MUSIC  Comments Off
Jan 112011

DIRTY BEACHES Badlands (Zoo Music)

What a stage name this is. Dirty Beaches is Alex Zhang Hungtai, born in Taiwan and raised in Toronto, Honolulu, Montreal and Vancouver. His music style mingles minimalism with noise rock, popularly fitting into today’s indie/alternative scene, yet his voice cracks like a lost soul in this modern age of digitalism. On various occasions he lets out his indie Elvis persona and groove, as on Horses and Sweet 17, but the real gems come in subsequent tracks: he channels his best in A Hundred Highways, grooving like an established rock and roll legend; sounds like a timeless romantic on True Blue and a faithful believer on Lord Knows Best. That much said, all for a relative newcomer.

Catch Dirty Beaches live between January and March 2011 as he tours together with Crocodiles and Dum Dum Girls.



[amazon-product alink="0000FF" bordercolor="000000" height="240"]B004HLGDDG[/amazon-product]


 MUSIC  Comments Off
Dec 192010


When the first song on an EP is titled Turn Off This Song And Go Outside, it’s hard to resist the temptation to call the band’s bluff: “Alright, you bunch of wankers, I have better things to do with my time to listen to your ironic hipster bullshit anyway!”

Continue reading »


 Uncategorized  Comments Off
Sep 242010

SUPERCHUNK Majesty Shredding (Merge)

Is Superchunk the quintessential indie rock band? It’s certainly difficult to argue otherwise. I mean, the geeky singer-songwriter, the female bass player, crunching guitars, the DIY approach and most of all, the infectious melodic edgy pop songs…

Continue reading »


 Uncategorized  Comments Off
Aug 142010

BAND OF HORSES Infinite Arms (Brown/Fat Possum/Columbia)

Continue reading »


 Uncategorized  Comments Off
Apr 232010

CARI CLARA It’s Our Hearts They’re After LP/You Better Run EP (Deep Elm)

As a music writer, being offered hundreds of new albums/EPs for review, I sometimes rely on press releases of publicists/labels to determine which request I want to accept. My guiding principle being that I try my best to review every review request I accept. So with Cari Clara, I was somewhat intrigued by the band’s purported list of influences viz. Radiohead, Muse, Pink Floyd, Elliot Smith, Big Star, Grant Lee Phillips, Beta Band.

Cool, huh?

And so here I am pretty much astounded by this album and EP by Cari Clara i.e. Eric Diedrichs (vocals, guitar), Mark Diedrichs (keyboards, synth), Jason Arbenz (guitar, backing vocals), Greg Tudor (synth, glockenspiel, percussion, backing vocals) and Josh Hagen (drums). Why so? Not only do those cited inspirations make sense in the context of their music, they write amazing songs as well.

It’s Our Hearts They’re After is chock full of midtempo, slow burning torch songs that embrace the arcane and arty agendas of post-punk and psych-rock bands throughout the ages. It’s one of those rare albums that you’d want to swallow whole, a complete entity that must be savoured from start to end. Gorgeous.

You Better Run actually ups the ante somewhat, going all epic and gothic with the inclusion of strings and Edge-like guitar histrionics on the title track, groveling in swampy voodoo blues on Neither Weapon and A Hand To Shape) and channeling dark ghostly balladry on the Great Departure.

If you wanna know what genuine indie rock sounds like in 2010, listen to Cari Clara and you won’t go far wrong. Scintillating mope rock, angels would dance to…Simply magnificent.



THE GET UP KIDS Simple Science (Self-released)

The quintessential emo band – The Get Up Kids – are back, after an absence of six years. The band have decided to go independent i.e. to release their own music. The idea is to issue three 4-track EPs in 2010, rather a 12-track LP. Makes perfect sense to me. The album has been dead for awhile now. Long live the EP!

That said, I am a little underwhelmed by the new material featured here on the 1st EP instalment. Inevitably comparisons with last album – 2004′s Guilt Show – will surface and frankly the 4 tracks here pale somewhat. Almost by-the-numbers cookie-cutter, songs like Keith Case and Tommy Gentle come across like Get Up Kids pastiches.

To be fair, final track – How You’re Bound – has enough heart in it to slightly compensate for the lacklustre nature of the three preceding tracks. But only just. I’m hoping the band is saving the best for last.

