REVIEWED! November 2001
(A) Essential (B) Recommended (C) For fans only (D) Avoid

THE ODDFELLOWS Bugs & Hisses/DOUG POWELL Venus De Milo's Arms/STARFLYER 59 Leave Here A Stranger/SUPER FURRY ANIMALS Rings Around the World/THE NINES Properties of Sound/BOB DYLAN Love and Theft/MERCURY REV All is Dream/THE ORANGE ALABASTER MUSHROOM Space & Time: A Compendium of the Orange Alabaster Mushroom/THE VERVE PIPE Underneath/ANTON BARBEAU The Golden Boot: Antology Vol. 2/RECEIVER Inspiration Overload/THE DECIBELS The Big Sounds of the Decibels/TWO MINUTE MIRACLES Volume II/JUMPROPE Suitcase and Umbrella/TAMMY AND THE LORDS OF MISRULE  King Maker

Bugs & Hisses

A new Oddfellows album at last? Well, not really, but this will do for now. This pioneering Singapore band almost single-handedly kickstarted the Singapore indie rock scene in the early 1990s with their highly palatable blend of 80s college rock (think: Replacements, REM, Husker Du) and folk rock dynamics (think: Bob Dylan & Neil Young). Now that the proposed remastered re-issues of out-of-print albums Teenage Head and Carnival have been nixed by head Oddfella Paddy Chng, Bugs and Hisses, a collection of live tracks, outtakes and tracks previously unavailable on CD will serve as a good introduction to the band and an excellent primer for the upcoming much-anticipated third album. Faithful fans and the curious should not miss the dynamic live versions of “Your Smiling Face,” “So Happy,” “Song about Caroline” – with its memorable ‘Caroline is an asshole’ chorus and “Lost My Head,” the poignant “The Song You Said I’d Never Write,” the strident “Foggy Daylight” & previously unheard “Teenage Head.”
Minor quibble – where is the superb piano ballad “April Showers,” Pat?
Whatever, one thing is certain, every music lover who cannot get enough of that potent cocktail of sweet tunes and overdriven guitars must possess this album. Urgently. (A)

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Venus De Milo’s Arms
(Wizzard in Vinyl)

Frequent visitors to the Power of Pop will no doubt be aware that Doug Powell is a firm favorite around these parts and new recordings are always greeted with jubilation. Truth be told, Powell’s recent foray with SWAG left this reviewer less than ecstatic due to the critical lack of Powell-written material. Well, folks, it matters not as this 4-track EP from Japanese label Wizzard-in-Vinyl will definitely satisfy all Powell fans. Showcasing the aspects of Powell that make him one of ‘real’ pop’s current masters, this EP finds Powell exploring new territory. Take the opening “Shot Like A Bullet Into The Sun” – a rocker with brains that evokes the early 80s progressive pop incarnation of King Crimson with Dave Perkins’ solo work reminiscent of both Fripp & Belew. “Do You Know Mary” continues in that vein despite slowing the pace with a powerful folk ballad with memorably arcane lines like, ‘Again she drops the needle/and tries to sing along/With any song that it lands on.’ “Bye Bye Magpies” is a Lennonesque whimsical complaint that targets the inanity talk shows whilst “But I’m Only Dreaming” is a rustic piece that recalls the ragged glory of Neil Young & Crazy Horse sans the buzzy feedback.
An appetizer for the feast of the next album it may be but there is more than enough in Venus De Milo’s Arms' 15 odd minutes to justify its existence and your patronage. (A)

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Leave Here a Stranger

(Tooth & Nail)

Jason Martin, who essentially IS Starflyer 59, is one of indie-pop's best-kept secrets. This singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist has, with this latest album, released 10 albums under the Starflyer 59 moniker and it may just about his best work yet.
If one word comes closest to describing Starflyer 59's sound, it would probably be "pop-gazing." Meaning that Martin has managed a successful hybrid of the British "shoe-gazer" movement of the late-80s and early-90s viz. My Bloody Valentine, The House of Love, Ride, Chapterhouse and the nascent Blur AND the classic (fragile) powerpop of the Byrds, Big Star, Teenage Fanclub & the Posies.

