LISTENING ROOM


 

P.O.D.
Payable On Death [Warner Music]

I hated the band's first album with a major label, The Fundamental Elements of Southtown, 'cos it sounded just like any other nu-metal band. Generic. Then Satellite dropped, and I was forced to shut my mouth because darn it, it was a good album. Minus a few tracks, it would have been an awesome album. It was a virtually solid rap/rock montage that hit hard where it counted, and yet still had soul. For the most part, P.O.D. were making good on their promise to bring an uplifting message into a genre not often known for such a thing, and they were doing it more believably than most bands of their ilk that had chosen to stay within the walls of the Christian music industry. But you know, I'm not really high with this new album. What happened? The worst part is that I can't even call them a hard rock band anymore.

I would usually blame the replacement of a key member. Marcos had been with the band since the beginning and, depending on who you talk to, he either chose to leave or was asked to leave earlier this year. He was quickly replaced with former Living Sacrifice (one of the most respected underground Christian Metal bands) guitarist Jason Truby, But it didn't happen that way. I can't blame Truby; he seems to be every bit as talented as Marcos was. They contributed a single entitled "Sleeping Awake" to the Matrix: Reloaded soundtrack that showed promise. Some of the tracks seem promising enough at the beginning - a guitar riff ensures that the band hits the ground running, and an unexpectedly raw verse finds Sonny spitting out reggae-inflected lyrics (making sure to twist the last word of each line into a strangely addictive screech). Will You, their new single, bears same time signature to Sleeping Awake. I can't really fault the guys for taking what works and reusing it - it's good to hear a modern rock band play in something other than 4/4, kinda reminded me of Soundgarden.

The guys do a great job with it musically (especially Jason). Sonny is really singing more than rapping or screaming here. Revolution - hahaha first P.O.D. gets the lead single on the soundtrack to the second Matrix movie and then they put a song called "Revolution" on an album released the day before the third installment of the Matrix Revolutions? And it too uses the tired same ol' signature of Sleeping Awake. C'mon. Eternal - well, this one came out of nowhere! I mean, they did it before with their previous albums. Short interludes and stuff but this one really is nice. It shows that Truby has some serious chops - a full-blown, six-minute aural journey. This track actually resulted from a jam session when guitar legend Phil Keaggy showed up to play with the guys - it's all Phil and Jason and, to be honest, I don't know which one of them is playing the Latin-tinged acoustic part and who is playing the Santana-inspired electric part. It's a little weird to have such a track on a P.O.D. album where the people who participated in it had nothing to do with the band a year ago, but since it's hands down the best thing on the album, I'm not going to complain.

It's interesting, they appear to be at their best when they walk to opposite extremes. It's when they're in the middle that I'm not impressed. Payable On Death seems to start strong, end strong, and fall flat right in the middle (save for Revolution and some choice instrumental bits), and that's very frustrating after witnessing what they were capable of on Satellite. It's like the music is becoming monotonous and can't carry the weight of the album on its own. This is where I start to wonder how much influence Marcos once had on the band's creativity. There's so much on Payable On Death that seems to be in a similar vein to past hits - it just isn't executed nearly as well. At least, not unless you take the word "executed" to mean "ceremoniously put to death." It's not all bad, I guess. A few songs manage to approach the staying power of the best tracks on Satellite. But for the most part, this is fairly lightweight stuff when compared to the heavy, hard-hitting album it purported to be. - Adam Mohd Yusop

 

VARIOUS
Play Play Sleep Sleep, Your Classical Companion [Icicle Music]

A double album, the first is for Play and the other for zzzzz. True to the title, this is a classical companion, a catalogue of short classical pieces nicely given cute names such as Wakey Wakey for Grieg's Peer Gynt, and Ready Steady Go for Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. Likened to the best of classics collection, every track is well known and well loved and, most importantly, they are true recordings from some of the best orchestral names such as St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra so listening to them remains a new discovery each time as familiar melodies unfold with some very fine playing. - Sarah Tan

 

JOHN VANDERSLICE
Life and Death of an American Fourtracker [Barsuk]

"Life and Death of an American Fourtracker" could very well be the second instalment in a kind of trilogy about quasi-fictional eccentric characters that first began with John Vanderslice's album, "Time Travel is Lonely". This roughly chronologically constructed concept album revolves around the life story of his sister's moody slacker ex-boyfriend who was something of a minor bedroom recording legend. As with "Time Travel" where he liberally quoted from William Blake, Vanderslice once again draws inspiration from the visionary bard by setting the words from Blake's "Infant Sorrow" to music in the album's opening and closing tracks, Fiend in a Cloud Parts 1 and 2, respectively - that recount the tempestuous birth of the main protagonist.

In "Time Travel," Vanderslice assumed the first person perspective to tell the tale of an aimless, rootless, self-alienated Antarctica-bound adventurer. This time around, he takes his listeners on a quirky mini-epic of a life as seen through the eyes of an unsung musical genius who finds more solace and satisfaction in creating and recording songs that no one will ever hear on his trusty four-track machine, than he does in human relationships. In Me And My 424, he sings about the seemingly infinite, uncomplicated joys of lo-fi equipment that never fails him ("It's not really four tracks - you can add and subtract - unlimited the sky above you and me"). Apparently, it's his oblique comment on the unreliable nature of human beings.

In this regard, the central character is similar to the hero in "Time Travel," in that both fail to form and maintain meaningful relationships with people who are supposed to be their significant others. As Vanderslice plays out the odyssey of this socially dysfunctional savant, the listener is drawn into the exceptional details of his seemingly ordinary life. He revels in Autumn's colourful realm of the senses (Underneath the Leaves), sardonically ponders the mortality of past lovers and rivals in love in Nikki Oh Nikki ("You know that guy who stole your girlfriend away from you in the summer of '95?/He's going to die"), battles manic depression (Amitriptyline, where he sings the first two syllables like the girl's name, "Amy") and finally surrenders himself to the undertow as he is swept away to oblivion while out night-swimming in the sea (From Out Here).

With its themes of alienation, the observance of time's passage, and remembrance, "Life and Death" echoes "Time Travel is Lonely" in some respects. And just like what he achieved with "Time Travel," Vanderslice successfully marries acoustic and electronic instrumentation to produce a sort of a tragic-comic "mental movie" that moves the spirit to laugh, frown and cry along with the album's highly believable central character. (9) - Ivan Thomasz

 

NONE
Blackstar [Metal Mind Productions]

This is the first nu-metal band I heard coming from Poland. Known for their Death Metal and other extreme genres, this comes to me as a nice surprise. This third release has all the makings of a great album but falls a bit short on the structure of the songs. Well, the angry vocals are there, the guitars have the crunch but there is a fatal mistake. I simply lose track just right after the third song. It became apparent that this is a collection of songs that has no direction at all. It simply does not make me want to listen a second time. It's a far cry from their reputation of supporting Soulfly and Machine Head, two of the genre's earliest nu-metal prototype. They could learn one or two tricks from them about song craft. Don't get me wrong, the songs are good but devoid of punch and impact - two factors that make a band of any genre stand out. Yes, they included a multimedia presentation. But do you think I want to check it out after hearing some not so average and mediocre songs? Now, where's that porno DVD? - Adam Mohd Yusop

 

SARAH BRIGHTMAN
Harem [EMI]

Three spectacularly written songs stand out in this album. The War is Over, and The End of Time. They say so much in their highly philosophical lyrics, and where quiet moments of deep meanings set up waves of melodic beauty highlighted by the sheer simplicity of orchestration, and thoughtful changes in tonal colour. An Arabic prayer completes the mysticism in the former and makes this track thoroughly enjoyable. Then there is Arabian Nights, made up of a string of short verses, improvisatory in nature and has a nice musical concept that has no melodic order, structure, or relation to the other track, but is highly dramatic. The electric guitar at the end should have been sifted out though.

The highly exotic setups are complete with the dominance of raw strings playing simple melodic fragments and decorated with shakes and fingerboard glissandos, and with typically no finesse needed. The general style of the whole album consists of busy, possibly noisy, backup to fragments of Brightman's voice. The Journey Home, for instance, has a few vocal effects, an upbeat Abba-style rhythm, seemingly Bollywood effect, but is a letdown in musical content, with repetitive material stuck in a rut. It might be considerably nice if one enjoys orchestral sounds playing nothing in particular but terribly boring otherwise.

