HEARTS OF PALM UK

HEARTS OF PALM UK For Life (Hypnote)

The first thing that strikes you upon listening to Hearts Of Palm UK’s debut album, For Life, is how magically infectious the melodies are. The second thing that one notices is the effort that has been put into coloring the songs with lovely cascades of synthesizer loops and keyboard patterns, as well as the brooding basslines that serve to ground the album. It’s a lovely marriage of the best of electronica and typical indie quirkiness, with a lingering bitter-sweetness that come from songwriter Erica Elektra’s nakedly honest lyrics. 

The album opens with a beguiling shimmer of synth loops on the quirkily titled People and Logistics, set beneath Elektra’s dainty vocals. Second track I Flow breaks away from the delectable candy of People and Logistics, but holds its own with an infectious chorus and drum-machine hooks, as well as a certain folksy rawness in the lyric.  

There are gems to be found throughout the rest of the album too, such as Kavorka, a tasty salad of juicy synthesizers and yummy harmonies, sprinkled with an endearing Seinfeld reference, and Goodbye, a bittersweet reflection on the end of a relationship with a melancholic undercurrent. Erica Elektra delivers a versatile performance throughout the record, alternating from ingénue-like girlishness that is reminiscent of Camera Obscura to the lower-register somberness hinting at traces of Stereolab. 

For all the superlatives I’ve showered on them so far, though, the album has its duds as well, with the forgettable Trust, Open Letter and Jonathan FMF. The band’s cover of Roxy Music’s More Than This is averagely competent and likeable, but treads too much clichéd ground to truly make an original statement.  If I wanted to be picky, I could possibly pick up on the album’s lack of lyrical depth as well, but to do that would be rather like accusing The Beatles of shallow songwriting on Please Please Me. 

Overall, it’s a wonderfully melodic debut that sparkles and shines with a likeable charm and twinkling with invention. In the grander scale of things I suppose it has its flaws, and I would like to see more of that political edge hinted at on their MySpace page, but I’m not complaining. This is a marvelous album for all you music-lovers out there with a sweet tooth. 

(Samuel C Wee)

ODi

ODi A Superman EP (Self released)

ODi’s Claire Odium has a attention grabbing voice. Listen to Odium singing on headphones and I guarantee that you will be enthralled. I sure was/am. 

Her songs are simple and folky, embellished with pointed fret play and warm strings arrangements and that voice. This EP features three new songs and a couple of live recordings of previous cuts.

The title track contains atmospheric guitar work from Dave Redfearn (the other half of ODi) and certainly out-emotes any song from that hit Coldplay album. What I Deserve is closer to the popular wave of British singer-songwriter material that the likes of Damien Rice has fostered. But Tears and Wine is my favorite. Just Odium and guitar, unadorned. The chorus is a little predictable but Odium pulls it off with tenderness and heartfelt expression. 

ODi’s music is available from Myspace and iTunes.

THE PRESENT

THE PRESENT World I See (Loaf)

You know how sometimes when artistes get into really extreme territories with their art of expression and end up getting lost in their own world so much that they forget the very audience that they sought to communicate with?

That is perhaps one of the dangers that musicians such as Rusty Santos has to risk every single time he picks up an instrument or sits on the producer’s throne (For the uninitiated, Rusty Santos is a producer of works such as Panda Bear’s Person Pitch, and Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs, which has brought him high acclaim).

His latest project, The Present, with long time friend and fellow musician Jesse Lee, and the enigmatic Mina, has seen the release of its debut album, the improvisational World I See, which is described as a piece that “tramples on musical boundaries and preconceptions, whilst leaving an album that is still capable of relating musically and emotionally to a wide audience”.

Now, if you think Santo’s prior works were far out, one would be forgiven to suspect he is holding back his punches. World I See is unexpected and unpredictable: six tracks of sonic possibilities stretched out a million light years, peppered with a lots of delays and dribbles and drums that sound almost shamanic in vibe. Perhaps the closest relation is his experimental works on “Eternity Spans”, and even then I would say I am forcing the comparison.

The first track, Heavens on Ice, speaks heavily about what is to come. A 13-and-a-half minute sonic journey laced with lush atmospherics that transcends between urban, to electro-tribal ish, to sci fi, and to a more familiar indie-tinged experimental (which is what Santos is known for), it is perhaps my personal favourite track in the album. Other noteworthy tracks include Love Melody, a lucid, bizarrely poignant piano lead track, and “Symbols on High”, another atmospheric ambience to indie tinged piece, quite similar to Heavens on Ice albeit less complex in its build up. In fact, I am honestly fighting myself from saying that ALL of them are as noteworthy.

That being said, fair warning to say that this record is NOT an easy listen. One has to approach it by taking in the improvisational context of its production. That approach will help to appreciate the album better, almost like putting on 3D glasses. It is through those “lens” that the music becomes surprisingly ear candy even!

I will not go so far to say that the album is ground breaking. Groundbreakers usually find immediate success despite its unconventionality. World I See fails to achieve that palatable serving status. But if you are the type who enjoys the exotics, then “World I See” can perhaps be very fulfilling consumption.

Bon appetit! 

Still not convinced? Check out The Present at their Myspace.

(Armen Rizal Rahman)

READYMADE BREAKUP

READYMADE BREAKUP Alive on the Vine (Self released)

To describe Alive on the Vine as a powerpop album is misleading. That description is pretty far off the mark. Sure, there is quite a bit of classicist revisionism going on in Readymade Breakup’s sonic agenda but it is also informed by modernist tendencies. In any case, in this day and age of everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approaches, Readymade Breakup’s focus on the latter-day Beatles’ approximation of country-soul-blues-rock perfected by the Band is admirable.

