PJ HARVEY & JOHN PARISH

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PJ HARVEY & JOHN PARISH A Woman A Man Walked By (Island/Universal)

This is as pure a collaboration as one could get. Producer John Parish is responsible for all the music on A Woman A Man Walked By (writing and instrumentation) and PJ Harvey is responsible for all vocals and lyrics. This album is Harvey/Parish’s second collaborative effort and there is little doubt that the duo make an impeccable team.

The ten songs on A Woman A Man Walked By are suitably visceral, spiritual, earthy and other-worldly. Going by Harvey’s track record for gritty, in-your-face fare, that comes as little surprise. Parish brings all his know-how and technique to the table with soundscapes that match the intensity of Harvey’s words and delivery.

To the duo’s credit, despite the thematic consistency, the musical styles are varied enough to keep things interesting. The opening Black Hearted Love (video below) has enough hooks and melodic riffs to keep the casual indie-pop fan engaged. The more discerning listener will find their tastes intrigued and challenged with the rootsy Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen, the quirky Leaving California, the austere The Soldier, the emotion-shredding pscyh-out of Pig Will Not and the glassy atonal Passionless, Pointless.

Fans of PJ Harvey, A Woman A Man Walked By may contain the strongest set of tracks Harvey has been involved with since 2000’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.

CLAIRE DENAMUR

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CLAIRE DENAMUR Le Prince Charmant (Source Etc)

The excitement that overwhelmed me when I got to review this album was indescribable. It’s not everyday one gets to enjoy and review French music. So bear with me while I walk you through the eclectic offering of this emerging French artiste – because you won’t be able to find anything else on her unless you comprehend French.

Denamur credits the variety in her music to her mixed family background – an Argentinian mother and a French-Dutch father and spending her early childhood in Toronto and then in upstate New York. Her influences range from Nina Simone, Edith Piaf, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd to Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. These influences are evident on her album, which makes it such a treat because she has a vulnerable, pristine quality to her voice.

The title of the album literally translates to “The Prince Charming” and all ten tracks on the album explore themes of attraction, love and disillusion but with gentleness and at a whimsical pace that you’ll feel the music embrace you while De Namur soothes you through it all.

Worthy of mention is Je Me Sens Nue (I Feel Naked), a track where Denamur likens to how she feels when she’s performing – stripped down/transparent and giving everything she has. The track itself sounds chirpy and has an easy flow of a modern jazz feel.

Another track Mal Aimee (Evil Aimee), echos of a beautiful Spanish guitar which cues in this stripped down, quiet South American ballad, complete with harmonious vocals. Elio, the last track of the album is in a similar vein, it goes a step further with its tropical feel and Denamur’s vocals serving as a melodious lullaby.

My personal favourite is the second track from the album, Ah les Hommes (Ah Men). The bluegrass feel of this track is a hauntingly beautiful ode to men.

Le Prince Charmant is out now and should be on your list if you like jazzy, bluesy European fusion and French flair with your glass of wine.

(Charlotte Lourdes)

Check out Claire’s Myspace page. Video of Prince Charmant follows.

OCEANSHIP

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OCEANSHIP s/t (Self-released)

Inevitably, when discussing piano (or keyboards)-based music in modern times, it’s virtually impossible not to raise the spectre of Coldplay, the Fray and Keane into the conversation. Which in my view, doesn’t mode too well for this particular genre. Maybe I’m biased and old-fashioned but I used to enjoy it when piano-based music meant Elton John, Billy Joel or even Ben Folds. So where does that leave Canadian duo Oceanship?

Consisting of singer Brad Lyons and pianist Carly Paradis, both hailing from differents parts of Ontario, Canada, after having hooked up via a newspaper ad (yeah, cliched but what better way do you know?).

With a self-titled EP under the duo’s collective belts, and touring China extensively in 2006/2007, Oceanship’s debut album is a sophisticated work with well-crafted songs embellished with thoughtful arrangements and tasteful production. That said, the majority of the songs here cannot escape the references to the above mentioned bands, especially in the falshetto chorus of Excited, the familiar lanquid vibe of Don’t Wear Me Out and the epic, pseudo-classical Go.

The highlight for me is Hotblack (video below), where Lyons channels Peter Gabriel and the point of reference is more 80s, and the listener is captured by irresistible melodies and harmonies and a singalong chorus hook.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong in Oceanship trading in the soundscape of their sonic environment and certainly, there’s enough substance in tracks like the melancholy Anywhere At All, the fragile Wait For Me and the atmospheric Mistake to suggest that there’s much more to Oceanship than their influences. In fact, a concerted effort to pierce the veil will reveal nods to Pink Floyd, The Blue Nile and Rachael Yamagata. All good in my book!

A confident debut from a duo to keep a close eye on.

Check out Oceanship’s Myspace page.

ALLIGATORS

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ALLIGATORS Piggy & Cups (Applehouse Records)

This five piece band from Seattle is anything but grungy. Saccharine and dreamy, indie pop is what they’re all about. Probably a tad too sweet for my taste but props has to be given to these guys for coming up with a clean, marketable album. And by clean, I mean catchy hooks, vocals that exude lyrics one can easily decipher and a neat arrangement on every track that enables you to visually picture each instrument on its own. Nicely done.