So there are a few gems in a basket of stones but just for the gems alone, the album marks a step towards a more definitive and enjoyable style we can look forward to, and yes, it is worth the while. - Sarah Tan

 

ENORTHED
Panegyric To the Iniquitous [SonicWave International]

It's great to see a local band that really shines in executing the Melodic Extreme metal and blend technical speed metal fused with aggressive vocals and styling of death/black metal with a progressive touch. With influences ranging from Blind Guardian, Spiral Architect, Dream Theatre, Emperor, InFlames etc.

The band consists of classical and jazz trained musicians and also feature a member of vedic death metal band, Rudra. Their wide ranging influences made for a very delightful time listening to them. Sometimes leaning towards the Swedish Melodic Death Metal movement as evident in their epic Stalwart, which has a very cool guitar solo, a brief piano interlude and a groovy progressive riff. And ending with a jazzy outro. Reminded me of Cynic (Death Metal's version of Casiopea). Horizontal Nights has James (vocalist/guitarist/bassist) tinkering his melancholic passages on his keyboards. Kathi from Rudra also lends his vocals to two tracks but I must say that James' growling really stood out in Perpetual Season.

Don't skip the end track, it has a bonus percussion thingy at the end of it. Enorthed is really a talented bunch and it's a shame that the CD sleeve does not fully give me any information about the band, lyrics, credits, I mean I really wanted to know what's the meaning of Enorthed? - Adam Mohd Yusop

 

STING
Sacred Love [A&M]

I've never quite forgiven this man for breaking up the magnificent musical force that was the Police. Trawl through the back-catalogue of this legendary band and I'd challenge anyone to find a single dud among the groundbreaking material that Andy Summers, Stewart Copeland and Sting produced during that heady period in rock history.

OK, OK, so I would admit to The Dream of the Blue Turtles and ...Nothing Like the Sun (the first two post-Police LPs) coming close to former glories whilst ostensibly expanding the musical palette of Sting's creativity.

But then it happened... Sting's burgeoning ego finally overtook his ability and talents and every single release since the turgid Soul Cages has been following a downward spiral as Sting abandoned every rock or punk ethic to pursue his MOR dream via new age and world music platforms. *Ugh*. The culmination of this descent was confirmed when Microsoft picked up Sting's Brand New Day as its commercial signature.

On that day, the man who injected verve and real ambition into the late-‘70s post-punk scene officially retired to be replaced by the hack that peers out from the shadows on the cover of his latest tired, cynical exercise Sacred Love.

There is nothing much I wish to say about Sacred Love except that it is immaculately produced and despite the odd moment of lucid brilliance - the soulful Gospel Dead Man's Rope (which rather astutely flashbacks to Walking In Your Footsteps off Synchronicity) - is ultimately cold and lifeless. (4) — Kevin Mathews

 

SINGAPORE SLING
The Curse of Singapore Sling [Stinky]

The mysterious, elusive Icelanders known as Singapore Sling credit the Jesus & Mary Chain, Suicide, the Velvet Underground and alcohol as their greatest influences. Their debut album, "The Curse Of Singapore Sling" is a dark and dangerous aural cocktail mixed from three alternately squalling/furiously riffing guitars, thrusting bass, hypnotically wailing keyboards, primal drums and strategic percussion. Cited by Spin Magazine as one of the brightest young hopes of the Icelandic music scene, Singapore Sling at once celebrate and cross-pollinate the diverse, ambitious artistic vision of the best of the early Creation Records roster, running the gamut from the Mary Chain to Primal Scream to My Bloody Valentine to Swervedriver.

Singapore Sling's hypnotic wall of sound simultaneously evokes the era of the Beats, classic ‘50s AM rock radio and the infinite promise and possibilities of the open road, times when rock 'n' roll was redemptive and pure - all brute, raw power that didn't make sense and wasn't expected to. — Insound.com

 

DEVILYN
The Past Against The Future [Metal Mind Production]

This devilish release is a compilation of their first foray into the Metal scene as Cerebral Concussion before changing to Devilyn. Seven songs from their The Rule demo (1994) which has a rather good raw sound production and three tracks from their 2000 promo. Illusions, a two-minute instrumental was cleverly put right smack in the middle, acting as a breather from the barrage of machine gun drums and guitar assault. There is also a cover track, Heartwork by UK legendary band - Carcass. It’s professionally covered, but is unfortunately tampered with a very unnecessary "live" atmosphere making it sound so fake and stupid. As always, great artwork by Polish artist Graal who had his covers stamped on most Metal albums. The death metal genre has been covered and manufactured to a tee, but this quartet make it interesting by having some catchy hooks in them. Also included is a bonus video of one of their songs, Reborn In Pain. — Adam Mohd Yusop

 

GUIDED BY VOICES
Earthquake Glue [Gut]

I must fess up to being late to the GBV party - 1999's Do the Collapse being my maiden exposure to the rock genius that is Bob Pollard. In the time since, Pollard and cohorts have delivered three more engaging GBV albums, not to mention numerous side-projects with his Fading Captain series culminating in the 4-disc boxset Suitcase and also the upcoming mammoth 6-disc Hardcore UFO set. Whew!

As excellent as Isolation Drills (2001) and last year's Universal Truths and Cycles were, Earthquake Glue manages to somehow up the ante with yet another bunch of songs that will thrill fans of ‘60s and ‘70s classic rock music. Not that Glue is remotely dated or derivative but if you can, imagine a pulsating hybrid of The Who's arena rock theatrics, Genesis' (circa Peter Gabriel) cutting-edge progressive rock agenda and Be Bop Deluxe's futurist glam-rock histrionics, filtered through the alt. rock lens of the Replacements, REM and Husker Du. Fabulous!

Highlights include the dynamic Who-besotted "She Goes Off At Night," complete with frenetic Moon-like drumming, the epic otherworldly "Beat Your Wings," the driving "Useless Inventions," the melodic wistful "The Best of Jill Hives," the fluid yet edgy "Mix Up The Satellite," the ambitiously inventive "Dirty Water" and so on.

Which makes for a truly enjoyable aural experience that will please fledging and veteran members alike. The club is open… (9) — Kevin Mathews

 

THESE ARMS ARE SNAKES
This Is Meant To Hurt You [Jade Tree EP]


Once the grunge capitol of the world, I haven't heard anything come out of Seattle lately until the band These Arms Are Snakes. They seem like angry young men who have a lot to get off their collective chest. We're not talking about watered-down, teen-angsty rock either. Leave that to Blink 182, these guys cook up a musical stew that would make The Melvins and Neurosis proud.

A sense of dark and foreboding doom 'n' gloom hovers over their tracks. Stever Snere is a great vocalist, distortion is often used on his voice and it fits perfectly with the music, and Brian Cook is incredible, at worst with his tempo-shifts and tones. Snere has a tremendous rock voice and isn't afraid to wash it in numerous effects. He freely raises his vocal octaves above his own or reduces it to guttural lows. I'd compare them to the Mars Volta in their style as a kind of art post-punkcore band. The distortion, the jams, the shifts, I love all these parts and more to This Is Meant To Hurt You. These Arms Are Snakes have managed to pull off a great EP and I wait impatiently for the LP. The CD changes from jams to melody into frantic punk so effortlessly. - Adam Mohd Yusop


$IGN OF 4
Dancing With St Peter [Track]

Yes, I realize that this was the kind of macho cock-rock I probably would have listened to in my teenage years (and, in truth, I think I must possess a couple of LPs by $O4's singer Phil Mogg's former outfit, UFO) but along with '80s new wave, this brand of music is pretty much passˇ. Nothing much to recommend this album with unless you're hankering for third rate Led Zep/Deep Purple knock-offs. Go ahead, make your day. [4] - Kevin Mathews

 

FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE
Welcome Interstate Managers [Virgin]

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 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. (8.5) - Kevin Mathews

 

TINDERSTICKS
Waiting For The Moon [Beggars Banquet Records]

The elegant sweep of the strings, the melancholic piano and Stuart Staples' muffled baritone are what we live for with each Tindersticks album. Waiting For The Moon, their sixth studio album, is no less romantic, miserable and beautiful. Yet there is an innate violence. If you ever wondered why the Tindersticks were chosen for Claire Denis' brutal film, Trouble Every Day, then check out the opening line for the ironic lullaby, Until The Morning Comes: "My hands 'round your throat/If I kill you now, well, they'll never know." Or the paranoid rush of Say Goodbye To The City and the spoken fury of 4.48 Psychosis.

