ANNIE – REVIEW + INTERVIEW

Ella Crossland shares the role of Annie with two other girls, Katie Howard and Charlie Hall (not pictured)

A crowd of people dressed in rags and whatever they can find to weather the city winter gather. They pull tight amongst themselves and share whatever warm food they can find.

They speak and commiserate in equal misery. They sneer and jeer and they sing sarcastic plaudits to the former president for his part in driving the country off a fiscal cliff, into poverty and economic wreckage.

A little orphan girl tries to cheer them up.  Before anything can be done, however, the police crack down tight. This city must not tolerate its own uglier underbelly.

An account of the Occupy Wall Street movement from last year?

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CORRINNE MAY PRESS CONFERENCE

Photo by Diana Rahim

What was discussed at the Corrinne May (above right) press conference as revealed by Jeanette Chin and Samuel C Wee.

So Corrinne, you’re now based in LA. How do you feel about coming back to Singapore and being the first local artist to perform here at Gardens by the Bay?

I always love coming back to Singapore, because this is where my family and friends are, and where I can get my favourite foods. So yeah, I’m really happy to be back…I’m really excited! It’s a beautiful venue. We were given a tour, took a look around, and went to the Cloud Forest. It’s a beautiful forest with an amazing waterfall, and it’s just a wonderful setting to just reflect, and to just think, and just to be. It opens itself for reflection and I think it goes well with music, so I like that.

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MUSIC MATTERS LIVE 2012

Charlie Lim by Serena Neo

Review by Samuel C Wee

This is meant to be a review of the final night of Music Matters. Of course, with so many bands playing out the closing night for this three-day conference, it would be churlish for me to even pretend to be complete or objective…disclaimer aside, let’s dive into it, shall we?

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SHIGGA SHAY

BELIEVE THE HYPE!

In many ways, the story of Pek Jin Shen—or ShiGGa Shay, as the rapper prefers to be known—is symptomatic of the odd complex Singaporeans have towards local music have in general. Ever since he first burst out on the scene in 2010 with a divisive performance on the short-lived Mediacorp production Live ‘N’ Loaded, he’s been dogged by accusations of arrogance and trying too hard to be American. Which is curious, because there’s really nothing more quintessentially Singaporean than wanting to be angmoh. But I digress.

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SINGAPORE MUSIC FORUM

Almost coming to two weeks since this event took place on 14th January. I did not want to comment personally because the issues are very close to my heart and I was afraid that my voice would be tainted with lack of objectivity. Bearing that in mind I asked Sam to come up with this feature in order to avoid any pre-convceived bias on my part. Yes I know some of you will say that that has never stopped me before but the scene (such as it is) means too much to me to not at least give it a fighting chance…

If there’s one thing the local music scene is not short on, it’s talk. After all, for years now we’ve been circling around ourselves discussions of reform and revival and revolution, framing every promising up-and-rising band with words of messianic hype and hopes. Is this the one to make a real commercial breakthrough? Is this the one to transform our fledging music scene into a true industry?

After a few rounds of disappointment we learn cynicism, bracing ourselves psychologically for when domestic life and social demands erode away youthful idealism and another one bites the dust. What we are short on are specific, pragmatic solutions that take into account the economic and media reality of the modern music climate.  To that extent a music forum was called to session at the Arts House last Saturday on the 14th of January, with key figures from the Canadian music industry present to, on paper at least, share their experiences and dispense words of wisdom.

The chief instigator was Graham Perkins, a long-time supporter of local music, and to his credit he had gathered together a pretty impressive panel. Tick the names off:  Jasper Donat, president of Music Matters, Eric Lawrence, manager of Simple Plan, Stuart Johnson, the president of the Canadian Independent Music Association as well as Timbre co-founder and scene veteran Danny Loong and local singer-songwriter Inch Chua.

Of course, with so many big names you’d expect things to get a tad corporate, and Messrs Donat, Lawrence and Johnson took up the better half of an hour droning on about their respective organizations. (I couldn’t help but giggle when halfway through the corporatalk Danny took a subtle dig at the irony of a forum about Singaporean music talking about anything but.) Still, if I were a Canadian music executive I wouldn’t be terribly excited about having to fly halfway around the world to give a talk to a commercial dry well of a scene, so credit where credit is due.

