MY ONE & ONLY 2008

Here it is, a video teaser for the upcoming watchmen@midnight Ep. 

Featuring James Lye (electric guitar), Brian Koh (bass), Low Han Quan (drums), Esther Low (keyboards, vocals) and Kevin Mathews (vocals, acoustic guitar).

Special thanks to Fong Cheng, Felicia and of course, Ric.

… and there’s more …

PoP10 – LING KAI

It’s Ling Kai’s turn in the PoP10 spotlight.

1. Why play music? 

Its the only way to say things that cannot be said otherwise. 

2. Who are your influences?

Anyone who connects, like a fist to your face, with their music and words. 

3. What is success? 

I tend to have a lot of self-doubt and paranoia, so success is when I am happy with my work, with no reservations whatsoever. 

4. Why should people buy your music? 

They should buy it because they like it! =)

5. Who do you love? 

Someone else who is the exact copy of myself, as egoistic as it sounds. But he has his flaws, just like mine. Its weird that way.

6. What do you hope to achieve with your music? 

I really hope that people listen to it, and relate to whatever I’m writing about. They don’t neccessarily have to like it because I’m local, so as to support local music; but really like it for the music itself, you know?

7. Who comes to your gigs?

Anyone, from strange, lonely old men, to young, single office workers. Occasionally there are guys in skinny pants and girls with cool hair cuts; but they’re rare.

8. What is your favorite album?

It changes, but my all time favourite album, on regular rotation recently, is Aimee Mann’s Lost in Space. 

9. What is your favorite song?

Its Not, by Aimee Mann.

10. How did you get here? I have no idea actually.

Ask my mom and dad?  But I do know there’s only one way out of here. 

Ling Kai’s new EP, Honestly, is out now!

LING KAI

LING KAI Honestly EP (Lempicka)

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

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

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

Facebook Photograph

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

8am

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

Suburbia

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

Midas Matches

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

Larkin Step

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

Distraction

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

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

Check out Ling’s Myspace page.

SCHOOL INVASION TOUR FINALE

A Vacant Affair

A Vacant Affair

 

Music criticism can be a right old conumdrum sometimes, especially in the S-ROCK scene. As someone who is keenly aware on what goes on in the background of many gig organizations and also familiar with many of the parties who participate in such gigs, it isn’t easy to simply throw negative assessments into reviews based on assumptions and impressions. Then again, it does nobody any good to exagerrate events and performances just to paint a pretty picture. Thus, striking the balance is constantly on my mind when I write about the S-ROCK scene.

On Saturday (6 December), I hopped on the train at Bugis Station and made the “long” journey to Dover Station to arrive at the Singapore Polytechnic Convention Centre just before six. Got my reserved ticket from Colleen (yes, I certainly could have gotten a comp ticket from the organizers but decided to fork out my 12 bucks) and waited whilst the opening of the doors was delayed due to technical glitches. 

Pause here. “Technical glitches” and “delay” tend to plague S-ROCK gigs due to a variety of reasons – teething pains of a fledging scene or symptoms of something more serious – I haven’t analysed yet. However, I understand that the organizers had only a week (!) to put the gig together (after having to postpone the earlier scheduled gig and that fact alone should put things into perspective.

On a practical note, the idea of eight bands in one event seems great on paper but… when you’re sitting in a fairly cold auditorium on an empty stomach… tends to get rather challenging after a while. Perhaps, less is more…

Anyways, I managed to catch the Fire Fight, Force Vomit, Jack and Rai, A Vacant Affair and Allura before I gave in to my body’s demands and left. Overall, I have to say that the bands really did their best to overcome certain sound issues – the guitar sound sucked, basically – and I will summarize what I thought of each performance accordingly…

The Fire Fight – it’s obvious that FF put considerable thought into their set. The songs – new and old – sequed into each other like a classical suite with Josh tying up the interludes with cryptic (for now) introductions. A great teaser for the upcoming debut album.

Force Vomit – Is Dino feeling his age? The lead Vomit passed a few remarks about how old audience members were in 1995 or 1998. Heh. Despite their status as a “veteran” band, Force Vomit rocked hard and fast with their garage-mat-rock hybrid. Record that third album, Dino!