Official site



 Uncategorized  Comments Off
Apr 092010

As you are aware I am a Baybeats judge this year, selecting the 8 “new” bands to perform at this year’s festival. What you may not know is that part of a judge’s responsibility is also to mentor 2 bands in the lead-up to the event in August. This year I am indeed honoured and privileged to work with two exciting indie pop-rock bands who are very much after my heart (musical) heart.


Basement in My Loft is a power trio with a feedback-drenched edge, matching influences of Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Joy Division, Blur, Teenage Fanclub et al into a buzzy adrenaline rush. Consisting of Adrian, Zhong Ren and erm Mr Lightning, BIML promises to bring sophisticated noise to the table.


The Zozi are Naz, Syak, Taugay and Afiq, 4 fun-lovin’ boys who describe their music as “comedy rock”! The Zozi is a breath of fresh air in the S-ROCK scene and somewhat of a rarity as a genuine 2nd generation S-ROCK band, citing the likes of Force Vomit and Plainsunset as influences. Certainly their local flavour rings true with yours truly with songs like Coffee at Fullerton and a sonic approach that embraces new wave, post punk, surf and garage.


So watch this space, as I detail my adventures with Basement in My Loft and The Zozi in the next couple of months as all of us collectively prepare for the biggest indie rock festival in Singapore.

… still there’s more …


YOUNG MOTHERS Come On, The Cross Single (Fort Lowell)

James Tritten (guitarist for Tracy Shedd) has set up a label called Fort Lowell Records.  It is a 7inch Only label, releasing limited runs of 500 Colored Vinyl for artists out of Tucson, AZ.

First up is Young Mothers, who already have an album – Arts and Crafts – under their belt, with this pleasing single consisting of Come On, The Cross and Good Swords. This single is an interesting hybrid of classic pop songwriting and indie rock allure. Come On, The Cross and Good Swords possess enough Beatlesque vibes to interest powerpoppers and dark folk energy to appeal to fans of Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses and Bon Iver.



 Uncategorized  Comments Off
Apr 042010

SUMMER PEOPLE Good Problems (Red Leader)

You might say that this NYC-based octet is either a incredibly versatile band or they lack focus. Matter of perspective really. The band wildly oscillates from one genre to another with scant regard for the listener’s expectations but mostly within the modern day indie rock genre. With rootsy romps (Two Hearted People), Cure-inflected new wave (Glossy-Eyed), raucous rave-ups (Broken Bones and atmospheric post-punk ballads (Great Northern Diver), Summer People offers a widescreen interpretation of all that passes for indie rock for fans to cherry pick.



 Uncategorized  Comments Off
Apr 012010

B-QUARTET conformity has replaced consciousness (Aging Youth)

How do you follow up a near perfect debut album? That, my friends, was the dilemma presented to S-ROCK’s wonderboys B-Quartet. If you’re a close observer of the S-ROCK scene, then you would be familiar with the band’s wondrous debut LP, Tomorrow is My Permanent Address. In any review, I loved it and placed it in the Top 5 albums of 2008. Read my review here.

Back to the B-Quartet dilemma. Well, with sophomore effort – conformity has replaced consciousness – the band has obviously taken great pains to further develop their songcraft and instrumental prowess whilst retaining the spirit of that heady debut. So, whilst conformity does not contain such accessible instant classics like Shoebox, Boutique or Disp rs, there’s no denying that the band has moved on the next level in their pursuit of a musical excellence that goes beyond mere aping of their favorite indie bands.

There are no clear standouts on conformity (though I confess a fondness for a dull taste on my tongue and still homeless), yet the quality is uniformly consistent and it may be more of a slow burner (i.e. would require several plays before fully appreciating its depth) but I am impressed by the band’s commitment to the music rather than pandering the vagaries of the average indie rock fan’s tastebuds. The mark of true artists.

Musically, references abound to many varied sources e.g. Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Jaga Jazzist, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, XTC, Steely Dan and much much more. For those who know their music, the above list certainly suggests a trippy sonic experience for those discerning enough to pick up this challenging and ambitious S-ROCK album.

B-Quartet will be launching conformity has replaced consciousness at the Esplanade Recital Studio on 11th April at 9.30pm. Tickets available from SISTIC.