A particular point of relevance was brought up when Stuart Johnson talked about the MAPL system in Canada, which requires Canadian radio to fulfill a certain quota for Canadian content, and there was a brief discussion about the possibility of adopting something similar for Singapore.

The success of the MAPL system speaks for itself, of course, with the mainstream success of acts like Feist, Stars, Broken Social Scene, Metric and that critically acclaimed virtuoso Justin Bieber. It should be noted though that before the introduction of the MAPL system the likes of Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and The Band had already achieved mainstream success in the Sixties, so it remains to be seen how effective a similar system for the local industry would be.

Things started getting really interesting when the session was opened up to the floor, with various audience members taking to the mic to pepper the panel with questions: How do we achieve local acceptance among our own population? Is local acceptance even necessary? How do we develop content that is commercially relevant and exportable?

A few common themes started to emerge that bridged genre divides. Everyone agreed, for example, on the need for exposure even as opinions divided over a government mandated quota versus free market economics. Similarly, even though opinions might differ over the the semantics of funding a fledgling band, nobody dissented against the need for capital investment in order to achieve sustainability.

The theme that rang the loudest bell, for this writer anyway, was the issue of community integration–it was pointed out several times by both Danny and Stuart Johnson that the only way to wield social and political clout was for the music community at large to collectively come together and speak with a single voice.

Of course, that’s easier said than done–the idea of unity can be easily dismissed as a hippie ideal. Scene veterans might feel like they’ve paid their dues in personal and financial sacrifice, while I’ve heard dark mutterings on more than one occasion about nepotism,  protesting that this scene remains too cliqued up and intolerant of dissenting opinions. Then there are those who resent the advantage that Mandopop or Malay artists have over English indie musicians when it comes to media airtime.

All of this talk, in my very humble position as a lowly amateur some-time music writer, amounts to missing the point. Fighting for a bigger slice of the pie is an inefficient and myopic strategy–why not grow the pie altogether? That’s not to dismiss the legitimate concerns that some might have of course– the ability to disagree, to beg to differ is the greatest strength of a team and a community.

At the risk of sounding like an insufferable know-it-all, though, I firmly believe that our only hope for long-term sustainability and breakthrough is dialogue and communication, to seek a midpoint between idealism and cynicism that is objectively pragmatic. After all, we destroy our enemies when we make them our allies…

A forum like this one is a step in the right direction definitely, and Graham Perkins deserves to be praised just for getting a working microcosm of the community at large into the same room (though the free breakfast did wonders to help). Of course, work remains to be done both strategically and semantically. Nevertheless, dialogue can only be a good thing, especially when it occurs across genres and across scenes like it did last Saturday, and I personally look forward to seeing future sessions advancing the agenda even further.

To steal a pet phrase from a good friend of mine–still there’s more…

(Samuel Caleb Wee)

POWER OF POP INTERVIEW – CATALOGUE V

IN certain circles of the local music scene, you’ll find the term “mainstream” bandied about almost as an insult. Catalogue V will take that gladly as a compliment–this self-styled schizo-pop outfit is unabashedly hungry for commercial success and radio play.

Live, this six-man outfit consisting of Razil Razil Razil (lead singer), Matt Raham (drummer), Alfredo Lucius (guitars), Mal Mikhal (bass), Hans Ibrahim (guitars) and Rave Zulo (keyboards) are an electrifying, bottom-end moving act, combining sticky pop hooks with irresistible jackhammer funk grooves that disguise the oft-weighty lyrical themes of their songs.

Fresh off a November visit to South Korea for the Yamaha Asian Beat competition as the representative champions for the Singapore edition, we catch up with the homecoming heroes and find out what they have in common with army infantry units, Stanley Kubrick and leprechauns.

One month ago you guys were in S. Korea for the Yamaha Asia Beat. What was that like?

Mal Mikhal: It was an awesome experience. Definitely it was something different from what we have over here in Singapore. The atmosphere was quite encouraging.

Alfredo Lucius: We arrived in the middle of autumn so the weather was very cold. We were stuffing our hands in our pockets, bringing heat packs, wearing gloves…anything to keep ourselves warm.

Matt Raham: The entire experience was surreal, from the moment we boarded the plane at Changi Airport to the sound check before we played the gig. When we stepped on stage to a full house crowd…it was a really “wow” experience. The crowd numbered about 3000 to 4000, which makes it the largest audience we’ve ever played for.