So Readymade Breakup reaches right across the late 60s, rustic, twangy and guttural evoking the shadows of Paul McCartney, Robbie Robertson, Jimi Hendrix, Alex Chilton and Van Morrison with songs of distinction and potency. Thus, fans of Bruce Springsteen, Nils Lofgren and the Hold Steady will warm to the ragged glory of One By One, the nervous tension of Honey, You Might Be Right, the ethereal vibrance of “Talking to Myself” and so on.

Repeated listens to Alive on the Vine will reveal a multitude of goodness, believe me, this is rock music rooted in history and tradition and yet, fresh enough to keep the fists pumping and the feet moving.

DENI BONET

DENI BONET Last Girl on Earth (M.R2)

I’m actually surprised by how stridently 80s this album sounds. Not necessarily a bad thing. Bonet postulates an eclectic 80s sound, rounding up the influences of Talking Heads, R.E.M., the Pretenders (she even name checks Chrissie Hynde on I Want To Get Arrested) and the like.

Yes, unfortunately the recordings do possess that glossy, day-glo 80s production values as well but what mixes things up and makes it all that more interesting is Bonet’s fiddle. Which, when it does appear, might distract from the fact that melodies are a little too obvious for comfort. 

At best, I suppose you could say that Last Girl on Earth is middle of the road alt-rock. Hmm, a conundrum. That said, I really do like the folk-rockin’ drive of Is This A Test?, the nasty back-biting Hynde-channeling How Far Can I Push You? and the epic balladry of the title track (the full band version).

SPRINGHOUSE

 

SPRINGHOUSE From Here To OK (Self released)

After 15 years, this 90s shoe gaze band returns with a new album. This time around the effects pedals have been left at home and in their place the melodic quotient has been amped up. From Here To Okay will be released in October in a limited edition (550 copies) CD and free internet download (Radiohead style – i.e. pay what you wish).

Springhouse consists of Mitch Friedland (guitars, vocals, keyboards), Larry Heinemann (bass, guitar, pedal steel) and Big Takeover editor (and a big writing influence on yours truly) Jack Rabid (drums, vocals) and From Here To Okay was recorded by the trio over a ten (!) year period and yes, it’s definitely worth the wait!

In fact, it’s probably one of the better song collections I’ve heard this year. It’s sharp, intelligent, eclectic pop-rock created by people deeply steeped in rock history. Sure, there may be certain “spot-the-influence” elements in much of the music here. But that’s what makes it so fun.

And this is most evident in the Zombies-Pink Floyd channeling opener Passion – the slide guitar break is spine-chilling. Conceptually, the song speaks to the art of music creation on how “Passion creates a song”. Does, in this instance. 

Moving Van is refreshing jangle-pop that references the Who by way of Guided by Voices and might be something criminally left off Matthew Sweet’s magnum opus, Girlfriend. (Listen)

No More Yesterdays is mature folk-rock number that might have originated from the 80s British post-punk scene e.g. Josef K, Orange Juice, Aztec Camera etc.

Never Impossible is fashioned in the Nick Drake style – Pink Moon being the obvious influence. Whilst Mercedes Marxist is a Kinks-Move-Syd Barrett 60s jaunty nugget which thoroughly succeeds.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not dismissing From Here To OK as being derivative – some of my favorite albums indulge in what Elvis Costello called “creative plagiarism” (with tongue firmly in cheek) and isn’t what the best POP music has ever done? 

From Here To OK will definitely be one of Power of Pop’s albums of the year and if that’s not a recommendation….

Stay tuned for more information on how you can get hold of From Here To OK. Check out Springhouse’s Myspace page.

PRIVATE JETS

PRIVATE JETS Jet Sounds (Sparkplug)

Swedish power pop has a great rep. Bands like Private Jets merely confirms why. Believe me, listening to this talented quartet, will leave you with a sugar rush. Throwing in every pop cliche in the book, from show tunes to Jellyfish riffs, enveloped with high-octane harmonies, toe-tapping rhythms, sensual chord changes and sweet sweet tunes, Private Jets don’t give pop junkies much of a chance of losing the habit. And the Beach Boys references are not limited to the album title – I mean, The Fire Academy contains jazz vocal arrangements that Brian Wilson himself would be impressed with. 

Elsewhere, you will catch the McCartney inflections (Jet!) on tracks like I Wanna Be A Private Jet, Speak Up, Speak Out and Starshaped World. If you’ve got the McCartney/Wilson camp on your side, chances are that the pop underground will adopt you as its own. Beyond that, I don’t know but anyone with a sweet tooth will find it hard to resist Jet Sounds.

Check out Private Jet’s Myspace page for more goodies.

YOU AND WHOSE ARMY?

YOU AND WHOSE ARMY? Misplaced (Self-released)

It’s a thrill and a joy when you witness a young band flowering and I’m glad that You and Whose Army? (viz. Bonk, Adam, Beni and James) have delivered on their early promise with a confident debut EP.

Fear

Compared to the live version (which is fairly one-dimensional), the opening track is a multi-layered mini-epic. From the acoustic guitar intro to the spine-tingling chorus harmonies to James’ blistering solo, this is a solid deep sonic accomplishment.

