Bandwagon Selects: Recent Record Reviews Edition #8

Bandwagon Selects is back again for 2013! In this edition we had some trouble selecting from the good music that has been put out recently but at last we all came to some sort of consensus to mix it up a little bit. Some local and international releases in here, chekkit!

Foxygen / We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

This two-piece from California has been making big waves on the Internet recently for all the right reasons. Aside from having the best band name since Japandroids, their sophomore album We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic (rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? No?) is an unashamedly fun ride into a genre-bending world where psychedelia, love, blues, shady spirituality, pop, soul and promiscuity collide. The songs on the album, notably ‘San Francisco’ and ‘On Blue Mountain’ primarily deal with the never-tiring topic of love while adding shades of sardonic realism and hazy acid adventures. While the album reeks of influence by past contemporaries like The Velvet Underground and The Kinks, the band wears it on their sleeves proudly while crafting a highly enjoyable album, something that will garner many fans of the new wave of psychedelia (Tame Impala, Animal Collective, The Black Angels, Pond).

Standout tracks:
On Blue Mountain, No Destruction, Oh No 2, San Francisco

Christopher Owens / Lysandre

Girls (the band) may be gone but we still have chri55ybaby aka Christopher Owens, who looks more than eager to continue writing music and performing. That may be exciting news for us Girls fans but ultimately, can he do well alone? Or was his band more essential to Girls’ success than we ever knew? One thing’s for sure, Lysandre is stylistically different from the Girls albums he’s put out. Gone is the diverse range of genre influences. Instead, he echoes the intimate 70 singer-songwriter albums by Carole King and early Joni Mitchell. What remain are his signature melancholic lovelorn lyrics that were the heart and soul of his previous band in the first place. Chris Owens laments about a girl he met and fell in love with on tour, the titular Lysandre. Of course, things never worked out in the end (his current girlfriend does backing vocals in many of the songs) nonetheless the album works like one of those classic road trip romance flicks, even though some of the tracks borderline on cheesiness.

Standout tracks:
Here We Go, Part of Me (Lysandre’s Theme), A Broken Heart

A$AP Rocky / Long.Live.A$AP

The PMF (I’ll leave it to you to Google what it means) is back with his major label debut album and he’s pulled out all guns to deliver a solid collection of tracks that show how much he’s grown since his debut mixtape, LiveLoveA$AP. The amount of artists who collaborated with A$AP Rocky read like a who’s who of modern hip-hop (Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Danny Brown, Big K.R.I.T., Yelawolf, Clams Casino among others). Even Skrillex and Florence Welch lend a hand. With this amount of collaborators, the result can be indulgent and messy. Thankfully, A$AP manages to avoid that with his sleek larger-than-life personality, turning hip-hop clichés into comical caricatures along with carefully managing the strengths of his A-list collaborators. The only complaint I would make is that there should’ve been more songs with ace producer/beatmaker Clams Casino, who was the true star of LiveLoveA$AP.

Standout tracks:
1 Train, F**kin Problems, Goldie, Wild for the Night

Local Natives / Hummingbird

Roping in The National's Aaron Dessner as producer for their latest LP, the Local Natives are back after a three year wait with one of 2013's most anticipated albums. While their debut Gorilla Manor was all positive and good-natured vibes, Hummingbird is emotional and sombre. But don't get me wrong, this is not a total downer album. Obviously working with Aaron Dessner from the champions of bleak music, The National has influenced their record quite a bit. The rich sonic palette of the tracks makes the journey of Hummingbird wonderfully broody and atmospheric. Lyrically, the band experimented on collaborative songwriting but it is definitely more personal than that of the first album. There are a few factors that may have influenced this emotionally heavier vibe - the band painfully parted ways with their bassist Andy Hamm in 2011 and last year during the creation of the album, co-lead vocalist and keyboardist Kelcey Ayer's mom passed away (some songs on the record are about that). Nonetheless, impressive and surpassing expectations, Hummingbird is proof that the Local Natives are capable of depth. 

Watch Local Natives perform a live set here

Standout tracks:
You & I, Columbia, Breakers, Heavy Feet

Sapporo Safaris / Figures of Eight EP

Enter contender for Singapore's very own Arcade Fire meets Of Monsters And Men meets Beirut. Might sound a bit ambitious but the inception of Sapporo Safaris is just that, 'to be as big as they possibly can'. With eight people onboard (and 2/8 on horns), big in numbers they certainly are. If anything, this 4-track EP is only a tiny glimpse of what Sapporo Safaris can offer if they are aiming for a big sound. They do well with introductions and openings but fall short as all the layers start coming together, the horns seem too blaring, the vocals are drowned, and the guitar work clashes with the horns. But still, there is an outlet for large arrangements like the Sapporo Safaris - performing live. The big sound they are going for cannot simply be contained in a CD. Despite this, with only an EP and chalking up shows around town, there is much room for improvement. 