Razil Razil Razil: It was a regional competition showcasing the champions from each country. We were the third band to play and we performed a song called “Mighty Night‟. Previously we had been told that Korean crowd was hard to please, but they actually stood up and danced and sang along during our performance. At the time we thought that the crowd was warming up and that they were going to do the same for the other bands, but they only did it for us.

It was quite amazing. We took a break outside of the hall and slowly the people from the audience started coming out and going, “eh Singapore!” We don’t get this kind (of recognition) in Singapore. We took a lot of pictures with both members from the audience as well as the other bands.

Did you guys play any other gigs in S. Korea?

Razil Razil Razil : Our trip was entirely sponsored by Yamaha, so we had to strictly abide to their terms and conditions. We weren’t allowed to extend our stay or play other shows.

Was winning an important thing for you guys?

Razil Razil Razil: Winning wasn’t an objective. The main objective was to leave them remembering the band from Singapore, and in that respect we’re quite satisfied. After our performance they (the other competitors) were saying they would tell their juniors back home to watch out for SIngaporean bands. That made us very proud…the main fuel for this band is not to impress, but to imprint. We want the whole experience to be imprinted in the minds of the audience.

I heard the rhythm section won quite a few awards…

Alfredo Lucius: One of the judges was a very good drummer named Akira Jimbo (from fusion-jazz band Casiopea) and when he came to Singapore to do his drum clinic a few weeks he actually mentioned our rhythm section by name. To get a comment like that from an international musician was a very big endorsement.

Razil Razil Razil: Apparently, there was somebody who was being condescending towards local music and putting down our musicians,, saying that the most Singapore could hope for was to replicate Japan’s music industry. Akira was actually pissed off, and defended Singaporean music by citing Matt as an example of local talent.

He might have a point though. Local music is not exactly financially sustainable. How are things on that front for you guys?

Razil Razil Razil: Financially it’s getting better and becoming clockwork. Before Korea we had a lot of doubts about whether we could sustain this financially as a career. After Korea I think most of the doubts have been cleared. Right now it’s a world ruled by the Internet. Online you can sell your music, talk to people, forego labels, and forego the middleman…so we’re planning to break into the digital market.

Definitely, with digitalization, you can distribute your music internationally a lot easier, but the flipside of that is that people are putting a lot less value in recorded music–they see it as something free and sharable. How do you guys make sure all those listens translate into actual money to recoup your costs?

Razil Razil Razil: It will be and it has always been very hard… it’s a matter of mental stamina. I think the only thing we only care about right now is our main focus, our passion to get the music out there. Money is always a need, yes, at the end of the day you need to put food on the table, but we take that as a secondary priority.

Matt Raham: We will probably do something different live from what we have on record and add something additional to our live experience. We can arrange something more extravagant…the challenge of trying to reinvent our songs live and add value is the proof of our musicianship.

For the benefit of our readers, take us through how the band started.

Alfredo Lucius: It basically started when I was playing an acoustic show at a company corporate show in mid ’09. I can‟t remember who the singer was, but Razil was in the audience and we met. We both wanted to start something and slowly we started sourcing for musicians. I knew Mal from NS and so I roped him in almost instantly and Razil met Matt in reservist training.

Razil Razil Razil: We were looking for a permanent keyboardist, and while Matt was sessioning for another band he met Hans. We intended him to be a keyboardist, but when I heard him playing guitar I was like…hell no, I‟m not gonna let this dude not hold the guitar. The line-up was complete when we saw Rave at the Boat Quay underpass outside Home Club, busking and playing keyboards early this year.

How long did it take for you guys to find a musical identity–what’s the creative dynamic in the band like?

Matt Raham: We basically came from different genres and…when you get different colours from different rainbows, you get a new rainbow which is unique.

Alfredo Lucius: And if you try hard enough, you might find a pot of gold…

Razil Razil Razil: And Fred would be the leprechaun.

Alfredo Lucius: Creatively, we work like an infantry section. The rhythm groove section are kinda like the SAW gunners who sit back and lay down the suppressive fire… and the vocal instruments like the guitars and the keyboards and the vocalist, we’re the soldiers doing the flanking.

Rave Zulo: For example, for “Mighty Night‟, Razil came up with the initial idea and we all tried to contribute. On my part I wanted to find the right kind of sound, the right kind of melody that would make people dance.

Razil Razil Razil: We’re all writing the song, and we don’t want to consciously set out to replicate the same sound with every song. We‟re not one of those bands that go, “Oh, we want to sound like The Strokes!” Basically our mindset is that every song is a movie.

