the playlist will offer up some rewards as one begins to notice the subtleties and layers that cleverly underline the songs. The Sky Is Falling is one such track that will offer up its secrets upon revisitation.

A rather good record that grabs you by the scruff of the neck on the first listen and demands you stay for the rerun. 

(Samuel C Wee)

Check out the Safes’ Myspace page.

THE ORGAN

THE ORGAN Thieves (Mint)

I hadn’t realized that when I previously wrote about The Organ with respect to a free download at RCRD LBL that they had split up in 2006! So, I was a little surprised (but very pleased) to receive the all female band’s final Ep, Thieves in the mail from Canadian indie Mint Records recently. Seems the story is that after the breakup, Debora Cohen, guitar; Ashley Webber, bass; Shelby Stocks, drums; Jenny Smyth, Hammond organ and Katie Sketch, lead singer; went back into the studio in 2007 to complete certain recordings the band had started before the demise of The Organ. The result of which is this truly excellent Ep, which only makes you wonder why this wonderful post-punk-influenced band is no longer making music together.

Anyway, fans of intelligent, multi-layered post-punk should at least be thankful for the existence of The Organ’s swan song. Songs like the opening Even in the Night, with its intricate instrumental interplay and Katie’s doleful & melancholy singing is a wonder to behold. Sure, it hearkens back to post-punk but presented in a unique manner. Same goes for the ironic jaunty Oh What A Feeling, the tweeful Fire in the Ocean (reminiscent of Felt’s finest moments) and the rustic Don’t Be Angry. 

I must really find out what these gifted ladies are up to right now cos the power of this Ep cannot stop here. Will keep you boys and girls posted of any new post-Organ developments.

Check out The Organ’s Myspace page.

LITHOPS

LITHOPS Ye Viols! (Thrill Jockey)

More esoterica from Thrill Jockey comes in the form of Lithops’ new album. This time around, Jan St. Werner (who is Lithops) has collected a selection of installation soundtracks from several recent exhibitions. How apt! It’s basically industrial noise without much context. There are no chords or melodies, whatsoever, and it would be no exaggeration to say that Ye Viols is an acquired taste. 

That said, the tracks do have distinctive character and mood and probably would make more sense with a visual element. I figure that it would provide good background “music” for studying like Pink Floyd use to do. Except that Ye Viols will not put you into a dreamlike reverie. The dissonent percussive sounds are a little harsh and there is precious little sweet and light to be found but if you enjoy experimental music, then this is right up your alley.

Check out Lithops’ Myspace page.

U2

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U2 Get On Your Boots (Universal)

It begins with a generic fuzzy (bass) riff, Bono sings a generic melody line that takes its cue from Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues before getting slightly off the ground with a Arabic sounding middle eight. Nothing ground breaking, merely sufficient. Lacks the verve of the best songs from the last two albums. If this is the lead single, then I’m concerned about the rest of the new album.

Listen to Get On Your Boots at Last.fm.

BON IVER

BON IVER Blood Bank (Jagjaguwar)

Is this four-track EP a follow up to last year’s masterpiece For Emma Forever Ago or an extension of it? To these ears, the latter description seems to be the accurate one. Simply because the title track is allegedly taken from the same sessions that spawned Emma but never released. Well, not only that but the recordings on this Ep possesses similar sensibilities to Emma in that it contains sparse instrumentation and Justin Vernon’s now familiar falsetto. 

Despite these songs having apparently been performed by a band rather than Vernon on his own, the Ep does not sound too different from Emma and in many ways, you could add these four tracks to the end of Emma and not notice any difference. Both album and Ep highlight a strange collision of acoustic and electronic sounds, vocal manupilations and odd soul-folk combinations. Which sets Bon Iver apart from say, Coldplay despite sharing certain common qualities. 

I mean, you could never imagine Coldplay something as experiemental and yet heartfelt as Woods with its bizarre acapella choral effect. It’s probably the best track on the Ep with its ghostly evocation allied to a soulful delievery. The rest of Blood Bank is par for the course – the title track’s classicist folk-rock, the austere stripped down Beach Baby and the piano-drenched Babys – keeping fans happy but not really building on the goodwill generated by that excellent debut.

PIT ER PAT

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PIT ER PAT High Time (Thrill Jockey)

What to make of bands like Pit Er Pat? This multi-instrumentalist quartet – Fay Davis-Jeffers (vocals, piano, guitar, kalimba), Rob Doran (bass, vocals, guitar, electronics) and Butchy Fuego (drums, vocals, percussion, electronics/programming) – eschews conventional pop-rock songwriting in an attempt to come up with a unique sound and voice.

