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.




ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK Architecture & Morality (Dindisc, 1981)

My first encounter with OMD (like many other post-punk bands) was  the documentary Urgh! A Music War and the wonderful Enola Gay. I believe I purchased a US printed LP that compiled tracks from the 1st two OMD albums (purely for Enola Gay, of course) and then not long after that, Architecture & Morality, which was released at the tail end of 1981.

It is probably one of my favourite albums of the synth-pop era and to this day is an LP I can easily (and comfortably) listen to from start to finish – a rarity.

The album opens with mechanical noises, jangly guitars and jarring mellotrons before Andy McCluskey weighs in with his trademark awkward vocals. Like most early OMD, it is a unique combination of the bitter and the sweet. The quaint She’s Leaving follows, as the band demonstrates that it is as deft at McCartneyesque melodicism as any 70s powerpop outfit. Then Souvenir comes in to deliver the perfect sugar-rush with a truly memorable synth riff and Paul Humpreys’ fey vocals.

The beauty of OMD was that it was able to write experimental instrumental sound collages as well as hit singles. This appealed greatly to a music lover like me that appreciated the Beatles and Pink Floyd, ELO and Genesis. Sealand and the title track were great examples of this ability. In between, these tracks were two singles concerning Joan of Arc – both were top 5 hits – and together with Souvenir (which claimed the #3 spot) ensured that Architecture & Morality would be OMD’s best selling album (to the tune of 3 million copies sold).

For me, OMD was a fine example of a band that were recording for the sheer love of the music. The image of the band was communciated through stylish album covers (by Peter Saville) and artful yet infectious songs, all the while maintaining an experimental edge to their idiosyncratic songs.

The album closes with the bouncing Georgia and the thoughtful The Beginning and the End.

OMD would never quite attain the peaks of this album, with each succeeding album marking the band’s inevitable commercial and critical decline. Still, for having produced Architecture & Morality, OMD deserve their place in the post-punk hall of fame.

A truly essential album.


(In alphabetical order, not in merit)

BECK Sea Change (Geffen)

Produced by Nigel Godrich, Beck’s rich songcraft, which runs the gamut from country-folk to pop-rock, absolutely shines on this, possibly, his finest album so far. Favourite song – The Golden Age.

BRIAN WILSON Smile (Nonesuch)

You might say that this is a sentimental choice but Smile stands as a fine musical work even without the backstory, history and yes, baggage. Favourite song – Heroes and Villians.


Joe Pernice was definitely one of the most consistent singer-songwriters in the 2000s. This Pernice Brothers’ side project features gorgeous chamber country-inflected pop that has stood the test of time. Favourite song – Everyone is Evolving.

DAVID CROWDER BAND Can You Hear Us? (sixsteprecords)

A worship album that totally works as a straightforward pop LP. That’s what distinguishes Can You Hear Us? from the multutude of cookie-cutter worship albums out there. Favourite song – You’re Everything.

THE DECEMBERISTS Crane Wife (Capitol)

Colin Meloy & co decide to get more arty and obstuse on their first major label album and it is probably their finest hour. Prog-rock pieces sit well with pure pop nuggets – ambitious! Favourite song – O Valencia.

FLEET FOXES s/t (Sub Pop)

One of the best debut LPs I’ve ever heard (and I’ve listened to many), this album brought the alt-folk movement home as the Fleet Foxes proved that less is always more and that Brian Wilson had more country-folk in him than most people realized. Instant classic! Favourite song – Ragged Wood.


Gone but not forgetten, Grandaddy mixed Neil Young, Weezer and ELO into a heady concoction that was always a thrill. Sumday was the one that hit the spot. Favourite song – I’m On Standby.

GREAT SPY EXPERIMENT Flower Show Riots (Riot/Universal)

I guess many S-ROCK unbelievers will probably scoff at this but for me, the sublime Flower Show Riots represented a turning point in the S-ROCK zeitgeist. Favourite song – The Great Decay.

NEAL MORSE ? (InsideOutMusic)

Combining biblical concepts, prog-rock virtuosity and amazing tunes, ? is one of those albums that give you the best of everything – spiritual themes and awesome instrumental passages. Favourite song – Into the Fire.

