Nothing wrong with going all retrodelic like (as someone once described the music of Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians) if the music is as good as Perth band The High Leary’s new single “Letters to Alice”. Evoking the glorious mid-60s psych-rock majesty of bands like Pink Floyd, The Doors and Deep Purple, “Letters to Alice” will appeal to fans of modern day psych-rock revivalists like Temples and Tame Impala. “Letters to Alice” will be released on 4th September but you can preview the track now streaming at Soundcloud.
Will we ever see a band like Nirvana again? It’s hard to believe that the Nevermind album – which changed the face of the music industry in the early 90s – is now 24 years old! And since the decline of rock ‘n’ roll music in the late 90s, no other rock band has come remotely close to replicating the impact of Nirvana. Yes, we have had successful rock bands since viz. Nickelback, The Strokes, The Killers, Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay et al BUT relatively speaking, these have been minor successes when compared to the seismic pop culture impact of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Beyonce and the like. Artistically as well, most of these aforementioned bands have failed to deliver.
Curiously enough, the last time critics declared the demise of rock ‘n’ roll was in the late 80s, when Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston ruled the roost, but as the wheel turned rock bands like R.E.M., Nirvana and the Seattle grunge scene ascended to the top of the charts. Well, it’s almost 25 years now and there appears to be no sign of rock ‘n’ roll ever returning to those levels of influence in the mainstream pop industry.
Still, that does not mean that good rock ‘n’ roll music (whether in the guise of pop-rock, indie pop, hard rock, electro-pop, blues rock, garage or punk) wasn’t being made in the last 15 odd years, it’s just that the environment of the music industry has been altered so drastically that it is virtually impossible for what happened in the early 90s to occur once again. The decline in record sales, the rise of singing contests (American Idol, X-Factor etc) and the ubiquity of Youtube, has meant that the major labels have had to hedge their bets and cynically control the musical output and fan appreciation thereof.
This has resulted in the most basic pop formulas viz. hip-hop/R&B accounting for the lion’s share of the chart action. These are 3 of the top 5 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 right now.
The one main thing connecting all three singles is a highly designed discipline to present the melody/rhythms as simplistically and repetitively as possible so that the hooks are very easy to remember. A deliberate lack of musical sophistication that dumbs down to the lowest common denominator creating an audience that is not able to appreciate anything that does not sound like what it hears on a non-stop basis on the radio. The perfect marketing tactic.
In fact, guitar rock is totally absent for the Top 20, with the nearest example being Maroon 5, and even though the music video for “Sugar” shows the band with guitars, it does not sound like there are any guitars on the song itself! In fact, it adheres greatly to the hip-hop/R&B formula with Adam Levine’s vocals heavily auto-tuned. Talk about soul-less! Going down the rest of the chart will depress any fan of rock ‘n’ roll with the genre’s utter lack of representation.
So, are the rumours true? Is rock ‘n’ roll dead? Well, not at the grass roots level of course, as both in the USA and the UK, there continues to be scores of bands who create great rock ‘n’ roll music, it’s just that even with the oft assumed ability of the internet to connect bands and fans, it’s the major labels leveraging on radio stations, streaming services and Youtube (again!) who will have the attention of mainstream music fans.
There’s the rub. If the major labels feel that the new rock ‘n’ roll have the fan base to make them sit up and notice, then they might feel the need to throw money that way. The question is — will the youth of today ever get tired of the formulaic pop stars being paraded before them? Will they ever hunger for something different enough to alter their listening habits? The signs have not been encouraging. The irony is that whilst the internet is always being trumpeted as the champion of free and alternative choices, the harsh reality is that the internet is still ultimately the tool of our corporate masters to dictate what food we should eat, what clothes we should wear and of course, what music we should listen to.
However, for those of us who are able to think critically for ourselves, the internet provides a means of escaping these corporate shackles and we can only do this by supporting the bands that do not conform to the grand masterplan of our overlords. Then, these bands might have the opportunity and liberty to create the kind of music we desire and love. So, is rock ‘n’ roll in a crisis? Not if rock ‘n’ roll fans continue to support the right bands and be evangelistic about the music they love.