When Desire Strikes

A little quirkiness is always welcome and this song has its share. For instance, the guitar riff is intriguing to say the least and helps to lift When Desire Strikes from its overall melancholy tone. Good contrast. 

5min

I love bands to be as eclectic as possible. Here is where Bonk’s Bjork influences rears its (ugly) head BUT this post-punk obsessive is picking early Japan (which I’m sure YAWA have never heard of). Heh. Great counterpoints between electronics and electric guitar work. Not to mention to jazz fusion middle eight and the punchy rhythm sets it apart too. 

Ordinary is King

My fave YAWA song re-recorded. Hmm, maybe I’ve gotten too used to the Ballyhoo version but somehow second time around does not seem to do the trick. Seems a little lightweight and not as meaty. Not quite as driven either. Ah well.

Misplaced

Well, this song is notable for the band changing instruments (except for James) during performance. Away from the odd “gimmick” and taken on its own, Misplaced is revealed to be a strong and touching track. Nice jazzy flourishes with a rock-ish coda seals the deal. Really.

I enjoy EPs. I mean who listens to a complete album nowadays? 3 – 5 great tracks and you’re set and with Misplaced, you’re definitely set. Don’t miss out on this fairly limited edition. Get your copy now from the band at yawa.music@gmail.com 

Now!

EPICYCLE

EPICYCLE Jingo Jangle (Cirkle)

Sad to say but I believe that the powerpop genre has been going through a slump for some time now. With the odd notable exceptions, there has not been a genuine powerpop masterpiece this side of the millennium and even since perhaps Jellyfish’s Spilt Milk. 

That said, Epicycle’s new album Jingo Jangle comes pretty close, as close as ex-Jellyfish members Roger Manning Jr, Jason Falkner or Jon Brion have managed in any case. Consisting of brothers Tom and Ellis Clark, Epicycle has the requisite production know how, melodic chops and wacky sense of humor to pull off one of the better powerpop albums of recent times.

Apart from the obvious Jellyfish riffs, there is more than a touch of 70s pop-rock legacy in 12 memorable tracks (viz. Sparks, Todd Rundgren, ELO, ex-Beatles, Supertramp) to satisfy most powerpop diehards’ fancy. From the moment the opening harmonies, harpsichords and power chords ring out on 8-Track Mind, there’s no denying the sugar rush.

And the pumping adrenaline does not let up with the jaunty Girls Don’t Rule My World, the cod-soulful Randy Newman-channeling Goodbye, the creepy tongue-in-cheeky Tom Waits-baiting Ode to Branson, straightforward rocking X-Mas, the psychedelic-informed Syd Barrett-haunting Day for Night, the gorgeous Beatlesque Lazy Jane and so on and so forth.

Yeah, it’s been awhile but it certainly warms the heart and chills the spine to soak in such cool pure powerpop vibes once again. 

Jingo Jangle is out in September 2008 and available online at cdbaby and itunes.

Check out Epicycle’s Myspace page.

JACK & RAI

JACK & RAI In Stores Now (Self released)

Better late than never surely applies in the case of Jack & Rai’s delayed debut album. Originally slated for September 2007, the album is finally available and hopefully the pent-up anticipation will see the sales go through the roof. The duo certainly deserve it, after all this time!

Jack & Rai have been playing the Singapore pub and club circuit for a while now and they are certainly popular with pub-crawlers here. Whether on their own or with their band EIC, Jack & Rai are adept at entertaining any crowd with their interpretation of top 40 hits, on-stage banter and harmonic rapport.

What is not so well known is that the boys are accomplished songwriters in their own right. Which is showcased on this excellent debut. Review follows…

Beetle Girl

A smooth pop jazz number about a close encounter of the opposite sex. You can almost feel the class ooze from every note and chord. Sophisticated chord changes tumble and atmospheric synths swirl around what is very elegant tune. Excellent.

The Fa La La Song

The first song I ever heard from Jack & Rai got me hooked instantly with its easy way with melody and harmony. Commercial appeal is obvious and the boys have earmarked it as the first single off the album. Good choice.

Fiona

One of my all-time favorite Singapore tunes. No contest. Presented here in a power pop fashion which escapes most Singapore bands and features an irresistible chorus which echoes the Everly Brothers AND the Fountains of Wayne. Written from a distance for TV actress Fiona Xie. She should be extremely flattered… Should be played over the radio constantly.

Contemplate

As the title suggests, this is a contemplative ballad which find Rai in this element, utilizing his voice in the high register to good effect. As usual, the melody quotient is strong.

Us

It’s Jack’s turn for the thoughtful ballad as he ruminates about romances and love experience. Not as immediate as the rest of the album though.

Pixelated

This chirpy folk-rock treatise on long-distance relationships via videocam (hence, the title) contains a bright chorus that will have you bopping and singing along.

Hurricane

Ah, the piano ballad. Ambitious and never quite easy to pull off, Rai tries his best to convey the emotional core and by and large succeeds.

Poof

A sweet nothing kind of track. Both lyrically and musically. Not that it’s throwaway but it’s so breezy that you might actually be blown away if you get too caught up in the vibe.

Television Affair

Slightly heavier than the rest of the album, Television Affair comes across like Rolling Stones lite and 80s anthemic (think: Bryan Adams, John Cougar Mellancamp) which is a fair stomp live and will no doubt get you toe tapping.

Release Me

A plea for freedom presented in a sweet atmospheric chorus which references Coldplay, Radiohead and U2. Slightly more alt-rock than the rest of the album but an interesting effort that works.