WILCO Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch)

Leaving behind the minimalist Krautrock experiments of the last two albums, Sky Blue Sky finds Wilco evoking classic country-folk-pop that always gives you a sweet, warm feeling. Favourite song – Walken.

XTC Wasp Star (Cooking Vinyl)

Another sentimental choice. Wasp Star is XTC’s final studio album and for that fact alone, it deserves to be on this list. Nuff said! Favourite song – Stupidly Happy.

Here’s to another great musical decade.



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VARIOUS ARTISTS More! Singapore 60s Treasures From the Vault (Universal)

After the warm reception given to the 5CD retrospective of the Philips Singapore 60s back catalogue, Universal Singapore has released a 2-CD follow up. Again, the sound isn’t the best it can be since the original masters are long gone but as an archival record of an exceptional epoch of Singapore music, this set is again essential for all fans of that era.

Being born in 1961, I was obviously very young when these records saw light of day but certainly I can vaguely remember the buzz that these Singapore bands generated in this heyday of Singapore music. The influences of the likes of Cliff Richards & the Shadows, the Ventures, Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers and of course, the Beatles is clearly apparent on these records. A fair mix of covers and originals are showcased here, with no discernible distinction between the two, a testament to the songwriting talent on these shores even in those bygones days.

Judging from the music styles (not to mention the group names), it is evident that Cliff Richards & the Shadows provided a very strong model for many of these bands e.g. Heather and the Diamond Four, Henry Suriya & the Boys, Steve Lorainne & the Clansman and so on.

For fans who picked up the first set, More! Singapore 60s is a must-have. Good songs with excellent performances recommended for lovers of 60s music.



Dreams do come true! Sometime in 2008, I posted an event on Facebook for my performance (with the Groovy People) at Rock the Sub. I got a bit of a shock when Chris Collingwood (the voice of power pop legends Fountains of Wayne) wrote on the event wall that he would love to play in Singapore!

Well, in about 5 weeks’ time, Collingwood will in fact be playing in Singapore at Baybeats 2009 on the 29th of August to be precise. And if that wasn’t exciting enough, yours truly will be backing Chris playing rhythm guitar and singing backing vox! Yes! Really!

Let’s just say that I have been a big fan of FOW since their gorgeous eponymous album was released in 1996 – the one with the kid playing Superman holding his pet bunny – and I can barely wrap my head around the fact that I will be on stage with Chris playing great songs like Radiation Vibe, Sick Day (my favorite!), Red Dragon Tattoo and Stacy’s Mom!

So, stay tuned as Power of Pop begins its countdown to Baybeats 2009, with special emphasis on my experiences with Chris in the coming weeks! Oh by the way, rounding up the band are Eugene Wee and Desmond Sim out of S-ROCK legends The Lilac Saints!

Check out my review of FOW’s third album, Welcome Interstate Managers, which I wrote a few years back. Still there’s more.


Ten tracks into this, the third and latest album from Adam Schlesinger, Chris Collingwood and company, Fountains of Wayne delivers a truly incandescent pop moment with the ‘70s soft-rock evoking “Halley’s Waitress.” With the inspirations of Burt Bacharach and the Carpenters trailing in its wake, “Halley’s Waitress,” with its baroque piano, poignant string arrangement, vibes and theme of wistful regret, represents the rare indications of heart (rather than mind) dictating the Fountains Of Wayne pop agenda.

This superior mood and tone is mirrored in the folky “Hackensack” and the balladic Fire Island, not to mention the radio-friendly “All Kinds of Time.”

Not that the band’s trademark driving sunshine pop-rock doesn’t in itself justify a recommendation. It’s just that I’ve always felt that this particular kind of Cheap Trick meets Pixies melodic crunch has been better served up by the likes of Weezer and Grandaddy. Worse still when juvenile urges are indulged with the rather distasteful “Stacy’s Mom” – imagine a much creepier “Jesse’s Girl,” where instead of lusting after another guy’s girlfriend, this time it’s your girlfriend’s erm mother – although I presume it’s done as a parody but why go there at all?

