LING KAI

LING KAI Honestly EP (Lempicka)

In many ways, Ling is already a Singapore music legend. Having attracted a million views to her youtube video of a performance of Larkin Step, Ling has reached a global audience most Singaporen musicians would have considered impossible.

After all, back in the early 90s, Singaporean singer-songwriters’ only avenue would have been selling their “homemade cookies” i.e. demo cassettes of lo-fi recordings at sympathetic music & book stores. How times have changed…

Naturally, that attention has brought Ling the ability to turn down a couple of major labels. Instead, the student in her early twenties has opted instead for Aussie indie Lempicka Records, an outfit that specializes the kind of acoustic music that Ling excels in. The result, her debut EP, Honestly.

Facebook Photograph

Opening with a piano and a violin, is perhaps a good way to subvert expectations for this acoustic folkie although it does give the listeners what they anticipated ultimately. The melancholy tone that permeates this song will “thrill” the angsty teen in us all – “You are better off without me/And I knew from the day that I realized/Being with you was giving up everything love stood for” Easy on the ear and mind.

8am

Ling stretches her musical palette a little to incorporate tiny jazz flourishes – not to mention A minor flamenco touches – in this breakup song. Ling vocalizes where a trumpet should be – until a real trumpet solo comes along with a bizarre psychedelic section. Interesting.

Suburbia

More trumpet-mimickry highlights this jaunty jazz-pop tune about a dream-like Singaporean heartland, maybe? “Magazines, furniture catalogs and things/Fill up houses and dreams the head of dairy queens” – your guess is as good as mine. And yes, you WILL be singing along before long – “Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa-Paaa”.

Midas Matches

A brilliant evocation of a film noir soundtrack. Torchy and extremely old-school. The song appears to tell the story of a fiery romance gone wrong with the metaphors of “I’m the match and you’re the flame” succeeding well. Mature songwriting on the level of say, Elvis Costello. Impressive.

Larkin Step

The one that started it all. The strength of which hinges on the opening guitar chord sequence which is rather sticky on the memory. Subtly simple in execution with violent imagery expressed – “Life comes along and it trickles down the cheeks of every beautiful boy/Time moves along and it breaks every bone in your spine”. Harsh sentiments for someone still so young. 

Distraction

My personal favorite. Melodic folk that hearkens back to that classic 70s singer-songwriter era. Joni Mitchell, Carole King and even, Joan Boaz. Surely, this is where Ling’s current strength lies. With a voice that will melt hearts and words to match – “Sometimes I wanna be alone/I pushed your number on the phone/And hang up once you’re there”.

With admirable economy, this EP fills the gaps with choice strings, staccato trumpets and copious amounts of acoustic guitar. A milestone in Singapore music history in more ways than one. I believe that this is only the beginning for Ling…

Check out Ling’s Myspace page.

LAMBCHOP

 

LAMBCHOP OH (ohio) (Merge)

I would imagine Kurt Wagner, lead singer and central mythic figure of American band Lambchop, gives record executives nightmares. The conversation might go something like this: 

“Right, Jack, that new Lambchop record. We’ll stick an alt-country sticker on the front cover, alright?” 

“Alternative country? Gee, Bob, I don’t know. That opening track Ohio sounds like a bit of jazz and folk to me.”

 “Alright, fine, jazz and folk. We’ll market it as Kris Kristofferson in a bar lounge.”

“Hmm, yeah alright, but that track A Hold Of You sounds really soulful to me. You think we shall sell it as soul instead?”

“Yeah, soul is fine. So we’ll put a soul music sticker at the front like Marvin Gaye or something and–”

“Hang on, Bob, there’s a fair bit of funk on this track Popeye as well, you think we should mention that?”

“Okay, funk, funk is good, we’ll put an ad out in the papers and–”

“Gosh, this track “National Talk Like A Pirate Day” really does sound an awful lot like alternative country…”

“Jack, I need a drink.”

By now it should be pretty obvious that OH(Ohio), the latest offering by Nashville band Lambchop, is a genre-bending record that deftly blends together jazz, blues, folk and country with a heavy undercurrent of blue-eyed soul  What Jack and Bob up there fail to tell you is how darn enjoyable the album is. 

To be fair to poor Bob(who’s currently ingesting a copious amount of alcohol into his system), you’re not likely to find a Top 10 radio hit on the record. There are no wildly infectious hooks or headboppin’ catchy tracks. Instead, we have sweetly subtle melodies and light, unobtrusive harmonies like the ones on Slipped, Dissolved and Loosed, and full, slow burnin’ band soul love reminiscent of Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke on tracks like the aforementioned A Hold Of You.  

The seven-member strong band sound intuitive and comfortable enough to sparkle with an attractive looseness on tracks such as Sharing A Guitar With Martin Luther King Jr. National Talk Like A Pirate Day is another such track, brimming with raw trademark country energy reminiscent of Whiskeytown and humour that is all Kurt Warner. Warner himself is quietly brilliant throughout the record, his trademark staccato baritone anchoring the listener with an easy assurance at times, and phrasing a quiet lyrical thunderstorm on tracks like the simple yet powerful Please Rise.

In all, this is a gorgeously lush album that will go down well with listeners who like their music diverse. Warner is unmistakably the mastermind behind the record, but at the same time there is a positive air of collaboration that can only come from the easy charisma of a band that has learnt to play in the scales of the soul. The album is varied in its influences and stylings, but it never delves into schizophrenic territory, always retaining a strong sonic and lyrical identity. The energy never really rises above a quick brisk here, but its alright. This is music for the comfort of your living room, sounds of joy, love, grief and wonder that will evocate beautiful images in the theater of your home and your mind.  