Judging from the instruments used on this – the band’s third album – electric kalimba, bobo balaphone, Burmese temple gongs, agogo bells, anandolohori, cuica, timbale, conga, bongos, vibraslap, various shakers, bells, chimes, claps, and melodica (I don’t even recognise most of these instruments, never mind what they sound like!), it’s obvious that High Time is not going to be an easy ride for the uninitiated.

Thus, let’s just say that the esoteric music of Pit Er Pat is an acquired taste in the extreme. But if you’re looking for something different and something more challenging than your usual three chord wonders, then you might want to check out High Time. It’s not easy to draw reference points although in terms of approach, you might find some affinity with the more experimental songs of The Doors and Love and in terms of the modern music scene, perhaps Beirut, Joanna Newsom and Blonde Redhead.

You might even call it left-field world music filtered through post-rock sensibilities but I’m sure even that description will not do any justice to this charming and inventive music. 

Check out Pit Er Pat’s Myspace page.

STARS – LIVE IN SINGAPORE

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ESPLANADE CONCERT HALL, 7th January 2009

It’s a rock concert cliché, really, an oft-familiar sight at rock concerts: the applauding, adoring crowd lifting a wall of adulation around the triumphant homecoming rock band heroes. Nothing out of the ordinary, right? To paraphrase Paul Celan, rock music is a sort of homecoming. What made this particular scenario different, however, was that the baffled but very much thrilled rock band on stage hailed from a town 9200 miles away from the venue of the concert. 

To tell the truth, I didn’t really rank myself as a Stars fan when I decided to attend this concert together with Kevin. I had heard of them, sure. How they started off doing ambient, melodic electronica before discovering the art of actually playing instruments on their 2005 breakthrough album, Set Yourself On Fire, and how they’d garnered themselves quite a fanbase overseas as their fame steadily spread. Still, they only existed on the fringes of musical consciousness before then. Which was why I surprised myself when I accepted Kevin’s offer to attend the concert with him. 

It’s been said that the audience is a rock band’s most crucial instrument. Stars certainly appeared to have taken that maxim to heart as lead vocalists Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan worked the crowd into a storm throughout the concert by throwing roses into the audience. Initially there were some technical issues pertaining to the sound, which resulted in the very odd sight of Campbell running off stage during Amy’s vocal turns to shout instructions to the sound technicians.

No technical problems, however, could keep Stars from the audience that night. The audience was enthusiastic and positively overjoyed from simply being present at the concert, and their enthusiasm was infectious as the band replied stirringly in kind, producing that certain sort of magic to a live performance of a song that studio performances can’t achieve. Thus it was so that numbers such as Ageless Beauty, The Night Starts Here and Calendar Girl transformed from the quietly mesmerizing tracks they are on the various albums into positively ethereal experiences that spellbound the audience into closed-eyed singalong abandon. In fact, it was almost a religious experience, transcendental in the degree of surrender the audience trusted to the band, as Kevin remarked midway through.  As the band launched into a gleeful performance of Elevator Love Letter, I felt every inch of cynicism and apathy within me melt away and willingly gave myself over to the infectious singalong chorus.

One moment defined the concert for me. Midway through the encore performance of Calendar Girl, Torquil embarked on his own personal Lake of Genesareth moment, falling into the audience feet first. The clustered crowd at the front of the stage willingly carried him out of the stage as he walked unsteadily upon the uplifted palms of the crowd members. 

He reached the seated areas, and did not stop. As the band played on the hypnotically captivating bridge of the song, Torquil waded further into the crowd, every step on the seats of the audience a relentless invasion and attack on the distance between the band and the audience. “I’m alive,” he screamed, the soft hook from the song transforming now into a statement of intent and a declaration of faith in the audience.

It’s oddly contradictory that the distance between the audience and the performer is only as long as the link that binds them together: music. The size and sweep of the music performed can be crucial to how closely a band connects to an audience. But in that one perfect moment, as Torquil tilted his head back and howled a wordless cry of grace, gratitude and carthatic emotion at the audience that reached out at him with outstretched hands, they were together as one in that sweeping anthem of perfect intimacy. 

“We are Stars, and so are you,” proclaimed Torquil just before they left the stage for the last time. It was a statement that rang profoundly true in more ways than one. 

(Samuel C Wee)

From my vantage point, it was clear that Stars were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm that swept over them like a tidal wave from the sell out crowd. Torq joked about having lost a $100 bet that the audience would be composed of Canadian English teachers rather than true blue Singaporeans and that probably summed up the delight and surprise at moving over a 1000 tickets in Singapore.

But that is the power of the internet, surely, indeed, the power of pop! 

Initially, I was shocked by the shoddy sound and perhaps the band was affected by that challenge as well as Stars opened their set a tad tenatively. But once they got into their collective stride, there was no stopping them. With each succeeding song intro being drowned out by the crowd’s besotted response, it seemed that there was an electric exchange between band and audience (that frankly is not that common in Singapore) that swell into a crescendo of mutual adoration. 