But there is also a tender sweetness. Sweet Memory, My Oblivion, Trying To Find A Home and Sometimes It Hurts (a duet with Mexican/American jazz singer Lhasa De Sela) all ache with sensitivity. A bar room rock band which loves strings, songs which can be angry and sad; these are the contrasts that colour the painterly world of the Tindersticks - daylight giving way to moonlight. (8) - Philip Cheah

 

MUCK/ THINGS IN HERDS
[Bodysurf music/ split EP]

I am young but I am not stupid, goes the chorus of Orange School. Ductoi, guitars & vocals whine about kids making fun of them on the playground with lyrics full of childlike nostalgia, like dangling your scrawny legs from atop the metal monkey bars. Clever music matches the playful themes. Music experts will be able to recognize that their musicianship and genuine simplicity can carry them just as far. A Perfect Sunrise is one track that possesses an aura of inspirations and daydreams that give it depth behind its bubblegum sound while Kitchen Dust screams out in circus-like melodies, accelerating the split EP’s pace to a steady trot.

Things In Herds open their side of the EP with a simple yet catchy Always Disappear. The melancholic dirge of the ironically titled Too Happy set forth an earful of unpredictability and plenty of hidden pleasures, The third track, Now We Slide have hooks showing up around unsuspecting corners. The people should be very, very thankful. The People Trap follows with herky-jerky melodies among celestial starbursts of harmony. This is not your average pop album. wwwbodysurfmusic.tripod.com - Adam Mohd Yusop

 

HUGH CORNWELL
In the Dock [Track]

Recorded live at the Leicester Guildhall, the former Man in Black (not the lamented late Johnny Cash nor Tommy Lee Jones), Hugh Cornwall runs through choice selections from his Stranglers back catalogue supported only with his lone guitar. Golden Brown, Nice and Sleazy, Strange Little Girl and Always the Sun never once suffer for lack of musical embellishments as Cornwall's talents and passion carry them through superbly. For fans only but not too bad for the curious either. (7) - Kevin Mathews

 

MOYA BRENNAN
Two Horizons [Universal]

Held together by a vague storyline, this is at first, a haunting journey largely left to one’s own imagination. Set against Celtic pitches and nuances, the ambience is duly delivered, the lyrics expectedly evasive, and most tracks softly placed in rhythmic senses.

Adding on to the harp, flute and violin, the voice is another instrument, sadly limited by the parameters set by its own genre. Generally quiet and modest, with a bit of really touching instrumental moments here and there, the music remains conservative, leaving one in an empty void. Fulfilment, apparently, is to be found elsewhere. Over indulgence in an evasive theme in the hope of leaving the music open to interpretation, as is the very reason for the album's existence, leaves one wishing it had more colour and personality, and that it had something, and anything, to say. The saving grace, ironic as it sounds, is that the music can be heard many times over, still not have much to share, except for some pretty melodic fragments, and yet draws one back for more. Such is its subtle and understated hidden power. - Sarah Tan

 

SAM SHALABI
Osama [Alien 8 Recordings]

"Why don't you suck my big fat Semitic cock? Why don't you at least pretend to care about the situation in the Middle East?" challenges Sam Shalabi of the Shalabi Effect on their third album, Osama.

An offshoot of the Godspeed-You-Black-Emperor-Montreal-experimental-rock community (which includes A Silver Mt Zion and Set Fire To Flames), the band was noted for its psychedelic, avant-garde treatment of Middle-eastern and Indian rhythms on their first two albums - the eponymously-titled The Shalabi Effect and The Trial Of St. Orange.

Osama is a marked departure. As oud player and electronics manipulator Sam Shalabi notes: "This album was started, in earnest, as 'Protest music' about arabophobia in a 'Post 9-11 World'. I wanted it to be autobiographical (my given name is Osama) and somewhat clear in its intended dissent."

"Somewhat clear" is the operative description here. Osama is simply a melange of influences never heard before in the band's music. And it takes some getting used to. The 17-minute opening track, The Wherewithall, is a cut-and-paste operation of hard progressive rock which segues into a Velvet-Underground-styled-spoken-word-dream dialogue about an Arab who can play better guitar than a rich Jew. You can take it as an obscure rant about rock 'n' roll and the meeting of cultures.

On Mid-East Tour Diary (2002) where the "semitic cock" quote comes from, Shalabi does a straight-faced account of being terrified during a tour in that region where suicide bombs seem to follow the band's itinerary. The hysteria increases and the tour collapses. "So what did I learn?" Shalabi asks himself, "I learned - surprise, surprise - that we have to learn to love the Arab and the Jew... We should destroy power with our power, with a song, with a poem, with a koan..." The monologue takes place against a repetitive violin-led, free jazz riff and then segues into a crunching scream of anguish that lasts another four minutes.

This is contrasted against Shitmobile, U.S.A. which has an absurd conversation taking place. Here's a sample dialogue:

"What's your problem anyway?"
"Pass the saffron. Growl lower."

And later:

"Time to read some Shakespeare."
"Yeah, some home truths. Count me in... All you can do is hang on."

The conversation disintegrates into an S&M session, with sounds of whipping and moaning and crying laughter. The background music has an Egyptian oud and electric guitar duelling with a trumpet blowing over it.

In between, there's Der El-Bahri From The Air, which has a spaced-out Syd Barrett-styled vocal filled with sensual guitar solos while the centrepiece is the 17-minute blow-out on Guantanamo Bay.

It begins with a - surprise, surprise - pop song!! The refrain is "well, I'll see you on the other side," an ironic refrain as the title refers to the controversial US camp for suspected terrorists, where human rights abuses have been charged. Then it flows into a free jazz jam, gentle, melodic and discordant all at the same time, with a soundtrack of marines marching in the background.

So what did I learn from all this, I ask myself. That the album was released in March but I spent months in record stores all over the world from Spain to Austria, which knew about it but didn't stock it. That ultimately, Osama provides absurdist enjoyment, because what's happening today is pretty absurd by any standard anyway. (8) - Philip Cheah

CLICK HERE to order a copy of Sam Shalabi's Osama.

 

VARIOUS
Kopi Sechewen Vol 3
[Bodysurf music]

I've always wanted to go and visit Perak. I was told that my granddad was from that state which I know little about. This northern state compilation has a mixed bag of everything in it. Unsigned and unknown, 12 bands showcase a different side to the obvious predictable rock angle (Most bands from the northern territory are either in the heavy metal or death/black offshoot)

It feels somehow great to sample a few cups of coffee from there. Armored with a decent sound recording budget and marketing devices, the listener will be impressed. From the surprising melodic fiasco of Boneless Mahoney’s Song For Loner, the playful ditty of Free Love, nostalgic sonic from the ‘60s by Couple and sweet jangle from The Hans, it provided a useful musical roadmap for those of us who want to go and explore the possibilities of either playing or hooking up with new friends there. For me, it’s about time to go back and research my roots. — Adam Mohd Yusop

 

AXED MINISTERS
End The Silence [Self released]

Local veterans Axed Ministers released their 11-track album on July 5 at the M.A.D (Music Against Drugs) gig. This band plays heavy metal and guitar geeks will love this. Lots of great solos, catchy melodies and very Megadethish influenced rhythm work.

My favourite of this CD would be Race And Color which had a very interesting part in the middle, a gambus (Middle East six-stringed banjo like instrument) gives that ethnic feel. It also feature violins by guitarist Asta. I dare say Axed Ministers have two of the best guitarists in our local metal scene. There’s nothing really outstanding about the bass guitars and drums but they’re tight. In terms of songwriting, I hope they could do without the repetitions in their future compositions. It gets simply way too overboard and not enhancing the song at all. It just drags way too much time, and at times, I lose interest. And that’s one main important factor. You surely don’t want your listeners to lose interest with your songs. Not many ideas? I don’t think so.