Jack and Rai – Smart boys who keep things simple, 2 guitars and 2 vocals belting out a short set of by now familiar hit songs and a Coldplay hit that got a big reception (why must we reserve our biggest cheers for a non-Singaporean song – more of that in the Angels & Airwaves gig review). That said, it was satisfying to see how appreciated a tune like the Falala Song was… the power of radio, I guess.

A Vacant Affair – The boys got a spirited response from the crowd with the inevitable body surfing and timid moshing. Matt’s voice rang out clear through the turgid auditorium air like a hot knife through butter and held court with his movement and vocals. Melodic hardware is how I hear AvA and with their debut album being distributed by Universal, be sure you pick it up and catch AvA at the album launch at the Esplanade Recital Studio on 26 December.

 

Allura
Allura

Allura – The band waited patiently whilst video presentations of past (!) events were being shown and launched into a competent set let down by the poor guitar sound. Aaron looked particularly miffed at the lack of response his guitar was getting (especially, on Gamajazilion – my favorite track!). Despite all that, the band gave their all, Inch especially shining on the new song, Loose Change, showcasing how far she has grown in her vocal range. 

As usual, a quick shout out to Poh Choo, Edward, Syed, Beni, Esmond, Jon Hems et al.

… and there’s more …

S-ROCK EXTRAVAGANZA

The Fire Fight

Three consecutive nights of music for me this weekend. 

Tonight, at the Bukit Timah CC, my Noise apprentices Nick Tan and Rachael Teo will be performing at the Singer-Songwriter Showcase organized by Musical Theatre Limited. Saturday night, I will be at the Singapore Polytechnic Convention Centre for the School Invasion Finale with bands like the Fire Fight, Force Vomit, A Vacant Affair, West Grand Boulevard, Allura, Caracal, Jack & Rai and Plainsunset illuminating the stage.

And… on Sunday, its Angels & Airwaves at the NUS Cultural Centre.

Good thing Monday’s a Public Holiday, eh?

If you’re at any of these gigs, come up and say hi. I’m the dude with the shocking white hair…no, the other one…

… and there’s more …

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.

WEEKEND TRIP

Saiful/The Great Spy Experiment. Pix by Thomas Tan.

Saiful/The Great Spy Experiment. Pix by Thomas Tan.

WEEKEND TRIP: STAND UP FOR POVERTY Saturday, 18th October 2008, Youth Park

After an afternoon that threatened to rain completely out, the clear skies appeared just in time for October’s Weekend Trip. I arrived midway through Juxtapose’s set and whilst the quartet was commendably tight, the fact that they were playing jazz-funk (or funk-jazz), possibly the most risible music genre of all time, left me seriously underwhelmed. It didn’t help that the stage sound was so piercingly loud that it actually became painful to listen to the music. 

 

Bani Hidir/Page. Pix by Thomas Tan.
Bani Hidir/Page. Pix by Thomas Tan.

Which probably made an impact with the kind of approach Page had elected to adopt. Powerpop! Yes, folks, we finally have our very own true blue, bona fide POWERPOP band! Thank you, Page for making this powerpop junkie so happy. With crunching guitars firmly in hand and candy-flossed tunes coming of every pore, Page pummeled all and sundry into submission with its flighty originals and authentic Foo Fighters covers. Left a smile on this man’s face in any case.

 

Jack Ho. Pix by Thomas Tan.
Jack Ho. Pix by Thomas Tan.

Jack and Rai are seasoned veterans by now and they whiz through a short set with a mixture of songs off their In Stores Now album (Fa-La-La Song & Fiona the highlights, of course) and choice covers (a John Mayer piece had particularly interesting guitar work from the duo) to entertain the sparse crowd. Always guaranteed a good performance from the boys, even though they just got off five sets in Sentosa. The hardest working men in S-ROCK? No contest.

 

Esmond & Daren/Vertical Rush. Pix by Thomas Tan.
Esmond & Daren/Vertical Rush. Pix by Thomas Tan.