Live, Stars were a harder edged proposition than their elegaic recordings would suggest. I personally enjoyed the strength of their melodic hooks in songs like Take Me To The Riot, What I’m Trying To Say, Elevator Love Letter, Undertow and of course, Ageless Beauty. Incandescent moments. This is a concert that will live long in the memory.

ANI DIFRANCO – LIVE IN SINGAPORE

ANI DIFRANCO Red Letter Year (Righteous Babe)

It’s about a month to go before Ani DiFranco’s concert in Singapore (10th Feb) and I figured it was the appropriate time to share with you my thoughts on DiFranco’s 2008 record (and her 18th overall), Red Letter Year. Touted as DiFranco’s most lush and orchestrated work, Red Letter Year does recall the best recordings of such folk-rock luminaries such as Michele Shocked, Suzanne Vega, Bruce Cockburn and of course, Joni Mitchell. 

Which means, that DiFranco’s acoustic guitar is low in the mix and full band arrangements are the order of the day. That doesn’t mean that DiFranco has gone soft or ‘sold out’. Not when songs like Alla This contains a couplet like – “and I can’t support the troops, cuz every last one of them’s being duped” – hard hitting, for sure. The acoustic does come out for the motherhood-centric Present/Infant, where DiFranco sings – “But now here is this tiny baby/And they say she looks just like me/And she is smiling at me with that present infant glee/Yes, and I would defend to the ends of the earth/Her perfect right to be, be, be, be”. See, no mellow, sentimental gushing nonsense, new mother DiFranco is as strident as ever.

Or what about Way Tight, a powerful description of DiFranco’s relationship with her current life partner – “and I tell you what there is plenty wrong with you, stuff you’d sooner fight for than cop to but I think it’s just more reason why we are meant to be. People say I look like you and you look like me, we get this crazy combination of everything and nothing right. We are way way way way way way way way way tight” – sung to the gorgeous trad-folk guitar performance. Then there’s the religiously zealous defence of the Atom – “I have this great great uncle/Who worked on the atomic bomb/He got a nobel prize in physics and a place in song and I bet there were no windows and no women in the room when they applied themselves to the pure science of boom” – funny and yet awfully preachy at the same time.

Sure, it’s about the lyrics and concepts, not to mention the intricate and ornate instrumentation but the centerpiece of Red Letter Year, is DiFranco’s vocals, which is at turns warm, angry, joyous and loving, that manages to rein in the contrarian strands of environmental, anti-war, anti-religion, feminist and political rhetoric that permeates this intriguing album. 

Tickets for Ani DiFranco’s concert are available from SISTIC.

Check out DiFranco’s Myspace page.

CUT OFF YOUR HANDS

CUT OFF YOUR HANDS You & I (Frenchkiss)

The post-punk epoch (basically 1978 to 1984) was a fecund period in rock history. These years are special to me personally because I really started listening seriously to rock music during this precious era. But of all the bands that flourished during this time and beyond, the Cure is one post-punk outfit that I could never get into. To date, in fact. But it is impossible to deny that perhaps, apart from Joy Division/New Order, U2 and the Police, no other post-punk band has been as influential on the modern rock scene as the Cure. 

Case in point, Cut Off Your Hands, hailing from New Zealand but now based in the UK, a post-punk revival band that has been making waves and creating buzz with their hyper-kinetic, highly danceable & irresistibly tuneful indie pop music. Three Eps (viz. Shaky Hands, Blue on Blue and Happy As Can Be) have all been well received by critics and fans alike. Part of the secret behind COYH’s success is their partnership with producer (ex-Suede guitarist) Bernard Butler, which has been working since recording Blue on Blue in 2007.

You & I does not disappoint. Whatever the label, this debut album is chock full of eminently listenable pop songs that resonate with verve and playful melodicism. It’s hard to pick favorites because all the tracks are equally strong but if pushed, I would say that the quietly provocative Someone Like Daniel, the poppy single Oh Girl, the vibrant Let’s Get Out of Here and the strangely Spectoresque Happy As Can Be are the tastiest delights of this sonic buffet. 

A very early contender for a place on the 2009 best albums list already…

Check out Cut Off Your Hands’ Myspace page.

THE CORNER LAUGHERS

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THE CORNER LAUGHERS Tomb of Leopards (Sandbox)

Cartoons on the cover? Check. Scintillating colour scheme? Check. Mandatory animal reference? Check. Mandolin? Check. Syllable-balanced song titles? Check. 

