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!

KENT EASTWOOD

KENT EASTWOOD Through the Days (Self-released)

Regardless of whether you like the music, there’s much to be said in the way of brownie points for a musician who steadfastly accompanies the promotional soft copies of his new album with a list of thoughtfully detailed explanations of how the songs on the album came about. In an age where most bands out there are happy to just stick their songs up on Myspace and Youtube and leave it be, someone who makes a sincere effort to connect with us reviewers is just endearing.

Which was why I really, really wanted to like Kent Eastwood’s new release, Through The Days. When the album slipped my attention and relegated itself to background noise a few tracks in, I attributed it to the distractions of work, and resolved to pay it more attention when I wasn’t busy with the stacks of paperwork on my desk. By the time I had been through my 3rd listen however, it was beginning to dawn on me that it just wasn’t a terribly arresting record.

That’s not to say that it’s a poor album: taken on its own merits, one might find a few moments of eloquent poignancy that resonates with you. For the most part, Through The Days is vaguely melodic muzak.  That particular judgment might be a bit harsh, but it’s a reflection of the disappointment I felt when the songs I heard didn’t exactly match up to the descriptions so earnestly set forth by Mr. Eastwood.

Take the album opener, Differences, for example. The song is described as a song of urban alienation and disorientation, which is a fine song concept to start with. The track itself, however, is a mediocre melodic, mid-tempo number that doesn’t depart much from the simple keyboards and drums instrumentation that it starts off with. As an album opener it’s rather poor at capturing one’s attention. Thankfully, second track on the record, Make A Difference, is much more promising, with a much more compelling melody and texture to its flow. Soft waves of electric distortion and guitar rhythms keep one’s attention aroused while the melody does a good job of finding a spot in between your ears and digging a hole there into your memory cells. Someone Like You is passable, though not quite as good as the previous track. Time And Time Again though, at 6:10, is probably 2 minutes too long, and falls prey to the central irony of its premise in being yet just another John Lennon tribute song. The rest of the album plodded along uninterestingly for me, with only Silence and Better Place standing out for me.  (Although why Silence disappears quite abruptly into a patch of literal silence towards the end, I can’t really quite comprehend.)

It’s hard to give this album a negative review when I really wanted to like it in the first place, but if I were to be honest I wasn’t terribly impressed. Eastwood comes across as someone with the capacity to be mesmerizing at times, but this record felt too indulgent and lazy to me, lacking any real imagination or pop discipline. Give the tracks mentioned above a listen if you’re so inclined, but as an album, Through the Days goes wide of the far post for me.

(Samuel C Wee)

PoP10 – NELSON BRAGG

 

1. Why play music?
Music seems to be food, apparently. I’ve tried not playing for a long while once, and my body just sort of gravitated to the drum kit anyway. Music has a pull I can’t avoid. 

2. Who are your influences?
I seem to like what David Crosby, George Harrison, Holsapple & Stamey, R.E.M., Joe Jackson, The Grapes Of Wrath, Indigo Girls, and Todd Rundgren do, so I nick from them as often as possible.

3. What is success?
Doing what you LOVE with people you LOVE, as often as possible, money or not.

4. Why should people buy your music?
Because people lack discipline, and they need to stop moving, sit down, and take in a good album once in a while. Mine is as good as any I think.

5. Who do you love?
My twin sister Louise and her family. 

6. What do you hope to achieve with your music?
I’d like to generate income with my songs. I believe I achieved my goals of creating a good record and getting positive feedback. Now, it would be good for the songs to work for me.

7. Who comes to your gigs?
Depending on the gig, with my local bands – a few friends, with Brian, thousands of strangers and lots of friends….strange friends….

8. What is your favorite album?
Katy Lied – Steely Dan

9. What is your favorite song?
Eight Miles High – The Byrds

10. How did you get here?
Well, you know, mum and daddy got pissed (drunk) one night and then liked what they saw, and 9 months later me and sis were yanked from our little tea party we were having inside there, it was very disturbing really. I was winning at gin rummy…….