Yes, PoP visitors, the ball is in YOUR court…
In the meantime, check out the Power of Pop playlist at Spotify highlighting 30-odd British guitar rock bands you should be supporting! Please FOLLOW!
MUSICComments Off on NEIL YOUNG CONTINUES TO RUN AND RUN WITH NEW ALBUM THE MONSANTO YEARS
On new album The Monsanto Years, Neil Young seems re-invigorated with new backing band Promise of The Real, to deliver one of his feistiest works in recent memory. Rather like Living With War (2006), the politics might be a little too obvious but there’s no faulting the songs that Young and gang have come up with – full of vim and vigour.
Full of country-folk inflected rock ‘n’ roll, songs like “A New Day For Love”, “People Want to Hear the Love”, “Workin’ Man” and the title track come across like vintage Young, except with very modern references (highly anti-corporation rhetoric against Monsanto, Starbucks etc) – which I suspect will endear the evergreen Young to a new generation of music lovers. But of course, for Young, the album reflects the continuation of the hippie dream, which has been part of Young’s raison d’être since the 1960s.
MUSICComments Off on PET SOUNDS FROM BIG PINK: CHEATING SONS RECLAIM SIXTIES’ ROCK N ROLL LEGACY
Years in the making but definitely worth the wait. 10 tracks of such instrumental sophistication and erudite witticism that it is barely imaginable that the former cultural desert of Singapore is able to produce an album that absorbs the wondrous legacy of 60s rock and pop so well.
With the songwriting template pioneered by the likes of Roy Orbison, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and the Band the band have also adopted the production values of Phil Spector and Brian Wilson to deliver a unique aural experience that will please rock scholars and casual music fans alike. An additional distinctive element is the band’s ability to incorporate East Asian sounds and melodies into the mix to create a East meets West amalgam that is surprising and pleasing.
Believe me it’s difficult to point out any particular highlights here as every track is an entity to itself but I will say that songs like the ghostly Beatlesque “Mercy of Cain and Abel”, the atmospheric folky “Patriach”, the country bluesy “Blood the Prize” and the Orbison-Teresa Teng channeling “Honeymoon” certainly deserve special mention.
In an amazing year for Singapore rock so far, this eponymous album is a definite standout and a statement of intent that hopefully will bring forth more exciting music from this wonderful band in the years to come.
CDs and digital albums will be available on cheatingsons.bandcamp.com and CDs also at Curated Records and Roxy Records & Trading.
MUSICComments Off on FLYING THE POWER POP FLAG WITH RANSOM AND THE SUBSET
Power of Pop is always on the lookout for new music that stays faithful to the 60s/70s template for melodic pop-rock or rock ‘n’ roll or power pop. Ransom and the Subset – one fine example of this – is the brainchild of singer/songwriter/guitarist RanDair Porter. It’s latest album, No Time to Lose, was released in September 2014 but it’s always better late than never when it comes to great music. For Pop Underground fans, this is really a no-brainer – from the opening Jellyfish-referencing power chords of the infectious “Anna”, it’s clear that Ransom and the Subset has got what it takes to hypnotise like-minded fans of The Cars and Weezer. In particular, the single “Million Out of Me” is an effective ear-worm that will have melody junkies hitting repeat. Read what RanDair has to say about the band and the music.
How did the band get together?
I had a cover band together for the last few years – The band was called “Subset”, because the members were a subset of a band I had in High School. The bass player lived in San Diego and me and the drummer up in Seattle. I had become interested in recording some of my originals but, for whatever reason the project wasn’t something the of the other members were able to participate in. I called the project “Ransom and the Subset” – I did this because I wasn’t sure who would be singing on the project and I did not want to name the band after a single individual. There is no one named “Ransom” in the band.
Regular visitors to Power of Pop will be aware that I am always harping on there not being enough bands/artists parlaying classic pop-rock styles into modern rock. Well actually, that’s not entirely true. I mean, in the sense that there certainly are bands/artists who like me are rather besotted with the pop-rock music of the 60s/70s, it’s just a question of discovering them. And discovering these bands/artists I have been in the last couple of days (thanks in part to Ed Khoo’s recommendation of Tobias Jesso Jr). So, of course, I’d like to share just some of these discoveries with you, kind reader.