That aberration apart, the songwriting duo’s knack for stitching together vivid novelettes ala Ray Davies remains intact. The working class dilemma is outlined in tracks like “Mexican Wine” – “I used to fly for United Airlines/Then I got fired for reading High Times,” “Bright Future in Sales” – “I had a line on a brand new account/But now I can’t seem to find/Where I wrote that number down” and “Little Red Light” – “Stuck in a meeting on a Monday night/trying to get the numbers to come out right.” Even happier to report that the boys’ sense of humour is not lost in songs like the bizarre action-replay paean “All Kinds Of Time,” which simply describes an American Football TV scene, “No Better Place” with “Is that supposed to be your poker face/Or was someone run over by a train” and “Hey Julie” which illustrates the mundanity of the working stiff – “Working all day for a mean little man/With a clip-on tie and a rub-on tan.”

Hailed years ago as the Great White Hope of power pop, Fountains of Wayne do not disappoint with Welcome Interstate Managers, clocking in at 55-plus minutes and 16 tracks, discerning pop fans will relish every nuance and every lick. Indispensable.


YO LA TENGO And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (Matador)

Never liked the Velvets?

Well, that is an observation one cannot make about perennial critics’ darlings Yo La Tengo. The trio’s connection with the Velvet Underground stretches far enough for them to be cast as the Velvet Underground themselves in the movie “I Shot Andy Warhol.”

But thankfully, there’s more to Yo La Tengo than a well-developed Velvets fetish. After all, this is a band who number the likes of The Kinks, Love, Soft Boys & the Mission of Burma amongst their favourite influences.

Maybe Yo La Tengo’s immaculate music taste has something to do with the fact that leader-guitarist Ira Kaplan used to be a rock journalist. Whatever, together with wife-drummer Georgia Hubley, Kaplan has kept Yo La Tengo-ing for more than fifteen years with a variety of bassists, the current holder James McNew having signed on in 1992.

Upon inspection, Yo La Tengo covers roughly two distinct and contrary musical grounds. Most obvious, of course, is the Velvets-patented drone rock with Kaplan’s half-spoken vocals and buzzy guitar work recalling Lou Reed. More surprising, perhaps given Yo La Tengo’s place within the indie noise-pop community, is the band’s uncanny ability to deliver slightly askew traditional pop songs of sheer melodic beauty!

Pardon me, if I expose my prejudices and focus on the latter theme – sheer melodic beauty! Coincidentally (or not – you decide) Yo La Tengo um goes into that almost pure pop mode on songs that are sung by Hubley. So, on the oddly titled “Let’s Save Tony Orlando’s House,” the drone-rocking takes a back seat to a soft focus pop song that would not be out of place on Papas Fritas’ latest opus! And what about the elaborate Beach Boys backing vocals that support Hubley’s soft spoken vocals on “You Can Have It All” – simply irresistible! Or even the melancholic slow country (ala Low) lamentation of “Tears Are In You Eyes” – all examples of Yo La Tengo’s wide palette of tastes and approaches – clear signs of restless artistry. Not to mention such idyllic pop nuggets like “Madeline,” “Night Falls on Hoboken” and “From Black to Blue!”

All told, “And then nothing turned itself inside out,” is 77 minutes of pure magic – evidence that Yo La Tengo have truly outgrown their Velvets clones tag, and have done it with much aplomb.


BELLE AND SEBASTIAN The Life Pursuit (Jeepster)

Never liked Belle and Sebastian.

Well, if I had to be honest, I never even heard Belle and Sebastian.

My ambivalence towards Belle and Sebastian rested upon certain hyperbole being trust their way by well-meaning music journalists.

This is why I never liked the Strokes either. (That’s another story entirely)

So here I am, listening to The Life Pursuit, the 7th Belle and Sebastian album and wondering what my unjustified prejudice has cost me.

Better late than never?

I suppose it began with downloading (legally and legitimately – ahem!) a free download of “Another Sunny Day,” which as it happens, I fell head over heels in love with.

I mean, it has this cool breezy country-folk-rock vibe, a riff that locks onto your synapses and twee vocals that really don’t seem to give a damn! What a combo!

So, inevitably, I get a hold of The Life Pursuit and it’s everything I didn’t think it would be – unashamedly retro, creatively plagiaristic and very very cool.

Songs like the glam-lite “Blues Are Still Blue,” the organ-heavy bouncy “Sukie in the Graveyard,” the Kinks-inspired edgy “We Are The Sleepyheads” and the Motown-driving “To Be Myself Completely” are chock-full of handy references to decades of smart pop that genre trainspotters will absolutely love.

