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

SO SO GLOS

THE SO SO GLOS Tourism/Terrorism (Green Owl)

What happens when you stick 4 brothers, who grew up in a microcosm of chaos, in a hovel by the train tracks?

You get a cacophony of aggression and urgency, a seam-stretching externalization of messages suppressed by a burgeoning deluge of omnipresent global troubles, impatiently awaiting release.

Enter the So So Glos, a high-energy group hailing from Brooklyn, one among the numerous cradles of the hardcore movement. These boys are obscenely loud and in-your-face, and that’s just the way they like it. They want you to sit up and listen to what they have to say, and if you don’t, they’ll try their level best to drag you into their world, face-first and fists pumping.

On their upcoming shortplayer (that’s halfway between an EP and an LP, or about 27 minutes, if you were wondering) release Tourism/Terrorism, the brothers are set to drive home their brand of infectious punk rock n’ roll, replete with gang vox, snarling skapunk attitude, and enigmatically enough, tasty flavours of a more tropical sensibility; chiming, compressed surf-punk rhythms, ukeleles, and even a tambourine; weaved seamlessly into the focused anarchy. Think a bastard child of the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Bob Marley, a Black Flag record, and enough beer to cause bodily harm by volume.

That’s not to say that this entire release is one homogenous, searing punk rock anthem from start to finish. There are a number of slow breaks between verses and medium-tempo pieces to lull the less sprightly into lapses of musically-altered consciousness, such as Love Or Empire a track carried by nothing but sparingly-overdriven, lightly-picked electric guitar chords and the sneering vocal stylings of singer Alex Lavine. Or Throw Your Hands Up, another track that deviates mildly off-tangent from the rest of the album, with a sound more inclined towards an early European powerpop formula.

Production-wise, this is definitely not one for the audiophile. The values are somewhat sketchy, with a marked imbalance in the levels of a number of tracks, but look, IT’S A PUNK ROCK ALBUM. That’s where the grit is, and therein lies the attitude; the allure,  if you will, that has kept the spirit of the punk movement alive from generation to generation. 

So fine, maybe their timely messages of heightened social awareness may not have been conceived as a direct response to the current load of crap we, the world at large have managed to dig ourselves into, but with solid tunes like these to deliver them, at least we have proof that all is not lost. In the incomprehensible vastness of our world, it’s easy to be apathetic towards social responsibility, but there exist those who remind us that perhaps the most effective catalyst for change is simply, the Man in the Mirror.

Overall, a refreshing release and I, for one, am eagerly anticipating what these boys have to offer next.

(Sherwin Tay)

Check out the So So Glos at their Myspace page.

FISHTANK

FISHTANK Make Nice (WMUM)

Immediately recognizable on Fishtank’s Make Nice album are killer, infectious songs from their live set such as Conversations, I Want Out, Race and Yahoo Superstar. While there is no substitute for catching these guys live, they do manage to capture a good amount of their energy on this record.

The album begins with a moderately energetic song Walk Away, which manages to transition smoothly from a milder, chill-out vibe to a stronger, more frantic and energetic one. It then continues to rise and peak with the subsequent songs as well..

The Fishtank formula seems to be as follows- a powerful and highly addictive bass/drum groove that sticks in your head, fluid and energetic transitions which involve the whole band, and simple but effective and memorable lyrics and melodies. There are some flavours of reggae, ska, surf-rock, and even a bit of a Red Hot Chilli Peppers vibe (especially on track 2, Young and Out).

Zaid’s vocals shine in the slower passages, such as in One Shot, with expressive vibrato and projection. Anjas’ bass plays a prominent role throughout the album, taking charge and driving the songs effectively and tastefully.

The album ends with the same amount of fervor, tirelessness and energy that the band is renowned for, both on and off-stage. If age has taken anything away from them, it certainly doesn’t show in their music.

As always, no album is perfect and there were a couple of things that I didn’t really enjoy. Some of the songs feel like they drag on a little longer than they should, and the album is slightly monotonous. Perhaps it would have been more interesting if they had allowed themselves to deviate more from their formula. While all the songs have intense energy, perhaps it might have added more depth to the album if things mellowed down at some point.

All in all, Make Nice boasts excellent musicianship from Asmail, Nizam, Anjas and Zaid. Every song is strongly held together with the finesse that only comes from years of experience. Fishtank know what they do best, and are not afraid to prove it. Quirky and with never-ending energy, Make Nice is just the thing you need as a pick-me-up on a dreary day.

Check out Fishtank at its Myspace page.

(Visa)

PAPER ROUND KID

 

PAPER ROUND KID Submarine (Chocolate Lab)

The name Paper Round Kid is a surprising moniker for someone of Darren Filkins age, he has been around for a while to put it mildy! In his musical past he was the lead guitar player in a certain Damon Albarn’s band Seymour who later went on to become Blur. However he left that life to travel the world and also became a photographer to the stars including Lenny Kravitz and John Lydon to name a few.

Filkins continued to write songs though and a couple of years ago he found himself at an open mic night, feeling the bug again, he decided to step back into music. Enlisting the help of producer/musician Reid Savage as well as keyboard player Greg Mason, Filkins set about creating Submarine, an album of folk, pop/rock songs based on the woes of love and life. 

To say that Filkins is influenced by Bob Dylan is a bit of an understatement, from the first notes he sings on U R the 1, Submarine’s opening song, you can hear a definite nod of imitation towards the legendary man. This however does not take away from the album or from Paper Round Kid’s music. Yes, some people will find his voice irritating and nasally at times, but there is no doubt that this album has an ear for melody and reaches for that something just a little bit different to make it worthwhile. 

There is a folk vein running through the entire album, all songs are semi-acoustic, but there is also a definite bounce in there as well that brings to mind a more seventies pop-rock influence and more than a touch of bubblegum pop. The shining light of the Submarine for me is Living A Lie, dealing with a tale of a stale relationship but done so with a happy jingle of a song that could almost be a feel good hit of the summer. It really is a rare talent that Filkins has to be able to deal with sorrow and pain by putting a sunny side up spin on it in his music. 

Although Submarine in the main, is a poppy light hearted look at folk rock, it does have mood swings reflecting the subject matter of relationships that is on show in the lyrical content. The almost ghostly Sweet Tune and It’s Over show a shift in the latter stages of the album to a more slow and somber mood. This all disappears on Don’t You Want A Girl, another tongue in cheek slab of bouncy pop that was chosen as the pre-release single for the album and is certainly a good indicator of what was to follow.   

Whilst Submarine is not ground breaking, it offers something familiar with just enough change of pace to make it feel different. I cannot see it changing the face of music and selling millions but then if it did I feel it would be a shame and take away precisely what Paper Round Kid seems to be about, Filkins said himself that he chose the name because he felt the American market would not understand it and you have to wonder if he really wants to be the next David Gray or James Blunt? 

Submarine is now available digitally on iTunes, Amazon and more.

Download: U R the 1

(Adam Gregory)

HEARTS OF PALM UK

HEARTS OF PALM UK For Life (Hypnote)

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

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

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

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

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

(Samuel C Wee)

ODi

ODi A Superman EP (Self released)

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

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

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

ODi’s music is available from Myspace and iTunes.

THE PRESENT

THE PRESENT World I See (Loaf)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bon appetit! 

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

(Armen Rizal Rahman)

READYMADE BREAKUP

READYMADE BREAKUP Alive on the Vine (Self released)

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

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

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

DENI BONET

DENI BONET Last Girl on Earth (M.R2)

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

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

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

SPRINGHOUSE

 

SPRINGHOUSE From Here To OK (Self released)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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