Prophet of Universal Love

Rai imagines himself as a tongue-in-cheek authority on love with this easy listening paean. An excellent closer for a top notch album.

As it stands, In Stores Now, is an album with tremendous commercial appeal, chock full of wonderful melodies and cool vibes. A bit heavy on the ballads but I’m thinking that Jack and Rai’s target audience will thoroughly enjoy every emotion-tinged moment.

It’s been a long time coming but the wait was definitely worth it.

HANCOCK

As expected, the Will Smith super hero vehicle Hancock is receiving a mixed critical reception. But I am glad to report that I thoroughly enjoyed this Peter-Berg helmed film, much more than Wanted, I must say, despite all the attendant hype surrounding the latter.

By now, you should know the basic plotline – Hancock (Will Smith) is a alcoholic super hero who saves lives and fights crime but in the process causes a lot of property damage. Worse still, he has an obnoxious personality and so people hate him. Along the way, he saves the life of PR guy Ray (Jason Bateman) who offers to help Hancock on improving his public image. As a result, Hancock becomes a part of Ray’s life, much to the chagrin of his wife Mary (Charlize Theron), who seems to have some kind of unspoken connection to Hancock.

So begins Ray’s plan to rehabilitate Hancock which seems to be working like a charm when the twist arrives. Yup, halfway through the film you get the mother of all twists, which you will either love or abhor. I liked it cos it gave the film a resonance that despite its flaky premise plunges a beating heart smack into the middle of proceedings. 

I am not going to reveal what the twist is but I will say that the key to enjoying it is to accept without dissecting too much – this is a super hero movie, remember? People don’t fly in real life, y’know. 

Director Peter Berg does a great job in managing the tone of the film, be it comedy or drama or action or even all three. The three leads deliver convincing performances especially Smith who never plays the hero straight up but goes from belligerent and unreasonable to lost and confused to mature and determined in the course of this 92 minute film. 

Once upon a time, super heroes only exclusively appeared in comic books. But with Hancock, Berg and Smith have proven that it is possible to create an intelligent and witty super hero flick without having the ideas test-driven in a comic book first, which I believe is a good thing. Rather than bemoan the surfeit of super heroes at the movies, I celebrate it as what used to be a guilty pastime is now firmly in the mainstream. 

That said, I am not sure if some of the more tenuous concepts can be stretched into a sequel. But if Hancock makes as much money as I believe it will, then it will probably be inevitable.

FLYBAR

FLYBAR Scream Without Raising Your Voice (Self-released)

Half the year has come and gone and it is shaping up to be a good one for Singapore music. Last night I attended Flybar’s album launch at the Esplanade Recital Studio – thanks to the kind invitation of Ian and Ben –  and I must say that I enjoyed myself as the band treated the sell-out crowd to an entertaining show of good old fashioned classic pop-rock built around the influences of Oasis, U2 and Santana. 

The band was certainly at home on stage and made the atmosphere very casual – it felt like being at a family reunion. Maybe not very rock ‘n’ roll but the music made up for that and the audience lapped it up. Especially when multi-instrumentalist Jon Ong took turns to play lead guitar, viola, flute and harmonica – a handy guy to have in your band. 

Still raw around the edges, Flybar has the potential to breakthrough to the next level if the music on their debut album is any indication. Speaking of which, here’s the blow-by-blow account.

Unforgiven

I first heard this track on the radio and it was my introduction to the band. I must say that I was hooked instantly – it is a very good song. I love its Bond theme referencing, its Latin music phrasing, incongruent disco beat and its 60s Singapore pop channeling. Great start!

Bitchy Woman

Hahaha! How un-PC! I am picturing Marc Bolan/T-Rex and Mott the Hoople in my head but for the boys it’s probably the influence of Guns ‘n’ Roses and LA Guns that’s behind this rollicking glam rock number. A little by-the-numbers but good for a rave up.

Lose Control

Very 80s-influenced as the slinky funk vibe of INXS is evident here. The band has a definite sense of how to fill up their tracks with the necessary hooks. So, there is always the sense of familiarity but not too much to lose individuality. 

Dance With Me

A little too derivative of Oasis for my taste. The chorus isn’t too bad and you’ve got to admire anyone who works hard to deliver a tasty melody. Commercial appeal is not an issue, either.

Heaven Sent

This one has U2 written all over it. Which is fine by me as what modern band out there isn’t influenced by Bono and Co nowadays. That said, like Dance With Me, the song is functional enough but doesn’t quite move me.

She’s So Lazy

Apparently inspired by a friend who was too tired to go out for drinks after the Oasis concert, predictably it sounds exactly like the Gallagher brothers, although the harmonica is a nice touch. Charming in its (lazy) simplicity.

Mystery Train

The highlight of the album (together with The Unforgiven) and either pretty ballsy or crazy of the band to use such an iconic title for a thoughtful rumination on life. To be honest, it really sounds like something you might find on a CCM* record. I like the sentiment – “Cause you gotta write your own story/You gotta do what you can do and never worry”. A ballad that will have the girls swooning and the boys waving their handphones.

Amazing

One of those macho tracks designed to have women fall at your feet – guaranteed to put hair on your chest (or lip) and make you feel good to be a MAN. Sorry couldn’t resist… Not sure if this is really the band’s forte, I rather prefer when they’re being more subtle.