Leave Here a Stranger
, recorded in MONO, jumps straight out of the blocks with the music-themed trilogy of “All My Friends Who Play Guitar,” “Can You Play Drums” and “When I Learn to Sing.” Using the band scenario as an analogy for life, Martin narrates in hushed Colin Blunstone tones the experience of fame-seeking (‘so this is what we did for a name, we took a taste of life in our country') and wishful thinking (‘when I learn to read, I’ll change my ways on everything.')

Charged with acoustic reveries, Americana inflections and infinitely chiming guitars, Martin and band a times recalls the chamber pop of the Pernice Brothers, especially on the melancholy textures of “Give Up the War,” “Things Like This Help Me” and “This I Don’t Need.”
A fascinating effort that gets better with each play from a master craftsman who deserves more recognition that he currently receives. (A)

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Rings Around the World

What is there to say anymore about the genius of these Welsh art-poppers? Ever since their fascinating debut Fuzzy Logic blazed its path through the fag ends of the Britpop movement (circa 1996), this prolific genre-bending collective has been releasing consistent and challenging pop music with almost military discipline and wild flair, as previous albums (viz. Radiator, Guerilla and Mwng) bear out.
This time round, the band seems to have cottoned to the heady joys of the Electric Light Orchestra! Doubt me? Listen carefully to the jubilant title track and convince me otherwise. With trademark ‘ringing’ samples suggesting modern sounds, the boogie guitar rhythm, helium-addled backing vocals and that orchestral pop sound evoke the glory days of Jeff Lynne and co when perms and mullets ruled the airwaves! The following “It’s Not the End of the World” brings the equation further by adding ELO founder Roy Wood’s Wizzard to the mix in a lovely celebration of Spectorian teen symphonies.
You want more? How about a direct melodic quote off Lennon’s “Oh My Love” on the opening “Alternate Route to Vulcan Street” or more Jeff Lynne formula on the Travelling Wilburys-evoking “Receptacle for the Respectable” with a dollop of Bacharach’s horns thrown in for good measure?
As you can gather from those song titles, the SFA’s sense for the ridiculous has not abated – how else do you explain the fact that the lead single is called “Juxtaposed With U”? A jaunty bossa nova nugget with tongue firmly embedded in cheek as vocoder vocals and string arrangements suggesting the Charlie’s Angels theme rather than alt. rock – with a message to boot!
Always surprising, always exciting – the SFA have never failed to amaze for the last five years and one gets the distinct feeling that the best is still to come! (A)

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Properties of Sound

When you finally pick up this wonderful album (and you must, trust me) I hope you’re sitting down when track 2 (i.e. “Doesn’t Matter What You Do) rather quietly rings before exploding in pure pop power with an irresistible melody that is so good that Paul McCartney would be proud to call one of his own. And as you take in more of this astonishing disc, certain incredibility sets in – who exactly are the Nines?
Centered around the multi-talented singer-songwriter Steve Eggers, the Nines are a Canadian band that have, in a short span of time, garnered praise from various power pop quarters with a highly acclaimed debut (1998’s Wonderworld of Colourful) earning a reputation for creating gorgeous pop songs.
Besides the aforementioned McCartney influence (not to mention the fragile “My Only One”), there are also clear references to the pop masters in this excellent album. From Todd Rundgren (“Melanie”) to Jeff Lynne (“Take Time”), from Jellyfish (“Better” & “How Does it Feel”) to, most significantly, XTC (“I Would Never,” “Here It Comes,” “It Hurts You”), The Nines display an unerring knack at capturing that vital pop moment in three minutes of ecstasy.
Everything you have ever loved about classic pop music is in heavy evidence on Properties of Sound, don’t let this instant masterpiece pass you by. (A)

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Love and Theft

Two great Dylan albums back-to-back! Surely, an event not witnessed since the mid-60s trilogy of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited & Blonde on Blonde. Love and Theft finds Dylan in fine fettle as he explores the musical stylings of his youth (?) with songs that eschew the hipper leanings of last outing Time Out of Mind but succeed with disarming quality performances and production. Certainly, these tracks do not sound like demos or rehearsals! Dylan has never sounded fitter, fresher or more feasible with songs like the rockabilly “Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum,” the rollin’ “Summer Days,” the jazzy “Bye and Bye,” the bluesy “Lonesome day Blues,” the bluegrassy “High Water (For Charley Patton),” the smooth old-school poppy “Moonlight” and the soulful “Po’ Boy.”
Dylan has proven that even after almost forty years since his debut album he still possesses the verve, skill and ultimately the will to create meaningful & relevant music in the 21st century. Still a shining example to musicians and artists any and everywhere. (A)