The production is handled by Azrin, guitarist of the band, and recorded at AxedCreate Studios. It’s a decent effort but it would have been great if it had a better production as the songs seem done in different periods and some such as Zero have killer solos and guitar licks but have been drowned in the music and it’s a real pity. But as a whole this album is a kick ass album and will please fans of ‘80s heavy/speed/thrash metal. — Adam Mohd Yusop

 

GENETIC HABIT
From Outside [BigO Records]

Ok… inhale-exhale. Do I like the album? Hmmm, I gaze at the crystal ball… ah! hints of Jamoruquainess can be heard. There are some songs that initially get the groove but somehow lose it in the middle, it’s like you wanted to go to JB but then remembered that stupid medical appointment. Being The Rat is a track that features some distorted guitars that morbidly sound similar to the TV’s static. Was it intentional?

The only downfall to this album in my honest opinion is that as the CD progresses the listener’s ability to understand the words being said dramatically decreases. Without You, a track which I like sounded eerily like 4 Non-Blonde’s What’s Goin’ On. Only Love Stays is the one song that made me re-analyze the album again. At times, vocals sounding a bit too Suede and at times too whiny but it is this sole simple arrangement that beautifies the whole musical facade. The tracks Beside Me and In Our Souls have that Kool & The Gang mixed with modern gizmos. The former has the bad-as-funk-groove-feel but somehow it doesn’t seem to move me. Not Black enough? But the latter is one great track. It has the sonic servings as both chill out and bouncy striptease.

And yes the gems are the last two tracks. School’s Out and Silver Spirit caught me in the web of head nodding grooviness. More of it next time round guys? And add some Issac Hayes’ smooth bass along with it. A good CD in my book. At least these guys are not afraid to experiment with their musical arsenal. There’s a lot of innovation on this disc. Pick it up. What are you waiting for? Your 56k to download the damn thing? — Adam Mohd Yusop

CLICK HERE to order Genetic Habit's From Outside.

 

LOOSE FUR
Loose Fur [Drag City]

Just in case you Wilco fans missed this (it was released early this year) Loose Fur is a companion recording to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Recorded in between the Yankee sessions and tinkered on for the last two years, Loose Fur is a project band consisting of Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, Sonic Youth's ubiquitous Jim O'Rourke and Chicago's indie session drummer, Glenn Kotche. The first track, Laminated Cat, is a reading of a Yankee demo, Not For the Season. With only six tracks, most of the songs are long with a strong, improvisational, jamming quality. It basically feels like an avant-garde performance of singer-songwriter material. So Long illustrates this. It's a Jim O'Rourke love song about self-effacement, lack of self-esteem and tenderness. With a lovely brooding melody, the playing is filled with shards of splintered guitar chords and oddly discordant percussion, which plays off the song's theme of indecision. Highly recommended. (8) - Philip Cheah

 

SINGAPORE SLING
The Curse Of Singapore Sling [Stinky]

Hey, no prizes for guessing what it was about this band that got my attention! Upon closer inspection, it gets curiouser and curiouser. Hailing from Iceland (now perhaps the hottest music scene on the planet! Think: Sigur Ros and Leaves), Singapore Sling viz. Helgi Petursson on guitar and keyboards, Einar Kristjansson on guitar, Toggi Gu_mundsson on bass, Bjarni Johannsson on drums and Siggi Shaker on maracas and tambourine, parlay a wide range of influences from the ‘60s to the modern era, from the Velvet Underground, MC5, the Stooges, Suicide, Echo & the Bunnymen, Joy Division, My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream, JMC and BMRC. Highlights include the visceral Overdriver, the driving single Listen and the darkly atmospherix Chantisissity. Novelty factor apart, indie rock fans will want Singapore Sling in their collection. (8) - Kevin Mathews

 

ELEPHANT MICAH
Your Dreams Are Feeding Back [BlueSanct]

How well do you remember your dreams? Elephant Micah's Your Dreams Are Feeding Back is that kind of a dream album. It feels good when you are listening to it but it's really hard to remember much of it later. Indiana's Elephant Micah aka Joe O'Connell makes lo-fi alt-country with a touch of electronics. It's a long way off from the Neil Young generation. Who else would make such avant tracks such as Duet For Mower and Chainsaw? Or the eight-minute long Deliver Us From Broken Glass, which doesn't rage like Neil Young's Like A Hurricane with an endless guitar solo but instead strums lazily along on acoustic guitar to electronic sampling effects.

There is even a track called Mt Neil Young which sort of portrays O'Connell's dream world: "the things I do these days are look outside the window/I watch the washing machine/It all gets old in slow motion/I wait around for some piece of junk mail to come from your smoke-filled brain/When it comes, I can't breathe." The songs essentially paint O'Connell's inner and outer landscapes, his sense of nostalgia and sadness (TV-like Slow Motion) and his minimalist love songs (O Vocabulary). There are 18 tracks running for 64 minutes. It's a long dream. It feels like a good dream but darn if I know what it all means. (7.5) - Philip Cheah

 

RICKIE LEE JONES
The Evening Of My Best Day [V2]

Rickie Lee Jones: The election of George Bush; the passage of The Patriot Act; the monopolies of media and their misuse of language. I began to realize that someone had to speak up. There is a great tradition of protest music, from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan and I’m naive enough to believe that a song actually can change conditions. It’s all about power and intention and my intention is to wake people up and shake them out of their lethargy. But you can’t do it by yelling. You have to explain, to entertain. My constituency has always been outsiders and I think it’s the outsiders who have a real chance of reclaiming this country.

Rickie Lee Jones: I was listening. I was waiting. I was praying to be restored. And that’s what happened. I feel powerful, now. Intact. Ready to heal the world.

Rickie Lee Jones: There’s jazz, of course, and a lot blues and even some Celtic folk flavors from David Kalish. But the more I got into the intent of the songs, the more I focused on the spirit of the Sixties. I vividly recalled the era of the Black Power, when communities like Oakland became bound together by their culture and some of that East Bay grease got into the joints of this music.

Rickie Lee Jones: These songs are the fruit of trees planted and prayed over for a long time. There are images from my childhood, from my family and from some surpassingly sad moments. But they can be summed up pretty simply: I am not conquered. And that’s the most political statement a human being can make.

From the unvarnished political intent of "Ugly Man," and "Tell Somebody," to the funkology of "Bitchenostrophy," to the percolating blues of "Mink Coat At The Bus Stop," and the evocative lyrics of "A Second Chance" to the cinematic sweep of "A Tree On Allenford," The Evening Of My Best Day finds it’s serene center in the artistry of this stubborn original.

Rickie Lee Jones was living in Washington, mostly tending a garden and raising her daughter. With The Evening Of My Best Day, Rickie Lee Jones has ended her sabbatical. — Little Chicken

 

THE LONESOME ORGANIST
Forms And Follies [Thrill Jockey]

Just when you think that the steel drums make the track The Cold House Is A Harsh Mistress a weird souped-up gamelan, you realise it is Jeremy Jacobsen aka The Lonesome Organist when you hear the dulcet wheeze of his accordion. Fans of Jacobsen include Tom Waits and David Bowie, the former probably because of Jacobsen's one-man-band vaudevillian atmospherics and the latter perhaps as a reminder of his earlier compositional roots.

Forms And Follies, Jacobsen's third album, is exactly that, a hit-and-miss affair of multiple genres playing against each other. Only If I Get You and One Of Me are sweet doo-wop numbers while The Multiplier and Who's To Say Your Soul's Not Carbon are rockers. Jacobsen is an accomplished pianist and organist, and it's a delight to hear him play the toy piano on the jazzy Moped. But it's the lonely Walking To Weston's that earns Jacobsen his Lonesome Organist moniker. The sad beauty of this track reminds you that the carnival is over and you are walking home alone. (7.5) - Philip Cheah


STEREOPHONICS
You Gotta Go there To Come Back [V2]


You gotta laugh! Not intent on "borrowing" The Jam's sense of working class punk ethos, chief Stereophonic Kelly Jones has, with this latest release, attempted to parlay Paul Weller's rock 'n' soul approximations but only succeeds into presenting a retro-chic knockoff reminiscent of Lenny Kravitz! Okay, so full marks for perspiration if not inspiration but do we really need a Bad Company for the new millennium? (5.5) - Kevin Mathews

 

YES
Close To The Edge [Atlantic]

Offered once again in a new digital remaster is progressive rock’s finest moment, Yes’ Close To The Edge. Thereafter, prog rock was to be looked upon with disdain and disgust for its indulgences and sonic opulence. But when messers Anderson, Squire, Howe, Wakeman and Bruford entered the studio in 1972, the unspoken quest was to write a piece of music in classical mode utilizing the basics of a rock quintet — guitars, drums and keyboards — but possessed with the magnetic appeal of a three-minute single. And for about 20 minutes, the album’s title track did the trick. Close To The Edge boasts four movements structured around Bruford’s drums, Wakeman’s Moog synthesizer and Squire’s guitar. Anderson’s celestial lyrics had an operatic quality, suggesting possibilities but never quite spelling what. The song was hypnotic.