I took off to get a drink when Jack and Rai finished up and decided to watch Vertical Rush from the wings somewhat. The boys were mainly showcasing tracks from their new album – Of Real Dreams – and it was obvious that they were working their asses off to connect with the crowd with the band’s own take on current emo trends. Angels was the standout track but I’m not sure how well the meticulously-arranged sophistication of the new material went down. The hearts were definitely in the right places though.

 

Song/The Great Spy Experiment. Pix by Thomas Tan.
Song/The Great Spy Experiment. Pix by Thomas Tan.

All through the evening, there was a strange gap in front of the stage where you’d expect an audience. But the hole was considerably filled when the Great Spy Experiment took to the stage. Now, regular PoP visitors will know how much I love GSE but let’s just say that I’ve seen better from the quintet. The sound totally let them down and for some reason, the songs were played at hyper-speed! It didn’t matter to the crowd as they totally lapped it up – jumping, dancing and singing along – quite a contrast with the response to the earlier bands. Highlights for me were Late Night Request, Wasted (a new song dedicated to a lost friend), a frenetic Siti in the City (which benefitted from the pumping adrenaline) and everyone’s favourite, Class ‘A’ Love Affair. 

As usual, the grand S-ROCK people made it all that much more fun and exciting (and warm, too) viz. Fir, Thomas, Haykal, Dex, Visa, Sherwin, Poh Choo, Aaron, Charlotte and Rachael.

… and there’s more …

WEEKEND TRIP

 

It’s been a while since I’ve been to a Weekend Trip and there’s no excuse not to attend this Saturday, when you’ve got heavy hitters like Great Spy Experiment, Vertical Rush & Jack and Rai gracing stage. Talk about a diverse field! Add to the list, Powerjam first runners-up Page and Juxtapose (whom I know nada about) and a splendid time is guaranteed for all. 

On Sunday, the Youth Park hosts the Music Against Drugs Show and the likes of Allura, Vertigo, MeltgSnow and Deus Ex Machina will be playing. Of course, I’ll be down to catch Allura and then rush home to watch Spurs lose again on live TV. 🙁

Please come up and say hi! I’ll be the silver-haired old fart looking terribly out-of-place…

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)

NOW PLAYING

ALLURA – CLOSURE (off the Wake Up and Smell the Seaweed EP)

Regular visitors to this humble site (and S-ROCK before that) will be aware of my love affair with Allura. Closure remains my favorite song from the band (though Gamajazillion runs close) Here’s a vid of the band performing Closure in August last year at Deafcon 5. A little rough but there’s no denying the energy and passion. Ah, the memories…

And isn’t Inch just an irresistible front person?

YOU AND WHOSE ARMY?

YOU AND WHOSE ARMY? Misplaced (Self-released)

It’s a thrill and a joy when you witness a young band flowering and I’m glad that You and Whose Army? (viz. Bonk, Adam, Beni and James) have delivered on their early promise with a confident debut EP.

Fear

Compared to the live version (which is fairly one-dimensional), the opening track is a multi-layered mini-epic. From the acoustic guitar intro to the spine-tingling chorus harmonies to James’ blistering solo, this is a solid deep sonic accomplishment.

When Desire Strikes

A little quirkiness is always welcome and this song has its share. For instance, the guitar riff is intriguing to say the least and helps to lift When Desire Strikes from its overall melancholy tone. Good contrast. 

5min

I love bands to be as eclectic as possible. Here is where Bonk’s Bjork influences rears its (ugly) head BUT this post-punk obsessive is picking early Japan (which I’m sure YAWA have never heard of). Heh. Great counterpoints between electronics and electric guitar work. Not to mention to jazz fusion middle eight and the punchy rhythm sets it apart too. 

Ordinary is King

My fave YAWA song re-recorded. Hmm, maybe I’ve gotten too used to the Ballyhoo version but somehow second time around does not seem to do the trick. Seems a little lightweight and not as meaty. Not quite as driven either. Ah well.