Simply put, an album that proves that contrary to first impressions, Belle and Sebastian deserve all that hype and praise. And how!


NEAL MORSE ? (Radiant) 

“And then after all with our backs against the wall/We seek the temple of the living God/And now that it’s done, the heart of every one can be the temple of the living God.” 

Let us begin at the end shall we?

At the beginning of 2005, I had no idea who Neal Morse even was. Since that time, through my writing for the Christian music reviews site the Phantom Tollbooth, I have come across rave assessments of Morse’s first two solo albums (after leaving premier progressive rock outfit, Spock’s Beard) viz. Testimony & One. Intrigued, I sought out and obtained Morse’s new album, ?, and after having given it a couple of spins am thoroughly convicted that it is my choice as the album of 2005.


Perhaps because a musician would either be very courageous or insane to work within that misfit genre called ‘progressive’ rock. Not the progressive metal of popular bands like Dream Theater or Tool, mind you but prog that is faithful to its original 70s roots. Not only that, but Morse is a born-again Christian and has produced a concept album about the tabernacle i.e. the temple of God. Now, how marginalized does Morse want to be in these intolerant & ignorant times?

Arguably, if you wanted to write about concepts dealing in depth about the Old Testament sacrificial worship system, the mystery of the presence of God, the separation between God and man due to sin and God’s ultimate plan for man’s redemption then… I suppose prog rock is the perfect medium. Neal Morse has proved it conclusively with ?.

Morse has described ? as one song with 12 parts and it does pan out exactly that way, each part standing up well alone and yet only fully realized when seen as a coherent whole. This is one album that you must listen to completely at one sitting – all 56:28 minutes of it!

As an exercise in prog rock, ? is one of the best of its kind, blending Morse’s obvious references points i.e. Genesis, Kansas, Pink Floyd, Yes, Jethro Tull et al with well-placed pop allusions eg. The Beatles (“Solid As The Sun”). Morse – himself a top-notch technical guitar and keyboard player – has recruited some of the best to collaborate, with drummer Mike (Dream Theatre) Portnoy, bassist Randy (Ajalon) George, keyboard player Jordan (Dream Theater) Rudess and guitarists Roine (Flower Kings) Stolt, Alan (Spock’s Beard) Morse and Steve (Genesis) Hackett pulling out all the stops for an astonishing musical experience.

And unlike many concept albums, ? does indeed pay off at its conclusion and in fact is at its strongest in the last three parts. Actually, it begins with the instrumental passage in “12” on which Hackett guests with much aplomb before segueing into “Entrance” where Morse begins the denouement of his piece – an affecting piano ballad that introduces Christ into the equation and leads smoothly into the exhilarating “Inside His Presence” where Morse sings – “When he died and was born/The temple walls were torn/And God’s Spirit poured out to all the ones without/Now, the temple of the living God is you/The temple of the living God is you.” I am not ashamed to confess that as a Christian that this song reduced me to tears. Hallelujah!

What more can I say? If there is such a thing as a perfect album then ? is. At so many levels, it satisfies overwhelmingly and even if the spiritual context does not move you, then treat it in the same way you would a prog concept album about Tolkeinesque characters, deaf dumb and blind pinball wizards or psychotic musicians who live life behind an emotional wall – and recognize it for the masterpiece that it is.


KING RADIO Are You The Sick Passenger? (Unreleased demo)

So why haven’t you heard one of the best sophisticated alt-country chamber-pop albums of the new millennium? Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that to date it remains unreleased. Are You The Sick Passenger? a 38 minute demo from Frank Padellaro’s King Radio deserves so badly to be released and recognized it isn’t funny anymore. 

I mean, for those serious pop lovers out there currently digging the likes of Burt Bacharach, Brian Wilson, The Pernice Brothers, High Llamas, Stereolab, Chamber Strings, Aluminum, Scud Mountain Boys, Mello Cads et al, will positively go mad with one listen to the wistful “Introduction” where acoustic guitar, heavenly strings and a throbbing bassline combine to transport you to pop paradise, will have you hailing King Radio’s majesty indeed!

From then on, it’s one glorious track to another, take note: the breezy “Caveat Emptor,” the lovely “Meet the Maker,” the jolly “Dead and Gone,” the music hall campy “The Busman’s Holiday,” the tongue-in-cheek instrumental “Intermission,” the folky “The Sick Passenger,” the movin’ “You Were the One,” the jaunty “Am I the Same Girl?” and the erudite charmer, “Famous Umbrellas.”