How do you mean that?

Alfredo Lucius: Well, you can look at certain directors who‟ve directed movies of various genres, but their movies are still very distinctively them. People like Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick, they‟re all directors who touch on various different themes but still retain a distinctive identity.

I’ve noticed some pretty interesting terrain in terms of the lyrics. What are your influences?

Razil Razil Razil: As a lyrics writer I’m very influenced by narrative song writing, people like Babyface, Anthony Kiedis, and Jay Kay from Jamiraqoui. I try to be ambiguous and make it relatable. The song “Dancer‟, for example, is a sarcastic song about girls who lead guys on, but I get female dancers who come up to me and tell me they identify with the song! So my approach is to leave it open so that the listeners can find their own meaning in the song.

Alfredo Lucius: We try not to do the obvious thing. “How I Am Alive‟, for example, is a song that has a very serious message about human trafficking and sexual exploitation, so we tried to make it easy-listening so it would grab attention.

Razil Razil Razil: It’s about the psychology of the song. We didn’t want to write a slow song which would only put people into a mood for moping and complaining–we wanted to inspire people to get up and do something about it.

So what’s your definition of success?

Razil Razil Razil: Our definition of success is having our songs played on local radio. Other radio stations might be friendlier, but our goal is still to get our music on local radio even though friends might tell us not to waste our time. It‟s not a matter of wanting to prove something. We want to be mainstream; we’re not shy of being mainstream. Some people come up to us and call us sell-outs–we don’t care. We want as many ears as possible. We’re doing the digital media thing but we also want the conventional media recognition because nobody is trying to change the system.

Doesn’t it frustrate you though, going to a foreign country and getting such a warm reception from fans and musicians alike, only to come back to Singapore only to run into so many walls?

Razil Razil Razil: It does but we’re still gonna be very optimistic about it. We take it as a new challenge to make Singapore react as much as a foreign audience would. We’re not giving up on Singapore…I still believe that if you can’t succeed in your own country, what makes you think a foreign country will be any different? We want to make Singapore dance.

So any concrete plans for the future? Is a full-length album coming out?

Razil Razil Razil: We‟re working on an EP right now, and “Mighty Night‟ is going to be the first single for sure. Most likely we’re gonna focus on releasing our songs single by single and afterwards compiling them into an EP.

Alfredo Lucius: It‟s a singles market now. With Katy Perry‟s last record, ten of her songs hit the charts–every song has to be a single.

Razil Razil Razil: You need all killers, no fillers now. The way music is consumed is something that‟s not in our control anymore. You used to be able to package your music and have the audience experience it the way you want it to tell a story, but audiences are much cleverer now. They mix-and-match, and music is like a candy store to them where they cherry-pick the songs to put on their iPod.

Alfredo Lucius: We’re living in the age where everything is being customized to what we want. Everyone has the option of a playlist made for themselves.

(Samuel C Wee)

Watch the video of Catalogue V’s performance in South Korea at the Yamaha Asian Beat below.

POWER OF POP INTERVIEW – MONSTER CAT (PART I)

I’m MIDWAY through my first ever Monster Cat gig, and things are not going too well.

The already incongruous sight of a rock band in full flight  on the dance floor of local superclub Zouk  is being compounded by a decidedly unwelcome screech of feedback.

The explanation is almost comically sci-fi, according to frontman Hentai Cat, 26: apparently, the electromagnetic waves from the strong neon lights on stage are creating a magnetic interference playing havoc with the electric guitars.

I am here with fellow PoP writer CJ, and there is something inexorably fascinating about watching a band struggle to fit into a system that is trying to spit them out, trying to expel the foreign bodies transplanted into its midst.

It’s the alchemy of a rock band trying to turn lead into gold, and slowly but surely the song is beginning to gel. Halfway through I turn to shout to CJ, who is standing by my side.  As we are, though standing in front of the speaker stacks, he doesn’t hear anything, and besides he is already transfixed.

I turn my attention back to the stage, where Hentai Cat is busy bellowing into the mic, his voice struggling to find its key in the midst of the metal machine music.

Midway through however, he catches my glance and lets slip a grin and a wink.

Suddenly the mood shifts; suddenly the weight lifts.  For a moment we are fearless.