This debut album was recorded at Death Cab for Cutie’s Jason McGerr’s studio and at the band’s residence. All 11 tracks on the album mix it up and refrain from sticking to a particular formula with regards to key changes and unexpected falsetto anguish. Influenced by Radiohead and The Beach Boys among others, it’s the Radiohead influence that comes through with the opening guitar riffs on a couple of the tracks on this album. The stand out track for most has been “If you want to”, although I wasn’t too taken by it as much as I was with their opening track “Where does it hide”. The latter reminded me of one of the many themes of TV shows from the early 80’s, before it steps into a darker level and then nicely grooves into a modern jazz layer, complete with a hypnotic bass in the background.

Kristian Arper and the boys explore various styles on this one album, even within a single track. Ambitious but does it pay off? Considering it’s a crisp, melodic pop offering, it certainly does.

Check out Alligators’ Myspace page.

TONY COX

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TONY COX Unpublished (Self-released)

When I received this CD in the post, I was pretty impressed by the cover and then mystified by the following note in the sleeve –

“I’m a Songwriter looking for a good home for my songs. So if you’re a music publisher, artist, producer, manager or record company… and you hear potential. I’d love to hear from you!”

So… Unpublished is not a proper album? Apparently not. But really, boys and girls, Unpublished is a collection of tracks worthy enough for one of those year-end lists. Perhaps mine.

These eleven songs represent some of the best British pop songwriting I’ve had the pleasure to listen to in quite a while. Singer Nigel Clark’s Lennonesque vocals does tend to give the songs a welcome Beatlesque edge and a powerful 70s vibe but hey, I’m certainly not complaining. It’s almost as if you’ve stumbled on a classic pop-rock jukebox in some alternative reality where hit songs like Sweet Elaine, Jamelia, Welcome To My World and Show Me Your Love rule the world. Fans of classic tunesmithery of the Britpop variety will no doubt enjoy Unpublished. Step aside, Noel Gallangher, the jig is up. Let Tony Cox should you what quality songwriting is all about…

Check out Tony’s Myspace page.

METRIC

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METRIC Fantasies (Self released)

Emily Haines and her band have been around since 1998 and they have had three full albums under their belt since 2003. Their fourth and latest offering – Fantasies, has this Canadian outfit taking a step back to reevaluate the current state of the world, the current state of mind of individuals and questions that the insightful are often plagued with.

In her own words, “This new record was about ending the fragmentation of my existence, Everything in the world right now—all the technology, the way we listen to music or watch films—everything has changed so much in my lifetime. People are allowed to have multiple identities—you’re somebody online, you’re somebody else in public—in multiple dimensions, scattered across the world … I wanted to bring all that into one place, one band, one records … I want to be one person.” – Emily Haines.

The album makes way for a synth-charged, new wave aura imprinted on all the tracks. The one constant though is of course Haines’ clear and crisp vocals that dips and resurfaces with an androgynous quality. The poppy dance beats, booming organ, flowing synths, choppy guitar riffs (courtesy of Jimmy Shaw) and heavy bass feels like you’re taking a dip into the pool of The Strokes, Yeah, Yeah Yeahs, Muse and for those old enough to remember – the quirky and brilliant Oingo Boingo.

Their first track and single Help I’m Alive, sucks you right in and keeps you on your toes till halfway through the album when the opening notes of Twilight Galaxy kicks in – reminiscent of the new-wave punk era of the late seventies. The slow melting ride is almost psychedelic with Haines’ reflective words, “there’s no glitter in the gutter, there’s no twilight galaxy….”.

Worthy of mention is Gimme Sympathy, a track with an infectious melody, steady beats and with a chorus that asks, “Gimme sympathy, after all this is gone, who would you rather be, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones..”. The band is on a path which illuminates filtering out the fantasies that cloud, yet embracing the ones that inspire.

Fantasies was released on April 14 & will cater to both fans and ardent music lovers discovering Metric for the first time.

An Interview with Emily and Jimmy and a collection of their acoustic performances is available here: Spin – Metric Unplugged.

(Charlotte Lourdes)

Check out Metric’s Myspace page.

RACHAEL YAMAGATA – LIVE IN SINGAPORE

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Sometimes I get really jealous. The kids nowadays get to catch their favorite foreign bands every week performing in Singapore. In the 70s, if we wanted to do the same, we had to rely on the odd concert movie coming to town e.g. Led Zep’s Song Remains the Same & Urgh!!! A Music War (featuring post-punk bands in USA/UK).

Better late than never. Rachael Yamagata can hardly be described as a classic 70s rocker or even old school. But believe me when I say that at the end of the glorious post-modern blues-rocking Sunday Afternoon, I had tears in my eyes. From Yamagata’s impassioned vocals to guitarist Michael Chaves’ screaming licks & Oliver Krauss’ atmospheric cello, I felt transported to a classic Pink Floyd concert in the 70s.

Yamagata had arrived in Singapore with a bit of a cold and depsite her profuse apologies, her vocal performance was not lacking in any way. I marveled at her sense of dedication to and passion for her craft as she put heart and soul into every word. The set list basically consisted of songs from her two albums and would veer wildly from the chamber pop of Elephants, Be Be Your Love and What If I Leave to the alt-rock posturing of Faster, Accident and Sidedish Friend. Personally, I prefered the former as her fledging attempts at rocking out did not strike me as unique. However, her ballads tugged at the heart strings effortlessly channeling the likes of Carole King and Karen Carpenter. Yeah, old school!