Misplaced

Well, this song is notable for the band changing instruments (except for James) during performance. Away from the odd “gimmick” and taken on its own, Misplaced is revealed to be a strong and touching track. Nice jazzy flourishes with a rock-ish coda seals the deal. Really.

I enjoy EPs. I mean who listens to a complete album nowadays? 3 – 5 great tracks and you’re set and with Misplaced, you’re definitely set. Don’t miss out on this fairly limited edition. Get your copy now from the band at yawa.music@gmail.com 

Now!

BAYBEATS 08

Maybe it was the fact that I spent most of August overseas but somehow I was less than enthused with Baybeats 08. My expectations were pretty low for the event and fact is I only attended a couple of performances. So this summary by necessity only skims the surface and if you’re looking for something more comprehensive, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

However, what is clear to me is that the highlight of Baybeats 08 was the reunion of the Oddfellows. With all the fuss over emo and indie rock, it was a breath of fresh air to listen to unadulterated alt-rock, the way it first came to us in the 1980s as the Oddfellows channeled the likes of the Replacements, REM, Husker Du, Teenage Fanclub, Bob Dylan and Neil Young in their taut 30 minute set. 

The band viz. Paddy Chng, Johnny One, Vincent Lee and Kelvin Tan were on top of their game and like the best wine seems to get better with age. Delivering popular songs like So Happy, Lost My Head, Unity Song and Your Smiling Face, the band had the audience eating out of their collective hands. It’s a pity that with Johnny Ong residing overseas, these performances are far and between but I was thankful for the experience. I wanna be Paddy Chng when I grow up!

For me, the other impressive Baybeats 08 performance came from You and Whose Army? Simply gratifying to see the band in their element – communicating their raw blend of Pink Floyd and Radiohead (with a dash of Bjork) to a rapt audience. Probably one of the biggest gigs so far for this fledging outfit, it was satisfying to hear songs like Misplaced, Ordinary is King and Stuck ring out over Marina Bay. Sure, there were nervy bits here and there but you could sense that the band were reveling in the spotlight. 

I really wanted to catch Leeson’s set but due to work commitments got to the new Nokia Arena 15 minutes late and boy, was I angry. The design of the arena did not help as it was murder trying to see the band play. So I was reduced to craning my neck over bobbed heads at the uppermost level of the Arena squinting to catch a glimpse of the band. Somehow the band seemed dwarfed by the stage and unsuited to the environment. You see, Leeson – for better or for worse – is the quintessential pub-rock band. Which is not a putdown, seeing that one of my all-time favorite singer-songwriters (Elvis Costello) is also a pub-rocker at heart. Leeson needs to be savored up close and in your face, where the jaunty melodic mayhem of their catchy material can wash over your entire being and you’re in a position to see the glint in Jamie’s eyes as he delivers those witty musings on neurotic romance and to appreciate the kinetic energy and tight co-ordination of Gerald, Brian, Mark and Thomas. Still, the band gave as good as they could and I am comforted by the fact that Baybeats 08 provided great exposure for this worthy band and hopefully will open the doors for those intimate gigs that I crave…

One last thing. If nothing else, Baybeats 08 demonstrated that there is a massive audience for live rock music in Singapore. This was obvious from Electrico’s riotous segment at the Nokia Powerhouse. Packed to the brim, the band played an utterly professional set mixing old favorites with new ones. To be honest, the sound is too close to Oasis and Coldplay for comfort (and I really detest those two bands) but there was no denying the power and appeal that Electrico oozed from stage. I firmly believe that there is great potential in our S-ROCK music scene. It’s really all in our own hands.

… still there’s more …

ELECTRICO

Maybe it had something to do with the unfamiliarity of the new songs that Electrico was showcasing. Maybe it was due to the poor sound at Zouk. Maybe it was down to playing without erstwhile guitarist Daniel Sassoon. Whatever it was, something wasn’t quite right with Electrico’s performance at the album launch of its third CD – We Satellites – last night.

Or maybe it was the high expectations as the word was that the new songs were some of the best Singapore music ever produced. Zouk was packed with yuppies (is that still used or has it come back like so many other 80s colloquialisms). 