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All is Dream

There is a mercurial quality in Jonathan Donahue's Neil Young-evoking larynx. It is at once child-like and wizened, it suggests innocence and experience and it is both strange and wonderful. Much of All is Dream, the Rev's follow up to the critical breakthrough Deserter Songs, bears these traits.
Recorded with the untimely death of slated producer (and longtime Neil Young associate) Jack Nitzsche fresh in the minds of the band, it’s hard to listen to the opening “The Dark is Rising” with its alternate passages of bombastic orchestration and poignant piano ballad without thinking of Nitzsche’s musical legacy, the combination of the ethereal and the rustic.
Much of this aesthetic informs All is Dream. From the epic and ghostly “Chains” to the melancholic dynamism of “Nite and Fog,” from the naïve and haunting “Lincoln’s Eyes” to the Lennonesque Broadway musical whimsy of “Spiders and Flies” the Rev tread much of the same ground as Deserter’s Songs but the embellishments are more ambitious with the closing “Hercules” clocking at just under eight minutes emphasizing the band’s quest to express the mythical qualities of pop music.
These conceits do not always succeed but you can’t fault the band from trying to raise pop art to new heights. A flawed diamond, if you will, but the attempt is enthralling. (A)

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Space & Time: A Compendium of the Orange Alabaster Mushroom
(A Hidden Agenda/Parasol)

The problem with any music that evokes a particular period of rock history so accurately that sometimes it is difficult to separate the artist’s identity from derivative pastiche. I guess it depends on perspective but the one nagging thought at the back of my head when listening to Greg Watson’s Orange Alabaster Mushroom is – “so what?”
I mean, any psychedelic rock fan will be able to recognise the influence of Pink Floyd, the Creation, Small Faces, the Move, the Byrds and Love in these lovingly produced re-creations – “Your Face in My Mind,” “Tree Pie,” “Rainbow Man” and “Aim the Vimana toward the Dorian Sector” – need I say more?
But then it hit me – maybe that’s the point! Watson isn’t trying to establish a persona other than that portrayed in these rather brilliant evocations of a long gone era. And what the heck is wrong with that? Absolutely nothing! Freak out, baby! (B)

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This Michigan band emerged with a major label album smack in the middle of the grunge boom and this association doomed its eponymous sophomore album to failure in 1999 post-grunge confusion. Wisely, the band have linked up with Fountain of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger on production chores to deliver an album that hearkens back to the sound of their earlier indie albums. Which basically means a more polished pop sheen is discernable amidst the band’s obvious alt. rock leanings.
This approach allows for fairly classic pop tunes like "Only Words," "Never Let You Down" & "Gotta Move On" that sit comfortably with the harder-edged material like "Medicate Myself," "Local Boys" & "Wonderful Waste."
Kudos to The Verve Pipe for recognizing that following their convictions in the face of public indifference will always pay artistic dividends. Underneath is an album no discerning fan of classic power pop-rock should miss. (B)

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The Golden Boot: Antology Vol. 2

My introduction to the screwball pop world of Anton Barbeau came courtesy of the first volume of this series which collects ‘outtakes, remakes, home bakes and rescued rejections captured FOR REAL on everything from glorious 24-track to gory mono-cassette’ and since then I have thrilled to every new Barbeau release. The Golden Boot is no exception and will prove to be an absolute treat for fans of Syd Barrett, Robyn Hitchcock, Elvis Costello, Loud Family and Guided by Voices. Highlights include the haunting “The Horny Old Ballad of Tracy Shellac,” the offbeat Byrdsy “Xmas Song,” buzzy delightful “My Special Table,” witty bubblegummy “C’mon Girl,” the folky “None Fun,” the esteric “Someone Called Him Ron” and the dynamic “Helen Mirren.” (B)

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Inspiration Overload
(Not Lame Limited)