Still I have to go back to that final pre-encore song Sunday Afternoon, which to my amazement actually upped the ante from the recorded version. I was simply transfixed by Yamagata’s ability to coax her battered larynx (after 90 minutes plus of singing) into new heights. Spaced out, blissed out, emotionally resonant – everything the best rock music should be. Kudos to Rachael Yamagata for being the consummate professional, a super trouper but without sacrificing her humanity or sense of humour at any second. Quite possibly, one of the best concerts I have ever attended.

PS. Warm applause to me mates, Jack & Rai, for their short opening set, which entertained and pleased the crowd. Certainly, the boys proved that they could do justice to the occassion. Only matter of them before Jack & Rai headline their own gig at the Esplanade Concert Hall. Mark my words!

NB. I must say that there was a bloody idiot who happened to be sitting in front of me and this philistine could be heard muttering and complaining that Jack & Rai were taking to the stage. I have no problem with someone not liking Jack & Rai but to petulantly shout “No!” and throwing a mini-tantrum in his seat is just puerile behavior. More than that, I was pretty certain that this twit’s main objection was that Jack & Rai were Singaporean. I hope that this kind of colonial attitude is now in the minority and will one day be consiged to the darkest past.

Picture by Joanna.

NEIL YOUNG

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NEIL YOUNG Fork in the Road (Reprise)

Not entirely sure what to make of this latest offering from the legendary singer-songwriter. Fork in the Road is apparently a concept album about Young’s attempts together with biodiesel pioneer Johnathan Goodwin to develop a commercially viable electric power system for automobiles.  The prototype Lincvolt vehicle, Young’s own 1959 Lincoln Continental, is now completely finished, and a documentary is planned about the car’s first cross-country gasoline-free road trip to Washington, DC. for automobiles.

All well and good but what kind of album does all this make for. Better than you’d think. Without even bothering with the lyrics and themes, Fork in the Road is filled with good old fashioned rock n roll Neil Young stlye. Which is fine by me. I love the music’s pure and primal quality – it sounds like Young and band in a rehearsal jamming away. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Young’s backing band features all the usual suspects – Ben Keith, Rick Rosas, Chad Cromwell and the missus, Pegi Young. And this provides the comfortable bedrock from which Young springboards his own musical journeys. To be honest, I find the lyrics a little forced at times although in songs like the lone acoustic number Light A Cradle – “Instead of cursing the darkness/Light a candle for where we’re goin'” – rather inspirational for these depressed times.

The rest of Fork in the Road is suitably ragged with songs that pay tribute to Goodwin (“Johnny Magic”), songs about aging (“The Road”), songs chronicling Young’s trip (“When Worlds Collide”) and the current economic crisis (“Cough Up the Bucks”). It ain’t perfect but it’s still Neil Young and if you’re a fan, then you’ll know what to expect. If you’re not a fan, I’ll suggest you check out his 70s albums first and then work your way slowly to Fork in the Road.

Check out Neil Young’s Myspace page and a video of The Road below.

Neil Young – Fork In The Road

ARIEL ABSHIRE

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ARIEL ABSHIRE Excalamation Love (Darla)

This 2008 debut album from Abshire is an excellent approximation of modern alt-country-folk indie female pop in the vein of Jenny Lewis and She & Him. All well and good but here’s the kicker – Abshire is 17 years old! An astonishing fact when you consider how mature most of this debut sounds. From Abshire’s talented pipes to her world-weary (albeit from a teenage perspective) lyricism, from the spot-on catholic pop references to the austere production values, this teenager displays qualities pretty much beyond her tender years.

The highlights for me include the tautly wound Nervous, the delicate Unknown Encounter, the Dylanesque Thin Skin (see video below), the country-western Hotel Hallway and the lushly constructed Everybody Does. Yes, there are the odd raw and rough moments both in the vocal delivery and the songwriting but these are minor complaints when set up against the promise (some of it fulfilled) in these well-sung, well-written songs.

Suffice to say that Ariel Abshire is a name to look out for in the years to come.

Check out Ariel Abshire’s Myspace page.

FAITHLESS – LIVE IN MOSCOW DVD

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FAITHLESS Live in Moscow-Greatest Hits

I guess if you’re a fan of Faithless or electronica in general, you’re going to enjoy this live DVD. Although in this context, I’m not sure whether the “electronica” tag applies here. After all, apart from the mandatory electronic keyboards, there’s a full band viz. electric guitar, bass, drums, percussion and even mini-string orchestra providing the music. So to all intents and purposes, it’s probably most accurate to describe this live recording as a rock concert, in every sense of that term.

Which is fine with me, as I’ve always felt that pure electronica is a little tough to deliver in the context of a rock concert format. Certainly, no problems with the typical dance music that is presented here with its usual obligatory nods to Pink Floyd, Kraftwerk and the 80s synth pop pioneers of course. In addition, Faithless also indulge in a little reggae-ska workout at times, which is also cool.

I’m not familiar with these songs but taken at face value, there’s enough variation to recommend this live DVD to folks who may not strictly be fans of Faithless and/or electronica.

RACHAEL YAMAGATA – LIVE IN SINGAPORE

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With her sophomore effort Elephants… Teeth Sinking into Heart, Rachael Yamagata re-defined herself. From the ballad-heavy agenda that populated her debut Happenstance to the edgier model that emerges on this double-album, Yamagata is definitely taping into the so-called “rock” side of her musical persona.

Sure, you still have the spine-tingling, ornate orch-pop exercises like the opening title track and What If I Leave, both of which contain such memorable & sublime tunes. But by the time one gets to Sunday Afternoon, with its awe-inspiring Pink Floyd touches, orchestral blues atmosphere and Yamagata’s own breathless vocal delivery, one realizes that Yamagata is crossing an artistic threshold.