Nelson Bragg’s brilliant new album, Day into Night is out now.

MINIATURE TIGERS

MINIATURE TIGERS Tell it to the Volcano (Modern Art Records)

Although the title of the tracks sound like a tribute to the exploitation horror flicks of the 70’s (Cannibal Queen, Last Night’s Fake Blood, Hot Venom) – don’t let that fool you for a minute.

Tell it to the Volcano, the debut album from Phoenix band – Miniature Tigers, is brimming with well crafted, easy listening, catchy melodies that will invade your mind and park themselves right at the helm, so you can’t help but want your next fix or be reduced to having the chorus or the infectious riffs of a tremolo ring through your head for days. I’ve personally not reached the height of nausea as one normally does with tunes stuck in your head, because 8 of the 11 tracks are no longer than three minutes and the album wraps up in just under half an hour – Nice.

This album successfully follows the release of their dual EPs – Black Magic/White Magic in March 2008, touted as “terribly endearing” by critics. Frontman Charlie Brand who pens the songs, formed the band with Rick Schaier (drums/keys) with current bassist Lou Kummerer. Brand’s wistful and harmonic vocals carries each tune effortlessly. What I appreciated about the album laden with catchy hooks, was the mellow undertones that barely scratch the surface, making it endearing indeed.

Inspiration for the music and lyrics as explained by Brand, came in the form of his personal experiences having been in a bad relationship and penning the songs while being happy in a good one. The album opens with the fetching and melodic Cannibal Queen, written when Brand was at the height of his ABBA phase. The amusing video for Cannibal Queen is a clue that the band doesn’t take itself too seriously either. The next four tracks follow the pace set with short bursts of energy and bouncy beats including the title track – Tell it to the Volcano

The sixth track of the album slows things down, allowing you a moment of reflective space. Tchaikovsky & Solitude is my personal favourite – reminiscent of the hypnotic beat of Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight and staying true to the endearing quality of their originality with Brand tunefully lamenting, “I listen to Tchaikovsky and cry…”. 

Not a moment is spared as they dive back into the remaining, memorable uptempo tracks, save for Haunted Pyramid – which is another slow, amusing, almost trippy track, with echoes of a homage paid to the vintage music of the 1930’s. The album ends with Last Night’s Fake Blood, tying things up with a perky beat, complete with harmonic echoes and another catchy hook for the road. 

Miniature Tigers were invited to open for Ben Folds and are currently touring the US nationwide. Added to the line up of the band is Phantom Planet guitarist, Darren Robinson – who is a welcomed addition to the party, not just for his talent but also for the fact that he shares the band’s (save for Lou) obsession with the TV Drama series – LOST. Go figure.

No doubt, we’ll be hearing more of Miniature Tigers, if we’re not already listening to them enough. Tell it to the Volcano is refreshing and worth securing – If not for the originality, inventive and melodious take on quirky themes, then losing yourself in a chirpy, perky but never sappy, frame of mind, should be reason enough. 

An interesting Get-to-know the band interview with Brand is featured here: Pretty Much Amazing – Miniature Tigers

And another insightful interview with Brand is featured here: Miniature Tigers vs the ‘Volcano’

(Charlotte Lourdes)

Check out Miniature Tigers’ Myspace page

NELSON BRAGG

 

NELSON BRAGG Day into Night (Side B Music)

Discerning listeners of the pop underground would have noticed the name of Nelson Bragg pop up in albums by the likes of The Tyde, Stew, Cloud Eleven, and The Mockers. Fans of the legendary Brian Wilson will also know of Bragg as a vital cog in Brian’s backing band.

More than that, Bragg is also an acomplished singer-songwriter-musician in his own right, as his debut album – the truly excellent Day into Night – attests. Recorded over the course of four years – in the midst of Bragg’s commitments with the Brian Wilson Band – Day into Night is an exceptional album that captures brilliantly the classic pop of the 60s and the 70s and straddles the varied delights of soft pop, jangle pop, chamber pop and sunshine pop perfectly.