Rock music is a genre of popular music that originated as “rock and roll” in the United States in the 1950s, and developed into a range of different styles in the 1960s and later, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States. (W. E. Studwell and D. F. Lonergan, The Classic Rock and Roll Reader: Rock Music from its Beginnings to the mid-1970s)
So yeah, rock came from 40s/50s rock ‘n’ roll, which in turn is a form of pop music. So even The Carpenters or ABBA is rock, by that definition. So I am always comfortable to use the terms “pop” and “rock” fairly interchangeably, and get rather annoyed by the insane categorizations that is now so common.
In that light, let’s take a look at some of the different kinds of pop music, I am confident to label as ROCK!
APPS, MUSICComments Off on THE KING LIVES ON: SPOTIFY CELEBRATES ELVIS’ 50TH BIRTHDAY
In celebration of The King, Spotify has created The Elvis Influence, a web app that connects any artist to Elvis based on artistic influence, as well as an Elvisulization audiographic that maps his influence to famous artists of today. By entering any name into the web app, you can see and hear how they have been influenced by Elvis, directly or through other artists.
MUSICComments Off on DISCOVERED @ SPOTIFY: JOHN LENNON
John Lennon was my very first musical hero back when I first started listening to pop music and remains to this day, in my humble opinion, the ultimate embodiment of rock n’ roll. As a songwriter, Lennon has always been my primary inspiration, equally at home writing rockers and ballads whilst expressing topics ranging from love to politics to the whimsical but always personal and honest.
Thus, it was good news this morning, when I discovered that Lennon’s back catalogue is now available at Spotify. Finally! Yes, of course, I possess virtually every single track that Lennon ever made, either with The Beatles or as a solo artist but it’s so convenient to have all these wonderful songs at a finger click now. So, here’s my John Lennon Spotify playlist. Enjoy….
Back in the 70s, the Government conducted a smear campaign against rock n roll and labeled it as ‘yellow culture’ meaning it was decadent and unsuitable for nation building blah blah fucking blah. But to be fair, many countries worldwide were unable to accept the hippie generation (including its originator, the USA) – it’s just that it was possible in Singapore to utterly destroy the thriving local music scene in order to stamp out this undesirable phenomenon. Which they duly did.
Being involved in the music scene in Singapore is all about what one makes of the situation. Compared to a mere five years ago, there are many opportunities to fill your time with life-enriching activities. You just know where to look…
On Thursday (21st August) I met up and interview Julie Edwards (above, left) and Lindsey Troy of LA-based blues-rockers Deap Vally and found them to be intelligent, beautiful women who knew exactly what they wanted out of life. Mightily impressed with them in that short space of time we chatted.
MUSICComments Off on DEAP VALLY – LIVE IN SINGAPORE
Pic by Stevie Da Canay
Regular visitors to PoP will know how much I dig Deap Vally. Made up of Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards – guitar, drumkit and two wild voices – it is no exaggeration to suggest that Deap Vally’s sound is a “breed of visceral, heart-churning rock ‘n’ roll”. So imagine my excitement at discovering that the ladies will be playing in Singapore on Friday, 22nd August courtesy of Doc Martens’ #STANDFORSOMETHING event at Beep Studios.
Craziest part of all? It’s FREE. All you need to do is simply visit Dr. Martens stores to pick up a complimentary pair of tickets* to see Deap Vally. (*While stocks last, limited to 2 tickets per person; no purchase necessary; 18 and above only.) Don’t miss this!
MUSICComments Off on EDTANG & THE CHOPS – SELF-TITLED EP
The simple joy of honest rock ‘n’ roll is what EdTang & the Chops achieve on this, their eponymous EP. Anyone who loves the committed, down to earth music making of Bruce Springsteen, The Replacements, The Pogues, The Gaslight Anthem and the Hold Steady will definitely like what they hear from EdTang & The Chops. Authentic country-folk-roots songs that are delivered with rock ‘n’ roll gusto by The Chops.
