Our mission at Power of Pop as far as the Singapore Music Scene is concerned is to promote pop-rock + rock ’n’ roll music in whatever way possible. So it is with our great pleasure to highlight two singer-songwriters who have embarked on a rock ’n’ roll journey despite the lack of support for that style of music within the scene itself.
Background Four-piece London-based, Anglo-Welsh indie rock band. They released their first single, the buzzed-about “Follow,” in 2013, produced by Dan Carey from the band Toy. Operator is the group’s hotly anticipated debut studio long player, via the band’s own Gramgram label.
In general terms, the post-punk revival has overstayed its welcome – seriously, stop ripping off Ian Curtis and Joy Division already. But that judgement call does not fall on Savages. It’s fair to say that despite the band’s superficial association with this movement, the all-female quartet really are a class above and unlike their peers, actually have something to say.
English band Japan never hid their influences, with The New York Dolls, Roxy Music, David Bowie and The Velvet Underground, readily apparent from their image and music. Consisting of David Sylvian (lead vocals, guitar), Richard Barbieri (synths, keyboards), Mick Karn (bass, sax, flute, backing vocals), Steve Jansen (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and Rob Dean (guitar), the band would in turn inspire many of the 80s New Romantics (Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet etc) though the band themselves swore off that label.
Quiet Life, their 3rd LP, is significant as it signalled a shift in style as Japan eschewed the glam-rock of their first two LPs in favour of a more experimental synth-based approach, which bordered on art rock. This allowed the creativity of Karn and Barbieri to shine through in their instrumental work and Sylvian began to step of the shadow of his #1 vocal inspiration, Bryan Ferry. Guitars were no longer used to provide chordal accompaniment and where utilised would be more atmospheric in nature. This change in direction probably led to guitarist Dean leaving, subsequent to the album’s release.
Songs like the dance-rocking title track, the mutant groovy “In Vogue” and the Roxy-channeling “Halloween” provided the album highlights, whilst the sublime cover of the Velvets’ “All Tomorrow’s Parties” would make for a particularly memorable single.
As a quartet, Japan would go on to release the successful Gentlemen Take Polaroids and Tin Drum albums before splitting up in 1982 to explore even more progressive rock territories individually.
Recently, I declared ‘war’ on the post-punk revival – aren’t you people sick and tired of it yet?!?!? Anyways, I decided to do something about it so here’s my Deezer playlist of my 50 favourite post-punk songs! Enjoy!!
Punk is conveniently used as the defining moment in the 70s where the rock scene was fractured bringing about bands/artists with more arty, conceptual and experimental sensibilities. Of course, by the mid-80s post-punk or new wave or whatever the hell you wanted to call it became the norm and by the 90s, something else had come along i.e. grunge and alt-rock. It’s revival in the last 15 years or so has rendered the ‘movement’ a fashion trend and nothing more. But it’s worth looking back to those special moments in the 70s, where the seeds were planted…
Second EP from these Perth-based smart poppers finds them in the sweet G-spot between British post-punk and American new wave. Simply put – infectious melodies, bouncy rhythms, quirky lyrics and cool vibes overall. Seriously folks, they don’t make pop music like this anymore. This is the kind of pop, Power of Pop was established to drool over!
The title track is a masterwork of tightness and economy, crammed into its 3:31 minutes is more absolutely gorgeous pop (is there a better middle-eight/bridge from anyone else in 2014?) than anything most of the post-punk revivalists will be able to muster in their unreasonably overlong careers (you know who you are!)
Amazingly, the other four tracks do not fall too shy off the pop perfection of the title track. “I Disagree With Myself” is a brilliantly clever pop single that the likes of XTC and Split Enz would be proud to call their own with an irresistible chorus hook to boot – “I don’t wanna be dumb and bored”. No danger of that!
“Far From the Moment” and “Don’t Look at Me” have similarly mellifluous refrains – sweetness perfected in hooks and riffs that dig deeply into the ear. And of course, opener “Uppers and Downers” is a wonderful study in tone – offbeat, sinister and yet funny at the same time. No mean feat.
The Disappointed – check them out cuz believe me, you will not be!
You know the saying, a band takes a lifetime to write and record its first album and then six months to record the follow-up. Sometimes, this results in a poor second album and whether a band can overcome this setback or not is never a certainty. We look to the 80s for 4 examples of how bands coped with the second album syndrome.
THE KNACK – But The Little Girls Understand…
The band’s debut album, Get the Knack, was 1979’s best-selling albums, holding the number one spot on Billboard magazine’s album chart for five consecutive weeks and selling two million copies in the United States. It’s biggest hit – “My Sharona” was the song of ’79. The band rush-released But The Little Girls Understand… (in early 1980) which came across like an inferior version of the debut LP. Although, the album still went gold, the album left fans and critics unimpressed and the third LP – Round Trip – was a flop. But in hindsight, the album is really not as bad as it sounded back in 1980…
A transitional year for me. I welcomed the new decade as a National Serviceman having enlisted on Boxing Day, 1979. But more importantly, my musical tastes were changing as well, significantly. Sometime in 1978, I had been exposed to punk when a JC friend played to my friends & I, the Sex Pistols‘ Anarchy in the UK LP (banned in Singapore but smuggled in for good measure) and to be honest I was unimpressed. For a pop-rock lover weaned on The Beatles, Deep Purple, Queen, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, the Sex Pistols seemed dumb and barbaric!