Let me just say, that if not for the fact that Are You The Sick Passenger? is an unreleased album, it would definitely have been in my Top 5 albums of 2003! If this intrigues you, head on down to the King Radio site to find out more and if you or someone you know would like to do the pop world a favour and release this hidden treasure, then get in touch with Frank Padellaro pronto!


NADA SURF Let Go (Barsuk)

Nada Surf’s continuing growth and development from power emocore trio to distinctive sophisticated artists in their own right is evident on this superlative latest effort. Last time out, the self-released The Proximity Effect took two years of label wrangling and heartache to see light of day but still sounded refreshing, dynamic and a step forward from the hyperkinetic Ric Ocasek-produced debut High/Low.

Let Go is the masterpiece that Nada Surf has been promising to deliver and comes at a time where rock ‘n’ roll requires reinvention without sacrificing the basic foundations of melody and passion. Whilst eclecticism is always to be prized, Let Go does not stray too far from the folk-infused arousing power rock that Nada Surf excels in. However, the genius is in the details. 

Check out the vocoder-drenched vocals on the coda of “Fruit Fly” as the band carries the piece to an emotional climax. Or the achingly spine-tingling choral hook that anchors the poignant sentiments of “Inside of Love” as Matthew Caws sings longingly, “I’m on the outside of love/Always under or above/Must be a different view to be a me with a you…” Take note of the atmospheric “Neither Heaven Nor Space” where the band squeezes every ounce of emotion out of a minimal arrangement? Or even the cheesy synth lines that belie the Kinksian riff fest that is “Hi-Speed Soul.”

Much to admire here for modern rock fans – Let Go draws easily from the same well as A Rush of Blood to the Head – certainly there are many similarities to be drawn between Nada Surf and Coldplay. And that my dear readers is a recommendation.



JARS OF CLAY The Eleventh Hour (Essential)

NEWSBOYS Thrive (Sparrow)

Inevitably, the mainstream success and acceptance of Christian Contemporary Music has turned out to be a mid-nineties phenomenon notwithstanding the current achievements of Creed and P.O.D. Two bands that rode that wave of popularity to international acclaim have delivered excellent albums in 2002. 

Jars of Clay took their CSNY-flavored acoustic pop into the charts and in to the public consciousness in 1995 and have since then proven to be no flash in the pan with strong follow-ups in the Much Afraid and If I Left the Zoo albums.

Their latest – The Eleventh Hour – is not just a great CCM release, it deserves to be named amongst the best pop-rock albums this year. Like their wondrous debut, The Eleventh Hour is self-produced and the band’s maturity as writers and performers shines through. Never hitting anyone on the head with their message of faith, songs like the gorgeous “Something Beautiful,” the pleading “I Need You,” the infectious “Fly” and the REM-derived “Disappear” demonstrate that Jars of Clay warrant serious consideration as pop masters in their right without prejudice. A

The commercial and critical apex for Newsboys coincided with a fruitful three-album collaboration with producer Steve Taylor. The last two albums without Taylor, whilst still solid efforts in their own right, never quite hit the same spots. Perhaps unsurprising, Taylor makes a return to the production chores for this latest album, the band’s eleventh. Whilst never really touching the same peaks as Going Public or Take Me to Your Leader, Thrive is nonetheless a robust collection of the Newsboys’ Britpop-inflected stylings. Which means you can expect sweet melodies married to Taylor’s unique perspective on the Christian experience. Highlights include the worshipful “It Is You” with my favorite chorus of 2002 – “Holy Holy is our God Almighty/Holy Holy is His name alone, YEAH” (Amen!), the new wavy “Live in Stereo,” the indie-popping title track and the quirky “John Woo.”


Into the new millennium, Pernice Brothers have always been reliable to produce great music…

PERNICE BROTHERS The World Won’t End (Ashmont)

There are very few things we can be certain about in life but this comfort I possess, a Joe Pernice record is always going to be a fulfilling pop experience. And I do not make that claim frivolously. My first encounter with Pernice arrived courtesy of the debut Pernice Brothers album, Overcome by Happiness which quite coincidentally found me floundering in a difficult time in 1998. It’s chamber pop melancholy struck a chord deep in my soul, the title track’s sombre humour mirrored my own situation uncannily – ‘You don’t feel so overcome by happiness, you’re broke…’ I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, honestly. 