Listen/purchase here

Standout tracks:
An Island In You

Toro y Moi / Anything In Return

With two successful releases under his belt, it seems like The Chaz Bundick Project aka Toro y Moi has got a lot to prove with the third album. But like the true king of chill that he is, he announces instead that he intends for Anything In Return to be a mainstream album. He also goes far out to say that he likes Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift (but not Lady Gaga). But do not worry, what you get is nothing like the aforementioned persons and the the music they make. With this 13-track LP it is apparent that the Toro y Moi brand is gradually maturing from the chillwave peg, drawing influences from R&B, psychedelia, pop, and even classical music (as on 'Cola'). All of this, he crafts together so tastefully. It is less chillwave, not so dance-y but definitely more refined. Most importantly, with Anything In Return, Chaz Bundick has succeeded in creating purposeful and discerning pop music. 

Standout tracks:
So Many Details, Rose Quartz, Cola


Oxford’s This Town Needs Guns (or TTNG as they now prefer to be called) should need no introduction to math rock enthusiasts by now. As popular as they are for their off-kilter hooks, extremely angular guitar play and skintight technical abilities, they’re also known for their for numerous alterations to the band lineup and have finally settled down into a tripartite act for their latest album. They’ve departed from the very catchy, very upbeat math rock of their previous efforts and decided to keep it subdued in, probably in part in keeping up with the Mayan Rebirth motif. The vocals of new band member Henry Tremain may not be much of an improvement over previous vocalist Stuart Smith, but he clearly adds emotional depth into a typically monotonous genre (math rock vocalists usually let their instruments take over singing duties). The instrumental explorations here tend to wander into the melancholic side, resulting in a new sound that is more reflective and personal. Melodies and harmonies are the emphasis here, not technical abilities - in turn creating a more cohesive album that is thoroughly enjoyable as a whole. It’s still as concise and weird as TTNG can be, but they’ve put down their musical calculators and started to include more heart into the equation.

Listen/purchase here

Standout Tracks:
Left Aligned, I’ll Take The Minute Snake, +3 Awesomeness Repels Water

Octover / Octover

Let’s get things straight, the Octover album is a sexy, seductive creature. The latest release from the Syndicate label sees the alliance of Vanessa Fernandez’s confidently soulful vocals and the glitchy electronic compositions of Jason Tan. The consummation of their abilities result in something quite remarkably fresh and dramatically compelling - a stylish blend of R&B, soul, electronica, and experimental music. Fernandez makes it obvious that she is a vocal powerhouse and doesn’t hesitate in displaying her vocal range and depth. Her vocals shine substantially in the quieter moments of the album especially in the re-imagining of Kate Bush's ‘This Woman’s Work’ where the combination of electronic beats, string samples and some pretty intense emotional singing bring to mind other experimental R&B heavyweights How To Dress Well and The Weeknd. Jason Tan on the other hand is the driving force behind the groove and electronic production, but the beats never seem too contrived or too self-indulgent. The opus ‘Time’ nearly closes 10 minutes but there was never a dull moment with Tan’s expertly arranged and layered electronic textures, jazzy drums and MUON-like keys. Where Octover succeeds is the equal emphasis between vocals and electronics - the two compliment each other immaculately, never overpowering one or the other. It’s yet another notch in the Syndicate roster. 

Listen/purchase here

Standout Tracks:
Satisfy, This Woman’s Work, Time

Cashew Chemists / EP

I’d make a comparison of their sound to The Strokes but that would just be too easy. Released to much fanfare at the start of the year, the lads of Cashew Chemists are unabashedly vintage, adopting sharp sartorial outfits onstage and proudly playing classic rock and roll music. Their EP is no different from what you’d expect from their live shows - it’s an open invitation for all to jive to some really catchy guitar-driven pop. Those not convinced of Yuji Kumagai’s vocal confidence and Brian Chia’s guitar smarts shouldn’t take long to be made believers. The energy and good vibes doesn’t let up throughout, and everything remains enjoyable and accessible with an undisputed allegiance and homage to the rock and roll Gods.

The EP however seems to be more of a collection of good songs instead of being a structured entity, which leads to issues of congruity and indistinguishable tracks. What I found lacking was the replayability factor - it ends up being one of those records you enjoy but there’s nothing really memorable. The instrumentations and songwriting are perfectly alright but that’s pretty much it. It’s nothing inventive and there’s really not much to say about musical exploration. But what is clear is that the Cashew Chemists sound are all about dancing to your favourite tunes, singing out loud, having a good time and where possible, doing all of them at the same time. Actually I’ll just go ahead and make that obvious comparison. They sound like The Strokes, just with a lot more heart and none of their nonchalance. Which is a good thing.

Listen/purchase here

Standout Tracks:
Not In Love, Over You, What's The Matter

Text: Daniel Peters, Delfina Utomo & Ilyas Sholihyn