Beautiful Killer

Here’s a full blown nod to Santana. Listen to the chord changes and Jon’s guitar work if you’re not convinced. A ode to unrequited love. Probably the band’s best known number, certainly it comes across like it was written for the radio.

Live Forever

Now if you had any doubts about that Flybar worships at the altar of Oasis, here’s a song called Live Forever! So how come it sounds like a Cantopop number? Maybe its the cheesy string synth and the overall over-dramatic presentation. Whatever, Flybar tries very hard to make Live Forever the fist-punching anthem every stadium rocker aspires for and I’m not quite sure they succeed but I guess the ambition is paramount eh?

Exciting times for the Singapore music scene and Flybar has definitely put their own distinct mark on it with Scream Without Raising Your Voice. 

*Contemporary Christian Music

POP CLASSICS

 

BRIAN WILSON Smile (Nonesuch)

When Brian Wilson announced that he was going to finish Smile, I must be honest to say that I was highly skeptical and wondered who was the mean soul that was pressurizing Brian to revisit (reopen?) old wounds for the sake of commercial gain.

Also, I had my doubts – if Brian was not equipped to complete Smile at age 24, at the peak of his powers – how could he do so in the twilight of his life?

But, when I first heard Smile in its entirety albeit via a bootleg of live gig in London, I must confess that I cried.

He did it!

As David Leaf quotes Brian in the lavish album liner notes – “Our Smile dream has come true.” Indeed.

In the last 37 years, as the Smile legend has grown, his numerous fans have shared Brian’s dream of Smile and the fulfilling of this dream with this release is nothing short of a miracle.

Detractors have questioned, rather loudly, what the fuss is and have variously derided Brian and his fans. Well, their loss.

For fans of Brian Wilson, it’s always about how Brian’s music made us feel. No other songwriter of the rock era has been able to convey emotions through his music quite like Brian. 

And Smile is for the fan who has waited patiently to hear these songs threaded together into a coherent whole. Certain pieces have been re-interpreted from their more famous cousins. Notably, the mid-60s singles “Heroes And Villains” and “Good Vibrations.” Significantly absent (or perhaps less emphasized) is the much discussed Elements suite – in fact, “I Love to Dada” the famed water section has gone AWOL and somewhat submerged in the new “In Blue Hawaii.”

However, whatever your qualms may be on this development, what is indisputable is the sheer genius of the Children section with the truly awesome sequence of “Wonderful,” “Song For Children,” “Child Is Father To The Man” and “Surf’s Up” which demonstrates that ultimately the beautiful dreamer is really the child in all of us. Faith, hope and trust resides in our child-like belief that anything is possible –

 

“Surf’s Up!

Aboard a tidal wave.

Come about hard and join the young and often spring you gave.

I heard the word.

Wonderful thing!

A children’s song.

A children’s song – have you listened as they play?

Their song is love and the children know the way.”

 

Kudos must go to Jeffrey Foskett and especially Darian Sahanaja, who have been instrumental in helping Brian (and lyricist Van Dyke Parks, of course) put this unlikely masterpiece back together.

We will never know if this new Smile reflects in anyway what Brian intended all those years and in truth it doesn’t really matter – our Smile dream has come true!

 

JEREMY

JEREMY Yesterday, Today and Forever (Jam)

Jeremy Morris is one amazing guy. He is a prolific recording artist, owns his own record label (Jam Recordings) and is a talented singer-songwriter-guitarist-pianist equally adept at progressive, classical and power pop styles! Like I said – amazing!

Yesterday, Today and Forever is a loving tribute to Jeremy’s biggest influence – the Beatles – and whilst one may be justified in questioning the rationale of these faithful re-creations, there’s no denying the passion and care taken in putting this album together.

Jeremy’s song choice is also interesting – non Beatles tracks like John’s Love and Ringo’s It Don’t Come Easy – are featured but what is most intriguing is an original song called Revolution #7 (clocking in past 11 mins), which not only highlights Jeremy’s compositional and technical skills but also his Christian faith. That alone should give Beatles fans a jolt or two! 

And I was taking liberties when I described the songs as “faithful re-creations” – fact is Jeremy applies his own spin on the Beatles classics but as a hypothetical exercise – what if the Beatles had gone in a different direction but still quintessentially Beatlesque?

Thus, McCartney staples like I Will and Blackbird come across like John Lennon-helmed tracks and Good Night is re-imagined as a folk rock ditty. Jeremy also manages to redeem a Lennon-McCartney throwaway (given over to a George Harrison vocal on the Hard Day’s Night album) somewhat and re-jigs Harrison’s It’s All Too Much as a psychedelic rocker.

Probably one of the better Beatles tribute albums out there as Jeremy manages to maintain a consistent artistic core throughout. I would love to see a sequel to this wonderful album. What do you say?

YOUNG AND SEXY

YOUNG AND SEXY The Arc (Mint)

Songs framed in simplicity will always stand up on their own strength. This maxim I hold true. Case in point, the new album from Canadian quintet Young and Sexy. I have been blessed to have reviewed the last three Y&S albums. I found the previous Panic When You Find It an accomplished work. Glad to report that even by those high standards, Y&S have surpassed their own precedents with The Arc.

The best part about The Arc is its eclecticism. Between the twin vocals of Paul Pittman and Lucy Brain, the band flitters from alt-country to shoegaze and from baroque pop to prog folk. All presented in deceptively minimalist fashion which belies the depth and complexity of each song.