The second side of the LP, was not an anti-climax either. Both the ballad And You And I and the edgy rock of Siberian Khatru broke the three-minute pop single barrier but were deliciously melodic. Around the time, Atlantic also issued Yes’ cover of Paul Simon’s America, a three-minute single that the band expanded past 10 minutes. The edited single version is included as a bonus track on this reissue. Two other bonus tracks, an alternate take of And You And I and a rehearsal of Siberian Khatru, also explains prog rock’s weakness. Both songs lack the finished versions' precision. They sound chaotic, the single element that Yes banished from all their recordings past and present. So what can you create after you’ve achieved soulless perfection? [9] - Michael Cheah

 

MARK EITZEL
The Ugly American [Thirsty Ear]

In Will You Find Me, a classic Mark Eitzel lament, from American Music Club's Mercury, he already pointed to his future: "All I want out of life is to hide somewhere." That sort of explains his earlier solo album, The Invisible Man (2001). And now with The Ugly American, you can find out where he's been hiding - in Greece!

The Ugly American is a quirky retrospective album. Out of the 10 tracks, nine are taken from Eitzel's work with his band, American Music Club (AMC), and from his solo albums. The final track, Love's Humming, is composed by the Greek band he's been jamming with.

And what a jam! Western Sky (from AMC's California) begins with a melancholic violin motif that has the song seeping with romance and feelings of futility. It is a totally surprising reinvention. Here They Roll Down (from AMC's United Kingdom) takes another extreme. Here, Grecian pipes are blown discordantly till it reaches a cacophonous crescendo while Eitzel sings about cars passing him by in the dark. Appropriate, don't you think?

Eitzel can sound too damned morose for most ears. But with the Greek strings and pipes, he has found his match. They play with an equal sense of romance and doom. Which means that they can sound both melodic and melancholic. Take Courage (from Songs Of Love: Live At The Borderline) is a good example where they give Eitzel a sense of lightness, with lovely ringing mandolins.

As a taster before the new AMC album, You Better Watch What You Say, to be released early next year, The Ugly American is a just dessert. (7) - Philip Cheah

 

THE DARKNESS
Permission To Land [Must Destroy]

The David Lee Roth swagger, the Slash Guitar antics, the rather eccentric weird looking bassist and a tired-shaggy-looking-Austin Powers lookalike-drummer. What does that tell you? It’s a new band from the UK and it’s unashamedly Glam, party, Hair metal with AC/DC riffs, Freddie Mercury vocals and the cool bassist from Huey Lewis and the News. The beast has been locked away for many years. In a dark dungeon deep in the pits of hell, something so vile, so evil, so despicable has been hidden for the sake of humanity. Fifteen years ago, it spread like a rampant plague, feeding on youth by offering ideas of sex, drugs, alcohol and nothing but a good time. There were many disciples of this "thing", with names like Poison, Faster Pussycat, Ratt and Warrant. A rebellious one, called Guns ‘N’ Roses, even tried to break free and lead its own movement, but eventually disappeared into oblivion, never to be heard from or release an album called The Chinese Democracy, ever. It has many names, this, some of which make humans vomit upon hearing them: Cock Rock, Hair Metal, and the most misleading of the bunch, Party Bands. I hate to be the one to break the news, but it’s back.

In all fairness, The Darkness aren’t just peddling 2003 versions of Unskinny Bop and Cherry Pie. They pride themselves on mixing in a bit of T&A humour with the right levels of lyrical wit, all to a foot stompin’, fist pumpin’ rock vibe, a la AC/DC. Where some may falter in discovering this is Justin Hawkins’ outlandish vocals. Fashioning himself somewhere in between a sexed-up Bruce Dickinson and boisterous Freddie Mercury, Hawkins fears nothing as a vocalist, hitting notes that would make most men blush or punch themselves for sounding "too gay". Consisting of brothers Justin (vocals/guitar/piano) and Dan Hawkins (guitar), Frankie Poullain (bass) and Ed Graham (drums), you will love or hate this band but give them their due they make a change from dance, manufactured pop acts and nu-metal! The album marches on in its pink spandex glory. Love Is Only A Feeling is a stunning rock ballad, featuring some double tapping that the greatest of guitarists would be jealous of, and my fave lyrics. Friday Night is a love song about taking part in extra-curricular school activities - such as needlework, rowing and badminton - just to be with someone.

The Darkness are exactly what England and the rest of the world needs: A band who are unashamed of wearing spandex, dress like they are stuck in a time warp and crack out a fantastic album such as this. "Givin’ Up" will keep your foot tapping (definite Brian May styling going on here). The lyrics may not get you thinking or challenge your beliefs but that would be missing the point of the band entirely. Good album - it has got the catchy hooks, big production and riffs a plenty - just don’t play it to your kids as there is a stack of swear words. - Adam Mohd Yusop

 

THE SILVER MT ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA &
TRA-LA-LA BAND WITH CHOIR
This Is Our Punk Rock, Thee Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing [Constellation]

It's difficult to listen to this music with a complacent heart and a satisfied mind. The music of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and its satellite bands such as A Silver Mt Zion, is in essence a music of discontent, doubt and dissent. It is the soundtrack of the anti-globalisation protestors at Cancun or anywhere else that the World Trade Organisation chooses to meet. It is in essence a music of conscience. And to be able to reach into the music, you have to be able to reach into yourself.

Take track two, Babylon Was Built On Fire/Starsnostars. It begins quietly with a slow whirling sound of helicopter blades produced by a synth. As the song goes on, it becomes clearer that Efrim is describing a US military attack on civilians. The music, once peaceful with delicate violin sounds, has accelerated into turmoil. A three-part chorus is begun by Efrim who sings, "citizens in their homes/missiles in holes." Another voice joins in: "The brightest lights I ever saw/the cries/the empty fucking light/no stars." It's a description of a missile attack, the light show as beautiful and bright as a surreal scene from Apocalypse Now!

The next track, American Motor Over Smoldered Field is even more graphic when Efrim sings, "bullets in the bellies of babies/sleeping in the strangest places." He concludes his observation on America with this line, "there's no defeat of your reckless destiny."

With only four tracks, each cut over 15 minutes long, this third album by The Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra, a six-piece band that, as Efrim once said, was dedicated to making "fucked-up chamber music," is distinguished by the fact that Efrim is singing more than ever before.

The first track is the infinitely beautiful Sow Some Lonesome Corner So Many Flowers Bloom, which has the choir sounding like a Tibetan group of monks chanting in the opening minutes, before entering an ambient passage and finally blowing out with tumultuous strings and guitars.

Goodbye Desolate Railyard, which closes the album, is a reminder that the destruction of communities is a global phenomenon. It is even occurring in Efrim's backyard as developers have acquired the open area around the railyards where the band's neighbourhood is situated, to build condominiums. There is an interesting effect of mini-bomb explosions as the sound of rail cars roll on train tracks towards the end. Then the choir chimes in, "Everybody gets a little lost sometimes."