And with the 2nd disc – Teeth Sinking into Heart – the electric guitars come to the fore, the drumming ups the ante and even Yamagata’s vocals favours a gruffier style to present a totally different aspect. Personally, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. It’s good to see Yamagata breaking out of her own (and that of the media/fanbase) mould. Nothing ground-breaking, mind you, as many other female rock singers-songwriters (notably Chrissie Hynde/Pretenders) have travelled this road many times but tracks like Faster and Don’t make for intriguing listening.

Me? I’m more interested in the transitional material between the poles, like the aforementioned Sunday Afternoon and Horizon, with its Beatlesque undertones & country-folk underpinnings. I’m looking forward to hearing these songs live with a cellist in tow. And of course, I will, come next Wednesday, 15th April at the Esplanade Concert Hall.

Tickets available at SISTIC.

THE LION STORY

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THE LION STORY Self-titled (Self-released)

In days of yore, this debut 7-track release from The Lion Story would probably have been a hot demo cassette. But with the advances in technology and lower recording costs, it is now possible for a newbie band like The Lion Story to self-release their own CD. Which in this case, at any rate, is a good thing.

The first thing that strikes a listener about The Lion Story is the “old-school” melodies and harmonies, which is unusual for a Singapore band in their twenties. Greatly welcomed, because bands who write and perform good ol’ fashioned pop-rock in Singapore are an endangered species.

There are some absolute gems on this debut EP, notably the opening track, Stars & the World, which is probably one of the best Beatlesque pop songs I’ve heard on these shores since maybe the sixties. Melodic hooks, pristine harmonies and tasteful arrangements permeate this track. Another highlight is Something’s Going On – featuring Don Richmond – and consequently possesses a stronger mainstream vibe. The rest of this EP does not match up but are still worth checking out.

In the S-ROCK scheme of things, The Lion Story reminds me of a more polished Oddfellows or Ordinary People and if the guys (viz. Amin, Khair and Haffiz) work hard enough and make the right moves, may even scale the heights of Couple, the powerpop kings from across the Causeway. That remains to be seen. But simply based on the promise of Stars & the World, the Lion Story is certainly a band to keep a close watch on.

Check out The Lion Story’s Myspace page.

THE FIVE CORNERS QUINTET

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THE FIVE CORNERS QUINTET Hot Corner (Ricky-Tick)

Tuomas Kallio, DJ, Producer and founder of The Five Corner Quintet, believes that everyone is a Jazz fan….it’s just that they don’t know it. Not wanting to disagree with him too much there, but I am most definitely not a Jazz fan, and I am pretty certain that I know it. So when Hot Corner landed in my ‘To Do’ pile of reviews I cannot say that I looked at it with a great deal of enthusiasm. Jazz is just a genre that has never taken root in my soul and given me any kind of yearning to be part of the whole scene or even an innocent bystander on the pavement as the parade passes me by. I am not opposed to Jazz, I don’t hate it or wish that it would fall off the planet like Miley Cyrus and her kind with their safe pop/rock for the ‘Tweens’, but I don’t think about listening to it in my spare time either.

I am going off track though, I simply wanted to point out that if you are looking for a review that can delve into the influences and meaning behind T.F.C.Q. then stop right now, this is not the review for you. It is not even a review that will end with a cathartic seeing of the light from myself and a declaration on my part that Jazz is precisely what I have been missing all of my life. I am simply saying excuse my ignorance, but this is a review by someone who is not all that bothered about Jazz, so if you find it lacking in comparison and depth that is why.

So who are T.F.C.Q and why are they here? Well as mentioned before, Tuomas Kallio decided it was time that the world found Jazz again and decided that this rebirth would start in Helsinki. So in 2005 he formed T.F.C.Q. and with some of Helsinki’s finest released Chasin’ the Jazz Gone By on Ricky-Tick Records to much acclaim. Kallio used his experience as a DJ on the dancefloor to breath some modern life into Jazz, not through updating it with beats and other gimics, but simply introducing a new flavor to the genre, and that is what he has tried to achieve again with Hot Corner.

I do have to say one thing about Hot Corner right from the offset; it does get your foot tapping. Easy Diggin and Rich in Time are both numbers that it is literally impossible not to at least have a quick nod of the head to. This doesn’t convert me people, I have tapped to Britney Spears and much worse in the past, but it does show that the aim of the album is hitting it’s mark by reaching out to the roots of the founding member. I cannot deny the repetitiveness sometimes spoiled my enjoyment while listening, Habib’s Habit especially had me gritting my teeth and taking longing glances at the timer of the track, but overall what was offered on ‘Hot Corner’ seemed to have a fresh quality to it.

Adding some heavyweight backing to the project, as he did on T.F.C.Q.’s debut album, is Mark Murphy. His voice fits the two numbers he sings on perfectly and opens proceedings on Come and Get Me, a sleazy, slick track that shuffles through it’s verse and chorus with ease. The second song he appears on is ‘Kerouac Days in Montana’ which is nowhere near as good as the first song, the vocals are more than competent but they appear to not be at ease with the music.

Overall I did enjoy Hot Corner, it was catchy enough to hold my attention and certainly I think someone who has more than a passing interest in Jazz as a whole will really go for this band. As I said and stated at the beginning though, although it is a good album and the musicianship is very high I would not think about going back to it. Kallio may believe that people just don’t know they are Jazz fans, but a friend of mine once also stated that Jazz is the only genre of music where the musicians have more fun than the audience.