As the album title suggests, the album transitions from day into night during its course in terms of sound and theme with the album starting brightly with the Byrdsy Forever Days and folky Tell Me I’m Wrong. The mood swings ever so slightly with Bragg’s evocative take on the late George Harrison’s Dark Sweet Lady, with its nylon string plucking, mandolins and heart-tugging pedal steel, it’s a mini tour de force which the great man would have enjoyed himself. 

The rest of Day into Night continues in this vein as melancholia replaces bright-eyed innocence but always drenched with multi-part vocal harmonies reminiscient of the Beach Boys and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Check out the wonderful Death of Caroline, Every Minute of the Day for a powerful dose of vocal brilliance. But it is with the penultimate A Father’s Foolish Will that will deeply touch you with its sad story about a father’s separation from his son – perhaps due to divorce? Delivered with simplicity and heartfelt aplomb, this short track is the album’s most poignant moment.

There is enough on Day into Night to suggest that it will weigh heavily on my mind when the year’s best albums are being considered come December ’09.

Check out Nelson’s Myspace page.

ROGER JOSEPH MANNING JR.

ROGER JOSEPH MANNING JR. Catnip Dynamite (Franklin Castle/Oglio)

Feeling emo? Perhaps you need a dose of dense multi-layered sunshine pop. The kind of pop that revels in harmonies, sing-a-long melodies, traditional chord structures but never shys away from complicated arrangements and ornate instrumentation. Sophisticated, intricate pop is the name of the game and Roger Joseph Manning Jr is one its revered masters.

Manning, of course, is best known as an integral part of legendary powerpop band Jellyfish and also as a valued Beck keyboards sessionist. This sophomore effort is for fans of classic pop tune-smithing of the 60s and 70s and will definitely appeal to those who list the likes of Queen, Supertramp, Beach Boys, ELO, 10cc, the Zombies, Burt Bacharach, Todd Rundgren, Sparks and the Beatles amongst their firm favorites. 

Yes, that is a heady line-up of influences but Manning’s songs do not pale in comparison and Catnip Dynamite is proof positive of Manning’s ability. The eleven originals on show here are pretty much consistent quality-wise but for me personally, the highlights are the epic The Turnstiles at Heaven’s Gate, the gorgeous Love’s Never Half as Good, the glam rock cautionary tale Living in End Times, the beaty & bouncy The Quickening and the whimsical ditty Haunted Henry.

Tacked on at the end are bonus live versions of Thomas Dolby’s Europa and the Pirate Twins, Elton John’s  Love Lies Bleeding and Manning’s own You Were Right. Nothing that distracts too much from the main course but a pleasing dessert. 

An accomplished effort, with enough melodic creativity to last a tune junkie for months on end. Essential PoP listening…

Check out Roger’s Myspace page.

ALL-AMERICAN REJECTS

ALL-AMERICAN REJECTS When the World Comes Down (DGC/Interscope)

So are we supposed to accept the All-American Rejects as serious artists rather than a teenybopper emo-powerpop boy band? I mean, what separates the band from, say the Jonas Brothers? Let’s focus on some of the lyrics in this, their third album, and see how that measures up.

“I wanna, I wanna, I wanna touch you/You wanna touch me too/Everyday, but all I have is time/Our love’s a perfect rhyme” from I Wanna. 

“When you see my face/Hope it gives you hell/Hope it gives you hell/When you walk my way/Hope it gives you hell/Hope it gives you hell” from Gives You Hell.

Bob Dylan, these guys definitely ain’t! But then who is?