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VULTURE WHALE

VULTURE WHALE Long Time Listener First Time Caller (Ol’ Elegante)

On their previous two self-titled LPs, Vulture Whale perfected their deep-fried brand of crunchy guitar pop. On the other hand, the intermissory EP Bamboo You saw frontman Wes McDonald trying out a pseudo-British accent, just in case you weren’t confused enough by their Birmingham roots (Alabama, not West Midlands).

While the quartet has held on tightly to their smirking sense of mischief, its third record Long Time Listener, First Time Caller sees them adapting their deep-fried, alt-country twang into a brand of nuanced hard rock that owes as much to their Southern backgrounds as it does to their Brit-pop explorations. Yes, the guitar work is still riffy and infectious, but this time round there’s a certain sharpened precision that’s less early Kings of Leon and more AC/DC –check opening track Devices, for instance, which sports a Angus Young riff over a groove reminiscent of Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life. Elsewhere we still hear touches of 90s lo-fi rock; Friday Night Video Fights could very well be a lost Dinosaur Jr track, and rays of Guided By Voices shine through on the twinkling, twilighting campfighting verses of VCVW.

There’s a certain formula here on this short, ten-track album that clocks in at just over half an hour. We’re talking sharp, punchy, riffs on top of tight grooves, with a strong, Rooney-ish pop discipline and a mix that highlights those bombastic guitar riffs. Still, things are kept interesting by McDonald’s trademark swagger: the anti Bon Iver, his is an attitude rare to music today outside of Steve Tyler’s lecherous leers on American Idol. It’s fresh for the scarcity.

If you’re a fan of fuzzed-out hard rock with traces of Brit-pop–highly recommended.

Official Site

(Samuel C Wee)

MONSTER CAT

MONSTER CAT Mannequins (KittyWu)

The long-form explanation for MONSTER CAT’s name is a mystical affair involving Japanese folk-tales and myths, but we prefer the short-attention span answer. MONSTER CAT loves cats. Really fat ones.

Now that that’s out of the way, the vital details, then, quickly: The band members of MONSTER CAT are Hentai Cat, Psycho Cat, Black Cat, Copy Cat, Zen Cat and Paper Cat, with the band’s name always in caps (because fuck you, Google Chromebook). Having already been featured once in legendary local producer Leonard Soosay’s Snakeweed Sessions in May, the new KittyWu recruits have followed up that burst of publicity with the release of Mannequins (itself also a Soosay production).

Interestingly enough, the record proper features none of the humour hinted at by their quirky pseudonyms. Instead, Mannequins is a mellow, fragile affair, shivering with sex and soul as well as nuanced emotion. Beginning with the aptly-named opening track, Initiation, we dive head-first into a measured instrumental piece that is deliberate in its atmospheric build-up. Title track Mannequins then introduce us to the EP’s central theme; under a bed of stark, urgent folk-rock instrumentation, the band launches into a lyric inspired by Italian writer Alberto Savinio that is frightening in its desperation.

The rest of this short EP takes its cue from the first two tracks: having opted for fragile, articulated melodies over instant pop hooks, the band spends the rest of its time building up and refining the ambient atmospheres, laying claim to the texture and drama of influences like Fever Ray and Smashing Pumpkins.  Underwater is a particular masterpiece of arrangement and production. At once both intimate and claustrophobic, the track shimmers with a kind of midnight blue reminiscent of Miles Davis. In its spiritual eroticism Mannequins presents us a refreshingly intimate and private perspective not often heard from local shores; The Courier, for example, is a love supreme unto itself, a moment stolen from the bed of two lovers soulful and hot.

By the time the EP closes on the quiet and intense number, These Hands, you ought to have realised that this is one of the best warning shots ever fired by a local band. One would do well to keep an eye on the strange and brilliant animal that is MONSTER CAT.

(Samuel C Wee)

Official Site

DAMION SUOMI

DAMION SUOMI AND THE MINOR PROPHETS Go and Sell All of Your Things (Hopeless)

There are few things that excite me quite as much as when cliches collide to produce something gorgeously original. Imagine my cynicism when I first found out that Damion Suomi’s latest effort would draw from both folk-rock/bluegrass music as well as the Bible–both sources that have been bled dry in recent years. Yet the end product produced by Suomi (pronounced like a legal show cliche) and his aptly-named band, The Minor Prophets, is one of the best records I’ve heard this year!