(Adam Gregory)

Check out The Five Corners Quintet Myspace page.

EXTRA GOLDEN

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EXTRA GOLDEN Thank You Very Quickly (Thrill Jockey)

Not quite sure what to make of Extra Golden, an African-American combo (not what you may think but a quartet comprising of two Kenyans and two Americans) combining America rock stylings and African rhythmic structures. Also not what you think, i.e. nothing remotely close to what Talking Heads or Vampire Weekend have achieved with their hybrid format.

Thank You Very Quickly is the band’s third album and it features six tracks in all and they all feature very prominent African styled rhythm guitars, percussion, other instrumention and vocals. There is not too much to suggest that there is any American creative input in this. Personally, the melodies take a little time to fully appreciate but there’s no doubting the skill and expertise in the lively performances. And that will more than suffice for now.

WAND

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WAND Hard Knox or “Are You Sure Hank Jr Done It This Way?” (Estatic Peace)

Official releases of demo and home recordings are by their very nature tend to be strictly for fans only. That said, I must admit that I’m not familiar with Wand, which basically consists of James Jackson Toth of Wooden Wand. So I’m definitely not a fan so to speak. Yet, this collection of country-folk-blues songs succeeds at every level, in my view, notwithstanding (and because of ) the fact that the tracks are raw and stripped down. With acoustic guitars, minimal percussion (the odd electric guitar embellishment) and vocals from Toth and his wife (and Wooden Wand partner) Jessica, present a dark, gothic soundscape that will intrigue fans of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Nick Cave, Hank Williams (both Sr and Jr), Johnny Cash. I certainly am.

DANNY ECHO

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DANNY ECHO Danny Echo (Self-released)

So Coldplay are intently setting their sights on producing The Unforgettable Fire 2.0, Radiohead are giving away their albums for free and U2 are releasing singles that speak of submarines and gasoline (but not wars between nations!) What does this bode for rock and roll, 2009? Most would point towards the Kings of Leon or Oasis, leading purveyors of amped-up electric rock. But hold your horses yet, because bursting out from Vancouver is five-man outfit Danny Echo, and they are poised to take over the world.

Okay, fine, so world domination might not be so likely at this point, but even a cursory listen to Danny Echo’s self-titled album is going to tell you that this is a band with no hint of indie pretensions or alternative ambitions. No sir, this is music made by men gunning for top 40 airplay.  Their influences betray as much: Rolling Stones, The Beatles, U2…all bands who make liars out of everyone who have ever proclaimed their intention not to be big. And as if afraid we might not be getting the point, every single column on their Facebook Personal Information page is insistently filled in with “ROCK & ROLL”. Gee, are they subtle or what?

Their lack of pretension is almost refreshing however. In an era where most rock bands seem intent on denouncing the sorry state of the world and moaning about their desire to slit their wrists, Danny Echo are a breath of fresh air in their single-minded intent to have a good time. The band kicks things off with some U2 referencing on album opener Out Of Style, with soft atmospherics that give way to unabashed gleeful riffing over subtle, soaring sweeping synthesizers. (Hurray for alliteration!)  Killing Me is an inspired, thoroughly enjoyable track with its lifted choruses and supremely headbangable riffs, topped off with a wildly sexy snarl. It’s a combination of John Lennon and Pete Townsend updated for the 21st century, and it works.  On Tomorrow Today, lead singer Danny sounds thoroughly like the bloke from Oasis who sings with his hands behind his back, although the nifty Britpop touches on the track are much more derivative of Blur. The band take a detour into Americana territory on Help Yourself, which is at times reminiscent of Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, before winding things down on a singalong number, Natural Disaster, a song that brings to mind the Rolling Stones’ 1968 effort, Beggars Banquet.

It’s a testimony to a band’s pop sensibilities when one’s first instinct upon finishing a record is to replay it. It’s an even bigger testimony to their talent when they manage to produce an album that pays off successfully both as a collection of songs and as a whole. In a day and age when most artists are paying more attention to the digital single instead, Danny Echo must be commended for producing a record as consistent and as wholly enjoyable as this one. Wonderfully addictive and thoroughly enjoyable, this is all that powerpop rock n’ roll is meant to be. Highly recommended.

(Samuel C Wee)

COLDPLAY – LIVE IN SINGAPORE

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When I was asked to review Coldplay, it was an amazing feeling. ‘I was there! I would know’, I thought to myself. After that, it dawned on me that it’ll be difficult to sum up a concert like Coldplay in a review. But so kindly given the opportunity to, I shall try.

I came when the opening band, Mercury Rev, were halfway through their set. There was something in the air that made me think that not a lot of people cared or knew who Mercury Rev were. I would think any band opening for Coldplay would be under tremendous pressure to put up a good show. I was not impressed with Mercury Rev, probably because I was too excited about Coldplay.

Coldplay played a mix of old and new songs, and the transitions between the songs were flawless. I enjoyed the other 3 albums, but I still have mixed feelings about Viva La Vida. I felt that the the set list had a nice flow to it with the mix of old songs and newer ones, although I felt that the differences in the musical direction between the older and newer albums were very distinct.