If that isn't touching, I don't know what is. (8.5) - Philip Cheah

 

HOTWIRE
The Routine [RCA]

This one takes me a little bit to digest. Easy to swallow but digesting it requires patience and air-guitar. Hotwire’s been getting attention lately because they’re on Ozzfest right now. They make their debut for RCA with "The Routine". Produced and mixed by Matt Hyde (Porno For Pyros, Slayer, Hatebreed, Fu Manchu) this album is an odd mix of ‘70s style punk, rock, and anthemic hardcore with the occasional tinge of metal. Although there is a pretty wide variety of styles blended together here, the band seems more than capable of pulling them all off with ease. Vocalist Russ Martin seems equally at home whether he's screaming or leading and anthemic sing along style chorus. There are some moments here that really strike me like the opening track, "Not Today", "Nice Profile", and the riotous "Tweaked" but much of "The Routine" has trouble rising above the current wave of popular screaming rock bands.

Don't get me wrong, Hotwire does what they do very well but it's not that different from the bands that are beginning to explode into the mainstream. "Say What You Want" is really a great song. The sort of track that builds up and crescendos right at the end. All in all, this is a solid CD that makes for a good listen but it is not a particularly grabbing record despite some good moments. Fans of Taproot and the Deftones will like this one for sure. Hotwire's official website is at: http://www.hotwiremusic.com/ [7] - Adam Mohd Yusop

 

ESSENTIAL LOGIC
Fanfare In The Garden [Kill Rock Stars]

Lora Logic was post-punk's answer to no-wave saxman James Chance, her own saxophone playing was a honking, screaming no-exit warning. Isn't it any wonder that her definitive track, Aerosol Burns, still has that choking sensation? Her vocals are frenetic and viscerally exciting. She blows through the song like a twister. You can only just about manage a gulp. Logic actually grew out of X-ray Spex, but was fired by Poly Styrene just before the release of that punk classic, Germ-free Adolescents (1978). Logic then formed her own band, Essential Logic, and recorded two LPs, Beat Rhythm News (1979) and Pedigree Charm (1982).

Her early work is exciting and disarming from Collecting Dust to Quality Crayon Wax OK, all from the debut album. But then it mellows out and not in a terribly interesting way. Her joining of the Hare Krishnas is evident on Disc Two of this double-disc compilation, as the music here is devoid of any urgency. Recommended only for punk archivists and those following the key women figures in rock. Otherwise, search out Beat Rhythm News and the Aerosol Burns single. (6) - Philip Cheah

 

PEACHES
Fatherfucker [Beggars XI Recording]

With a sample from Joan Jett's Bad Reputation, Peaches kicks off her second album, Fatherfucker, with this proclamation: "I don't give a damn about reputation." And, for effect, she screams, "I don't give a fuck. I don't give a fuck." The song continues with this mix of rage and glee and ends with her hyperventilating, "Fuck! Shit! Fuck! Shit!" Lest you're wondering, yes, I think it's an instant rock 'n' roll classic. Because if you go further back, the song's melody is also drawn from The Who's quintessential My Generation. The line "I don't give a damn about reputation" echoes melodically and meaningfully, My Generation's lyric: "People try to put us down."

So if Peaches has become iconic for college radio fans, it's because she's a generational signifier. She signifies a rage against hypocrisy. And Peaches is raging mostly against sexual hypocrisy. Hence Fatherfucker. It's Peaches' answer to the word "motherfucker," her claim for equality, for the female stake on male libido.

And the songs prove it. I U She is a paean to bisexuality while Back It Up, Boy is about a girl using a codpiece to penetrate her boyfriend. The title itself is featured on Shake Yer Dix with the teasing refrain, "Are the motherfuckers ready for the fatherfuckers... no?" Her sexual equality is also on Stuff Me Up when she advises, "Eat a big dick everyday. Eat a big clit everyday."

But Peaches is also a live wire when she rocks out. Rock 'n' Roll is almost like a frenzied electro rendition of Led Zeppelin, with John Bonham-styled drums and wrenching guitar chords. The album's centrepiece is a very funny duet with Iggy Pop on Kick It. Basically rapping against each other over a monster groove, Peaches says: "Some people don't like my crotch." Pop replies: "because it's got fuzzy fudge." Then Peaches counters, "But if you play Moses and me burning bush baby, and that is just what I've got."

Peaches, of course, puts Madonna to shame, and validates those of us who have never taken the latter seriously. Her electroclash is fiercely minimalist but with an extreme punk-rocking groove.

Fatherfucker is a strong follow-up to her debut, Teaches The Peaches (2000), and works up a sweat for those who are beginning to hear of her. As she says on Bag It, the final track, "You go extreme when you get with me, do you know what I mean?" (9) - Philip Cheah

 

SAM GOPAL
Father Mucker [GSP]

Gopal is the Malaysian who played with Jimi Hendrix a long time ago in a London club. That turned him on to form his own band and to record one album, Escalator, now a sought-after rock artifact. Father Mucker is an album where Gopal explores the tabla in an eclectic and electric setting. The tunes all have a blues-rock bias, strong on riffs, instrumental virtuosity and with a funky rhythm. The production is superb with the sound specially separated for widescreen stereo. Every strum, click and beat of a tabla is perfectly captured. Tunewise, Father Mucker is close to Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac material. Remember the first time you heard the exotic solo for Black Magic Woman? Sam Gopal will keep you tripping. - Michael Cheah

Note: Sam Gopal says: "Mucker also means a Friend, a place in Ireland, and also to Muck About. I term my music as 'City and Eastern'."
CLICK HERE To order the CD
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DAMONE
From The Attic [RCA]

Named after a character from '80s cult classic Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Damone is the kind of band whose music reminds you of the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. The 11 songs off From The Attic, Damone's major label debut, were actually recollections from Pino's (the guitarist) heartache over a hot girlfriend. The result is a record that makes you wish you were a teenager again, lying in your room, staring at the band posters, listening to albums and pining over some crush you thought was your world.

It helps too that Pino's great fretwork enhanced the songs making it a delicious plate of sonic dynamics. Most songs have Noelle singing like a better, hipper Avril Lavigne, (sounds a wee bit like that girl from Frente) she seems to be great at doing those cool, shy, soft and breezy tunes but she ought to strengthen her feminine side when she gurgles out "Your Girlfriends". "Overchay with Me" has Noelle lamenting, "I sit around to read your note / I read it over and over / I think about you and fall asleep / And dream." And try sampling this, "The phone can ring but I don't care / 'Cause you're mine / The world can end and that's okay / 'Cause you're mine / Inside I only care about the one I love / And you are number one to me / The one I love" off "On My Mind".

From The Attic features the best teen emotions that could have been on any John Hughes flick. Example of other standout tracks are "Frustrated Unnoticed", "You and I", "On My Mind", and "At the Mall". Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, From The Attic is a pretty good record from a suburban band that may soon join the MTV rotation. Though Damone has adequately captured teen romance in 11 songs, could that ultimately lead to the band's downfall -- is this the only they can create? Let's see if they can survive the MTV Trend Time Limit. - Adam Mohd Yusop


 

JORMA WHITTAKER
Jorma Whittaker [Secretly Canadian]

The madcap laughs but it's not Syd Barrett. Instead, it's Jorma Whittaker, fresh from his band, Marmoset, with his solo debut. Like Pink Floyd's first psycho pop leader Barrett, Jorma Whittaker crafts eerie, airy songs of deeply unsettling charm. The first track which runs close to seven minutes, with a mournful piano, has Whittaker admonishing: "Don't play with me/it's hard to bear/You wouldn't knock me down the stairs." On the menacing guitar pop of Molly Melancholy, Whittaker turns a love song into an obsession of philosophical dread: "My heart is full of cancer/ My head has no answers/ to the questions of melancholy/ and the evil of man's folly."