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SEBADOH

SEBADOH Bakesale reissue (Domino)

Fans of American 90s lo-fi rock outfit, Sebadoh, will recognise their 1994 album Bakesale as the point when the band put on some commercial make-up in a brief come-hither attempt to seduce the mainstream. Released in the wake of founding member Eric Gaffney’s departure, this more commercialist effort is nonetheless often overlooked in favour of more successful efforts in the same year (viz. Guided By Voices’ Bee Thousand and Weezer’s debut effort). 

Still, Bakesale marks an important turning point in the discography of Sebadoh, which is why this year has seen its reissue, complete with a bumper second disc of bonus tracks. 17 years after its first release, the record still holds up magnificently—Gaffney’s resignation from the band had led to bassist Jason Lowenstein stepping up as co-songwriter alongside Lou Barlow. The result was a gorgeous collection of 15 songs that was slightly polished up in terms of production as compared to past records like III and Weed Forestin’, but still rough and raw enough for the new electic guitars to come through with urgent punk energy. 

Opening on the oddly named License To Confuse, we’re quickly introduced to Lowenstein and Barlow’s first collaboration on Careful, a tight, clenched fist of a song. The album’s first highlight comes on Not Too Amused, a gorgeously melodic, quietly distorted tune that builds up into a maelstrom of spite. Similarly, Skull treads its way through a tight, controlled ebb and flow dynamic, while first single Rebound is a punkish, energetic slab of power pop. 

On top of the 15 tracks from the original album, the reissue also comes with a bumper disc of 25 unreleased songs, demos and acoustic versions of album tracks, which brings the total track count to 40(!) –-surely a value for money deal if there ever was one. Most of the unreleased material here is wildly different from the album proper–pyschedelia noise rock and reflective sonic experiments (Check out MOR Backlash and 40203). The demos here and acoustic versions are also interesting for the die-hard Sebadoh addict, if only to see how the songs evolved and changed into the final versions on the record.

Official Site

(Samuel C Wee)

SWITCHFOOT – LIVE IN SINGAPORE

TOWARDS the end of Switchfoot’s first show in three years in Singapore, frontman Jon Foreman goes conspicuously missing from the stage.

Shock, the horror, the horror, gasp and awe: where has the absentee rocker gone? It’s so…un-Christian to go AWOL, really. There’s the mic stand where he left it, there’s the leather jacket and red flannel shirt he shed, there’s the guitar he threw off a few songs ago, but nope, no sign of the lead singer…

Oh, there he is, recklessly plunging into the crowd, diving into the sea of humanity, climbing on top of the seats and hi-fiving the audience, inciting the sort of fervour that borders on religious ecstasy.

“This is a song about movement!”

Cue the familiar burst of light that is the intro to Dare You To Move, cue mass crowd hysteria.

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THE BRIGHT WHITE

THE BRIGHT WHITE Until Then

It takes a certain amount of cojones to claim for yourself instantly recognizable acts like The Beatles and Oasis as your influences. After all, the number of bands out there who fall over themselves trying to mimick their idols and end up making bland, generic MOR rock are aplenty (exactly the case with Oasis and the Beatles, actually).

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TIMBRE ROCK AND ROOTS 2011

Let’s get this out of the way—quite possibly the worst decision made at this year’s Timbre Rock and Roots was the issuing of free lawn chairs to everyone in the VIP area. I mean—what on earth were they thinking? I can understand the concern that audience members might get tired after a few hours of non-stop music—but that’s why God made grass. All that those fancy lawn chairs accomplished was to ensure a snoozefestin’ atmosphere for the greater part of Day 1…though it all still ended in a blast! But we’ll get back to that later.

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MARISSA LEVY

MARISSA LEVY 63 Songs About Joe

I have a confession to make before I begin:  I’ve always had a weakness for spunky, cute indie female vocalists, so I try to overcompensate by being extra harsh on the material on display. Make of the following review what you will, then, because they certainly don’t come spunkier or cutesier than New Yorker Marissa Levy.  “I am coy, I am subtle, I’m cute and I’m trouble,” she proudly declares on her new EP 63 Songs About Joe (it’s actually only five songs long, calm down). Thankfully the record is palatable, or the blatant indie ingenue poseuring might have been rather rich.