I’m a sucker for openings, and Coldplay opened with Life In Technicolour/Violet Hill. They played Life In Technicolour behind a translucent black veil, which would have been pretty cool to watch, except I was seated at the rear of the stage so I could see them performing, unveiled. After watching videos of the opening songs on Facebook/YouTube (you could probably get tons online), I realised that it would have been a treat watching them perform through the veil. The lighting behind the veil made it such that you could often see two shadows of Chris Martin, Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland and Will Champion, which would have been very nice.

After playing Life in Technicolour, the stadium went pitch dark, the veil fell and the stage was slowly illuminated while they played Violet Hill. I think about it and it still sends chills down my spine!

Clocks was next, and it was incredible, with a mix of red, yellow and white laser lights. By then, people all around me were dancing and singing along to Clocks. I was amazed at how much energy everyone had, and how the age gaps were quite large. There were a mix of people in office attire and those wearing casual attire.

It was amazing when they played Yellow, because all the lights were yellow and people from the exits brought it yellow balloons and people in the middle of the stadium could bounce them up and down. There were at least 50 of such balloons, and as the song progressed, they were popped by people, and confetti came out. It was an audio and visual treat for me, because I LOVE going for concerts/gigs that fuse the two together.

Towards the middle of the concert, Coldplay walked into the audience and played a few songs, which included I’m a Believer (The Monkees Cover) and Death Will Never Conquer, where Will Champion did vocals for the song. He sounded good, and the audience cheered him on and sang along!

My favourite part of the concert was when they played Lovers In Tokyo. Confetti fell from the ceiling into the audience and the coloured lights changed throughout the song. I loved it when Chris Martin twirled the Japanese umbrella while walked down the ramp as more confetti fell from the ceiling. I could just imagine him walking through Sakura trees somewhere in Japan!

Coldplay was an audio/visual treat for me. I enjoyed the fusion of music, videos and photographs, which were shown on the screen behind the stage and on balls above the audience. There was the use of different images to portray the moods for different songs, Lovers In Tokyo had images of Japan, and some of the other songs had videos of the performance on the balls above the audience. I felt that it added to the warm ambiance and setting of the concert.

The thing that made Coldplay special for me was how everyone in the audience was able to connect with the songs that were performed. The whole concert was well-put together and audience participation made a difference to the whole atmosphere throughout the night. People sang along, danced along, and even shouted “WHOOOOOOOA” from Viva La Vida as an encore instead of shouting the usual “Encore”. It was as if everyone present shared a special love for Coldplay, and I would rate this concert as one of the best ones I’ve been to so far. I still haven’t gotten over how spectacular the concert was!

(Rebecca Lincoln)

Here are 2 videos, Yellow and Lovers In Tokyo, from the Coldplay concert for your enjoyment.

TRENTALANGE

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TRENTALANGE awakening, level one (Coco Tauro)

Here’s the components of an exciting recipe/formula –

1. A singer that recalls the dark, sultry tones of PJ Harvey & Annie Lennox.

2. A multi-instrumentalist that plays piano, wurlitzer, moog, bass, flute, theramin, percussion, guitar, tibetan singing bowls.

3. A songwriter/arranger/producer that is able to combine influences of Blondie, Black Sabbath, Massive Attack & Nick Cave.

The result? Barbara Trentalange.

With this accomplished sophomore effort, Trentalange confirmed the promise of her debut with an assured control & mastery over  myriad styles and approaches, which keeps the listener intrigued and interested. Always.

The best part? Eclecticism, of course. My favorite attribute.

From the spaced-out Tex-Mex flavor of the Fever to the distorted & sinister growl of Heavy Metal Astroman, from the soulful inflections of Valentine to the torch-poppy confection of Racing with Nowhere to Go, Trentalange keeps one guessing and impressed with her sheer versatile grasp of rock’s dynamics in all its twisted glory.

By the time one gets to the atmospheric, shuffling final track – Awakening, Level One – this writer is convinced that Barbara Trentalange is a talent to note and that this album is one to consider at the end of 2009, for one of the albums of the year. Magikal.

KAISER CHIEFS

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KAISER CHIEFS “Off With Their Heads” (B-Unique/Polydor/Universal)

If there was any justice in this world (HAH!), then Kaiser Chiefs would give the bulk of their royalties to Andy Partridge and XTC. Fact of the matter, of course, is that probably Kaiser Chiefs’ source of inpiration is equal parts post-punk and Britpop circa ’95.  Still, I guess a XTC-Blur fixation is definitely more palatable (to these ears) than the endless Joy Division-referencing that modern rock bands shamelessly indulge in nowadays.

Certainly, notwithstanding the derivative nature of the music, I rather enjoy the edgy, melodic quality of the songs on “Off With Their Heads”. I mean since XTC  is no longer recording anymore, it’s rather fun to bop and sing-along to fiesty gems like the campy Spanish Metal, the strident Like It Too Much, the frenetic Can’t Say What I Mean, the quirky Tomato in the Rain and so on.

So more power to bands like Kaiser Chiefs and hopefully, their continuing success will inspire more like-minded melodic pop making!

Kaiser Chiefs perform in Singapore at the Fort Canning Park on 7th April. Tickets available at SISTIC.

WHITE LIES

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WHITE LIES To Lose My Life… (Fiction/Polydor/Universal)

The latest big thing to emerge from the British indie-pop scene is White Lies. Which according to typical NME hyperbole are the “grandiose archbishops of cathedral pop”! Whatever that means…

To these ears, White Lies are premier exponents of the art of the post-punk revival and it’s quite easy to spot the influences viz. the now-ubiquitous Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, Tears for Fears, Teardrop Explodes and Depeche Mode. In fact, the music is so faithful to that (blessed) era that listening to the album left me feeling awfully nostalgic.