Thus began my love affair with this talented singer-songwriter who served an apprenticeship of sorts with the alt. country amalgam that was the Scud Mountain Boys, manifesting an appreciation of Jimmy Webb and Glen Campbell in the lo-fi-around-the-kitchen-table charm of Pine Box and Dance the Night Away, before the full blown Massachusetts gave notice of the magic to come. 

Even before the release of this new album (on Pernice’s own Ashmont Records no less), Pernice had issued two seminal records – the moody Chappaquiddick Skyline and the country folk inflected Big Tobacco. Pernice insisted that these fine albums were side projects and in no way to be confused with a proper Pernice Brothers record. Which is what we have now with The World Won’t End and listening to it, one gets the feeling that Pernice certainly knows what he’s talking about. Compared to the ‘side-projects,’ The World Won’t End is classic pop in every sense and meaning of the term. 

Co-produced with long-time collaborator Thom (Beachwood Sparks, The Chamber Strings) Monahan, The World Won’t End is gorgeously textured pop wherein the jangly nuances of Teenage Fanclub are married to the lush orchestral arrangements of the Electric Light Orchestra to stunning effect. When these upbeat musical sensibilities contrasted with the frankly morose nature of Pernice’s lyrics, they make for a potent albeit disorientating combination.

The starting point for an examination of his phenomenon is the bright yet wistful “She Heightened Everything” where Pernice remarks – ‘Waiting for the mortal wound/This fascination with the moribund’ to the accompaniment of sentimental strings. Likewise, the deceptively cheery “Let That Show” contains the lament, ‘It feels like I am dying as I watch you go’ as the chug-a-lug rhythm boogies. 

“7.30,” a chiming chunk of dynamism reveals ‘our summer years are Freudian slipping by’ and ‘there’s nothing there, just bitterness’. The fragile “Shaken Baby” conjures disturbing images likening a failed relationship to this appalling syndrome. “Our Time Has Passed” is a charming Bacharach-meets-Big Star number weighed down by regret and a ‘bitter-sweet hello/goodbye’.

With “Flaming Wreck,” Pernice sinks to the depths of despair, narrating his own demise in a aeroplane crash – ‘I was alright/Never knew it would be the perfect last word I spoke/As the cabin filled with smoke…did you know I would die for something new?/Take good care, someone whom I never knew’.

You have to admire Pernice’s uncompromising attitude in describing the world as he truly sees it, never sugar coating the pain and bitterness of everyday living. And he makes it so enjoyable to listen to! The World Won’t End is not just an album of bleak and hopeless themes, rather I prefer to see it as cautiously optimistic. I daresay that Pernice and company have diligently mapped out a new frontier for 21st century powerpop. One that blends compelling and infectious music with hard down-to-earth realities. File it next to The Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin, Grandaddy’s The Sophtware Slump, The Heavy Blinkers’ Better Weather and Lambchop’s Nixon for distinct milestones of the new pop.


Another blast from the past, this time from 2000. 

MYRACLE BRAH Plate Spinner (Not Lame)

A recent hot (and often heated) discussion topic amongst the power pop underground is whether Andy Bopp (a.k.a. Myracle Brah) is a genius or a charlatan.

The debut Myracle Brah record – “Life on Planet Eartsnop” – captured the hearts of many power pop fans (including yours truly). It represented a consistent expression of vintage pop tunesmithing circa 1964 to 1967.

Not that Bopp totally expected the ecstatic response to this low-key side project to his primary venture – Baltimore powerpop band Love Nut. 

Love Nut, in which Bopp functions as lead vocalist and primary songwriter, gained and suffered from the quick rise and descent of all things punk/grunge with their albums, the rather spiky punchy “Bastards of Melody” and the heavy rock-out fest that was “Baltimucho!”

Ironically, whilst the future of Love Nut remains in doubt, Myracle Brah continues to flourish with “Plate Spinner”, a quickie sequel of sorts to “Life on Planet Eartsnop”. Clocking in at a lean 32 minutes and recorded in mono; it would appear that Bopp is stridently carrying the flag for traditional pop values.