As it stands, though, 63 Songs About Joe is an acceptably melodic pop-rock affair, slickly produced by Mike Viola of Candy Butchers fame. Levy claims to draw influence from The Beatles and The Beach Boys; fair enough, tracks like A Love Song and Heartbreak Liar will float their airy ways into your ears pleasantly. There are enough hooks here anchoring Levy’s breezy vocal performance to make this short EP an enjoyable experience, though, if I were to nitpick, not a particularly ingeniuous or gutsy one —the material never seems to vary from the slick sunshine pop, and the production is squeaky clean in the vein of indie-pop darlings Two Door Cinema Club. Oh, but don’t bother with cynical music critic me, pfft. She’s cute after all.

(Samuel C Wee)

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THE KRINKLES

THE KRINKLES Dusty Ribbons (Self-released)

The story of the The Krinkles, four-man Chicago powerpop act, is one of those classic “What-might-have-been” tales. 

What if, for example, they hadn’t disbanded in an acrimonious shouting match on stage at the start of last decade?  What if their third album, 3 – The Mordorloff Collection, had ridden the momentum of their sophomore effort, Revenge of The Krinkles, instead of taking nine years to drop? Would their blazing brand of loud power pop music have taken them to the top then?

 It’s always hard to know for sure when you’re reminiscing. In the spirit of looking back at the past though, the band themselves have cleaned out their archives and come up with Dusty Ribbons, a 19-track collection of acoustic versions, demos and unreleased songs, as well as the odd piece of live on-stage banter. 

It’s a hodgepodge motley crue of raw mixes and unpolished recordings. Nevertheless, on tracks like the unreleased opener Still In Love (strongly reminiscent of The Who), the record manages to showcase the visceral power of a rock and roll band in full flight. You’ll also hear shades of Cheap Trick (their spiritual and geographical fathers) when they let rip into one of those big, joyful choruses stuffed full of tight harmonies on the demo tracks of So Many Girls and Dirty Girl, and if you have the patience to sit through the rawness of their rehearsal tapes, you’ll find yourself admiring the tightness of their playing. 

Of course, there are the odd misses here and there, but if you’re a fan of melodic, ballsy guitar-driven powerpop by way of The Cars and Weezer, you’ll find quite enough good material here to keep you entertained.

(Samuel C Wee)

THE ORION EXPERIENCE

THE ORION EXPERIENCE NYC Girl EP (Self-released)

If there’s ever been a band better suited to this website’s moniker than NYC indie outfit The Orion Experience, I’ve yet to hear them—after all, this is a band that demonstrates beyond doubt the sheer boogie-grooving, feet-tapping, mighty-morphin’ POWER OF POP!

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POSTROCKOLOGY

VARIOUS ARTISTS Postrockology (Deep Elm)

In the gospel according to Deep Elm Records, you have the corporate sell-out pseudo indie labels who work hand in hand with major record companies for distribution and publicity, and then you have the keepers of the true faith, as exemplified by Deep Elm Records themselves: untainted by commercial interests, true indie labels undyingly devoted to the music with a singular passion.

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RUN WITH THE WANTED

RUN WITH THE WANTED Self-titled (Panic)

At first glance, the self-titled album released by Phoenix hardcore quintet Run With The Wanted (yes, Bukowski reference there) seems like your run-of-the-mill genre record.

Dig a little deeper than the cursory listen, though, and there is much to credit the band with on this debut full length album.

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WHAT WOMEN WANT

How much you’d enjoy the new Chinese remake of the 2000 Mel Gibson film, What Women Want, largely depends on how much you’d enjoy seeing a topless Andy Lau prance around in drag. 

Does the idea of that turn you off? Then this glossy romantic comedy starring Andy Lau and Gong Li would probably fall short of your expectations. If you’re looking for a passable date movie, however, this low-calorie fluff flick has just enough humour and sex appeal to fill an hour and a half or so.

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THE POWER OF POP INTERVIEW – BASEMENT IN MY LOFT (PART 2)

Continued from Part 1

By now, it should come as no surprise that Adrian is full of surprises.

A conversation with this man is much like talking to a river. Like a mind-reader, Adrian is prone to answer the question on your tongue before you ask it, but through the course of his reply he is wont to change course several times until together, the two of you are cutting a path through new, uncharted wilderness, far away from your original destination.

So it is that a simple question I ask about the emotional honesty of his songs leads into a deep discussion of spirituality and transcendence—hardly your typical rock and roll topics.

“Transcendence is about sitting with your own mind, seeing the shit that goes on,” explains Adrian.

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