That said, it’s difficult to see any distinguishing qualities between White Lies and the multitude of Joy Division-referencing acts out there in the modern rock wilderness e.g. Interpol, the Killers, the Editors, Stellastarr ad nauseum. If anything, White Lies possesses a keener harmonic sensibility than most of its peers and the disco referencing title track even reminds me of early Duran Duran.

Bottom line? Fans of the both original and current post-punk eras will do well to pick up To Lose My Life…no hyperbole just simple recommendation. Now to dig up Unknown Pleasures, Songs from the Big Chair, Boy, the Crossing et al…

HEY HEY MY MY

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HEY HEY MY MY A True Story EP (Sober and Gentle)

I came across this French duo by casually browsing through the recommended releases at Emusic and I was struck by their name (an obvious Neil Young tribute) and the opening folky gem of the title track. Not only that but I simply adored how the duo would sing in heavily French accents!

Keeping their music clean and melodic, the rest of this Ep finds Hey Hey My My easily recalliung the pristine Britpop of the Cure (California Wine), Belle and Sebastian (Whatever It Is & Perfect) and Teenage Fanclub (Your Eyes When We Kiss). All filtered through a Gallic Neil Young filter, of course!

It may all sound vaguely familiar but somehow Hey Hey My My makes these tried and tested formulas refreshing and strangely irresistible. Don’t analyse, just enjoy!

www.myspace.com/heyheymymyband

POMEGRANATES

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POMEGRANATES Everybody Come Outside (Lujo Records)

A Cincinnati band with a fruity name comes as a refreshing surprise with their second album Everybody Come Outside, to be officially released on April 14th 2009.

This conceptual indie pop serving refuses to be sub-labelled and therein lies its freshness. Strongly following the success of their debut album Everything is Alive released mid last year, this delightful confection, takes you on a journey of a young man leaving his home, only to be abducted by a time traveller..

In the band’s own words:

Everybody, Come Outside! is a group of songs that we will hope to use to share some thrilling times we once heard about, with some people we don’t know yet. Featuring the likes of a restless youth, eager to find himself, a gypsy captain leading a team of rag-tag time-travelers, and the worn, yet ever-trustworthy, wormhole cruiser, Corriander – fantastic dreams will ensue!”

From the get go, you’re intoxicated by the rock-fuelled, atmospheric guitar riffs, combined artistically with the thunderous beats – this is the title track, Everybody Come Outside. And truly, you are encapsulated by the fresh, bright aura of the moving pictures painted in your mind by vocalists Joey Cook and Issac Karns.

The contrast of their voices (one sounding very high-pitched, almost female and the other with a sombre indie tone), blend amazingly well to give you a two-toned effect of the atmosphere, whether it’s in tune with a solitary drum beat or the jangly notes of a guitar. This was evident on Beachcomber, the second track from the album, which follows almost like a page turner, with The Land Used to Be.

Expect each of the 11 tracks in the album to lead comfortably into the next. Certain tracks echoed of The Lightning Seeds and a subdued Ziggy Stardust era, almost ethereal/magical. The final track – Acoustic, is a 13 minute melody that puts a whispery close to the journey, with the lush pluckings of the guitar and the siren-like synth, coupled with the subtle echo of a live crowd, it’s like a lullaby for your senses.

I have to applaud the quartet’s ability to boldly experiment with different types of sounds and string it altogether like a pop-corn necklace. It actually works and it’s an album to be savoured as a whole – aquamarine and wildlife sounds included.

(Charlotte Lourdes)

Check out Pomegranates’ Myspace page at www.myspace.com/pomegranatesart

MITCH FRIEDMAN

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MITCH FRIEDMAN Game Show Teeth (Meechmusic)

Whimsical, offbeat and quirky song craft seems to be a rare commodity nowadays. Songs imbued with elements of comedy, music hall, vaudeville and equal amounts of psych-folk-rock. Say hello to Mitch Friedman who does the genre a tremendous service with this superb album.

Supported by like minded luminaries like Andy Partridge/Dave Gregory (XTC), Joe McGinty (Psychedelic Furs) & R. Stevie Moore, Friedman has pulled a veritable cat from out of the hat (or is that rabbit out of a bag?) with a slew of left-field gems that swell with ingenuity.

That said, the slightly erudite quality of the music here may put off the casual pop listen but fans of Syd Barrett, Ray Davies, Robyn Hitchcock, Martin Newell will thrill to inventive tracks like Little Masterpiece, The Man That Talked Too Much, As Moons Go and Often I Saunter.

U2

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U2 No Line on the Horizon (Universal-Island)

It’s hard to find an objective review when it comes to U2. How do you, when they’re arguably the biggest band in the world? The majority of reviewers out there (yours truly included) have to fight to resist two knee-jerk reactions when it comes to U2.  The first is to view any and every work by them through rose-tinted glasses and proclaim it their best work ever since The Joshua Tree/Achtung Baby. The second reaction is to dismiss them as over-aged, sanctimonious faux-rockers who are 20 years past their expiry date and vehemently attack their new offering with all the anti-rockstar clichés one can muster.