(Samuel C Wee)

Check out Lampchop’s Myspace page.

FRANCOIS VIROT

 

FRANCOIS VIROT Yes or No (Frenetic)

On rare occasions when listening to music you come across true gems that are so breathtakingly original and fresh that you have to step back and pause for a second, purely to lose yourself in the moment of what you are experiencing. These moments don’t come along everyday, month or even year, but when they do you know that you will forever be trapped in that time. Like the first time your travel through the pages of your favorite book, you feel a tinge of regret when it is over because you know that you will never be able to go back and have that same experience again without knowing what is about to come. This is how you will feel listening to Yes or No by French Singer/Songwriter Francois Virot, someone who captures the very heart and soul of what we all love about music, and why it stirs such an emotional response in many of us.

Born in Lyon, France, Virot has been listening to and playing music from the tender age of nine. Into bands like The Melvins, Sonic Youth and Nirvana the young Virot picked up a guitar to imitate his idols. He is the drummer of Clara Clara, a French Electric Punk band whose vocalist is Virot’s brother, and while touring with them and doing various promotions he has still found time to record and release his own material as a solo artist. His material is very honest and raw, playing in the intimacy of coffee houses and flats, Virot draws the listener into his music and the way his album Yes or No is recorded he has managed to capture this feeling perfectly. Honest and Raw is the best way to describe Virot’s sound. 

The album starts with Not the One and showcases perfectly Virot’s unique vocal style and ear for melody. Some may find that his vocal style is a little too whiny for their taste and this is perfectly understandable. I would certainly say that the way he sings can either be loved or hated, I was drawn to it instantly, where as some may run in the opposite direction. There is an almost childlike innocence to his lyrics and the style of his writing displays a vulnerability, this is one man and his guitar after all, no orchestras or accompanying musicians to hide behind, this is Virot fully in the spotlight. Recorded on a four track, a cough at the beginning of Island shows just what Virot appears to be aiming for, he wants you to feel as if you are sat infront of him, in the audience and his attention is focused on you. The basic technique of recording certainly makes you feel this way. 

There are somber points, like Fishboy and Where O Where A, but mainly Yes or No flows in a very positive and upbeat manner. Francois Virot is not just another singer/songwriter in the Damien Rice/Newton Faulkner/James Blunt mould, all of the production and recording techniques are out of the window on this album and for a debut it is stunning and emotional. 

(Adam Gregory)

Check out Francois Virot’s Myspace page.

THE END OF THE WORLD

 

THE END OF THE WORLD French Exit (Pretty Activity)

An early exit without saying goodbye is known as a “French Exit”. Whether the phrase has anything to do with the French national team’s abysmal showing at this year’s Euro 2008, I’m not sure. It should suffice to say, though, that French Exit, the latest album by Brooklyn-based band The End Of The World, doesn’t reach the levels of atrocity that the strife-wrecked and unspeakably bad performances of the French team did. 

Minimalistic and stripped down in nature, most songs found on this album are songs that can be easily represented by the 3 primary colors, guitars, drum and bass. As explained by frontman and drummer Stefan Marolachakis, it was a conscious production decision to help bring the emotion and meaning of the songs to the forefront instead of being buried under layers of sound. It’s a decision, however, that yields a largely inconsistent album that is plain stifle-a-yawn boring at its worst moments, and mesmerizingly captivating at its best.

The album opens with a short track apparently taken from one of the band’s live gigs featuring a short dialogue between the band and the audience. Depending on how you look at it, it could be taken as either quirky or insufferably pretentious, but either way it adds nothing to the album. Second track on the album, Jody, is a raucous track that makes some good headway in kicking off the album with its rattling drum beats and energetic vocals, but the album then takes an abrupt dive with the slow, soft rumble and twinkling yearnings of Somebody Else’s Dollar, before pulling upwards sharply again with the up-tempo bluesy clap-along number, I Don’t Wanna Lose. At this point, a pattern begins to establish itself as the slow alternative country number Learning unfurls amidst a swirl of pedal steel stylings and the requisite harmonica hooks. It’s a repetitive, slow-burning number that never really rises above the initial emotion. Railway Living starts off with a baffling piece of amateurish production that sounds like it was recorded on Skype, and for that transgression the track never really manages to take flight. The rest of the album follow more or less the same sequence laid out in earlier tracks, with soft pensive numbers interspersed with rousing songs that try to lift the listener out of their slumber. Last track on the album is probably the biggest detour taken by the band in terms of sonic approach, and truth be told, belonged somewhere closer to the start of the album.

The band’s biggest sin on this album is probably the track listing. French Exit is an attempt to create an album that evokes both the avant-garde lush soundscapes of Brian Eno and the MOR pop-rock catchiness of Train, but all it succeeds in doing is alienating its listeners who never quite really manage to get into the groove of the album, a result of the schizophrenic track listing. Listeners with more patience and tolerance for the occasional misstep might be willing to give this album a chance, as it can grow on you when taken on its own terms. Other listeners, however, might want to give this one a miss.  

(Samuel C Wee)

Check out the End of the World’s Myspace page.

ROB BONFIGLIO

ROB BONFIGLIO Bring On the Happy (Damask)

If you’re interested, its pronounced “Bon-feel-e-o” and it sounds “G-R-E-A-T”!!! (Sorry, couldn’t resist)

Bonfiglio is an old ‘friend’ of sorts, I loved his former band – Wanderlust – who managed a wonderful major label debut – Prize – before falling prey to RCA’s unrealistic expectations. The band released its second album with Bruce Brodeen’s Not Lame label before calling it quits.