 Uncategorized  Comments Off
Mar 262010

WYE OAK My Neighbour/My Creator (Merge)

Composed of Andy Stack (drums, keyboards, backup vocals) and Jenn Wasner (vocals, guitars), Wye Oak deals in an all-inclusive brand of indie-folk that ties together diverse strands of sounds, styles and genres to produce an exciting and vibrant repertoire, which is uniquely their own.

On this five-track EP, alchemical musical ideas explode from the off, with the Fleet Foxes-channeling My Neighbour as acoustic guitars collide with electronic sounds, the frenetic and pulsating Emmylou (reminiscent of Stars), the fragile balladic My Creator, the grimy pop of I Hope You Die and producer Mickey Freeland’s remix (which includes a rap, oddly enough) of That I Do (from previous LP, The Knot), all strong evidence of Wye Oak’s talent and creative powers.

Wye Oak is adept at throwing the listener curve balls when it comes to instrumental & arrangement choices, surprising even the most jaded music lover at every turn. With strong melodies and heartfelt lyrics, this EP clearly stands out as one of the premier indie releases of the year. Highly recommended.

Official Site



 Uncategorized  Comments Off
Mar 252010

SWEET APPLE Love & Desperation (Tee Pee)

Distilling all that is strange and wonderful about rock music into sublime three chord nuggets that sound fresh yet familiar is the achievement of indie rock uber-group Sweet Apple.

Consisting of Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis (drums, guitars & vocals), Cobra Vedre’s John Petrovic (vocals & guitar) and Tim Parnin (guitars & vocals) and Witch’s Dave Sweetapple (bass & vocals), Sweet Apple cover as wide a range of rock approaches as possible with nods to slacker rock (I’ve Got A Feeling), Southern rock (It’s Over Now), psychedelic blues (Hold Me, I’m Dying), stoner rock (Blindfold), fragile melancholy rock (Dead Moon), blues rock (Crawling Over Bodies) and cock rock (Never Came).

By now, I think you get the picture – Love & Desperation is every true rockers’ wet dream. Let it be yours.

Official Site



 Uncategorized  Comments Off
Mar 012010

EXTRA LIFE Made Flesh (Loaf Recordings)

Brooklyn’s cracking music scene is no stranger to the zany cross-pollination of myriad soundscapes and influences. So it’s pretty much a given that the smugly inventive and wildly distinctive Extra Life (no bloody reference to video games) hail from there. Formed in 2007, the indie experimental quintet comprises head shrinker Charlie Looker (composer-guitarist-vocalist who was a core member of legendary brutal chamber sextet Zs),   violinist Caley Monahon-Ward (Snowblink), bassist Anthony Gedrich (Stats, Ocrilim), drummer Nicholas Podgurski (Yukon), and saxophonist/keyboardist Travis Laplante (Little Women).

If John Coltrane, Morrissey, Philip Glass, Swans, Converge and a couple of chanting Benedictine monks  were all jamming together in the same fucking studio, the cacophony could rival the strange aural panache created by the classically trained Looker and his tight posse in Made Flesh, their sophomore album.

Building on the critical success of Secular Works, their debut album in 2008, the latest album is a contradiction that somehow sounds more unnervingly visceral while being more accessible compared to their earlier material. Helmed by art-metal producer Colin Martson and Monahon-Ward, the eight track album fuses wryly soulful acoustic ballads and bleakly heavy industrialcore dissonance which explores heady themes of power, masculinity, lust, death and spirituality.

My standout tracks in this 38 minutes sonic assault were Black Hoodie and the epic finale The Body Is True. Black Hoodie led by Looker’s cherubic vocals and accompanied by soothing lullablysque melodies, was an infectious indie pop ditty paying homage to the humble shroud that emo kids seek refuge in. The schizophrenic 11 minute doomantia lament The Body Is True, was the perfect juxtaposition of polished choirboyish vocals, dramatic chamber acoustics with feral rhythm section, smatter of psychedelic glitches and climaxes with gang vocals ala Converge’s Wretched World .

(PJ Benjamin)

Extra Life’s Made Flesh from Loaf Recordings will be released on March 2010. For more details, visit


HUMPBACK OAK Oaksongs (Self-released)

It has been annoying me no end that so many young musicians in Singapore have not heard of Humpback Oak. Not even my aspiring singer-songwriters. Well, its not their fault as until yesterday, the three Humpback Oak albums – Pain-stained Morning, Ghostfather and SideASideB – have all been out-of-print and the record label that released them, now defunct.