It doesn’t take a Nobel laureate to figure out what kind of music to expect the second you glaze your peepers over the cover of Tomb Of Leopards. Pretty much all the twee pop stereotypes are fulfilled amidst the quaint vector artwork. Fortunately, the music showcased in the album is anything but nondescript.

Tomb Of Leopards is a jaunty reinterpretation of a genre that, as I’ve always maintained, has already been jaunted all the way back to an age where “merry” was still a perennial adjective. No mean feat, considering the saturated nature of the genre. 

Managing to maintain the characteristic upper register cheeriness of a twee pop record, the group catapults the genre into modern relevance by subsumption of numerous unexpected elements into their distinctive sound. Treading the fence between unsullied knelling and raw energetics, they have managed to strike a very gratifying balance between glee and melancholia.

You want proof you say? Check out See You In Hell. Yes, it IS a happy tune. Now slow down, take a deep breath, and review the title.

One musical anecdote I particularly enjoyed off the album was the growling, Page-esque guitar solo in the postlude of Biological Sense, which very tastefully succeeded a bluesy refrain of lost love built upon threadbare Mandolin chords. It isn’t easy to incorporate these themes into a sad pop song without dragging along their affiliated clichés, according further testament, in my book, to the group’s very discernable talent.

An excellent release that’ll probably stay in heavy rotation on my playlists this year. Highly recommended.

(Sherwin Tay)

Check out The Corner Laughers’ Myspace page.

BON IVER

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BON IVER For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar)

I suppose technically, this should have been in my top ten albums list except that I kept thinking it was a 2007 release and that I had reviewed it before. Wrong on all counts! So better late than never.

So what is it about Bon Iver/Justin Vernon’s lo-fi experiments into indie-folk-pop that has got music bloggers everywhere all excited? Well, it just sounds so refreshing and so diffierent from the majority of the crap out there trying to pass of as alternative or indie. 

Despite the austerity of the production, there is so much going on in these lo-fi recordings that one could listen to them again and again and still hear something new. For me, it’s the way the Justin Vernon uses his voice – whether as falsetto, tracked to death or good ol’ country-folk larynx. 

Flume and Lump Sum encapsulate everything that is vital and gorgeous about this album – the brilliant harmonies on Flume’s chorus (not to mention that guitar string ringing) or the unforgettable melody (one that Macca himself would be proud to call his own) and heavenly choral effects of Lump Sum.

The rest of For Emma, Forever Ago keeps the momentum at a high. The fragile beauty of The Wolves (Act I & II), the immersing vocal envelope of Creature Fear and the jaunty, Neil Young vibe (think: eponymous debut) of For Emma make for an intense ride. If you love the ethereal magic of Van Morrison, Nick Drake and Jeff Buckley, then you just cannot ignore Bon Iver.

Check out Bon Iver’s Myspace page.

SLOAN

SLOAN Parallel Play (Murder)

Canadian powerpoppers have been honing their pop craft since the bad old days of grunge. Having been mistakenly lumped with the likes of Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam after their debut Smeared, the band would go on to dispel any misconceptions about where their musical allegiances lay. 

Seven studio albums later (not to mention fame & fortune in their homeland), Sloan remain a bit of a secret cult treasure in the USA and beyond but that has not stopped them from producing some of the finest classicist pop-rock albums of the last decade or so. 

After the 30-track extravaganza of Never Hear the End of It (2006), perhaps its understandable that Parallel Play – clocking in at under 38 minutes, is Sloan’s shortest album ever. As usual, the 13 tracks on Parallel Play are individually brilliant exercises in guitar pop par excellence, and collectively a shining example of how 70s classic pop-rock can still be relevant and viable in 2008.

From pop punk (Emergency 911) to powerpop (Cheap Champagne) to Stonesy R&B (Believe in Me) to jaunty piano rock (Witch’s Wand) and to even cheesy reggae (Too Many), Sloan reiterate their mastery over guitar pop forms to deliver an album that every fan of good old fashioned rock ‘n’ pop music will delight in.

Check out Sloan’s Myspace page.

THE SPINTO BAND

THE SPINTO BAND Moonwink (Park the Van)

Happy vibrant pop that is at once angular and nuanced, borrowing heavily from psychedelic rock and music hall. In that respect, The Spinto Band recalls the work of the Kinks, XTC and Blur. In the modern rock milieu, the Spinto Band shares much in common with Of Montreal. 

The Spinto Band have been recording artists for more than a decade and still their innocent embrace of quirky and jaunty pop show no sign of abatement. Moonwink is chock full of energetic outbursts of sound, childlike tunes and whimsical arrangements, which includes a wide array of instruments eg. timpani, horns, church organ et al. Exciting and fun material is the order of the day for the Spinto Band with Moonwink, nothing too serious, anything to make you jump around and smile!

Check out the Spinto Band’s Myspace page.