Continue reading “ROB BONFIGLIO”

STEVE CARAWAY

STEVE CARAWAY Hurricane Season (Indienink Music)

You know how they say that folk only listen to the music they loved when growing up? That explains the popularity of classic rock radio formats to people who were teenagers in the 70s and 80s. But what mystifies me to this day is why these same people are so heavily resistant to artists/bands who play the SAME kind of music that they love. Why is that so?

Take the music of Steve Caraway, which uncannily evokes the pop-rock of the 60s and 70s, I mean how can fans of classic jangle pop, new wave, piano ballads, country rock, psychedelic rock not enjoy such spot-on tracks as Before You Run Away, When I Change My Mind, No Looking Back, Rabbit and Push?

Seriously music fans, there is a lot to admire on this faithful recreation of a beloved era, not least Caraway’s gift at turning a melody on its ear with an unexpected chord change. It’s obvious that Caraway has poured in precious time – not to mention blood, sweat and tears – to ensure that the music is good enough to stand up to his influences and inspirations.

I must admit that I’ve been rather harsh on power pop artists recently because of their closed straight-jacketed approach but am glad to report that no such problem is evident on Hurricane Season. 

Check out Steve Caraway’s Myspace page.

GENTLEMEN AUCTION HOUSE

 

GENTLEMEN AUCTION HOUSE Christmas in Love (Emergency Umbrella

As I walked past my local shopping centre the other day I saw that workmen were busy beavering away putting up a Christmas tree. I stopped and watched them in slight disbelief, it is early November and last time I checked Christmas is at the end of December. Being from a much colder climate I have never seen a Christmas Tree up when it is humid and sunny so this was an odd experience for me. It seems that Christmas gets earlier every year lately, but of course Christmas is about money these days and the earlier the better. Imagine my surprise then when I was handed a Christmas EP to review this week…..has the world gone mad?

Gentlemen Auction House is a seven piece band from St Louis, Missouri and are currently touring on the back of their successful debut album Emergency Graveyard. In between the release of the new album and touring the band thought that it would be a good idea to release a Christmas themed EP, something they had had on their ‘to do’ list for some time. So singer Eric Enger holed himself up in his basement for a couple of weeks, cracked the Air Con down to a wintery temperature and came up with Christmas in Love, a poppy dedication to everyone’s over commercialized holiday!

Starting with A Banner Year the EP doesn’t have a massive shift from the band’s album or original sound. This EP may be a gimmick of sorts but it is certainly not a move in a new artistic direction. This is GAH’s signature sound of American College Folk/Rock with a sprinkling of fairy dust and glitter balls. Singer Eric Enger’s voice reminds me of part River Cuomo of Weezer and part J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. Their sound is a collection of guitars, piano, drums, trumpets, xylophones and even flutes which are all used to perfect effect to add to the Yuletide flavor of the EP. 

The two tracks that really stand out for me are On the Rooftops, which strongly reminds me of the Rentals with the dual male and female vocals and Christmas in Love, the title track for the EP and closer. Both songs have a perfect melodic sound that captures the feeling of winter and opening presents. You can almost imagine the setting of the videos being in a snow covered forest with a log cabin and the band toasting marshmallows around an open fire.

Fans of the band will love this EP and I like the idea that they have had in trying to give them something unique for the holiday season. Although when I first came across this EP I had the fear that I would spend most of it cringing at the Christmas references but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I only felt this on rare occasions. Most notably Here Comes Santa Claus, GAH’s take on the old classic, there is nothing particularly wrong with this song but it drips with Americana  and blatant cheese, there is not a chorus of children here but they would not be out of place should the band have decided to add them.

If you are looking for an early blast of holiday season joy then check this EP out.

(Adam Gregory)

Check out GAH’s Myspace page.

Download: On the Rooftops

LANTERNS

LANTERNS Apocalypse Youth (Self released)

Noise pop, ah, you’ve got to love its exciting blend of painful distortion and shimmering melodic structure. From the shoegaze era and beyond, the bands who have been able to strike a fine balance between the two seemingly polar sonic qualities, have always been a bit special.

Add San Diego’s Lanterns to the esteemed list of devout noise poppers. Consisting of Lowell Heflin (Vocals/Guitar), Sean Liljequist (Bass), Adam Piddington (Guitar), Loren Hiew (Drums), Lanterns have produced a visceral EP, full of epic intent and widescreen lyrical concepts. 

From the moment the EP opens with the manically, potent chords of Midnight Psalms (Alright!), you know you’re in for a thrilling ride. End-Time Blues steps back ever so slightly to deliver an intricate lattice of spaced out riffs and pummeling drums.

By the time, Creation Myth bolts out of the stalls, you’re breathless in an attempt to keep up. Reminiscent of JAMC’s invocation of the Spectoresque wall-of-sound, Creation Myth is almost bubblegum in its melodic agenda but backed always by punishing waves of feedback-drenched guitar delights. Desperation Wolves, Beacon Flames keeps the momentum alive with the slightest hint of a Bo Diddley back beat and cascading guitar patterns. 

Finally, Electric Warrior Kisses provides a respite (of sorts) with a bizarre hymn enveloped with white noise screaming out from every note. Every sound is fuzzy and distorted, even what sounds like an accordion. Then it’s over… and you can catch your breath again. 

So come on and feel the noise with Lanterns…

Check out Lanterns’ Myspace page.