In the modern rock context, sometimes Y&S sounds like Fleet Foxes, sometimes The Decemberists and even Bon Iver or Joanna Newsom. Such is the sonic diversity Y&S have achieved. My personal faves are the ones which shimmer and tingle.

Like the opening Saucerful of Fire (with its gorgeous wall of vocals), the peerless (sorry) Peer Through The Lock (with Lucy Brain’s ghostly vocal delivery), the wide-eyed Step Inside (with its epic church organ), the haunting The Fog (with its unique time signature) and the bare-boned The Echo (with Pittman’s sincere pining over the chorus mesmerizing).

Certainly, The Arc is up there with the best albums of 2008 so far, notwithstanding the willful tangents of the instrumental The Shadow and the incongruent Spill the Sky. Still, Up in the Rafters provides an atmospheric country-folk ballad that closes The Arc beautifully with – “Prayed for a way home/My love is nowhere to be seen/Have I misplaced this love?/Or thrown it all away?”

Highly recommended. 

 

BRYAN ESTEPA

BRYAN ESTEPA Sunday Best (Popboomerang)

Sunshine pop, breezy acoustic guitars, high octane melodies and a sweet larynx set up Aussie singer-songwriter Bryan Estepa’s sophomore album quite nicely. Cool folk tunes abound e.g. Aches and Shakes, Different With You, Star and Worry Me None, which will certainly get you humming along.

Not that it’s all sweetness and light, there’s enough twang in tracks like I’m Going, Myself, Skipping Days et al, which highlight Estepa’s debt to the alt-country crowd and swing the mood into definite melancholy country territory. 

But a key milestone is the Beach Boys tribute to the youngest Wilson brother, Carl, an unusual choice in itself as I’ve come across numerous tributes to Brian and even Dennis (Fleetwood Mac’s DW Suite) but kudos to Estepa for giving Carl his props.

There are many parallels here with the new Gary Louris album and that can only be a good thing. A mature effort with a deep focus on song craft whilst never veering too far from the country-folk-pop format. What’s not to like? 

WEEZER

WEEZER “Red Album” (Geffen)

I once commented that Weezer has not made a bad album. Yet.

Not that the spanking new sixth (third eponymous) album by Cuomo and company is a poor one. What it is – unfortunately – is uneven and inconsistent, not terms one usually associates with Weezer. 

Perhaps this disappointing quality has more to do with Cuomo’s decision to grant his band mates a greater say in the make up of the material here. In fact, the second half of this so-called Red album features guitarist Brian Bell, drummer Pat Wilson and bassist Scott Shriner on lead vocals. Also, Bell and Wilson wrote Thought I Knew and Automatic respectively whilst Shriner receives a co-writing credit on Cold Dark World. 

I’m not entirely convinced that these collaborations necessarily resulted in this dip in form for Weezer or whether Cuomo himself has become jaded of the Weezer concept. 

Still, the first half of the album contains a couple of tracks that live up comfortably to the Weezer legacy and the album does go a little pear-shaped once Dreamin’ makes its appearance. So let’s concentrate on those 1st five songs, shall we?

Troublemaker opens the collection promisingly with its sharp rhythms, incisive chorus and investigative profile of the typical rock star – 

“I’m gonna be a star and people will crane necks to get a glimpse of me and see if I am having sex and studying my moves they try to understand why I am so unlike the singers in the other bands” 

The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn) is what you might call mildly experimental seeing as it jumps from rap to gospel to to acapella to pop-rock in the course of its almost six-minute duration. Combined with a knowing, tongue-in-cheek lyrical intent, Greatest Man is certainly one of Weezer’s more intriguing songs.

Pork and Beans is basically Cuomo’s reaction to being instructed by his record label to write more commercial material for the new album as the cynical chorus declares – 

“I’m-a-do the things that i wanna do/I ain’t got a thing to prove to you/I’ll eat my candy with the pork and beans/Excuse my manners if i make a scene/I ain’t gonna wear the clothes that you like/I’m fine and dandy with the me inside/One look in the mirror and I’m tickled pink/I don’t give a hoot about what you think”

Ironically, the suits may have gotten exactly what they wanted!

Heart Songs is possibly the highlight of the album – a sentimental mid tempo paean to Cuomo’s influences as he namechecks John Lennon, Pat Bentar, Quiet Riot, Bruce Springsteen and Gordon Lightfoot. But Cuomo dedicates an entire verse to the band that kick-started Weezer’s career – 

“Back in 1991 I wasn’t havin’ any fun/’Till my roommate said ‘Come on and put a brand new record on’/Had a baby on it/He was naked on it/Then I heard the chords/That broke the chains I had upon me/Got together with my bros in some rehearsal studios/Then we played our first rock show and watched the fan base start to grow/Signed the deal that gave the dough to make a record of our own/The song come on the radio/Now people go – this is the song” 

No prizes for guessing who Cuomo is referring to…

Everybody Get Dangerous is a catchy little number about teenage rebellion – possibly based on Cuomo’s own life experiences. I expect it will go down well with the Weezer Army live!

Well, that’s all I really want to say about the “Red” album – a great half of a middling album is better than none, eh? Where does Weezer go from here – well, rumor has it that an album is being readied for 2009 even now. Wait and see I guess, until then – 

“Everybody get dangerous/Everybody get dangerous (Boo-ya!)”

The Incredible Hulk

“You wouldn’t like me when I’m … hungry” (in Portuguese).