The opening songs were edgy affairs and intriguing developments but the middle section sagged a little with a ballad which was ordinary and some Oasis-inflected material (which to me is always a lowest common denominator). I think I really hate Oasis now…

The band came back for its encore with a ripping We Satellites, which at least contained an interesting tune. Which I thinks was the main problem with the new material in general. Short on melodies. I’m hoping that this is a first impression thing and that when I listen to the new album, it’ll come together nicely.

Pix by Song.

… still there’s more …

JACK & RAI

JACK & RAI In Stores Now (Self released)

Better late than never surely applies in the case of Jack & Rai’s delayed debut album. Originally slated for September 2007, the album is finally available and hopefully the pent-up anticipation will see the sales go through the roof. The duo certainly deserve it, after all this time!

Jack & Rai have been playing the Singapore pub and club circuit for a while now and they are certainly popular with pub-crawlers here. Whether on their own or with their band EIC, Jack & Rai are adept at entertaining any crowd with their interpretation of top 40 hits, on-stage banter and harmonic rapport.

What is not so well known is that the boys are accomplished songwriters in their own right. Which is showcased on this excellent debut. Review follows…

Beetle Girl

A smooth pop jazz number about a close encounter of the opposite sex. You can almost feel the class ooze from every note and chord. Sophisticated chord changes tumble and atmospheric synths swirl around what is very elegant tune. Excellent.

The Fa La La Song

The first song I ever heard from Jack & Rai got me hooked instantly with its easy way with melody and harmony. Commercial appeal is obvious and the boys have earmarked it as the first single off the album. Good choice.

Fiona

One of my all-time favorite Singapore tunes. No contest. Presented here in a power pop fashion which escapes most Singapore bands and features an irresistible chorus which echoes the Everly Brothers AND the Fountains of Wayne. Written from a distance for TV actress Fiona Xie. She should be extremely flattered… Should be played over the radio constantly.

Contemplate

As the title suggests, this is a contemplative ballad which find Rai in this element, utilizing his voice in the high register to good effect. As usual, the melody quotient is strong.

Us

It’s Jack’s turn for the thoughtful ballad as he ruminates about romances and love experience. Not as immediate as the rest of the album though.

Pixelated

This chirpy folk-rock treatise on long-distance relationships via videocam (hence, the title) contains a bright chorus that will have you bopping and singing along.

Hurricane

Ah, the piano ballad. Ambitious and never quite easy to pull off, Rai tries his best to convey the emotional core and by and large succeeds.

Poof

A sweet nothing kind of track. Both lyrically and musically. Not that it’s throwaway but it’s so breezy that you might actually be blown away if you get too caught up in the vibe.

Television Affair

Slightly heavier than the rest of the album, Television Affair comes across like Rolling Stones lite and 80s anthemic (think: Bryan Adams, John Cougar Mellancamp) which is a fair stomp live and will no doubt get you toe tapping.

Release Me

A plea for freedom presented in a sweet atmospheric chorus which references Coldplay, Radiohead and U2. Slightly more alt-rock than the rest of the album but an interesting effort that works.

Prophet of Universal Love

Rai imagines himself as a tongue-in-cheek authority on love with this easy listening paean. An excellent closer for a top notch album.

As it stands, In Stores Now, is an album with tremendous commercial appeal, chock full of wonderful melodies and cool vibes. A bit heavy on the ballads but I’m thinking that Jack and Rai’s target audience will thoroughly enjoy every emotion-tinged moment.

It’s been a long time coming but the wait was definitely worth it.

FLYBAR

FLYBAR Scream Without Raising Your Voice (Self-released)

Half the year has come and gone and it is shaping up to be a good one for Singapore music. Last night I attended Flybar’s album launch at the Esplanade Recital Studio – thanks to the kind invitation of Ian and Ben –  and I must say that I enjoyed myself as the band treated the sell-out crowd to an entertaining show of good old fashioned classic pop-rock built around the influences of Oasis, U2 and Santana. 