Download: Creation Myth

KRISTOFFER RAGNSTAM

 

KRISTOFFER RAGNSTAM Wrong Side of the Room (bluhammock)

The success of Sweden in exporting their musical talents abroad has been well documented. From Abba to Carola Haagkvist, Roxette to The Cardigans, and Jens Lekman to Kristoffer Ragnstam, the musical fertility of the Swedish is undeniable. 

Apart from being a music writer’s nightmare, however, they also have a penchant for creating gloriously fun and tasty pop. Case in point? Kristoffer Ragnstam’s new album, Wrong Side Of The Room.

It’s no secret that Ragnstam is often compared to Beck Hansen, due to the elaborate ambitious arrangements that are similar to both artists. Comparing Beck with Ragnstam, however, is rather akin to comparing Zinedine Zidane with Cristiano Ronaldo. Both players are wonderfully versatile in their own right, but the former infuses his style with a methodical, at times cynical attitude, whereas the latter goes about his job with a pervasive sense of flamboyant glee. Nowhere is the latter attribute more obvious than on Ragnstam’s new release, Wrong Side Of The Room.

Room starts off with a deliciously cheeky opener in the opener, Stop On Top; “I wore sunglasses today, ‘cus I robbed a bank yesterday”. It’s precisely the kind of irreverent music that catches you off-guard and pokes a laugh out of you, then goes to warp speed and takes your breath away. 2008, the subsequent track, takes a sly poke at self-serious folk troubadours who attempt to turn every song into a philosophical discourse, but is in itself post-punk self-depreciating with a heavy wallop of New Wave energy. The album proceeds to swing its way through thumping rhythms, whirling loops and cheeky Bob Dylan references on lead single, Swing That Tambourine, before it reaches the title track, which is itself an addictive if unlikely marriage of blues, folk and dance music. 

The fun continues on Mee, If You Were A Melody, which is an infectious musical instrumental swirling with keyboard hooks that leads into the catchy and impassioned May I Admire Her. The album closes with a bit of quiet folksiness on Of All Summers that is mesmerizing in its simple acoustic vibe that builds up to a stirring crescendo.

It’s a thumpingly tasty collection of songs that Ragnstam has put together here, one that does nothing to dispel the legends of Swedish music genius. It’s still all a tad too undisciplined and structured in the use of hooks and lyrical ramblings to be a monster hit on radio, but it’s glorious, juicy fun. Sink your teeth in.  

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

MIKE DUNN & THE KINGS OF NEW ENGLAND

MIKE DUNN & THE KINGS OF NEW ENGLAND The Edge of America EP (P is for Panda)

“At the end of the day, the song is the most important thing.”

That and the fact that there is a Tom Petty live album at the feet of Mike Dunn on the album cover of this thoroughly pleasing six-track EP. Call it alt-country, call it indie rock or even call it old school retro-pop-rock. Whatever. No escaping that it’s all about the song, never mind the trappings.

Which is an easy enough handle on down to earth indie rockers (with an alt-country twang) like Paper Candy, The Queen, Get Up and Breathe. No disputing the visceral appeal of these tracks to fans of Paul Westerberg, Bruce Springsteen and of course, Petty.

But for me, the highest praise is earned by the country piano ballad, City Still. Now how many (ostensibly) indie rockers would risk his indie cred with something as warm as this. More than that, how many can actually sound authentic and pull it off with such aplomb. The closing folky American Dreaming confirms this sensibility with its rustic tone and Dylanesque harmonica leaving the listener with a tinge of hope amidst the melancholia. 

Yup, Mike Dunn & the Kings of New England is a band to watch, certainly. Get in on the ground floor as P is for Panda is offering the EP for FREE! Definitely a worthy addition to your music collection.

Download: The Edge of America

Check out Mike Dunn’s Myspace page.

Thanks to Sameer for the heads up.

DOWN THE TRACKS

Down the Tracks: The Music That Influenced Led Zeppelin (Eagle Media)

Yes, it’s a little bit of a gimmick but I guess if using the name of Led Zeppelin brings a few rock fans into getting this well-crafted documentary of the original blues legends, then more power to the folks behind this!

Of course, it’s not all about the blues but a good 80% of this DVD is dedicated to the likes of Charley Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson, Bukka White, Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf. Very educational as music journalists and historians talk about the genesis of the blues and the legacy of these bluesmen. Significantly for modern rock, Waters and Wolf were highly influential in presenting the blues in what we now know as the rock band format. 

The tail end of the documentary highlights the influence of rock ‘n’ roll (Elvis Presley), skiffle (Lonnie Donegan), acoustic folk (Bert Jansch/John Renbourn/Davey Graham) and literature (Tolkien) on the work of Led Zeppelin. 

Interesting on its own terms but if you’re expecting to hear Led Zep music, look elsewhere.

FAREWELL FLIGHT

FAREWELL Sound. Color. Motion (Self released)

Pennsylvania’s Farewell Flight are no strangers to hard work. The band have been touring none stop since lead singer and main songwriter Luke Foley decided to set up the band in it’s current incarnation and head out on the road almost two years ago. Drawing comparisons with Death Cab for Cutie, Nada Surf and Jimmy Eat World’s softer moments, Farewell Flight released their full length album this year, Sound.Color.Motion. A mixture of three EPs hence the name. 

One talking point that always arises when this band are mention is their religious background and Christian beliefs. Farewell Flight are at pains to point out that they are in no way connected with the Christian music scene and strongly wish not to be lumped into this pigeon hole, as strongly as they believe in their faith. Farewell Flight are not a band singing about Jesus or putting any of their ideology into their music, this is not a band aiming to preach or convert and certainly not trying to spread the word of the Lord. Luke Foley has said himself that they do not wish to use their religious beliefs as a way of selling music and if not for the fact that this issue has followed the band you wouldn’t even be aware that they are Christians. Sound.Color.Motion deals with topics on a more human level and not religious one, and their music is more beautiful for it. 