Well, I’m happy to report that in order to remedy this imperfect situation, the band has self-released (and self-assembled) this wonderful 4-disc retrospective boxset which includes the aforementioned LPs as well as a disc of rare tracks from their early “demo” cassettes (presented in mp3 format). I braved the extreme heat today to pick up my copy (No. 161/500) and it has definitely worth the time, money & effort.

The sound on the discs is immaculate, even the rarities come across well – maybe even better than how they first sounded on cassette! – and the sheer wealth of material here is staggering. Also included, the band’s earnest attempts to cover Dylan e.g. Like A Rolling Stone, If Not For You and of course, one of my favourite S-ROCK songs – Twang Bar Kings’ Daddy in the Lift – with Leslie Low still on helium (and you can also find the song on +65 Indie Underground compilation).

More than a mere exercise in nostalgia, Oaksongs is positive proof of the eminent worth of S-ROCK’s special 90s revival and a milestone in the musical history of our island nation. Not since the early days of independance did our rock and pop music reflect the creative and artistic edge that Singaporeans are capable of, like the 90s. If there’s anything to be nationalistic or patriotic about our country, it is the fact that Humpback Oak is/was one of our very own – to treasure and to proclaim and yes, to enjoy…

Apart from the fine music – the band has spared no effort in making Oaksongs a complete experience for its admirers. Thus, the boxset design is something you have to savour in 3-D (though the pix look cool, huh?) and over at the band’s official site, even newbies will be treated to tons of information to pick through and devour. Oaksongs surely qualifies as one of the best retrospective collections anywhere.



Feb 062010

+65 Indie Underground, the essential 3-CD retrospective of the S-ROCK scene from 1980s to present day (with greater emphasis on the 90s revival) is now available online at

Now, why is this CD set “essential”? Well, whether you’re Singaporean or not, the CD set contains 50 tracks covering a wide range of genres and styles, and I’m certain that there’s something for everyone here.

I have been listening to rock & pop music of every ilk for the past 30 years and a serious music reviewer for the last 20, so I believe that I’m qualified to make the following assertions. The music on +65 Indie Underground is as good as anything that passes for “indie/alt-rock” coming out of the USA, UK or Europe.

Definitely, of our current bands, the likes of A Vacant Affair, Great Spy Experiment, I Am David Sparkle, the Observatory, Lunarin, B-Quartet and Electrico would be able to hold their own. For our classic 90s revival outfits, the music of Force Vomit, Livonia, Plainsunset, Sugarflies, Stoned Revivals, Etc, Concave Scream, Stompin’ Ground, Humpback Oak, the Oddfellows, Padres and Zircon Lounge have stood the test of time. Well, I dare anyone to make a case against these assertions. Go ahead, I’ll be waiting…

But if you’re a S-ROCK musician (singer, songwriter, band member, whatever) then, it would be criminal for you not to possess a copy of +65 Indie Underground. This is not mere hyperbole. I have been speaking to several young musicians and they have absolutely no clue about the aforementioned 90s bands. Which is why this retrospective is so essential not only for those of us who lived through those heady times and are feeling nostaglic for the good ol’ days but music lovers everywhere needs to know (and acknowledge) the power of S-ROCK!

Okay, enough preaching. Go and get hold of +65 Indie Underground NOW!!!


 Uncategorized  Comments Off
Feb 032010

RADAR BROS. The Illustrated Garden (Merge)

The Radar Bros. are probably the quintessential 90s alt-rock band. Having released 5 albums (before The Illustrated Garden), they have distilled the Pixies-Flaming Lips-Dream Syndicate vibe perfectly. Y’know, equal parts country-folk and psychedelic rock. Throw in copious amounts of the inspirations of Neil Young and Pink Floyd and voila! The Illustrated Garden!

I’m sure you’ll agree with me that the hip and cool factor of the above references is high. And the songs on The Illustrated Garden bear this out as well. There is a weathered feel about the melodies and angular shape to the arrangements which strikes a fine balance between the classic and indie rock genres.