More than that, I would venture to say that “Plate Spinner” continues Bopp’s personal voyage of discovery into the classic pop-rock music terrain of the 1960s and 1970s. Utilising the technique of reverse engineering to conjure a magical science, “Plate Spinner” is a coherent, well-crafted work of art employing the tools of a cherished musical era.

His critics will no doubt raise the time-tested arguments that Bopp’s music with Myracle Brah is “lacking in originality” and “retrograde” and adds nothing ‘new’ to the established chronicles of pop. 

Well, the truth of the matter is that whilst there may be considerable merit on both sides of the proverbial coin, I would submit that ultimately the argument is moot if the songs do not stand up to the test.

Yes, the test – if you set out to write and record “good” pop songs then it has got to be able to live up to the legacy (all forty odd years of it) of the best that pop music has had to offer. Thus, discussions of form and style are irrelevant (and if I may be blunt, idiotic), it is the substance that counts, after all. 

In this respect, the inspired labours of Andy Bopp and his Myracle Brah more than make the grade. Familiar yet challenging, the irresistible melodies of gems like the winning “Isn’t It A Crime,” the elegiac “Drowning,” the jaunty “The Seeds Are Growing Faster,” the feisty “Mr Tuesday Man,” the captivating “Hearts On Fire,” the muscular “Faux American,” the heavy “Dead Overnight,” the nostalgic “Treat Her Right,” the psychedelic “Albert’s Hand” and the naïve “Slip Away” will charm the socks off cynics and believers alike. Joined together by intervals of sampled noise and effects, the twelve songs on “Plate Spinner” coalesce into a formidable whole – this is pop record making of a high order. 

I await Mr. Bopp’s next move with bated breath.


Feelin’ nostalgic today so… I will be running some past reviews I did in the upcoming days and weeks…

MATTHEW SWEET In Reverse (Volcano)


For most of this decade, Matthew Sweet has been the flag bearer for classic pop-rock craft in an era where grunge, electronica and ska has come and gone. Like Tom Petty, Sweet has – despite his less than fashionable choice of medium – managed to build up a considerable body of consistent work and along the way a significant fan base. Girlfriend  (1991), Sweet’s breakthrough album was in fact his third after the relatively obscure Inside (1986) and Earth (1988) released by Columbia and A&M respectively. In the early 1990s, Zoo decided to take a chance with Sweet and Girlfriend was the result. It was the first album Sweet recorded with a live band, and its sound was considerably more immediate and raw than its predecessors. This new approach paid dividends and Girlfriend was a commercial and critical success. Sweet’s next two records, Altered Beast (1993) and 100% Fun (1995), were both critically acclaimed and relatively successful albums, with the latter reaching gold status and making many year-end “Best Of” lists. Sweet’s last album, Blue Sky On Mars (1997) received mixed reviews and it failed to match the success of its immediate predecessor

Matthew Sweet In Reverse is a concept album but only in the subtlest of ways. With some of the tracks, Sweet elected to employ the Phil Spector ‘Wall-of-Sound’ method (albeit stripped down) by recording multiple instrumentation “live” in the studio with minimal overdubs. This technique has opened up greater possibilities for Sweet’s tune-friendly material – it sounds more natural, more spontaneous, and more “alive” than before. This process has indeed breathed life into his sixties influenced repertoire resulting perhaps in Sweet’s greatest musical achievement so far. The results are consistently impressive. 

You know you’re in for a groovy ride when the trumpets (ala Arthur Lee’s Love) punctuate the opening self-conscious Millennium Blues. This psychedelic nuance is emphasized in the backward guitar intro to Beware My Love. Elsewhere, Sweet raves it up with the melodic Neil Young-ish rockers Faith In You and Split Personality. Conversely, Sweet pours it thick with the gorgeous ballads Hide and Worse to Live – which deserve to be played to death on radios all over the world along with the breezy and infectious I Should Never Let You Know. Unrelenting in scope and value, Sweet manages to top it all with the Wilsonesque suite Thunderstorm which is actually four songs woven into one coherent tapestry. 

At the beginning of this review, I described In Reverse as a concept album. If it only succeeds in making you appreciate the rich inspiration of the sixties as manifested in Matthew Sweet’s sublime songcraft, then that concept has become a vital reality – the power of pop


THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT – The Jam (off the Sound Affects album)

Sheer bloody poetry – “…and a kick in the balls” Heh.