The opening track on Sound.Color.Motion, Lullaby for Insomniacs, gently draws you into Farewell Flight’s world; the song is so openly touching and peaceful yet deals with the depths of despair and alcoholism. A voice in the dark, Foley’s delivery is almost soaked in whiskey as he calls to the lonely and sings for the lost. Foley’s lyrics connect strongly with the listener, you have a feeling that he has been to these depths and is not sure what the answer is himself. 

Foley’s voice is harrowing and touching at the same time and is definitely the strongest vehicle at the front of Farewell Flight’s convoy. His melodies both lift and break you and there is a rawness to it that truly aches with his music. Accompanied by the guitar work of Timmy Moslener and complimented by the piano, Farewell Flight has a strong ear for melody and warmth which is evident on Widower where Foley sings ‘Turning thirty five, I still sleep alone at night’. Far from being uplifting and praising this beautiful world, Foley sees all of its faults and tragedy. 

Usually bands like this do not do much for me, I find that they lack energy and don’t wander too far from the beaten track in their compositions. It is true that Sound.Color.Motion does lull in the middle and sometimes feels like it is dragging its feet, but it cannot be denied that they offer something more than the Coldplays and Snow Patrols of this world. The drumming in particular injects a great deal of energy to the album, evident on Slow with the marching band beat and thunderous ending to the best song on the album Over.

The touring ethic has certainly paid off judging by Sound.Color.Motion, and Farewell Flight definitely deserves it.

(Adam Gregory)

Check out Farewell Flight’s Myspace page.

TAB THE BAND

TAB THE BAND Long Weekend (North Street)

It must be my time for bad band names lately, firstly I had Paper Round Kid, not the most amazing moniker in the world….then I got Boo and Boo Too….enough said! So when TAB the Band dropped in my ‘to do’ pile I rolled my eyes to the heavens and asked out loud ‘are musicians even trying anymore????’. You see TAB the Band consist of Tony Perry, Adrian Perry and Ben Tileston….get it? TAB! Ingenious! It honestly sounds like something a bunch of 10 year olds would come up with when deciding what to call themselves! It is hardly inventive. 

However you see with TAB the Band I think I may have stumbled upon the reason why they have such a bad band name. Firstly you will notice both Tony and Adrian share the same surname, a surname that adores the halls of Rock Stardom and beats success beyond that of imagination…yes it would be the surname of Joe Perry, lead guitar player and one half of the toxic twins of Aerosmith. ‘Surely they are not his sons???’ I hear you say….well yes they surely are. This to me explains why the name is so bad, both Tony and Adrian knew from the moment this band formed they would be forever known as ‘Joe’s boys plus some drummer dude’ so why bother putting in much effort on a name when that will follow you around for life?

Long Weekend, TAB’s second full length album, is a slab of retro rock, bluesy twang and adrenaline filled swagger that hits you at two hundred miles an hour and doesn’t let you catch your breath. The album is literally over swiftly after it has started. Opening track Backseat Lover bears the inescapable hallmark of Daddy’s early work in Aerosmith but with TAB’s own take on it. It is almost as if everything in music from the late seventies onwards didn’t happen for TAB and they are completely unapologetic about this. 

Looking Pretty, Pretty does give a slight nod in the direction of Queens of the Stone Age but then Where She Was On Monday plants TAB’s feet firmly back in the past of the Rolling Stones. TAB are straight forward and to the point, they are a power trio with gritty guitars, thunderous bass lines and hammering drum beats layered in blues and part country with the sliding guitar on ‘Apple of an Eye’. They are no strangers to sing along choruses either with ‘My Baby is Fine’ which hooks you straight away and almost makes you stomp your feet and rowdily sing along.  

TAB the Band like their music straight forward, no nonsense and most of all they like it dirty and full of rock. They have a huge shadow to step out of but you get the feeling that they have no concerns about doing this because they are having too much fun to care. There is no doubt that although what they are doing is not revolutionary, it is exactly what they want to be doing and that is all that matters to them, with or without Dad’s name. 

(Adam Gregory)

Check out TAB the Band’s Myspace page.

PoP CLASSIC

THE GREAT SPY EXPERIMENT Flower Show Riots (Riot!, 2007)

You could say that I know most of these songs inside out, having heard GSE (viz. Fandy Razak, Khairyl Hashim, Magdalene Han, Saiful Idris and Song) perform on a number of occasions but hearing these polished recordings is something else altogether.

The crisp production and mastering (by Howie Weinberg no less) enhance the bright sheen of the songs, in terms of the ability to move your feet, touch your heart and feed your soul. I mean, Flower Show Riots sounds really good and stands up easily to any modern rock LP you may care to point out on the Billboard Album Charts. Not a claim one can honestly make in normal circumstances with reference to a Singapore band but I believe that there’s no exaggeration to declare Flower Show Riots a minor tour de force.

With a keen sense of what modern rock is groovin’ to in 2007 (with the obvious lookback to British post-punk) and a nod to the still-vibrant classic rock influences, the sharp, kinetic and ambitious guitar rock on display here is commercially accessible and artistically engaging to any rock fan anywhere in the whole wide world.

Check out the Great Spy Experiment’s Myspace page.

MARYKATE O’NEIL

MARYKATE O’NEIL mkULTRA (Nettwerk)

Recent singer-songwriter-centric music tends to be decidedly folkie but some of us do remember a time when pop-rock artists like Randy Newman, Billy Joel and Elvis Costello would combine literate messages with well-worked music.