These five tracks – “When Death Should Find Us”, “Willy Loman”, “Brother in the Way Back”, “A Lapsed Catholic” and “Leaving of Liverpool” – all speak of heartfelt issues that the everyman has to face each and every day. Unsophisticated these songs might be, but when the tunes ring out and touch the souls of all rock ‘n’ roll lovers, then one barely notices. All one can do is smile in agreement, punch the air and groove to the lusty rhythms and the relevant sentiments.
FILM, MUSICComments Off on CLIFF RICHARD: STILL REELIN’ AND A-ROCKIN’ – LIVE IN SYDNEY [DVD REVIEW]
There’s little doubt that Cliff Richard is the one true Peter Pan of pop music. Now in his early 70s, he still looks and sounds good enough to belt out his famous hits in his own inimitable way. The set list on this performance video is dominated by his earliest numbers, like “Livin’ Doll”, “Move It”, “Young Ones” and “In the Country” etc but as well as the obligatory 70s songs like “Devil Woman”, “We Don’t Talk Anymore” and “Wired for Sound”. Naturally, unless you are a diehard Richard fan, there is nothing much here for even the most studious of rock scholars. It’s all rather glitzy and entertaining – not necessarily a bad thing but Richard represented the musical establishment that the likes of The Beatles, the Stones, the Kinks et al would soon overturn and by now, it’s appeal is limited at best.
The CAVE – four teenagers who surprise with an old skool rock n’ roll agenda. Currently material for a debut release, check out “Personal” and you will agree that this is one young band that you need to keep eyes and ears on.
Rock n’ roll will never die! This just might be power trio Colorway‘s manifesto on this eponymous debut. Rollicking numbers like “I’m Still Running” and “Live With Me” get the point across very succinctly. But singer-songwriter F Alex Johnson is also able to shake things up somewhat with the the sweet lullaby “Go Back to Sleep”, the acoustic instrumental “For the Birds” and the luscious ballad “A Temporary Occupation”. Highly recommended.
MUSICComments Off on DEAD BOOTS – VERONICA [REVIEW]
By now you should be aware of Power of Pop‘s quest to find the courageous bands out there who buck the current post-punk revival trend and mine the coolness of 60s/70s classic rock n’ roll. Talk about risk-taking! So add Dead Boots to the list. With influences identified as Cheap Trick, White Stripes, The Rolling Stones, Beatles, The Who and the Velvet Underground, it’s not too difficult to appreciate the blood, sweat and tears that the band – Tony Perry (Guitar), Adrian Perry (Vocals, Bass), Ben Tileston (Drums, Vocals) and Lou Jannetty (Guitar, Vocals) – have poured into its debut LP, Veronica.
Songs like the psychedelic “Violent Vows”, the rollicking “Wrecking Ball” and raucous “On the Rocks” truly hit the spot for true-blue rock n’ roll lovers. There are numerous delights here to be savored by fans of 60s pop- rock – “I See You Coming” has a lovely Californian vibe whilst “One of Me” has a dirty bluesy approach that Black Keys fans will dig.
‘Old school indie rock band’ – has a certain ring, don’t it? The phrase has an air of authenticity that distinguishes its proponents from the hipster poseurs that dominate the modern rock world at the moment.
Tri-State hail from Essex County, NJ and consist of Mason Rather (bass/vocals), Jeff Zelevansky (guitar/vocals), Brady McNamara (drums), Julian Brash (guitar/vocals). In its email request to us, the band claimed an affinity for “Built to Spill, Guided by Voices, Pavement, and so on”. All fine references!
In actual fact, it’s probably more accurate to describe Tri-State as classic rock n’ roll band in the grand tradition of The Rolling Stones, The Band and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers where the stylings of country, folk, rock and pop meld together to produce a heady, melodic groovy brew.