So forget the lyrics and let’s concentrate on what the All-American Rejects do best. Sugar-coated melodies allied to crunchy power chords. In that context, the aforementioned tracks are fine examples of what the All-American Rejects are all about. Once the chorus hits in the opening I Wanna, you’re likely to ignore the inane words and simply bop irresistibly. And Gives You Hell is even better/worse (take your pick) as the pseudo-hip-hop rhythm of the chorus recalls very recent Weezer at their snarkiest. 

And truth be told, Weezer is definitely a strong influence on much of When the World Comes Down although trainspotters may pick up slight references to U2 (Breakin’), epic goth (?) duet with folk duo the Pierces (Another Heart Calls) and new wave (Real World).

Overall, there’s no escaping that the All-American Rejects are trying hard to expand the scope of their music with When the World Comes Down (remember they’re serious artists now) but bottom line is that whatever additions the band might make with diverse instrumentation, the key to its success resides in its melodic quotient and on that count, When the World Comes Down does not disappoint.

Check out the All-American Rejects’ Myspace page.

The All-American Rejects will be performing a couple of songs at Nokia’s Earn Your Stripes Party on Friday 27th February 2009 at the Zouk carpark from 9pm.

BELLA

BELLA No One Will Know (Mint)

Fuzzy synthesizer and guitar-driven pop! Bella’s No One Will Know will either be your guilty pleasure or a cliche turn-off. Made with cheese, cheese, lyrics like “They don’t know us” and even more cheese, this record is perfect for the listener who just wants to dance away without listening too deep or thinking too much. Much of the music sounds like the prepackaged pop you’d expect to hear in the background during a the scenes of a feel-good teenage movie where the protagonist gets dressed before a party, or heads on a road trip to nowhere.

The groove is the strong point of the record, and you will find yourself bobbing along and tapping your foot to the beat, whether the lyrics make you cringe or have you singing along. The music and lyrics are corny and forgettable, but still worth hanging on to for the Retro themed party that you’ve always wanted to throw. No One Will Know, almost prophetically titled, is one of those dance records that you’re going to be embarrassed to own. Personally, I’m probably going to hang on to my copy.

(Visa)

Check out Bella’s myspace page.

THE CRUXSHADOWS

THE CRUXSHADOWS Immortal (Dancing Ferrett Discs)

Oh my. I’m not sure what exactly this genre is called, but I’d venture a guess to say it’s some sort of mix of trip-hop or techno/industrial/gothic music. The heavy synth, violins and club beats make for quite an acquired taste, which the casual listener may find terribly annoying. One imagines that they play underground rave parties with people in masks, heavy makeup and leather. Lyrics like “I do not know the mind of God and I cannot guess his thoughts, but I have searched for you across the void when my sense of self was lost” remind me of the sort of poetry you’d expect from an angsty 13 year old girl.

To be fair I did a little research about the band because it’s not really my forte or cup of tea, and learnt they’re actually pretty mild and listener-friendly for their genre. They make a good starting point for newbies so check out their MySpace (www.myspace.com/cruxshadows) if you’re curious. They actually have a strong following of supportive fans, who take them very seriously. Whatever you might think or say about their music, culture and lifestyle, they’re certainly doing well for themselves. 

(Visa)

SOUL DISTRACTION

SOUL DISTRACTION The Truth Pill (Self released)

I have to admit I was looking forward to reviewing this. I’ve always had a soft spot for raw and heavy hard rock music, and the simple DIY packaging of Soul Distraction’s The Truth Pill immediately made me imagine a dirty rock&roll band that was too badass and devil-may-care to give a damn about silly things like CD packaging, and probably spent the money on booze instead.

The guitars are crunchy, the bass is punchy and deep, the drums are raw and primal- the record refreshingly avoids the excessively compressed sound we’ve gotten used to these days, leaving its life and energy well intact. Frontwoman Elsa Faith (from Singapore! Majulah Singapura!) sounds like how The Cranberries’ singer Dolores O’Riordan would after heavy consumption of cigarettes and alcohol.