O’Neil belongs somewhat to the old school and on this EP taster (before the release of her third full length – Underground – in 2009), O’Neil fully confirms her talent at fashioning smart pop songs from the foundation of thoughtful lyrics.

The opening Green Street combines major seventh chords patterns with a treatise on navigating NYC. Add a imminently singable chorus and the effect is complete. This search for direction continues somewhat with jazzy acoustic guitar and a plaintive cry from O’Neil – “I’ve lost the map that takes me home”.

The angry Nothing I Say Or Do finds O’Neil confronting a loved one about a bad attitude, set to the soundtrack of minor-key folk, “everything I try is always wrong” she laments. The mood actually gets dimmer with the melancholy Trouble. Framed around an inventive vocal arrangement, O’Neil circles her guilt and regret (“even I knew – trouble”) on herself.

Well, O’Neil has described the concepts behind these songs as “a bit about the darker side of NYC downtown life” so I guess the downer tone should not be a surprise.

The EP closes with two covers – the wistful Without You (Randy Newman) and the disorienting, resigned, ironic Happy (written by Jill Sobule and Adam Schlesinger).

Not the home run, fans may have been expecting but think of it as an intriguing preview before the main event of Underground next February.

Check out Marykate O’Neil’s Myspace page.

COOL HAND LUKE

COOL HAND LUKE The Sleeping House(Lujo)

Christian rock music is a curious thing. On the one hand, you have Christians who shudder at the slightest hint of an electric guitar, who still brandish about fiercely old burnt Beatles records and who insist that rock and roll is the work of the devil. On the other hand, you have Christians of postmodern design and thinking who insist that rock music is the church’s way of remaining relevant and contemporary to modern day pop culture. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, the undeniable fact is that for some time now, Christian rock bands have been slowly edging their way into the mainstream, and no other record illustrates this point better than rock band Cool Hand Luke with their fifth album, The Sleeping House.

Following in the footsteps of radio-friendly Christian bands such as Switchfoot, Relient K and The Fray, Cool Hand Luke present an album that is by turns, liquid and expansive in sound with broad strokes of cinematic color, with an edgy darkness though that sets this album apart from previous efforts. Lyrically, Mark Nicks explores themes of faith, hope and sacrifice, all Christian standards, but with a raw edge born out of a palpable desperation that could be interpreted either as the fervor of faith or the confession of doubt.

The Sleeping House starts off with the liquid minute-and-a-half introduction entitled Fast Asleep, with lovely lush melting soundscapes that is reminiscent of U2 during their experimental 90s, though without the electronica infatuation. It’s a indicator to the strength of the sonic identity of the album that when the second track, Cast Your Bread started, I was blithely oblivious, still thinking that it was a very long first track I was listening to. 

Cast Your Bread itself is a riddle of piano hooks and compelling vocals. Different elements work together to frame the central question of the lyrics and album, a paradoxical refrain drawn from biblical language used to demonstrate the principle of sacrifice and divine reward. The excellent track is followed by a driving mid-tempo rocker in the form of Failing In Love, as well as the thought-provoking Buy The Truth, which, though it covers no new ground with its message of spirituality over materialism, is worth the price of admission just for the piano melodies and cleverly crafted lyrics. 

This being Cool Hand Luke’s first release to the general secular public, it’s a bold move by the band, then, not to downplay the complexity of their lyrics. Instead, Mark Nicks openly discusses themes that might be alien to modern radio. Eye Of The Storm, for example, stands as a quietly defiant track to the conventional wisdom of blaming God for sorrow and suffering.  Built upon flowing piano hooks, it weaves its way through the various stages of loss before defiantly choosing to believe even in the face of tremendous sorrow. Incomprehensible Sleep is a compelling, reverberating track set in the mind of Jesus Christ, giving a nakedly personal and relatable perspective to the central figure of the album. “Don’t listen to the silence,” sings Nicks, before going on to plead, “Don’t you know that I will never lead you astray?” It makes for an interesting companion piece to U2’s 1991 Achtung Baby track, Until The End Of The World, which was set as a conversation between Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ.

If there’s a downside to the artful manner in which Cool Hand Luke have gone about constructing their fifth studio LP, it’s that the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts. The Sleeping House stands as a liquid, organic collection; themes and lyrics echo and flow into each other in a way that demands for one to take the album as a whole to be able to fully appreciate the lyrical ideas sketched out in this album. Though the album is reminiscent strongly of radio favorites U2, Radiohead and Coldplay, The Sleeping House lacks the pop discipline to truly craft a single that stands as a compelling song of its own, and that is probably Cool Hand Luke’s single failure here. Still, they have managed to create a piece of music that brims with thought-provoking lyricism and edgy instrumentation, and for that they should be applauded.

(Samuel C Wee)

BOO AND BOO TOO

BOO AND BOO TOO No Tempo (Iron Paw)

Hailing from Lawrence, Kansas in the States, Boo and Boo Too (I know, terrible name) have a chaotic, piercing, shredding and wire strained mess of a sound that takes heavy influence from such bands as Sonic Youth and The Breeders with a good slab of melody to boot! Their debut album, No Tempo, brings to mind a night out where you crash into bed as the sun rises the next morning, not quite sure of whom you are and where you have been.