This six-track debut EP may be low on production values but that doesn’t detract from the integrity of sound and vision, an open-minded rock lover will definitely discover. An attitude that prioritizes substance over form pervades the EP with songs that are lovingly crafted to be the best they can be. It’s always refreshing to listen to a band that ignores artifice and pretense in favor of honest music-making.
Whether it be the working class invocations of “Hawk in the Fog”, the gleeful jangly abandon of “All Different”, the balladic whimsy of “Search Party”, the Westerberg-channeling “Muddling Thru”, the dynamic earthiness of “Back Before” or the quirky folk of “Country Squire”, Tri-State hit the right notes, by and large.
In the final analysis, good songwriting and a dogged determination win the day for rock n’ roll excellence! Recommended.
Lest we forget, in the mid-70s New York brought forth nascent punk and the ‘new wave’. Even as there appears to be a new punk uprising in London, might we also witness an exciting fresh rock n’ roll perspective from New York?
Well, when I first heard the opening lines to “Don’t Look Back” – the first track of Brooklyn band Born Cages‘ new EP The Sidelines EP, there was a palpable sense of overwhelming promise that bears closer examination. (Listen below)
Born Cages (Vlad Holiday on lead vocals and guitar, Amanda Carl on keyboards, Steve Kellner on bass, and Dave Tantao on drums) seems to have engineered a sound that manages to squeeze arena rock and post-punk sensibilities into the same headspace.
Imagine if you will, Bruce Springsteen fronting Television instead of the E Street Band and perhaps you might begin to get a better idea of the rush I experiences when confronted by Born Cages’ sonic agenda.
This thrill-making is further explored in tracks like “Caiti”, where references to Arctic Monkey’s driving guitar rhythm are evoked, and “Metaphor”, where jaded dance-pop is given a shot in the arm by sinewy alt-country rock!
But ultimately it is the edgy anthemic lustre of “Don’t Look Back” that holds the biggest hope that perhaps Born Cages will be able to transcend genre limitations and break out…
FILM, MUSICComments Off on THE ROLLING STONES: CROSSFIRE HURRICANE [DVD REVIEW]
Considering the number of iconic films that The Rolling Stones have been associated with – Gimme Shelter, Sympathy for the Devil, Performance and Cocksucker Blues, it was simply not enough for director Brett Morgen to come up with a by-the-numbers 50th anniversary retrospective. Which, to his immense credit, he didn’t!
Fact is, Crossfire Hurricane manages to provide a kaleidoscopic perspective of events that made the Stones the living rock n’ roll legends that they are. One very crucial decision made was not to shoot the Stones as they currently are – so they only provide the relevant voiceover but visually, the viewer is never distracted from the story by how the Stones look like in 2013 (basically, old).
In this manner, Crossfire Hurricane is able to be interesting to new and old fans alike. It never comes across as a nostalgic exercise but a critical study of key events of the Stones’ career that intersected with the milestones of rock n’ roll. Thus, this documentary film is essential for longtime fans as well as rock scholars.
FILM, MUSICComments Off on HISTORY OF THE EAGLES: THE STORY OF AN AMERICAN BAND [DVD REVIEW]
There can be no doubt about The Eagles‘ place in rock history. Biggest selling album of the 20th century, inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, a comeback album that sold in excess of 5 million in these troubled times for the music industry and a best-selling live show that continues to run and run.
Not to mention, a sideshow of controversy that has dogged the band despite the absolute highs. The high profile suit by former member Don Felder against The Eagles and the publication of Felder’s ‘tell-all’ book, Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974 – 2001) has tarnished somewhat the reputations of Don Henley and Glenn Frey (the co-leaders of the band) but that has not stopped the musical juggernaut from continuing to pull in the big bucks.
This documentary – as you might imagined – tells the story from Henley and Frey’s perspective. Both men are rather dismissive about Felder in the interviews and Frey evens gets in some descriptive expletives for good measure. The fact that the duo come across smug and self-righteous leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.
The first DVD recounts the band’s rise to fame and implosion in 1980 with rare footage and incisive comments from the key players. The second DVD recounts the band’s even more impressive comeback beginning the Hell Freezes Over tour in 1990.