That said, by 1980 I had begun to cotton on to the post-punk movement and had already started listening to the pioneering new bands of that era, which seemed far removed from the old-school rockers of my relative youth. Fueled by the noises made by rock mags like NME, Sounds & Melody Maker, I had started to abandon the old bands (as irrelevant) and had ’embraced’ the future of rock.
More recommended listening @ Spotify! This week we look at obscure post-punk from the late 70s/80s that fans of contemporary revivalist bands might wanna check out…
SOUTHERN DEATH CULT (1981 – 1983)
A early 80s goth rock band that is best remembered for providing singer Ian Astbury the platform from which he would form Death Cult with guitarist Billy Duffy before finding success as The Cult. Listen to its eponymous debut LP below.
Chris Kittrell aka Baby Alpaca is yet another Brooklyn artist aiming to make a significant impact on the American and world indie rock worlds. Whatever commercial successes might be ahead of him, this eponymous EP at least demonstrates that Kittrell has a pop-savvy musical head on his shoulders. ‘Classic Rock N Soul’ is how Kittrell chooses to describe his music and yet again, it is refreshing to find a songwriter pulling together the myriad strands of rock and pop references at the disposal of a smart pop artist in 2013.
These four songs will keep rock scholars reaching for their stock lists of influences and inspirations as they attempt to pigeon-hole Baby Alpaca’s agenda into neat little packages. But that is ultimately a futile and frivolous exercise. For me, it’s the manner in which Kittrell manages to take 70s R&B rhythms, 80s power chords, folk harmonies and post-punk melodies to forge reasonably distinctive songs. But even without such anorak-like analysis, it’s a simple pleasure to just enjoy the infectious “On the Roam”, the svelte “Run With You”, the smoky reverb-drenched “Sea of Dreams” and the soul-inflected “Wild Child” for what they are – quality pop songs!
This is epic Brit-rock at its finest. And when I say ‘Brit-rock’, I am basically referring to the psychedelic noise-rock outfits that have illuminated the British music scene in the 80s and 90s. Which roughly means references to post-punk, shoegaze and Britpop – sounds good to me!
Reading outfit, Tripwires, consist of longtime friends frontman Rhys Edwards, guitarist Joe Stone, bassist Ben White and drummer Sam Pilsbury, certainly have a collective finger on the pulse on what has made Brit-rock the coolest kid on the indie rock block.
Meaning – a diverse range of styles that augment stellar songwriting that emphasizes melodies and arrangements over a gimmicky veneer. It’s so obvious that this quartet are genuine rock fans to begin with – enthusing as they do over Neil Young and Yo La Tengo to the Flaming Lips and Sonic Youth (yes, not a Brit amongst them) but closer inspection reveal other pointed influences.
“Feedback Loop” seems to channel a unique combo of Suede and the Verve, “Shimmer” (listen below) betrays a psych-gaze vibe that recalls latter-day Ride and the House of Love (via the Bunnymen, perhaps) whilst the opening title track’s space-rock leanings will leave Swervedriver and early Radiohead fans with a huge grin on their faces.
Brit-rock lovers need not hesitate, Tripwires’ Spacehopper is an album made in heaven, for you!
Lest we forget, in the mid-70s New York brought forth nascent punk and the ‘new wave’. Even as there appears to be a new punk uprising in London, might we also witness an exciting fresh rock n’ roll perspective from New York?
Well, when I first heard the opening lines to “Don’t Look Back” – the first track of Brooklyn band Born Cages‘ new EP The Sidelines EP, there was a palpable sense of overwhelming promise that bears closer examination. (Listen below)
Born Cages (Vlad Holiday on lead vocals and guitar, Amanda Carl on keyboards, Steve Kellner on bass, and Dave Tantao on drums) seems to have engineered a sound that manages to squeeze arena rock and post-punk sensibilities into the same headspace.
Imagine if you will, Bruce Springsteen fronting Television instead of the E Street Band and perhaps you might begin to get a better idea of the rush I experiences when confronted by Born Cages’ sonic agenda.
This thrill-making is further explored in tracks like “Caiti”, where references to Arctic Monkey’s driving guitar rhythm are evoked, and “Metaphor”, where jaded dance-pop is given a shot in the arm by sinewy alt-country rock!
But ultimately it is the edgy anthemic lustre of “Don’t Look Back” that holds the biggest hope that perhaps Born Cages will be able to transcend genre limitations and break out…
Nothing quite compares to a British pop band trading in the fine legacy of Britpop and being able to make the connections between The Kinks and Blur and beyond. Instant Species has been around since 1997 and according to its official site, “we’ve made music we love, played gigs to entertain people and released records with an enormous sense of pride. It’s more than a hobby but it’s far from a career and it’s always fun. We don’t have a “plan” or “bid to be” anything other than 4 blokes playing some music we hope is half decent.”
More than “half-decent” I’d say — This Rome… is the quartet’s new album (#8) and it is chock full of catchy tunes, spiky rhythms and an edgy pop smart attitude. It’s clear from songs like the languid “Rise of the Idiot”, the bouncy “Simple Repetition”, the chirpy title track and the garage-y “I Need A Little Help” that the band writes and records the kind of music it loves without any thought about trends. Essential for fans of classic British pop music.