His Barrett-like influences show up on Birds Are Falling Through The Sky and Morning Meets Evening Walk, a song which features deadpan wonder at the world. But his penchant for precious three-minute pop shows up in the breathtaking Walk/Throw, which has some of the most tender paranoid love lyrics, "I'm petrified at the thought that you're right outside my head/ But if I stay inside then I know I'm good as dead/ So I say goodbye to you like a 1,000 times before/ And if it makes me cry I wouldn't see behind the pain of yours/ I don't know or feel your love today." If only more $ingapore bands could write like this. Then again, they don't have the madness nor the sadness. (8.5) - Philip Cheah

 

DWIGHT PEREIRA
Sleeptalking [Fierce Rabbit]

Sophomore albums are a rarity in the Singapore music scene so Dwight Pereira’s new effort is certainly one to take note of. Pereira fancies himself a serious singer-songwriter-poet and most of this competent album bears that out. The music is sophisticated and slick with production values to match. Elements of jazz, funk and new age dominate the 10 tracks and so guitar pop-rock fans need not bother. If there is a reservation, it is the occasional wordiness that rears its ugly head. However, highlights like the lively Maybe This Will Be The One where Pereira actually sounds like Cher (!), the assured balladic Less and the impressive title track make Sleeptalking one for the curious. (6.5) - Kevin Mathews

 

ELECTRIC SIX
Fire [XL Recordings]

It’s pure mayhem! Disco meets KISS. And it's actually funny, in a Men Without Hats sort of a way ("Radio message from HQ/ Dance commander, we love you"), but let's be frank: these guys mention "fire" in nearly every song. A RIOT!!!! This album hits like the Bee Gees playing Rock. Fun, loud, and meaningless - this album will keep your system booming while you try to explain to your friends that your love for the single "Gay Bar" does not mean that you are in the closet. The singer really knocked me over. Cool clunky power-chord progressions, tinny percussion, and distant synths complete the gruesome aura of kitsch surrounding Fire -- and that wouldn't be so bad if we could at least see it as sheer novelty.

Electric Six, it's really all fun and games, as the staggeringly insipid Detroit six-piece might lead you to believe, the music doesn't give it away. Eighties rock clichés abound -- but just subtly enough to imply that the band was either too musically incompetent to follow through to the point of parody, or just didn't give a shit that they are, in essence, a very sincere hair-rock band. Even the ballad (should I dare called it a ballad?) here -- a love song to a synthesizer -- is drenched in beamingly heartfelt bleach-blond solos and soaring, Winger-esque keyboards. It’s bouncy, disposable pop and just enough real meaning, or sentiment, to sustain interest. This is better than some boyband passing off as a Pop-Punk outfit. Trust me. - Adam Md Yusop

 

NEIL YOUNG
Greendale [Reprise]

Neil Young never fails to bemuse. But that's what we love about him. To his detractors, Young is a self-indulgent, one-note, whining Bob Dylan plagiarist. But to his admirers, he may just be the only true rock 'n' roll artiste left.

Whilst the ‘90s began promisingly for Young with great albums like Ragged Glory, Harvest Moon and Sleeps with Angels enhancing his reputation, he closed the decade with ponderous choices - collaboration with Pearl Jam (Mirror Ball), rudimentary exercise with Crazy Horse (Broken Arrow) and yet another live album (Year of the Horse).

The new millennium found Young languishing further with an average country outing (Silver & Gold), yet another live album again (Red Rocks) and last year's spotty Are You Passionate. Not one to remain in a rut for too long, Young decides to spring on unsuspecting fans the epic concept album Greendale.

Featuring 10 tracks and clocking in at slightly over 78 minutes, Greendale is a difficult album to assimilate in so many ways and presumably that was Young's intent.

First, there is the storyline which is really a culmination of everything Young has ever written about - the hippie dream, ecological concerns, seduction of the innocent and abuse of power - how much of which a new millennial audience can relate to remains to be seen. Second, the prohibitive length of the album will stretch concentration levels to the max.

Despite all this, Greendale is a definite 'grower' and the best music that Young has assembled for too long a time. For a Crazy Horse album, the songs are strangely muted as Young draws from his immense back catalogue to provide the customary bar room melodic rock 'n' roll and folk-blues.

Tracks like "Double E," "Devil's Sidewalk" and "Leave the Driving" might even be mistaken for the same song; an extremely long blues jam to be exact as Young fairly drones on with his narration as pristine guitars and harmonica punctuate a very square backbeat. It's either that or the fuzzy folk-rock of "Falling From Above," "Carmichael" or "Grandpa's Interview." In between, there are the mellower (relatively speaking) "Bandit" and fragile "Bringing Down Dinner" that provide the much needed contrast in tone.

Long time fans will find much to savour here and perhaps that is enough considering the lean years before. (7.5) — Kevin Mathews

CLIKC HERE
for Philip Cheah's review of the live Greendale.

 

SKERIK
Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet [Rykodisc]

Seattle's saxophone wunderkind, Skerik, finally gets his own band outing after years of playing as sidemen for Bill Frisell or Wayne Horvitz. It's basically a free jazz, funk groove live romp consisting of a septet with a five-member horn arsenal. Played loud, the barrage of horns are exciting, chaotic yet together. There are beautiful moments such as a mellow rendition of Sly Stone's Runnin' Away or a mid-section of Too Many Toys which recalls the electric jazz-funk of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. But Skerik's emphasis on groove makes this a fun outing. Hopefully, more soul will feature the next time around. (6) - Philip Cheah

 

QINGS & KUEENS
Royal Sessions EP

Paul Chuah wrote the above-average songs in this album. An enjoyable, short ride it is but rather worth it. At times sounding a bit like Dashboard Confessionals, especially the tender-ballad-power-chords-in-the-chorus - Please Your Heart. The production is crystal clear though the drums sounded too warm for me. Silent Melody, their last track is the perfect song fodder for those ultimate emo-chick flicks. Where you can picture yourself humming to the tune, and wiping your girlfriend’s tears with that tissue paper. It also includes an exclusive "We're Gonna Rock You" music video! The video was directed by Saints A and the shooting was done at Etnik Studios in Ampang somewhere in mid-April 2003. A soothing five-second guitar break serves as a small bonus hidden track. Clever. - Adam Md Yusop

 

RUDRA
Kurukshetra [Trishul Records]

A third offering from one of $ingapore’s hardworking metal bands. The cover depicts a fierce battlefield. Good and evil facing each other in a climactic battle. Mmm! Prepare for War!!! Delicious spicy Metal riffs served for me to savour? Ahh yes…

The pentatonic scales, the excellent lyrics that weave around the brutal yet organized structured music. Tracks such as Justified Aggression, Apostasy and God Of Delusion left me dumbfounded in the Sungei Road canal. Alas, it was during the middle of Temple of Nothingness, I felt that Kathir should at least try to experiment with his vocal delivery, as it was beginning to be rather mono. But track nine, Highlands of Tranquility, made me do the dance of joy with my bandmates. Fly Fly Saffron Fly Fly Saffron Higher and higher. Yeah! I sure dig this.

Initially, I had mixed feelings about this one. I felt, I was missing something, with regard to their second album. It’s a good album but it’s just them going through the motions. This third album fully redeems itself in my eyes. Eh! Wait a minute - Why so few guitar solos? Or is it just passing noodlings? I heard a shimmering of forgotten leads on the last track - Asura Mardhini, first track, Justified Aggression and Apostasy.

It would be awesome if the guitar leads could further compliment and enhance the track. For example the last guitar riff of God Of Delusion is truly a jigsaw piece in mind-bending ideas. I admired their effort. Not many bands have three major releases under their belt and developed a (lyrical sense) style of their own and toured India - Rock For Peace. In my eyes they have established their mark in Singapura Metaldom. — Adam Md Yusop

 

POP SHUVIT
Take It & Shuvit It [Positive Tone]

Hmm… the CD sleeve had them posing with the who’s who in the Rock/ nu-metal territory. Rob Zombie, Kid Rock, members of Linkin Park. So, is the music any good? These fortunate sextet may not be re-writing the music history (nu-metal - the term was coined before they came along) but they have made quite a splash in the industry. My personal fave is Slip Away, where the guitar riffs are heavy, sloughing through the song. The intro of the psychedelia-tinged Kaleidoscope is great, but when the rapping starts, I feel the need to tell Point (the rapper dude) STOP! or I’m gonna shuv this [points to cucumber] in your mouth. The other tracks are credible enough. Hey! There’s even their version of Kriss Kross’s Jump (those two pre-teen Black dudes who dressed their outfit from the back, popular outfit in the early ‘90s) Well, let’s just say that if you’re into worshipping bands like Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and bands of that ilk, then this is for you! Me? I’m gonna listen to Amy of Search. — Adam Md Yusop

 

JANE'S ADDICTION
Strays [Capitol]

Jane's Addiction are a legend in the alt-rock circle. They have record covers that shocked the establishment, they have Perry Farrell - arguably one the most exciting frontman in rock, and they celebrated hedonism in their songs. They even had a single about stealing that made it sound like a really cool hobby to pick up.