The band was certainly at home on stage and made the atmosphere very casual – it felt like being at a family reunion. Maybe not very rock ‘n’ roll but the music made up for that and the audience lapped it up. Especially when multi-instrumentalist Jon Ong took turns to play lead guitar, viola, flute and harmonica – a handy guy to have in your band. 

Still raw around the edges, Flybar has the potential to breakthrough to the next level if the music on their debut album is any indication. Speaking of which, here’s the blow-by-blow account.

Unforgiven

I first heard this track on the radio and it was my introduction to the band. I must say that I was hooked instantly – it is a very good song. I love its Bond theme referencing, its Latin music phrasing, incongruent disco beat and its 60s Singapore pop channeling. Great start!

Bitchy Woman

Hahaha! How un-PC! I am picturing Marc Bolan/T-Rex and Mott the Hoople in my head but for the boys it’s probably the influence of Guns ‘n’ Roses and LA Guns that’s behind this rollicking glam rock number. A little by-the-numbers but good for a rave up.

Lose Control

Very 80s-influenced as the slinky funk vibe of INXS is evident here. The band has a definite sense of how to fill up their tracks with the necessary hooks. So, there is always the sense of familiarity but not too much to lose individuality. 

Dance With Me

A little too derivative of Oasis for my taste. The chorus isn’t too bad and you’ve got to admire anyone who works hard to deliver a tasty melody. Commercial appeal is not an issue, either.

Heaven Sent

This one has U2 written all over it. Which is fine by me as what modern band out there isn’t influenced by Bono and Co nowadays. That said, like Dance With Me, the song is functional enough but doesn’t quite move me.

She’s So Lazy

Apparently inspired by a friend who was too tired to go out for drinks after the Oasis concert, predictably it sounds exactly like the Gallagher brothers, although the harmonica is a nice touch. Charming in its (lazy) simplicity.

Mystery Train

The highlight of the album (together with The Unforgiven) and either pretty ballsy or crazy of the band to use such an iconic title for a thoughtful rumination on life. To be honest, it really sounds like something you might find on a CCM* record. I like the sentiment – “Cause you gotta write your own story/You gotta do what you can do and never worry”. A ballad that will have the girls swooning and the boys waving their handphones.

Amazing

One of those macho tracks designed to have women fall at your feet – guaranteed to put hair on your chest (or lip) and make you feel good to be a MAN. Sorry couldn’t resist… Not sure if this is really the band’s forte, I rather prefer when they’re being more subtle.

Beautiful Killer

Here’s a full blown nod to Santana. Listen to the chord changes and Jon’s guitar work if you’re not convinced. A ode to unrequited love. Probably the band’s best known number, certainly it comes across like it was written for the radio.

Live Forever

Now if you had any doubts about that Flybar worships at the altar of Oasis, here’s a song called Live Forever! So how come it sounds like a Cantopop number? Maybe its the cheesy string synth and the overall over-dramatic presentation. Whatever, Flybar tries very hard to make Live Forever the fist-punching anthem every stadium rocker aspires for and I’m not quite sure they succeed but I guess the ambition is paramount eh?

Exciting times for the Singapore music scene and Flybar has definitely put their own distinct mark on it with Scream Without Raising Your Voice. 

*Contemporary Christian Music

FLYBAR CD LAUNCH

Singapore band Flybar launch their debut album – Scream Without Raising Your Voice – this Friday at 7.30pm at the Esplanade Recital Studio. Tickets are $5 a pop and available from Flybar’s website

Album review to come.

PLAINSUNSET ALBUM LAUNCH

Now you may have read me complaining before about how inappropriate Zouk is as a venue for a rock show. And last night’s launch of Plainsunset’s instant classic of a new album was no different, sad to report. Despite all that, Plainsunset really did put on a ROCK SHOW! 

After 12 years together as a band, Plainsunset knows what it takes to entertain their devoted fan base. With Jon’s affable stage presence, flanked by Sham and Nizam’s kinetic energy and of course propelled by the indefatigable Ronny, who pummels the drum set so effortlessly – the powerful modern tuneful pop-punk that radiates from the quartet can get quite irresistible. The new songs were received with enthusiasm – Johari Window, Interference, River Song and Children – all lapped up by their adoring fans. 