Highlights include the world-weary The Headlights, the obtuse and edgy Rainbow, the whacked out bluesy Quarry, the Syd Barrett-channeling People.

Official site



 Uncategorized  Comments Off
Jan 242010

TWIN TIGERS Gray Waves (Old Flame)

I’ll make matters clear before I proceed: I’ve never really been much of a fan of indie music’s so called lo-fi chic, which to me just sounds like an excuse for bad production and awful mixing. Granted, I’m no audiophile, but the blood in me just boils when I hear a record like Athenian four-piece Twin Tigers’ full length debut album, Gray Waves. Because there’s no two ways around it: the record sounds awful.

That’s not to say the band itself is bad: their deep-fried, dirty shoegaze brand of garage rock is relentlessly catchy at times with pop hooks and melodies that will perk up your ears. But there’s only so much the human ear can take of mindless distortion and flat-sounding reverb before you switch off the record, which is exactly what I ended up doing. It’s a crying shame because songs like Red Fox Run, which features a mildly interesting guitar riff, sound like they’d be immensely catchy if the melody and lyrics weren’t so frustratingly indecipherable. Some songs, like the previously released Sexless Love, sound interesting enough to almost keep you listening on, but then you hit a dry patch like the effortless boring and tuneless Feathers, and what spark of patience the good songs had ignited is mercilessly extinguished. By the time you reach the ending songs of Crystal Highway (which features an excruciatingly painful, distorted vocal track) and Island, you’ll be wishing you had a physical copy of the album just so you could fling it across the room and imagine you were aiming it at the sound engineer. “Take that, and let’s see if you ever dare to radio-distort another vocal again!”

I can’t say this is a completely objective review—I already excused myself from all such pretensions in the first line anyway. It’s just an awful pity because from their live performances on YouTube, they seemed like such a promising proposition. Let’s just chalk one up to debut LP studio inexperience, and keep our fingers crossed that the next record won’t sound like it was recorded in a toilet.

(Samuel C Wee)
Nov 182009


A month after Taken by Cars and Chicosci shook up the *SCAPE Youth Centre Lab, *SCAPE is back with Confessions UpSized, featuring The Giant Sound of the South, Urbandub and Angulo from the Philippines, together with some of our most talented local bands.

The Giant Sound of the South will be back on Saturday after playing an overwhelming set last June 6 at Rock The Sub at the Substation. For the past few months, Urbandub have been in the studios recording their fifth studio effort, The Apparition, to be released under MCA Music Philippines.

Apart from this, the band has been playing numerous shows like the Sonic Boom 3rd Anniversary and a number of large-concerts scattered across the whole country. With the recent typhoons in the Philippines, they’ve also taken time out to play intimate shows like Sonic Shutdown to raise funds and gather supplies for the victims of typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng that have devastated the metro and neighbouring provinces.  All of these, while also playing at a host of other corporate events and bar gigs around Metro Manila.

On Saturday, they’ll be playing some choice cuts from their massive fifth salvo, The Apparition, and a host of other songs from old albums, 2001’s Birth; 2004 NU Rock Awards’ Album of the Year, Influence; Gold-Record hitting, Embrace and the 2007 crossover hit, Under Southern Lights.

With a large and still growing following in the Philippines, Angulo have managed to make a name for themselves through the sheer amount of hard work and dedication they’ve put it to band. With regular performance with some of the biggest and most prominent production houses in the Philippines, they have played for some of the biggest shows in the Philippines, including Fete de la Musique, Myx Mo!, Pulp Summer Slam, MTV Summit and they were handpicked to open for New Jersey-based post-hardcore pioneers Thursday during their Asian Tour.

Following a successful debut release, Blur The White Lines in 2008, they’re back in the studios to record a new album, which promises to be more experimental while enabling them to broadening their niche market without alienating existing fans. Their second album would push the band further in their ability to showcase what Angulo are capable of achieving musically.

On the local front, we have some of the freshest talents playing alongside Urbandub and Angulo. Marchtwelve are back, having played numerous acoustic shows, Baybeats in 2007 and more recently, for Rev Up On Orchards in conjunction with STB for F1. They’re currently working on a full-length album, with recording happening in the middle of the year. Their debut album would be released sometime in March or April 2010.