If you’re a fan of the Hulk TV series starring the late Bill Bixby, then you will enjoy the various nods to the show in this latest film adaptation of everyone’s fave green behemoth (e.g. Courtship of Eddie’s Father turns up on Brazilian TV, Lou Ferrigno’s cameo, the score’s evocation of the TV theme etc). And it does so without sacrificing the authentic flavour of the original Marvel comic and it consigns Ang Lee’s version to irrelevance. 

The Incredible Hulk assumes the audience is aware of the character’s origin and in fact, is played out in the opening credits, so it jumps straight into the story proper with Bruce Banner (a phlegmatic Ed Norton) on the run from the US Army. The plot line moves quickly enough – setting itself up for the final confrontation between Hulk and the Abomination/Emil Blonsky (played with subtle menace by Tim Roth) – with little sub-plots (the tragic romance of Banner and Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, in usual wooden form)), the megalomania of General Ross (by-the-numbers performance by William Hurt) and the emergence of the Leader (camped up by Tim Blake Nelson) along the way to keep things interesting.

The action sequences are top notch and the CGI manages to keep the suspension of belief factor at a reasonable level. The film is basically everything you’d expect from a Marvel comic book movie with Marvel in total control. Meaning, the many references to the Marvel Universe will have the fanboys salivating in anticipation for that sweet moment when the Marvel Universe is revealed in all its glory in the Avengers movie. Of course, everybody knows by now that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) has a cameo telling General Ross that he’s putting together a “team” and that sets up the upcoming slate of Marvel films nicely.

PoP CLASSICS

XTC  Wasp Star (Idea)  2000

Two XTC albums in consecutive years (Three if you include Homespun demo collection — I don’t!)! The last time that happened was in 1984! The last couple of years have been strange for fans of the Swindon duo (viz Andy Partridge & Colin Moulding) – the enforced moratorium on new releases lasted a full seven years whilst in the meantime, bootlegs of demos (for various album projects – one orchestral, one guitar oriented and even a bubblegum concept album!) floated around the fan community and a book, Song Stories featuring write-ups of the new material was published.

The heightened anticipation and expectation appeared to be satisfied as Apple Venus Part I was released last year to almost universal acclaim.

With the promised follow-up, Wasp Star, XTC abandons the orchestral/pastoral conceits of Apple Venus Part I and delves into uninhibited, unabashed guitar pop or in Partridge’s own words – “It’s great to get our hands tangled up in electric guitar strings once again…this record has more hooks than a Long John Silver convention…” A humourous quip, which may be said in jest but closer to the truth than one, would dare hope. Twelve fabulous gems in a crown of pop glory that only get shinier with each succeeding play.

First significant factor is the telling contribution of Colin Moulding. The tepid songs on Apple Venus Part I (Frivolous Tonight and Fruit Nut) raised questions about Moulding’s songwriting prowess but glad to report that based on the evidence on Wasp Star, the Colin Moulding XTC fans know and love is still in the saddle. The folky eccentric Boarded Up sounds like an outtake from the Beach Boys’ quirkiest LP, Smiley Smile; In Another Life maintains Moulding’s interest in easy listening music – the recurring horn/harmonica riff accentuates the song’s rather quaint concepts – “I’ll be your Burton/You’ll be my Liz” and Standing In For Joe (originally intended for the bubblegum pop project), a paean to infidelity, comes across like a latter day Genesis/Steely Dan ditty but works nonetheless.

However, as usual, it is the genius of Andy Partridge that makes XTC what it is – one of the finest pop bands of all time. Whilst the emphasis on Wasp Star appears to have been hooks, hooks and even more hooks, this approach has not been at the expense of Partridge’s familiar word play and wit.

Take for example the thoroughly infectious I’m The Man Who Murdered Love, which deserves to be a song played on heavy rotation over the air waves if only to hear lines like – “ He was begging on his bended knee/For me to put him from his misery/He hadn’t worked at all this century/Said ‘I do a service for humanity'” screw up the sensibilities of kids weaned on the blatantly crass sexual imagery of modern day boybands and teen divas.

Giving I’m The Man Who Murdered Love a good run for its money in the sing-a-long stakes:

(1)                The bouncy ‘lovers rock’ inflected My Brown Guitar; about Partridge’s obsession – “You want some lovely, I got some lovely/In my yard, in my yard/There be inchworm, there be football/There be yardstick stir some lovely/Laying waiting naked for you” – um sex.

(2)                The dynamic rhythmically driven We’re All Light where Partridge collects a slew of dead-corny ‘pick-up’ lines and delivers it like poetry – “ Don’t you know/’bout a zillion years ago/Some star sneezed, now they’re paging you in reception/Don’t you know/Jack and Jill-ion years ago/Some dinosaur dropped the pail when it saw our reflection,”

(3)                The dumb monolithic guitar pattern that is Stupidly Happy finds Partridge in dizzy celebratory love mode – “ And if the Devil walks updressed in any disguise/I take him by the collars look him in the eye/I’m stupidly happy/Now you’re my defense/
I’m stupidly happy/It’s all making sense.”

(4)                The semi-autobiographical Playground portrays childhood as a time where you “never stop rehearsing, rehearsing for the big square world” and shares with us Partridge’s darkest moment – “Some sweet girl, playing my wife, runs off with a boy whose bike she’ll ride.”

(5)                The ska-jazz Sting-like You And the Clouds Will Still Be Beautiful is Partridge’s olive branch to his ex-wife – “We see flying saucers, flying cups, and flying plates/And as we trip down lover’s lane we sometimes bump into the gate/And I know thunder in your head can still reverberate/But no matter what the weather, you and the clouds will still be beautiful.” 