Elsa notably shines on “When You Appear”, an acoustic track which reveals a more innocent, vulnerable side to the hard-rock queen. While The Truth Pill as a whole may come across as rather average with nothing particularly spectacular or groundbreaking, it is still an enjoyable rock record with great musicianship.

(Visa)

Check out Soul Distraction’s Myspace page.

ADRIAN WHITEHEAD

ADRIAN WHITEHEAD One Small Stepping Man (Popboomerang)

Adrian Whitehead’s One Small Stepping Man feels and sounds like a Beatles’ record with a modern, clean production. It opens with  Caitlin’s 60’s Pop Song, with an upbeat piano and perfect vocal harmonies. The late-Beatles influence is unmistakable in the songwriting, arrangement and vocals and Adrian manages to do them justice while establishing his own personality and style. 

The seeming simplicity of the songs’ arrangements highlight the powerful melodies perfectly. The songs are infectiously cheery and fun; the vocals and arrangement float and shimmer like a pleasant summer’s day. A great pop record, and we’re talking about good ol’ pop that’s made just how it used to be done. With a more polished sound too, courtesy of some great production from Jak Housden. This is a keeper. Highly recommended!

(Visa)

Check out Adrian Whitehead’s Myspace page.

THIN LIZZY

THIN LIZZY Still Dangerous (VHI Classic)

“Meh!” will probably be the reaction of our youngest generation when confronted with the words “Thin Lizzy”. In an age unforgiving to live albums and 70s hard rock bands that come across like pop candy in this day and age, Thin Lizzy’s best selling album turned out to be 1978’s Alive and Dangerous, one of the definitive live hard rock albums of the era.

Well, until now maybe, as long-lost tapes of Thin Lizzy’s 1977 show at the Tower Theatre Philadelphia have been mixed down by legendary producer Glyn Johns and released to hordes of appreciative diehard Lizzy fans. Famous for its innovative twin lead guitar harmonies and frontman Phil Lynott’s charisma, this Irish band’s legacy has been felt in British metal bands like Iron Maiden, Motorhead and Def Leppard. 

This is an excellent live album, put on your headphones, play it loud and you might as well be in the front row as Lynott and company strut their stuff. And its clinical and rollicking style is highly enjoying especially when guitarists Scott Gorman and Brian Robertson combine to heady effect. If the rumors are to be believed, at least, Still Dangerous contains zero overdubs compared to Alive and Dangerous!

All the hits are played – Jailbreak, Boys Are Back in Town, Soldier of Fortune and Me and the Boys – this fine nostaglic look back to a simpler time is well worth the price of entry not only to diehard fans but to anyone who loves this special rock era.

SUCKERS

 

SUCKERS Self-titled Ep (IAMSOUND)

Turn up your volume knobs and let down your hair, because roaring straight into your eardrums with their raucously melodic singalong tunes is the eclectic Brooklyn-based quarter, Suckers. Putting aside the frat-boy sophomore chic name, one finds a very enjoyable concoction of wildly creative and sonically dense material, with shades of the wild experimentation of Yeasayer and the clap-alongability of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Despite all the lushness, each and every instrument in the mix brims with a lively verve and irresistible zest. No surprises there, as they’re all played by the four members of the band themselves. 

First track on the EP is Beach Queen, a track that stands out most at first listen for the spacey drums, but quickly evolves into a pop gem that sounds like The Police given a shot of joy juice that explodes into a catchy chorus. It’s followed by Afterthoughts and TV, a four and a half minute stew of pyschedelic Animal Collective-style organized chaos. There’s a video of the band recording the song on Youtube that’s suitably treated in mind-bending colors, if you want a more visual representation of the song. 3rd on the EP, Easy Chairs, is probably the weakest track, though it still makes for good listening with its loose chanted harmonies which spill over onto It Gets Your Body Movin’. The band saves the best for the last here, a magical blend of earthy Americana and pop melodies with spacious production and echoing, ringing instrumentals. Witness the soulful, rootsy whistling midway through the track that gradually floats into sonic outer space. It’s easily the best song and track on the EP. 