West Grand Boulevard are no strangers to the scene, having played numerous show in Singapore and the Philippines. The quintet have played numerous shows in the Esplanade, including a Late Night @ Esplanade show at the Recital Theatre Singapore and Baybeats 2009, School Invasion Tours and the School Invasion Finale Tour and 98.7′s Life’s A Beach. They’ve also played in the Philippines for Sonic Boom 2nd Anniversary in 2008 and a Philippine tour earlier this year before ending the tour playing for Sonic Boom Sinulog Blast Off! 2009. After taking time out to record their full-length album, their album would be out by end of the year.

Following a China tour in June and self-releasing their Phoenix EP in July, Caracal are back with a fresher perspective and a larger sound. Following their China tour, their Phoenix EP was self-released in July 2009, consisting of songs from the band since their beginning in 2006. The long awaited EP is available at Straits Records Shop, *Scape and directly through the band. Back home, they’ve played for GNITE! Music Festival 2009 at Republic Poly, Electric Ballroom at Homeclub and the Nudge Charity Carnival at Sentosa Cove.

Silhouette’s immunity to categorization has allowed their music to evolve and not be based on a specific genre. With roots in modern rock and alternative music and with Incubus as a significant influence, Silhouette is a band that has garnered a lot of attention within the scene in recent months. Their music reaches out to people through personal emotions and feelings that a lot of bands fail to capture in their music. Their EP, Discover, was launched in January and the band is currently back in the studios working on their debut album with Leonard Soosay of Snakeweed Studios, whose passion and ability to see the bigger picture with his ears has benefited many local bands within our scene.

Come prepared to experience an unforgettable evening with Urbandub, Angulo, Marchtwelve, West Grand Boulevard, Caracal and Silhouette. Take it from me; you won’t be disappointed with the stellar line-up for Confessions Upsized. See you on Saturday!


Sat 21 Nov, 630pm till late

*SCAPE Youth Centre: Lab

$18 presale tix at

$24 at the door including goodies!

(Rebecca Lincoln)













West Grand Boulevard









Latest Music Video of Urbandub’s song, The Fight Is Over.


 Uncategorized  Comments Off
Sep 272009


OUR NOISE: THE STORY OF MERGE RECORDS The Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small by John Cook with Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance (Algonquin)

I love bios, especially rock bios. But a bio about a record label? How about the quintessential “indie-rock” record label then?

Merge Records was founded by Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance in 1989, two 20 year old musicians who wanted release the music that they loved and believed in. Our Noise chronicles how in the last 20 years, Merge Records has prospered on its own terms, supported bands and artists who not only garnered critical acclaim but ultimately commercial success, beyond its modest means and wildest dreams.

In addition, Our Noise is about Superchunk – the band formed by McCaughan and Ballance that rode the post-Nirvana alt-rock boom of the early 90s to emerge as one of the most revered indie rock bands of the 90s. Inevitably, Our Noise is also about McCaughan and Laura – who started out as friends and lovers & ended up as band mates and business partners.

Our Noise – true to the homemade nature of Merge Records itself – is set out like a scrapbook. Chock full of record sleeves, gig flyers, photographs, excerpts of reviews and of course, interviews with the relevant participants. There is a warm, homespun feel about the entire book which remains true to the spirit of Merge Records and the people connected with it.

Our Noise also highlights the stories behind notable Merge bands/artists such as Neutral Milk Hotel, Spoon, Magnetic Fields, Lambchops and Arcade Fire. I found these behind-the-scenes narratives especially enlightening. There is an email from a Howard Bilerman to McCaughan that cracks me up. In it, Bilerman – in an apologetic, embarrassed manner – writes about a young band (whom he plays drums for) who are recording an album and are interested in having said album released by Merge. Bilerman ends his email with, “if you are completely uninterested in the music, I will take no offence…” The name of the band and album? Arcade Fire. Funerals.

There are many many other nuggets like that in this magnificient tome. Which makes One Noise one of the best rock bios I’ve had the pleasure to have read. It’s full of the kind of insight (and pearls of wisdom) that every rock music enthusiast longs to learn about. Highly recommended.