Every single one a potential hit single (in a perfect pop world of course)! 

Rather astutely though, Partridge manages to leaven the sugar high with well-placed thoughtful passages on his favourite topic – relationships with the fairer (or opposite) sex.

The rather painful dirge-like Wounded Horse once again concerns his failed marriage – “Well I bit out my own tongue like a wounded horse/When I found out you’d been riding another man.” Whilst on the other extreme, Partridge declares his worship of the female of the species in Church of Women – “Breathe ’em in until my head goes spinning around,” big sigh everyone!

With Wasp Star, XTC have made up for the prolonged hiatus since Nonsuch (if you consider an album every four years as “normal” frequency) both parts of Apple Venus had been completed without the considerable influence of Dave Gregory. Certainly the song arrangements have suffered for this, but speaking generally, Gregory’s absence has not proven fatal to the spirit of XTC. This is down mainly to Andy Partridge’s continuing belief in his art. There may be many “faults” in Wasp Star that detractors may make capital out of but in the circumstances and taking into account what XTC needed to achieve with this album, I would have to say that it is an unqualified success. 

PEEPSHOW

PEEPSHOW EP (Self-released)

Expect a shedload of EPs coming from young and aspiring Singapore bands in the months to come. Peepshow’s EP is up first. This is an earnest band that like many local bands wear their influences proudly on their collective sleeves. For Zaki, SK, Mikail, Yuk and Edmund, the primary musical inspiration is British pop and rock and as an obsessed Anglophile meself, that in itself is a damn good start! Here’s the blow by blow account.

I Know

A great opener with crunching guitars and synth undertones basically covering two chords. Very reminiscent of the Britpop era of the mid-90s, with a slight inflection of the post-punk legacies of New Order/Joy Division. In that way, I Know sounds a little like a Great Spy Experiment song. Which is a good thing, believe me. I like how Zaki deftly wraps his larynx around the catchy melody. A hit!

Why

This track begins very promisingly with echoes of the Verve and Oasis evident. But somehow, when the chorus kicks in, something goes terribly wrong and the song falls flat. A pity because the song itself has loads of potential but maybe lack of experience and guidance somewhat lets the band down. Zaki tries his best though…

Funky Song

Hahaha. This is a bit of a risky proposition but Peepshow pulls it off. So it comes across as serious and funny at the same time. Zaki’s camp delivery completes the illusion or picture (depending on your point of view) and the voiceover is hilarious. The instrumentation is spot on. A fine evocation of late 80s Brit-funk. 

Come Back to Me

Ah, twee pop with balls! Zaki is amazingly cool with his vocals – very original – he puts on a slight Brit affectation but with clear Singaporean overtones. Well done. Yet another radio-friendly tune that deserves attention for the way it subverts what we think of Singapore music. Colloquial yet western – a fine balance that works!

Special Someone

This one reminds me of Felt a whole lot (the guitar parts), which isn’t bad of course. At first listen, the laid-back vibe may be a little off-putting but the track gets stronger the longer it plays. It could benefit from a stronger hook though. Still, the fretwork has got me bopping in approval.

Overall, I would recommend that every Singapore music fan get hold of this EP as I believe that Peepshow has edged itself into contention as a local outfit to keep an eye out for. 

BLURB-O-RAMA 4.08

More belated reviews for overlooked 2007 releases.

SPOKEN Self-Titled (Tooth and Nail)

Y’know, I prize eclecticism in a band – you may have heard me say often. But sometimes things can get out of hand. Take Spoken. Half this eponymous album is pure screamo as the band rips through their Christian manifesto with inaudible lyrics (What’s the point, eh?) and the other half is fairly decent indie rock. Will the real Spoken please stand up? Guess half a reasonably good album is better than none.

FOR AGAINST In the Marshes (Words on Music)

A re-issue of a demos EP released in 1990 of this pioneering American shoegaze band. For Against was plainly ahead of its time maintaining a strange British aesthetic in the pre-grunge era. This eight track EP is highly reminiscent of the Brit-rock epoch of the early to mid-80s e.g. Comsat Angels, Echo & the Bunnymen, early Simple Minds, early New Order et al and is markedly relevant in the context of modern rock scene. 

CY CURNIN The Returning Son (Self-released)

Curnin is of course best known as the lead singer of The Fixx, a British new wave band responsible for massive 80s hit, One Thing Leads to Another. The Returning Son is Curnin’s 2nd solo effort and basically, it does not stray too far from 80s new wave gameplan. Loads of synthesized effects, odd reggae-ska beats and Curnin’s faux Bryan Ferry vox. 80s new wave fans will love this…

PACK A.D. Tintype (Mint)

A female version of Black Keys? Why the heck not, eh? These two “ladies” do earnestly ply their garage-blues-rock with the intensity of early Led Zep. I mean, Becky Black does a good job of channeling both Plant and Page whilst Maya Miller – whilst no Bonham (not even Jason) – provides adequate backbeat. Oh by the way, understand that A.D. stands for “After Death”. Guess girls do really just wanna have fun…

IRON MAN

Iron Man marks Marvel’s first self-developed and self-financed film (in a ten-film deal with Paramount) and the way that this Jon Favreau-directed, Robert Downey-starred blockbuster translates the comic book so successfully onto the big screen augers well for the other Marvel films to come.

Continue reading “IRON MAN”