An energetic record, Suckers manage to inject much needed doses of liveliness into their experimentation while at the same time keeping their feet firmly grounded on Terra Poppa. Like a pleasant campfire encounter with marshmellows, hot chocolate, and guitars all around, but on the Moon. Beautifully uplifting, and mindfully pop-sticky. 

(Samuel C Wee)
Check out Suckers’ Myspace page.

LIVE ‘N’ LOADED S1E3

 

Having caught the first two episodes of Live N Loaded on the idiot box, I very eagerly scuttled down to Mediacorp studios for the live recording of episode 3 to experience the crowd for myself. A quick glance at the lineup I was provided with left me a little less than enthused however, especially in the wake of the previous two “Sonic Youth” bands, Lamp Post Shadows and Finding Michelle, both of which delivered lackluster performances in previous weeks. To be honest, my expectations of finding a fresh act that even remotely excited me didn’t run very high, although the prospect of seeing some of the local legends I grew up with (Plainsunset, Kate Of Kale) in this environment did throw a little kick in my day.

Plainsunset opened the show with a frenzied offering of the fan favourite Girl On Queen Street, meant as a recording for their webcast episode on the LNL site, which has become a bona fide content aggregator for a small pool of local music as of late. Even with the ridiculously compressed studio sound, it was still an enjoyable atmosphere, one that carried on into Find A Way, Johari Window, Plainsunset, and The River Song, and had the crowd chanting for more.

Marchtwelve, a band I haven’t seen in a long time were also present on the show to deliver their tune Dear You, labeling themselves “Death Pop” on national TV, and giving me a good chuckle in the process. I’d still really like to know where they got that from. 

Kate Of Kale, another band I haven’t seen in a long time, delivered a kicking rendition of “Soundtrack To The Perfect You” a killingly simple pop punk tune that sticks with you for a very long time; a very subtle juxtaposition against EN-X, who played shortly before them, and oddly enough, dressed like them as well. It would be appropriate to mention that a good image isn’t an all-encompassing that floats your music, especially when it comes to the conviction behind playing rock and roll or punk. Substance counts too, perhaps to a greater extent. EN-X should definitely take note; they have a substantial ways to go.

As has become customary at local shows these days, the very obliging kids were in attendance, albeit with a markedly increased arsenal of kung fu moves to fling at each other and resplendent fashion victimization. As I stood out of range of their flying limbs and cursory self-awareness, I was left wondering if any of them realized how daft they looked trying to kill each other.

About midway through Kate Of Kale’s set, a minor scuffle erupted somewhere within the bowels of the pit. Amongst the sea of pugnacious faces, I barely noticed that a scuffle had erupted until Nizam of Plainsunset, Bass in hand, began gesticulating at someone in the crowd from the stage. Evidently respect for the artists has fizzled somewhat. Fortunately the producers had the presence of mind to bring in more security personnel to handle similar situations.

Further observations also led to wonder if the kids on the show were even aware of their significance in the greater scope of things. Seriously, “Hello Michelle”? You guys should be holding up signs like “I Love Plainsunset”, or “We Want *insert band name here*”. 

I have to admit though, even though I was expecting to be disappointed by the “Exposed” bands on the show, they held some merit, particularly the acoustic duo One Hot Minute from NJC, who had some very decent melodies and vocal harmonies going; very workable, and definitely appealing to their peers. I was also thoroughly impressed by singer-songwriter Racheal Teo’s performance. Pervy Boy however, as they have consistently done so for an extended period of time, failed to impress, delivering a set that was at best mediocre. If the voting system results in bands like them being put on the show, I suggest that the producers take a second look at its feasibility.

Ultimately, being present at this episode of Live N Loaded left me with mixed feelings. Of course the advent of someone championing the cause of local music is something to be thankful for, and further kudos to them for securing a platform (for a few more episodes, at least), but ironing out the kinks should be the topmost priority now. Perhaps some streamlining would be in order e.g. a more stringent act selection process. Come on, we can do better than that.