Jane's Addiction could have been, should have been bigger if not for really lousy timing. Their last great album, Ritual De Lo Habitual, barely missed the Nevermind-led, alt-rock explosion by a year or so. They broke up soon after, and Farrell became increasingly famous through his Lollapalooza shows and the short-lived Porno For Pyros, guitarist Dave Navarro joined Red Hot Chili Peppers and in their demise, Jane's Addiction cemented their legendary status.

Until now that is. After all the little reunion tours, and a B-sides album in 1997, they've gone into the studio to record their first full length in more than a decade. Judging from past experiences from erstwhile 'legendary' bands, that's not exactly a good thing. And sadly, the notion is not about to change with Strays.

It's not a bad album. Farrell still has one the best voices in rock, although his subdued moments tend to number more than the high nasal whines that so marked their territory. Navarro, on the other hand, tends to go way overboard with the testosterone hard rock riffings, making the same mistake in his tenure with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Speaking of the Peppers, Flea's not involved on this album as expected; they've got a new guy, Chris Chaney, to replace original bassist Eric Avery. He's good too, switching between frenetic funk/punk to worldly mid-eastern psychedelics. The lyrics still have biting social commentaries ("Scoring points with God/ Get no perfect marks / But your grades keep falling/ How you treat the weak is/ Your true nature calling" - True Nature) and the Hollywood-Californians in them ring out in tracks like Just Because ("You got the most/ But nobody loves you/ Nobody has to/ Just because") and Wrong Girl ("Oh now she's cutting every corner/ She's tearin' up the grass/ 'cause cars ain't for parkin' man/ A car's what you pass").

The alternative rock scene has seen a major paradigm shift since the days they last reigned supreme. Though not exactly dated, Strays fails to recapture that magic that Jane's Addiction used to wield. Maybe it's not such bad news that the band members have announced that after this project, they'll all return to their respective 'current' bands. - Eddino Abdul Hadi

 

THE HIGH LLAMAS
Retrospective, Rarities & Instrumentals [V2]

If you accept lead High Llama Sean O'Hagan's explanation that Green Coaster is about an environmentally conscious yachtsman, then you can just about give up trying to decipher his lyrics. This was why one of the early comparisons of the band was Steely Dan. Hence this double CD retro begins with Checking In and Checking Out, their most obvious Dan-like number, replete with Donald Fagen and Walter Becker's love for obtuse lyrics: "The living church must move on/The Carmelites could use a song."

Thereafter it's a Beach Boys roller-coaster with moments of Burt Bacharach, Ennio Morricone and even Robert Wyatt. Yes, Wyatt's fragile vocals are a dead ringer for some of O'Hagan's singing influence. When you combine Beach Boys' Brian Wilson's melodic and arranging sense with Bacharach, you will get a gorgeous rush of textures as in Sparkle Up. And Wilson's and Wyatt's playfulness and offbeat bravado creates tracks such as Nomads or Literature Is Fluff. And what about those plucky banjos that O'Hagan has brought back into pop consciousness? Isn't that Morricone in Mini-Management, right down to the gentle pacing?

If you haven't collected all those wonderful Llama albums such as Gideon Gaye, Hawaii (Beach Boys' Bruce Johnston loved it so much that he invited O'Hagan to play some tracks with them) or Cold and Bouncy, this retro is a good place to start. It also comes with a bonus disc of a multitude of extra tracks or B-sides on Japan or US editions plus many instrumentals. This is where electronica has brought back the attitude for listening to instrumental and improvisational music.

But in the end, if there is a nagging doubt that you would be better off with the original influences, this is what O'Hagan says: "Well, if it was retro music, we wouldn't be working with those things like we did on Cold and Bouncy... First of all, if you're retro and all you're doing is going over known ground, then you're fucked. But if you're going over unknown ground, then I think you're doing... other people a service. Like if you refer directly to Sun Ra... He's now being remembered and celebrated as a musically important happening, but if people didn't refer to him then he'd have been forgotten... We are filters." (7.5) - Philip Cheah

 

MAKSIM
The Piano Player [EMI]

If you had chanced upon watching this guy perform, the mix of the pulse of the music and his own style would have captured every nanosecond of your attention. Similar to the recipe of Vanessa Mae and other such figures, he aims to shock visually (alright, he looks cute and has a great body, much like those figures) in as much as the music is action packed with furious speeds, demanding that the orchestra becomes a highly animated sound machine.

Pushing a little further than the Bond girls and their fiddles, the trance rhythms and remix chants add a nice touch of creativity. Conventional sounds are used against stark contrasts in textures and speeds, and every possible kind of sound from the keyboard is used. Handel's Sarabande, for instance, is a pure display of contrasts. Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini has the usually featured cello, but in fragments, and the true feature comes later in the Matrix-style slow-motion detail, and finally topped off with a return to the high-speed chase. Not stopping there, the structure of the obligatory slow sweeping theme that follows is daringly spliced and layered. At over 10 minutes long, it is yet unsurpassed.

His slow tracks are jazzy, teasing in an easy flirtatious manner. Exodus is absolutely captivating with a very tasteful approach to its arrangements. It has a style so confident, every entry of the theme is a pleasure. Hana's Eyes has a New Age touch, decorated with perfect lengthy arpeggios and tasteful slow moves. Croation Rhapsody also has the Hungarian-style energy and charm, with very raw sounds working luscious melodies.

The bonus track, Dance of the Baroness, is spellbinding in the amount of noise he makes. Cubana Cubana also does away with the orchestra, the energy coming from traditional guitars, bongos and drums and, of course, the leggiero-light flying fingers on the keyboard. Truly stunning all the way. - Sarah Tan


 

LIZ PHAIR
Liz Phair [Capitol]

Is this the Liz Phair for the Hillary Duff generation? Is Liz Phair really Lizzie McGuire with more sex? Well, it sure sounds like it. With the Matrix, the songwriting/producing trio behind Avril Lavigne, Phair's fourth album is frothy, airy, catchy and earnest for radio play. But the Matrix (Lauren Christy, Scott Spock, Graham Edwards) has emphasised Phair's sexual signature. For Favourite, the Matrix insisted that Phair describe her lover as her favourite pair of panties in the chorus. In Rock Me, Phair encourages a younger lover to "rock" her all night long.

But Phair holds her own for the non-Matrix produced tracks. Little Digger recounts a moment when her young son catches her with her lover. And in H.W.C., Phair recommends "hot, white come" as the best anti-aging treatment.

Yet Phair's more playful accessibility can be seen in the light of her steadily falling sales since her classic sexually confrontational debut, Exile In Guyville (1993). The way Phair sees it, this album is a pop experiment and if it doesn't work, she is free to leave her major label contract and go back to the indies.

But seriously, for the real pussy, The Teaches of Peaches is the real cunt. (6) - Philip Cheah

 

ASHLEY PARK
The Secretariat Motor Hotel [Darling Music]

What's the Oddfellows' Patrick Chng doing in a Canadian band? That's how eeriely close Terry Miles of Ashley Park sounds to the $ingapore Oddfellow. But where Chng excels in roots rock, Miles walks a country road. Both share a no-nonsense pop sensibility. All the tracks on The Secretariat Motor Hotel, their third album, hover in the three-minute range. The songs are drenched in the music of Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Gram Parson and The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Beatles and even The Kinks.

Originally, a hundred songs were written by Miles to describe the oddball group of characters who inhabit a fictional motel. These were distilled into the tracks for this album. As Miles said: "The Secretariat Motor Hotel is a place full of weird characters... Father Hill, Mad Cameron Howard, Rocco the Policeman... it's a tapestry of lonely city life and longing for the country."

The songs ring with pedal steel guitars, Neil-Young-styled pianos, Gram Parsons' chord changes and just layers and layers of sweet melodies. The wonder of it is how the fit isn't always perfect but just right. The Old Wolves features a deep vocal that blends against the high, mellifluous chorus or You'll Be Lonesome Too which has a vocal that's just about to crack on the high notes. (That's also been the charm of some Patrick Chng songs.)

Ashley Park hail from rural Alberta, Canada. To paraphrase Damien Jurado: this country will know his name. (7.5) - Philip Cheah


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