The album opens with a drunken slur of a song called I Know Nothing’s Alright and this pretty much sets the tone of what you are in for. The guitars crash together in an almost Blues thunderstorm and this has to be Boo’s biggest asset as a band. The sheer manic crescendo of sound that is being pushed and pulled between the different instruments in the line up is both beautiful and frightening at the same time. The singer slurs his words and utters almost incoherent lyrics as the pace of the song increases and descends into a storm of melody. Boo and Boo Too do this well, out of the mess often come pure gems that would not be out of place in many of today’s over hyped and processed poster boy pop/rock band’s songs, but this band are the furthest from that that you can possibly get. I’ll Be Your Whore and White Light, Dark Sheets are fine examples of this.

However it is not all perfect. Too often while listening to No Tempo I found my mind wandering away from the album purely because it became too predictable. Many of the songs start off slowly before speeding up into mass orchestras of distortion that work well, but once or twice is enough. Obviously and No Tempo, the title song of the album, are both guilty of this but it is a pattern repeated on many of the songs. It could be argued that Boo and Boo Too are simply making noise for the sake of making noise. I would say that listening to their work you can hear this is not true, but they do need to break out from a pattern they have set themselves in once in a while. This happens in ‘Black Buggy’, but not often enough.

If I could give one piece of advice with this album it would be to skip right to the end before listening through from the beginning. It is here that Alleys in Whitechapel can be found and this to me is everything that Boo and Boo Too can be. The song is full of just enough cohesion but still falling over the edge and the singer surpasses himself here. His voice appears clear and somber for once with a slight lace of alcohol, letting go at the end of the song to push out a gravel strain scream that is perfection. 

(Adam Gregory)

Check out Boo and Boo Too’s Myspace page.

DURAN DURAN DVD

Duran Duran – Classic Albums: Rio (Eagle Vision)

Guilty confession. I must admit that I was slightly taken aback when I read the email promoting the release of this DVD. Since when was Rio considered a classic album? I mean, seriously! So that piqued my curiosity to get a hold of this review copy.

After watching the DVD, it appears to me that the real significance of Rio was more as a fashion statement – the return of glam rock and the rise of the new romantic movement (e.g. Visage, Spandau Ballet, Kajagoogoo) than a musical one. The other significance of course was that the rise of Duran Duran and the popularity of Rio coincided with the advent of Music Television i.e. MTV.

In the truly depressed Britain of the early 80s – Thatcherism, unemployment and not to mention the Falklands War – the sound and vision of Duran Duran (which really updated Bowie and Roxy Music) was a breath of fresh air and the British kids embraced the band completely. 

I enjoyed the outline of the band’s history as well as snippets of songs from the debut album (especially Planet Earth and Girls on Film), which I consider vastly superior to the overrated Rio.

However, to be fair, especially to Nick Rhodes and John Taylor, it is clear now that Duran Duran was influential in properly melding dance (alright, disco) beats with bright guitar pop and certainly influential on subsequent successful acts like the Killers. Although, I cannot help but snigger when I hear the band members waxing lyrical about their place in rock history. 

So, unless you’re a rabid fan or a Classic Albums completist, I would suggest you skip this one and try to locate the Who’s Next DVD. I still am.

THE SMITH BROS.

THE SMITH BROS. Restless (Self released)

Power pop can go a few ways. From the sophisticated multi-layered works that the likes of Jellyfish excel in or the adrenalized crunching melodic rockers that the Foo FIghters seem to spit out for fun. Somewhere in between, we have the earnest & sincere folk-pop-rock that seems to have locked in the Beatles in their jangle phase circa Rubber Soul.

Of course, entire careers have been based simply on this – Teenage Fanclub comes quickly to mind – and this is the chosen mode of expression of The Smith Bros. Consisting of Mike Clark (Bass & Vocals), Pat Dollenmayer (Guitar & Vocals), Kris Philips (Drums) & Brian Pack (Guitar), the Smith Bros. dive in, fully-committed to their singular powerpop vision.

Which, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, makes this album something of an acquired taste. Personally, I have no objection to 14 tracks sounding similar in style and approach but the songs would then have to really possess strong and memorable melodic and instrumental hooks. 

Unfortunately, this is not a quality that comes immediately to the fore on Restless. Instead, what we are left with, is an album that is clear in delivering a set of ascertained expectations (i.e. TFC-derived material) and if that’s all you’re looking for, then Restless will certainly fulfill such requirements. With heart as well.

THE NEW UP

THE NEW UP Broken Machine (Self-released)

I guess the New Up fancy themselves as new wave revivalists. And in most ways, they would be absolutely right. After all, the melding of crunching guitars and bleeping synthesizers was a product of the early 80s. The press release even talks up singer ES Pitcher’s ‘uncanny’ resemblance to Siouxie Sioux and Chrissie Hynde. 

Well and good. Whilst as trippy psych-rockers go, the New Up do the job in getting the fundamentals right. What I do appreciate and admire is the band’s ability to mix the harsh with the sweet, the soft with the hard without forgetting how to squeeze in the odd memorable tune to keep things appealing for melody junkies like me. In that respect (and only that), there are faint echoes of Grandaddy on this EP.

For that reason, tracks like the driving major seventh Ginger Tea and the sophisticated raving Libations strike me as the perfect direction for the band to pursue. Till then, this 5 track EP will do.

THE BREAK AND REPAIR METHOD

THE BREAK AND REPAIR METHOD Milk the Bee (bluhammock)

The Break and Repair Method’s Milk The Bee opens with the upbeat, cheery This City (is bound do us in), where Paul Doucette’s vocals are very honest and heartfelt- he manages to go from hopeful and optimistic to shattered and distraught while retaining a strong intensity. Who’d have guessed he was Matchbox Twenty’s drummer?

The piano/keys are a prominent feature throughout the album, and they add a touch of child-like simplicity and innocence. The instrument serves as the starting point for those songs, which make them interesting and rather different for someone who’s used to guitar-driven work. 