(Sherwin Tay)

PoP CLASSIC: YO LA TENGO (2007)

YO LA TENGO And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (Matador)

Never liked the Velvets?

Well, that is an observation one cannot make about perennial critics’ darlings Yo La Tengo. The trio’s connection with the Velvet Underground stretches far enough for them to be cast as the Velvet Underground themselves in the movie “I Shot Andy Warhol.”

But thankfully, there’s more to Yo La Tengo than a well-developed Velvets fetish. After all, this is a band who number the likes of The Kinks, Love, Soft Boys & the Mission of Burma amongst their favourite influences.

Maybe Yo La Tengo’s immaculate music taste has something to do with the fact that leader-guitarist Ira Kaplan used to be a rock journalist. Whatever, together with wife-drummer Georgia Hubley, Kaplan has kept Yo La Tengo-ing for more than fifteen years with a variety of bassists, the current holder James McNew having signed on in 1992.

Upon inspection, Yo La Tengo covers roughly two distinct and contrary musical grounds. Most obvious, of course, is the Velvets-patented drone rock with Kaplan’s half-spoken vocals and buzzy guitar work recalling Lou Reed. More surprising, perhaps given Yo La Tengo’s place within the indie noise-pop community, is the band’s uncanny ability to deliver slightly askew traditional pop songs of sheer melodic beauty!

Pardon me, if I expose my prejudices and focus on the latter theme – sheer melodic beauty! Coincidentally (or not – you decide) Yo La Tengo um goes into that almost pure pop mode on songs that are sung by Hubley. So, on the oddly titled “Let’s Save Tony Orlando’s House,” the drone-rocking takes a back seat to a soft focus pop song that would not be out of place on Papas Fritas’ latest opus! And what about the elaborate Beach Boys backing vocals that support Hubley’s soft spoken vocals on “You Can Have It All” – simply irresistible! Or even the melancholic slow country (ala Low) lamentation of “Tears Are In You Eyes” – all examples of Yo La Tengo’s wide palette of tastes and approaches – clear signs of restless artistry. Not to mention such idyllic pop nuggets like “Madeline,” “Night Falls on Hoboken” and “From Black to Blue!”

All told, “And then nothing turned itself inside out,” is 77 minutes of pure magic – evidence that Yo La Tengo have truly outgrown their Velvets clones tag, and have done it with much aplomb.

PoP CLASSICS: BELLE & SEBASTIAN (2006)

BELLE AND SEBASTIAN The Life Pursuit (Jeepster)

Never liked Belle and Sebastian.

Well, if I had to be honest, I never even heard Belle and Sebastian.

My ambivalence towards Belle and Sebastian rested upon certain hyperbole being trust their way by well-meaning music journalists.

This is why I never liked the Strokes either. (That’s another story entirely)

So here I am, listening to The Life Pursuit, the 7th Belle and Sebastian album and wondering what my unjustified prejudice has cost me.

Better late than never?

I suppose it began with downloading (legally and legitimately – ahem!) a free download of “Another Sunny Day,” which as it happens, I fell head over heels in love with.

I mean, it has this cool breezy country-folk-rock vibe, a riff that locks onto your synapses and twee vocals that really don’t seem to give a damn! What a combo!

So, inevitably, I get a hold of The Life Pursuit and it’s everything I didn’t think it would be – unashamedly retro, creatively plagiaristic and very very cool.

Songs like the glam-lite “Blues Are Still Blue,” the organ-heavy bouncy “Sukie in the Graveyard,” the Kinks-inspired edgy “We Are The Sleepyheads” and the Motown-driving “To Be Myself Completely” are chock-full of handy references to decades of smart pop that genre trainspotters will absolutely love.

Simply put, an album that proves that contrary to first impressions, Belle and Sebastian deserve all that hype and praise. And how!