But… almost by cue, once the band launched into an extended selection of their earlier old-school punk material, the body-surfing began in earnest! This is what the fans were waiting for and Zouk was converted into a Singapore indie mosh pit – a sight to behold! 

Even as the band closed out its encore with their signature song – Plainsunset – the buzz in the packed crowd was palpable as all agreed that they had witnessed a monumental gig – despite the technical sound glitches along the way – the strong stench of sweaty bodies permeated the club as the throng made its way outdoors. A magical night – made all the more enjoyable by great company – Mike, Song, Fir, Audie, Josh, Jon, Iain and so on. Thanks also to the WakeMeUp guys viz, Esmond, John, Jon, Sameer for making it possible for Power of Pop to be a part of Singapore music history in the making…

Pix by Fir.

MY ONE & ONLY

I’m proud to say that I get quite a few requests for an MP3 file of My One & Only. So, to satisfy the demand, I’m making the file available for 7 days or 100 downloads whichever comes earlier. (Yeah, it’s at yousendit.com). Click on the link below, enjoy and please let me have your comments. If this service is popular, I might do it for my out-of-print songs. Let me know, boys and girls.

My One & Only (from Democracy)

… still there’s more … 

PEEPSHOW

PEEPSHOW EP (Self-released)

Expect a shedload of EPs coming from young and aspiring Singapore bands in the months to come. Peepshow’s EP is up first. This is an earnest band that like many local bands wear their influences proudly on their collective sleeves. For Zaki, SK, Mikail, Yuk and Edmund, the primary musical inspiration is British pop and rock and as an obsessed Anglophile meself, that in itself is a damn good start! Here’s the blow by blow account.

I Know

A great opener with crunching guitars and synth undertones basically covering two chords. Very reminiscent of the Britpop era of the mid-90s, with a slight inflection of the post-punk legacies of New Order/Joy Division. In that way, I Know sounds a little like a Great Spy Experiment song. Which is a good thing, believe me. I like how Zaki deftly wraps his larynx around the catchy melody. A hit!

Why

This track begins very promisingly with echoes of the Verve and Oasis evident. But somehow, when the chorus kicks in, something goes terribly wrong and the song falls flat. A pity because the song itself has loads of potential but maybe lack of experience and guidance somewhat lets the band down. Zaki tries his best though…

Funky Song

Hahaha. This is a bit of a risky proposition but Peepshow pulls it off. So it comes across as serious and funny at the same time. Zaki’s camp delivery completes the illusion or picture (depending on your point of view) and the voiceover is hilarious. The instrumentation is spot on. A fine evocation of late 80s Brit-funk. 

Come Back to Me

Ah, twee pop with balls! Zaki is amazingly cool with his vocals – very original – he puts on a slight Brit affectation but with clear Singaporean overtones. Well done. Yet another radio-friendly tune that deserves attention for the way it subverts what we think of Singapore music. Colloquial yet western – a fine balance that works!

Special Someone

This one reminds me of Felt a whole lot (the guitar parts), which isn’t bad of course. At first listen, the laid-back vibe may be a little off-putting but the track gets stronger the longer it plays. It could benefit from a stronger hook though. Still, the fretwork has got me bopping in approval.

Overall, I would recommend that every Singapore music fan get hold of this EP as I believe that Peepshow has edged itself into contention as a local outfit to keep an eye out for. 

ROCK THE SUB

12 bands. 2 venues. 8 hours. Something’s gotta give, eh?

I’m pretty honored to be playing alongside 11 other great bands. If I wasn’t performing with the Groovy People, I’d still wouldn’t miss this event for the world. Don’t wanna single out any particular band cos the line-up is simply awesome. 

But… of course, we will be on the Timbre stage at 9.30 p.m. and with six of us jostling for space, it’s gonna be interesting especially as it’s gonna be a primarily Cosmic American Music set come this Saturday. Expect also some interesting and surprising covers. As usual, I hope to see you there and please do come up and say hi!

… and there’s more …