I love that every song seems to tell a different story, from a different place. It feels like Paul is sharing a journey with you, filled with highs and lows. There is joy, wonderment, heartbreak, disappointment, strength and lots of passion. Also great grooves on songs like I’m At A Low, and a slightly haunting atmosphere in songs like Calling All Electrical Print make for an intriguing collection.

Milk The Bee closes with The Most Somebody Can Know, a slow but beautifully intense song that one could imagine was written about an elderly couple looking back on their life and relationship.

There’s loads of intensity on this album, and it’s always different and refreshing while retaining a fundamental pop sound. I really enjoyed it, and will be listening to it for a long time to come.

(Visa)

Check out the Break and Repair Method’s Myspace page.

THE ORGAN

THE ORGAN – Don’t Be Angry (off the album, Thieves)

Rustic folk is making big waves as cutting edge, artistic modern rock music. Looking at Vancouver-based quintet, The Organ, one would be taken aback by the melancholy music they create together. Don’t Be Angry is a good example, sounding like a relic from a different age. With echoes of The Decemberists, Don’t Be Angry is a good introduction to the ambitious sounds of The Organ.

Download: Don’t Be Angry.

Courtesy of RCRD LBL.

HOSPITAL SHIPS

 

HOSPITAL SHIPS Oh, Ramona (Graveface)

To be completely honest, I’m not too familiar with the work of Jordan Geiger with his other bands, Minus Story and Shearwater. But that’s alright, because after having gone through his debut album as a one man band under the name of Hospital Ships, I’m his latest fan. 

An intimate, deeply personal and confessional record, one gets the impression that the album was born when Mr. Geiger sat down one day at his table, took a look at his diary and went, “Hey, let’s turn this into an album!” The result is an LP that is by turns deftly ingenious as well as starkly revealing.

Album opener, Bitter Radio Single, is a short but captivating two-minute piece of sonic candy that gradually builds up and bursts into life towards the end. Fourth track on the album, The Shots I Drank, is a dreamy tune that sounds like it could belong on Pet Sounds, if not for the bittersweet melancholy that underscores the dreamy drunken saccharine quality of the melody. 

Indeed, most of the songs here sound like they‘d be more comfortable existing on dusty vinyl instead of digital, with a wonderful stripped down and sparse bedroom feel that could have come right from the 50s or 60s, and a fragile sensitivity evoking memories of a time more innocent and pure. It’s rather fitting then that most tracks on the album run under three minutes, such as the excellent Girls, a simple two-minute monologue about lost adolescent love set amidst lush acoustic sensibilities.

Title track, Oh Ramona, is a heartbreakingly simple love song, with a nakedness so intensely private one feels slightly voyeuristic for intruding. Your Heart is one and a half minutes of a song heard over an old radio, weaving in and out of your consciousness like a half-forgotten favorite tune, while the longest track on the album, I Want It To Get Out, is about as clever as Geiger gets on this record with the production.

Most tracks here never make it past mid-tempo, but that’s alright. These is no blazing stadium-rock epic, but instead an album to be slowly savored. A soft, quiet, and private affair, Oh! Ramona was made for those rainy days when all you want to do is curl up in an old cozy recliner with a cup of hot chocolate, close your eyes, and reminisce about an old lingering love. Listen to Geiger’s voice cooing in your living room. He just might be singing about you. 

(Samuel C Wee)

THE HUNDRED IN THE HANDS

THE HUNDRED IN THE HANDS Dressed in Dresden/Undressed in Dresden single (Gigantic Music/Tangled Up)

In my humble estimation, there are two major trends going on in modern pop-rock right now viz. alt-country and synth-pop. The Hundred in the Hands consist of ex-Boggs Jason Friedman and Eleanore Everdell and the electronic duo has released its debut single as a free download.

The ‘A’ side (such as it is) is a kooky reggae-fied piece of choppy guitars and atmospheric keyboards with Everdell’s plaintive vocals playing counterpoint. The ‘B’ side is a dubbed-up version, with backward sound effects, restless horns, punchy percussion and throbbing bassline making for an intriguing mix. 

Whilst the melody quotient isn’t much to write about, its the overall cool vibe that thoroughly works for me. So pick up this excellent piece of ear candy while you can.

Download: Dressed in Dresden/Undressed in Dresden

Watch: Videos of Dressed in Dresden/Undressed in Dresden

THE DEAD TREES

THE DEAD TREES King of Rosa (Milan)

This took me by surprise! I mean, to experience a melange of power pop and alt-country as potent as that found on this wonderful debut from Portland’s Dead Trees is a pleasant shock. Add a smidgeon of Britpop cool into the mix and the result is almost pop majesty.

Genre-bending? Check! Eclectic? Check! Cross-hatching? Check!

I must say that King of Rosa has been on heavy rotation for a while now and the opening salvo of the psychedelic Brit-rocking OK Standby, the catchy Beatlesque Shelter and the jaunty Beach Boys via the Shins evoking My Friend Joan, She Never Asks confirms Dead Trees’ intent to throw every classic pop-rock reference into the mixer and set the controls for the heart of the sun…

And the beat goes on – the Replacements-referencing Killer in Me, the mutant twangy Instrumental, the smile-inducing rhythmic I Have, I Want, the straight ahead rave-up Loretta, the melancholy jazz-bluesy Let Me Sleep, the sloppy dirge Twin Cities and the folky New England Skies.

Yes, boys and girls, this one’s gonna be on the Power of Pop Albums of the Year list. Believe me…

Check out the Dead Trees Myspace page.

Download: Shelter