The latter has been growing increasingly commonplace of late, in light of frontman Bono’s earnest efforts at soapboxing and moonlighting as a political activist. (Insert your own joke about soapboxes and Bono’s diminutive height here.) Still, no other band on Earth can even come close to commanding the level of media attention, and at 29 years and counting since their debut album that is quite an accomplishment. At an age where most of their contemporaries are either irrelevant or disbanded, U2 continue to make music that is commercially relevant, powerful and most importantly fresh.

Given all of the above, then, one would be forgiven for thinking that they’d be comfortable resting assuredly on their laurels. Not so for U2. From The Unforgettable Fire to Achtung Baby, Zooropa to All That You Can’t Leave Behind, U2 have always been at their best when they’re pursuing their music with a dogged restlessness and willingness to step beyond the boundaries of their comfort zones. After the back to basics of the last two records, the time was right for U2 to shake it all up again.

This brings us to their latest record: No Line On The Horizon. The first thing you notice once you pop it into the CD player is the distance from their last album, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.  The album opener and titular track is quite assuredly not the radio-friendly stadium-sized advertising jingle that Vertigo was, with its key-shifting riff and polyrhythmic structure. Fans of U2’s experimental 90s work will be gratified to hear that, although there are still shades of the familiar amidst the textural density. For example, 2nd single Magnificent should be a traditional U2 anthem with its melting, coruscating guitarwork and epic, worshipful vocals. The rhythm section though anchors the song with a stomping aggressiveness that could have been on Achtung Baby. Likewise, Breathe is a number that is sonically similar to the U2 of 20 years ago, but it shines with a Dylanesque verve and confident flow that is colored in parts by Arabian and Oriental influences.

Certain tracks in particular indicate that U2 have never really gotten over their infatuation with technology. Lead single Get On Your Boots is a buzzing electrofunk number that ambiguously straddles the territory between catchy and annoying, and Fez-Being Born is perhaps their most experimental number ever since Passengers, with a slow, drifting ambient introduction that morphes into a grinding, driving impressionistic track.

Perhaps the greatest difference from Bomb is the lack of an instant melody. On Horizon, U2 have traded their sticky hooks and ringing radio baits for subtle, nifty sonic textures. Unlike the previous albums of this decade, No Line On The Horizon is much more reluctant to give up its gems at first listen. It is instead on the 5th or 6th round that one starts to appreciate the subtle details and musical maturity that Horizon is characterized by. One such example is Moment of Surrender, a slow burning, soulful gospel number that find Bono delivering some of his heaviest lyrics yet since 97’s Pop. Even the token pop numbers here don’t really ignite in your ears until you’ve invested yourself thoroughly into them, with I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight in particular sounding better with every listen. The softer numbers in particular will grow on you sneakily, and before you realize it, you’ll be feeling an all too familiar tingle down your spine as you listen to White as Snow or Cedars of Lebanon.

How do I end this review? It’s near impossible to fully and realistically give an accurate account here, seeing as how it’s an album that is denser than any of its predecessors this decade. Every listen will bring about new observations and opinions, some good some bad. Perhaps the best compliment I can pay it is that a few weeks after my first listen I still haven’t found the best track on the record. Like a good, full-bodied wine, this is a record that will get better with time.

(Samuel C Wee)

I’ve recently been enjoying the 2008 remasters of Boy and October and marveling at the sheer inventive energy of U2 as baby band. Of course, those albums are now almost 30 years old, a generation ago. I must admit that I feared for this album when I heard the rather formlaic and lacklustre Get On Your Boots. Happy to report that the rest of No Line on the Horizon is pretty much an inversion of its first single. U2 has managed to reinvent itself all over again as they did with Unforgettable Fire and Achtung Baby all those years ago.

There is a distinct elegance and grace in the new songs here, certainly a reaction to the bombast of the last two albums, that frankly I think has only been witnessed infrequently on previous efforts. Songs like You’re So Cruel (from Acthung Baby) and A Sort of Homecoming (from Unforgettable Fire) – intriguingly two of my favorite U2 songs – provide the template for much of this surprisingly understated album. It’s only on incongrous material like Get On Your Boots, Breathe and Stand Up Comedy that the plan goes slightly awry. The overall mood and tone is very chill-out and cinematic. This probably sounds like hyperbole but I believe that No Line on the Horizon is U2’s best album since Achtung Baby and certainly already one of the best for 2009.

SUPERMEN!

Supermen! (Fantagraphics)

Sub-titled as “The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1939-1941”, Supermen! provides a concise glimpse into what the early comic books were like back when the medium was really fresh i.e. pre-WWII.

Don’t get too excited, you’re not gonna get any Superman or Captain America or even Captain Marvel comics here. Instead, we have heroes like Dr. Mystic, The Clock and Dirk the Demon, as published by publishers named Comics Magazine Company, Fox Publications and M.L.J. Magazines.

Knowledgable fans would recognize prominent creators like Siegel and Schuster (Superman), Bill Everett (Sub-Mariner) and Will Eisner (The Spirit) amongst the contributors to this sampling. Today’s readers will be surprised at how some of the material from a supposed more naive times really comes across rather grim and gritty.

For example, the Clock is a masked vigilante that battles an underworld of murder and drug addiction, the Flame is a caped crusader that has to protect a small town from horrific creatures of the night and Stardust is a “Super Wizard” with vast interplanetary knowledge which allows him to deal with otherworldly threats and rescue damsels in distress whom he is quite happy to bring home.

The 20 stories on view here provide an intriguing insight of where many of our modern day comic book heroes may have originated from, even if indirectly. A history lesson at best and a curiosity at worst. One for the scholars, I think!