The Jam – That’s Entertainment
Uploaded by The-Jam


DEBASER (off Pixies’ 1989 album Doolittle)

Bizarrely, I had Rolling Stone to thank for my introduction to the weird world of Pixies. After a hiatus of three to four years, I returned to rock music in earnest in 1989. Sometime in early 1990 in one of those “best of” issues, I came across Doolittle and Pixies. And the opening track was – Debaser – and immediately I was hooked by the sheer energy, the incongruous sweetness of Kim Deal’s vocal and of course, Black Francis’ visceral delivery. That last 30 seconds always gets me jumpin’! Believe me, there would have no Nirvana without Pixies…

“Girl is so groovy…”


NIGHTS ON BROADWAY (off the Bee Gees’ 1977 album, Main Course)

The Bee Gees were one of the first pop bands I ever became a fan of – loved their late 60s/early 70s hits like New York Mining Disaster 1941, Melody Fair, How Can You Mend A Broken Heart etc. They seem to disappear in the mid-70s but in 1977 they reinvented themselves as an R&B outfit. Main Course would contain both sides of the Bee Gees sound – classic chamber pop as well as the nascent disco-infused pop. Nights on Broadway is a brilliant hybrid of both as the opening muscular R&B morphs into a gorgeous ballad and then drives to an ecstatic denouement. Fantastic!

“Blamin’ it on…”


WAITIN’ FOR A SUPERMAN (off the Flaming Lips 1999 LP, The Soft Bulletin)

The Lips’ Soft Bulletin is my favorite album of the 1990s. Sheer pop perfection. Waitin’ For A Superman is the most poignant song that Waybe Coyne and company have ever written. That fragile chorus always brings tears to my eyes… is help on the way? Sure hope so…

“it’s just too heavy for a Superman to lift…”


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.



BRIAN WILSON Smile (Nonesuch)

When Brian Wilson announced that he was going to finish Smile, I must be honest to say that I was highly skeptical and wondered who was the mean soul that was pressurizing Brian to revisit (reopen?) old wounds for the sake of commercial gain.

Also, I had my doubts – if Brian was not equipped to complete Smile at age 24, at the peak of his powers – how could he do so in the twilight of his life?

But, when I first heard Smile in its entirety albeit via a bootleg of live gig in London, I must confess that I cried.

He did it!

As David Leaf quotes Brian in the lavish album liner notes – “Our Smile dream has come true.” Indeed.

In the last 37 years, as the Smile legend has grown, his numerous fans have shared Brian’s dream of Smile and the fulfilling of this dream with this release is nothing short of a miracle.

Detractors have questioned, rather loudly, what the fuss is and have variously derided Brian and his fans. Well, their loss.

For fans of Brian Wilson, it’s always about how Brian’s music made us feel. No other songwriter of the rock era has been able to convey emotions through his music quite like Brian. 

And Smile is for the fan who has waited patiently to hear these songs threaded together into a coherent whole. Certain pieces have been re-interpreted from their more famous cousins. Notably, the mid-60s singles “Heroes And Villains” and “Good Vibrations.” Significantly absent (or perhaps less emphasized) is the much discussed Elements suite – in fact, “I Love to Dada” the famed water section has gone AWOL and somewhat submerged in the new “In Blue Hawaii.”

However, whatever your qualms may be on this development, what is indisputable is the sheer genius of the Children section with the truly awesome sequence of “Wonderful,” “Song For Children,” “Child Is Father To The Man” and “Surf’s Up” which demonstrates that ultimately the beautiful dreamer is really the child in all of us. Faith, hope and trust resides in our child-like belief that anything is possible –


“Surf’s Up!

Aboard a tidal wave.

Come about hard and join the young and often spring you gave.

I heard the word.

Wonderful thing!

A children’s song.

A children’s song – have you listened as they play?

Their song is love and the children know the way.”


Kudos must go to Jeffrey Foskett and especially Darian Sahanaja, who have been instrumental in helping Brian (and lyricist Van Dyke Parks, of course) put this unlikely masterpiece back together.

We will never know if this new Smile reflects in anyway what Brian intended all those years and in truth it doesn’t really matter – our Smile dream has come true!