A fine tribute to Scottish pop from this four piece band, consisting of Ken West (vox-guitar), Kerry Chicoine (bass-vox), Wil O'Brien (guitar-vox) and John Borack (drums). Meaning you will divine clear references to Teenage Fanclub, BMX Bandits & Eugenius in this well-constructed debut album. In fact, vocalist Ken West comes across like an American Duglas T Stewart on such gorgeous tracks like “Every Kind,” “Erica Kane” & “Oleander.” 
Receiver do an excellent job in evoking the cool pop vibe of these Scottish popsters with intricate guitarwork and freewheeling rhythms evident in songs like “Reaction,” “Saccharine,” “Predictable” & “Wind Up Girl.” 

Add to this potent mix, the essential backing vocal harmonies (on which the voice of Lisa (The Masticators) Mychols seems obvious!) and the result is pristine power pop, the kind you expect from Not Lame albums. (B)

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The Big Sounds of the Decibels

Hold on tight, kiddies, cos with The Decibels it’s gonna be one frenzied ride! When I listen to such unbridled, energetic and well, teenage (in heart and soul) pop I wonder why folks like the Decibels aren’t collecting platinum discs and selling out nationwide tours. There’s a full serving of hot tunes on “Wrong Way Right,” “Million Ways,” “Overcast Day,” “Encouraging” and so on, which strongly evoke the joys of The Ramones, The Jam and yeah, The Who. With the Decibels, there is an equal immersion of the sweet and crunchy that should gratify the appetites of modern day youth. I mean it’s immediate, danceable and fast without a single ounce of angst to weigh it down. Oh wait! I get it…. (B)

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Volume II
(Teenage USA)

Two Minute Miracles viz. Andy Magoffin, Aaron Curtis, John F. Higney Jr., Mississauga Slim and Clayton Corneil, are back with another volume of intriguing modern rock. This time out, the Miracles seem intent on achieving a schizophrenic impact with songs that are split equally between quirky alt. Country and atonal pop. “Slow Down (Porch Mix)” provides a potent example. With twangy banjo & guttural horns, Magoffin’s ghostly vocal illuminates this odd but satisfying piece. “Meekly Muse” immediately follows with its easy-listening Rhodes electric piano & angular guitar attack supplying contrast.
Much of Volume II maintains this approach with discipline and craft – songs that convey dark pastoral beauty and obtuse pop wonder – not instantly accessible, maybe, but worth the closer examination. (B)

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Suitcase and Umbrella
(Self Released)

Jumprope is a unique quartet parlaying jazz and pure powerpop influences into pleasing confections. More than that, on a personal note, browsing through the band’s website, I realized that lead singer Cindy Goh hails from Singapore and what’s more, has a cousin who studied at the same school and is an acquaintance of mine! Small world, eh?
That said, I hope that little piece of trivia doesn’t taint the positive impression I have of this interesting band. Suitcase and Umbrella is Jumprope’s second album and fans of The Cardigans, the Go-Betweens, Beat Happening, Heavenly and Marine Research will thoroughly enjoy this satisfying disc. Goh shares songwriting chores with Ad Boc and there is much to savour here, amongst them, the charming Smiths-like “The Glamour Snare,” the Broadway-themed “Disappear,” the jaunty “Grandpa’s Lament” and the bossa nova-inflected “Holiday in Brazil.”
Probably the most refreshing ‘twee’ pop you likely to hear in 2001. Check it out. (B)

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King Maker
(Her Highness Porcupinous Records)

If I say that Tammy and the Lords of Misrule play typical rauchy powerpop and roll, I mean it as the highest compliment to a band with a mission statement of "We like our songs to have good, catchy riffs, grooves or melody lines... anything that works as a hook."
Frontwoman Tammy Ferranti is easy on the eye (and ears) and her band of crack musicians – Rick Heitzwebel (drums), Don Mogill (guitar) & Roy Lansdown (bass) – flesh out her earnest tunes with vigour and panache. 
Fans of the Masticators will thrill to Ferranti and company’s good natured, fun lovin’ repertoire with highlights like the gleaming “This Time,” bopping “What Baby Wants,” rockin’ “Here We Go” & dynamic opener “Kind of Girl” keeping things attractive throughout.

Powerpop fans will not be disappointed. (C)

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