Of the two DVDs, the first one is the most exciting as one gets to witness the making of iconic songs (“Take It Easy”, “One of These Nights”) and albums (Hotel California) and how Henley and Frey went from backing Linda Ronstadt to having the best-selling album of the 20th Century – Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975). The second DVD, well, is simply too sanctimonious at times with the unwelcome sight of Henley and Frey justifying their arrogance – rather unwatchable at times. Overall, the excellent first DVD is worth the price of admission though.
The 90s alt-rock revival continues apace with singer-songwriter Sam Page weighing in with a knowing album of edgy melodic rock n’ roll numbers that bring to mind the likes of Dinosaur Jr, Gumball, Sebadoh and Buffalo Tom. There’s little doubt that J Mascis weighs in heavily as a positive influence on Page’s work as evidenced on tracks like “Hold On” and “Now I Know”. Page is less slacker-rock-intensive with more casual swagger that suggests several nods to Neil Young & Crazy Horse.
There’s an easy going charm in songs like “Tumbleweed in the Grand Scheme” and “Crush (Lovin’ You)” whilst other tracks like “I Don’t Want To Think About Her Anymore” and “Pheromones” have a cockeyed tongue-in-cheek attitude that recalls Canadian smart rockers The Pursuit of Happiness and even Elvis Costello, on some level.
All told, Breach is a solid rock n’ roll album of the old school variety, where the songs serve each other and the greater good as a whole. The lyrics are clever and pointed, the music is rollicking good fun and the attitude is always spot-on sardonic. Much to admire on Breach and always encouraging to see artists unafraid to follow their own muse, wherever it may take them, without too much notice of current trends.
MUSICComments Off on MOONER – UNPRONOUNCEABLE NAME EP [REVIEW]
Truth be told, I am pretty sick and tired of the ubiquitous generic contemporary hipster synth-pop sound already. Man! So yeah, right now, I am aching for sweet rock n’ roll music that features real instruments, real vocals and fucking real songs. Y’know, songs I can sing along to (intelligently) and shake to (without looking stupid).
So Mooner! A self-described powerpop band from Chicago which new EP is like balm to my electronically sated ears. This EP only has four tracks but I’d rather listen four tracks that hit the spot over an LP’s worth of meaningless drivel trying to pass itself off as 2013’s version of hip and cool. Don’t what I mean?
Indeed! It’s comforting and re-assuring to hear a new band take the tired-and-tested influences of Television, Elvis Costello, The Replacements and early Wilco and fashion distinctive material. Certainly, powerpop fans are totally gonna fall in love with the midtempo groove of “Shapeshifter”, the twangy goodness of “White Lines”, the knowing country-soul balladry of “Never Alone” and the new wave raunch of “Overrated”.
Chicago quintet Great Divide (Teddy Grossman – vox, guitar/Josh Teitelbaum – drums/Jeff Leibovich – keyboards/Josh Kahle – bass/Jeff Burke – guitar, vox) takes the rock and roots maxim to its logical conclusion. If a cursory listen to the band’s eponymous sophomore album suggests to you The Band, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Tedeschi Trucks Band and the like, then you’d probably be better off exploring Great Divide, don’t you think? Yeah!
Funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, Great Divide is a evocative, soulful rock n’ roll record in the old fashioned way. In other words, it is as smooth as you like, bringing together a veritable buffet of influences, spanning soul, folk, country, pop and rock with the dynamic horn section providing the proverbial icing on top.
First-rate musicianship, competent songwriting and the honey-dripping pipes of Teddy Grossman make Great Divide, essential listening for the true-blue pop-rock fans out there. How can one argue with genuine articles like the slick opener “Ain’t No Roads”, the lush “Easy Chair”, the gospel-tinged “Moorie” and the Stevie Wonder-channeling “Shine”? Simple, you don’t!
It’s been 60 years since the phrase “rock n’ roll” became the widely-used phrase to describe the new hot teen music but you know what? Rock n’ roll ain’t dead – you just need to know where to find it in 2013. Here’s a couple of bands keeping the spirit of rock n’ roll alive in 2013.