Official site


 Uncategorized  Comments Off
Jul 252009


THE FIRE FIGHT Henri (Distributed by Warners Singapore)

Let me get the (inevitable) disclaimer out of the way. I first met the Fire Fight in mid-2007 to interview them for Baybeats 2007 and was struck by the deep passion for their music and art. Since then, I consider Josh, Jon, Iain and JBarks my good friends and have always made a point to attend their gigs. So that’s the connection between the band and myself and you may factor that into this review as you wish. Okay, now on to the review…

So here it is, years in the making, the first Fire Fight album, and its a concept album to boot! For those of us who have had the privilege of consuming the Fire Fight live in the past two years, it’s amazing how familiar live favourites mesh in seamlessly with new material to form the collective whole that is Henri. The fourteen songs all hang coherently together like a classical suite as Henri takes on a life of its own as a musical piece rather than merely a collection of outstanding songs.

The opening piano ballad Sonnet sets the tone, sounding like nothing the Fire Fight have ever done before and it is in the stretching of the musical boundaries that Fire Fight demonstrate that they are intelligent songwriters as well as crowd pleasers. Perfect examples of this ambition lie in tracks like Portrait Lover and People and Spaces, songs of pop mellifluence and canny instrumentation. The former features a sweet melodic chorus not to mention, a muscular horn section whilst the latter tugs heart strings with Josh’s impassioned vocals. Elements which will even appeal to the average casual pop listener.

But for the diehard fans, its the mix of epic bravado and fragile honesty in songs like Fires At Night, Candela, Beware Monster and Train Song that will thrill and enthrall as the band pulls out all the stops to deliver the power and glory only hinted at their live performances. Into this melting pot of 80s British rock influences of the likes of Simple Minds, Big Country, Comsat Angels, The Blue Nile, Echo & the Bunnymen et al, Fire Fight throws in the US indie emo-rock of the 1990s (viz The Get-Up Kids, Braid, Promise Ring and Sunny Day Real Estate) to produce a sound that is brutally energetic but imbued with heart and soul.

So I’m glad to report that 2009 is beginning to turn out to be yet another bumper year for S-ROCK albums and Henri deserves to be recognized as one of the year’s best together with recent releases by Concave Scream and the Observatory. I am so proud of what these young men have achieved with this fabulous album and I highly recommend Henri to everyone who believes in the power of pop to move and inspire. And, yes, that means you!

Check out the Fire Fight’s Myspace page.

For Singaporean (and Malaysian) readers, the Fire Fight will launch Henri on Friday, 31st July at the Esplanade Recital Studio. Tickets available at SISTIC. Not to be missed!

Stay tuned for the Power of Pop interview with the Fire Fight soon…


 Uncategorized  Comments Off
Jun 302009


GOSSIP Music For Men (Columbia)

In case you’re still unaware of Beth Ditto, here’s the 411:  She’s a rotund American songstress, champion of LGBT  rights, and positive body image advocate, who, somewhere between these social undertakings, happens to be the vocalist of indie-rock darlings Gossip — a band you really need to know by now.

I know what you must be thinking. “Oh lord, not another one of those bands.”

Let me assure you, Gossip’s music is far from self-indulgent, in fact it is exceedingly compelling, particularly on their latest offering… and I don’t mean that in a lookit-the-queer-band sense of the word.

Music For Men is essentially a distilled version of Gossip’s body of work so far. That is to say, an amalgamation of punk attitude, soul-sista pipes, and jaunty indie-rock stylings, accompanied by a frenzied cornucopia of drums laid down by seemingly tireless hands. Not bad, considering that four albums on, Gossip (albeit with the loss of earlier-incarnation prefix “The”) have managed to retain a distinct sound that most other trios spend a large part of their career trying to achieve. All without losing much in the way of momentum, I might add.

The most aurally apparent observation one might draw from initial spins of the record is how polished it sounds, even though the vocals melody and rhythms register as oddly disjointed. There is a method to Gossip’s madness, one that lends itself to instantaneous identification upon consideration of the entire piece of music. It’s as if the band have reached a common consensus to steamroller through their convictions as a unified front, with their constituent idiosyncrasies providing the ruffled, worn-in character so often associated with some of the finest music ever made.

Gratifying, if I do say so myself. It’s refreshing to see a band that can truly stick to its guns. Highly recommended listening.

(Sherwin Tay)

Check out Gossip’s Myspace page.

© 2012 POWER OF POP: Music, Film, Comics & Book Reviews Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha