Saturday, April 03, 2010
HUMPBACK OAK- Oaksongs 4 CDs Boxset(Humpback Oak 2010)
--sojourner at 12:52 AM
VARIOUS ARTISTS- + 65 Indie Underground Digipack 3 CDs Set(Universal Music Pte Ltd 2009)
“Oaksongs” would be the last music I buy. “Pain-stained Morning” being the first Singapore album I bought. Humpback Oak serves up as the alpha and omega of my adventures in Singapore rock music and if not, any involvement in music at all. You'd have read somewhere that I am suffering from musical malaise and have gotten rid of close to 95% of what used to be my Cds, tapes and vinyls. And yet I have a survivalist bug-out bag with enough space for the “Oaksongs” boxset and it in itself can hold the rest of my Humpback Oak Cds. This bundle will be spared from my material world spring cleaning because it is of utmost importance to me. You'd see that the bundle of Humpback Oak stuffs occasionally holds my soul.
A more resolved person can readily identify the appeal of Humpback Oak as the most excellent representation of void decked acoustic guitar strummers from the heartlands endemic to reclusive Singaporean loners like yours truly. Not in the league of rock n' roll children of grand gestures, this is a gifted and humble gem that is most agreeable to the unassuming but critical.
For alot of people, “Oaksongs” is perhaps the last chance to hear all the lost classics of this band from the demos to the three highly acclaimed cult albums, which over the years just seemed more and more elusive. For longtime Humpback Oak fans like me, this is a celebration of its existence (and death). The boxset is limited to only 500 sets and held its launch at Books Actually, a cool place with the kind of customers you'd like to curb stomp to a pulp. On the day of its launch, I sneaked into that store and managed to get the boxsets before anybody turned up. For some strange reason, I was bestowed a #333/500 from Leslie for being the first customer, and my delusional state of grandeur sometimes tells me that this is my number, that of the half beast. I metaphysically ransacked the interior of Leslie's room captured in a diorama and found alot of cool things tucked under the bed and under the floorings, like the scribbled piles of SJI foolscaps, a custom-made guitar pick, photos of them looking dejected and serious, and last but not least 4 Cds packaged in origami! I think someone lost his head.
Finally, justice is done to the demos and rare tracks, immortalised here on digitally enhanced CD. The subliminally beautiful rawness and talent of the amateurish demos is like a Carpenter's “Yesterday Once More”, wrecking up ghosts stuck in the time loop of the past. I reached for my cigarettes while listening to it, and inhaled a lungful for kundalini's moment. Then while testing out the rest of the Cds more and more unsettling magma seeped into me. For a while, the infallible me have to grapple with sheer emotionality of the past without being reduced to a miserable wretch. I tried to shake off the haunting effects of Humpback Oak but to no avail. It is pain stained morning ad infinitum all over again.
--sojourner at 12:47 AM
Saturday, December 26, 2009
VARIOUS ARTISTS- The Substation 10 Years & Counting (Rock The Garden) CD(The Substation Ltd 2000)
First and foremost I would like to thank all the good people at Universal Music for citing “rockinthefinecity” in this compilation. Thanks to Teck Kheng especially. Secondly, it is about time that Singapore indie music gets its due recognition. I've said this so many times and I've even doubted the potency of my words but finally someone answered my call (or our calls). The magical significance of “+65 Indie Underground” is not just uniquely Singapore but YOUR Singapore. The number of songs here also do not add up to 65, but aside from the obvious: country telephone code, we have our final “Independence” (not counting the British one) in 1965. So it makes sense that 65 and indie go hand in hand. The underground part is open for interpretation. This handsomely packaged 3 Cds compilation features 50 exemplary Singapore bands and their music in retrospective, from the 1984 new wave of Zircon Lounge all the way to the 2009 supergroup TypeWriter. A large part of the material contained therein falls in the '90s range. And I thought that in this period, Singapore music sounded the best.
I'd wish that this compilation can hold more material than the three Cds worth of music, which is still already quite a feat in itself considering that alot of the older recordings are difficult to source and reproduce these days. Each CD represents an era, from the most current to the 90s mainstays and last but not least the pioneers. In my opinion (especially after hearing every tracks on this compilation), I find that the Singapore bands of this age have the technology and the bands of the past have the grit. The bulk of the '90s bands are a mix in between. Some popular '90s Singapore bands like Kick! are obviously not included here because the contenders need to be struggling amateurs with little radio appeal and bad sounding demos. Just note the word “Underground”. Some of these bands attained cult status over the years but alot of the others are forgotten and forsaken in time and oblivion yet sounding good and brilliant. Some people may ask, “if the bands are so good, why are they still underground?”. Well, to answer their questions, “because they are from Singapore.” Here you will find some of the underground gems unearthed and excavated for the first time on digital format, like Corporate Toil's “Johnny Says”, the Razor's Edge's “Winds of Change” (not a Scorpions cover), as well as Nunsex's “Ripride (Tons of Black Clouds)”, all very original sounding experiments created from the budding period of the Singapore underground, and which can also serve a lesson for some aspiring local avantgardists who thought Godspeed You! Black Emperor is the most special thing they've heard.
Chances are a second series of the compilation might be in the pipeline. I hope it will materialize because there are at least few dozen more well known Singaporean underground bands that didn't make it to this compilation. Take for instance Teck Kheng's own Mindrape Protestants and Kim, Raw Fish, Mortal Flower, Fection Dasche, Rocket Scientist, etc. And if somebody wishes to do an anthology on Singapore hardcore and metal a 10 disc boxset will not even suffice but that is another story altogether. .
--sojourner at 9:18 PM
Friday, December 25, 2009
GLOBAL CHAOS- The Art of Listening CD(Pony Canyon Music (M) Sdn Bhd/Small Budjet Productions 2000)
The thunderous clouds are always loud, the lightning a mere symbol to behold. The late Kuo Pao Kun is dearly remembered as a pioneering arts activist who brought The Substation, amongst many of his other contributions (more of theatre), into prominence. Founded in 1990 from a disused PUB power station at Armenian street, this community-funded, non-profit arts centre serve as a platform to nurture local artists for workshops, concerts, exhibitions and lectures, and it became the first and only independent contemporary arts centre. After he passed on, The Substation underwent a major revamp and the memorable colourful courtyard covered with shady trees where local bands once jammed their tunes to impressionable audiences seated and standing everywhere is now sadly turned into a commercial ploy known as Timbre frequented by yuppies and pretentious bourgeois bohemians.
This CD that I am reviewing is The Substation's commemorative tribute to the scene, and the bands who haunted the “Rock The Garden” era 10 years and counting, from 1990 to 2000. The liner have special notes from the great Kuo Pao Kun himself as well as our dear X'Ho. Altogether 10 bands are tied into the disc for the 10 years of great rocking, and albeit a seriously screwed up tracklisting on the compilation, any fan of local music can instantly recognise the familiar sounds from our familiar bands on the disc. This compilation is a fairly eclectic mix of new and old bands, and it covers across a wide genre from metal to ska, from indie rock to avantgarde. The CD features the following bands and their songs in the correct order: Fishtank- “Restless” (great laidback ska track with very gelek trumpeting), Nuradee- “I'll Remember” (folksy roots ballad), Humpback Oak- “Normanton Park” (the legends's song with an uncanny semblance to Red House Painters' “Grace Cathedral Park), The Ordinary People- “Big Surprise” (brash, energetic indie rock from another legend), Plainsunset- “Priorities” (indie punk rock), The Edge- “Funk It Up” (brilliant metallic funk rock ala RHCP), Concave Scream- “Fiction” (brilliant fret taps and cool U2 vibe from our local legend), One Man Down- “Forsaken” (grating angsty raw nu-metal), The Oddfellows- “Lost My Head” (cult cult live performance from the godfathers of Singapore indie rock), and last but not least Corporate Coil- “Hokkien Girl Blues” (noise, artistic noise from the legends!).
The current S-rockers and their proponents, groupies and managers can “Rock The Sub” in all its pomposity; for those who remember, the spirit of Singapore music as a creative force of a native, as opposed to national would find meaning in “Rock The Garden” of the '90s, an exciting passionate time of the past where the vital interactions of Singapore music and their audience came alive in a spirited firework that short circuited and started a bonfire. I was this anonymous teenager in flannel shirt seated right at the back of the garden, a distance away from the frenzied crowds doing half-baked moshings and secretly pulling a bodysurf every now and then. I've witnessed showy bands, favourite ones, mediocre ones, hopeless ones, technical faults, crazy antics, crazy groupies, rabid responses, accidents, tauntings, cold treatment, total moshing and illegal stuffs, in the cool airy proximity at the foot of Fort Canning where you can kick back, drink some beer and smoke all you want with a good view, brilliant sound and excellent ambience. What great fond memory. This CD will bring you nostalgia-heads back to the aforementioned.
--sojourner at 4:54 AM
Thursday, December 24, 2009
NUNSEX Classic trio of Nunsex/Nunsex- Beatnik Demo 1991
The title says it all. “The Art of Listening” will demand a certain configuration in your faculty to grasp the sheer unnervingly ecletic array of genre shapeshifting and associated madness. You hear but do you listen? I cannot vividly recall another band that sounds like this, at least not anywhere in Singapore. Mr Adam Md Yusop, the mastermind behind this intricate and convoluted musical shapeshifter is certainly one guy I would hope to meet, despite the fact that we had some form of email communications online few years back when I was doing a metal website. He come across as an intelligent free spirit who would not only think out of the box, but would hurl the box into the dump the minute he chance upon one. I know there was something special about Global Chaos when I first heard their debut demo “And It's All Our Fault”, which seamlessly meld the brutal sounds of death metal, hardcore, grindcore with experimental elements. The demo won positive acclaims from many of the underground presses from the early '90s, and it won me over even though I would consider myself as a rather close-minded metal freak back then.
Now, I cannot help but feel that this debut album from Global Chaos will bewilder your average orthodox metal fan. This CD had leapt a light year even further from their demo days. Adam's palate for Global Chaos here is a strange, insane landscape of the human psyche. “The Art of Listening” began with a mystifying Arabic intro that opened a deceptive gateway into a throbbing industrial hell of “And the Angels Danced” complete with a zone out moog somewhere in the middle that takes you further into electroclash/hardtech tripping. This track was featured elsewhere on a tribute compilation to Malaysia death metal gods Brain Dead. Do not be fooled into thinking that you can keep track on its progressives; you'd be thrown off tangent from the hardcore moshpits into surreal jazz arpagios like on “3 Dimensional Anger” (featured earlier on Menagerie Compilation put out by Mouse Records).
Just as you try to wince away from more metallic abuse, “Baraka” a guitar instrumental piece led your hands mischievously into the rainforests and suddenly your heart will beat with environmental consciousness, before emerging on the other side with “A Piece of a Puzzle”, a live version of the emotive rock song with pop sensibility and heartfelt lyrics, first made famous on the Made In Singapore (MIS) compilation from Mouse Records. “Flames of Srebenica” is a jazz infused progressive death metal instrumental, a full steam ahead loco train into the depths of unpredictability with unusual time changes and twists. “Cyber Neanderthal Man/In Twilight with Myself” is what I would consider as the crazy crazy highlight on the CD. This is witty, perverse, brilliant and fun concoction of reggae, circus music, hardcore, jazz, blues and death metal in one blue pill and it still works under the magic of Global Chaos! Two tracks from the legendary cult demo “And It's All Our Fault” are featured here as bonus tracks, namely “Imagine If U Will” (blues meet death metal and grindcore) and “Dying Inside” (hardcore meets rock, death metal and avantgarde).
This CD is a great vehicle for exercising the human ID via its convoluted musical auto-suggestion. All of this thematic theorizing is of course a bunch of subjective horse feces. The music is just incredible and very recommended for the adventurous music lovers with an expansive open-mindedness and enough intelligence quotient to get hooked. The last weird piece in the Global Chaos puzzle: this CD is for some interesting reason only issued on Malaysia's Pony Canyon/Small Budjet Production (Fadzil's pre Musikbox label from Johore Bahru) despite the very fact that this is a Singapore band, and that most local music collectors will have some trouble finding this item, given its limited quantity and puzzling elusiveness.
The bandname Nunsex is a controversial choice especially in prudish evangelical Singapore, and I am surprised the religious watchdogs didn't get to them. They also had a controversial reputation in some live gigs. The band was into industrial noise and punk rock, a headswim of Sonic Youth, Big Black and Dinosaur Jr, and it was formed by Azmi (vocals, guitars),Salleh (drums) and Randie (bass) in 1989, a trio who regularly patronize Spitfire (a skate-gear shop). Azmi could be considered a veteran as he was originally from the pioneering death thrash metal lineup Nuctemeron (although he was actually sacked). They released one very infamous cassette LP, titled “Beatnik”in 1991, and it features many catchy dark tracks like “Valhalla (Home of the Guts)”, “Ripride (Tons of Black Clouds)” etc., driven by superb fuzzy guitar wah-wah and a brilliant drumming hinting at jazz roots with typically decent Boss studio productions. “Beatnik”, the name culled from the Beats Generation, was one of the most brilliant and original sounding releases from the early '90s yet sadly a lot of crap beat it to fame. A CD reissue of their legendary tape will be a deserving treatment.
--sojourner at 10:47 PM
THE PADRES- BigO Singles Club #1 MCD(BigO Pte Ltd 1993)
--sojourner at 9:26 PM
RADIO ACTIVE- Eyes In The Attic CD(Pony Canyon Entertainment Pte Ltd 1993)
Tucked away deep in the corners of the HDB units, a sweet dream forments for a regular Joe who was in all possibility allured to the Bohemian impulses of the energetic middle-class. It is an alluring option to be creatively expressive, throw in some dissent, and perhaps if one goes far enough, to leave behind a testimony of their adventure. Some hard work actually paid off for this sort of a teenage rebel who decided to form a band by the name of Corporate Toil, making artistic noise that is benignly subversive and painfully amateurish, and which consciously not wanting to sound a part like the next Dick Lee or Eric Moo. Nevermind that Joe Ng and company looked kinda part of the Xinyao movement with his meek early Corporate Toil shots with shades, he stuck to his casiotones, looked away from jeering punks and made some of the most adventurous music to be heard from the HDB arena demo circuits, in the name of the underground. It was a fun period in that part of the '80s, because other equally impressionable wide-eyed kids also saw the merit in making a world of possibilities out of the riffs in their head and a cassette tape. The DIY movement sprouted and soon they grew in congregation. Along the way they got bold enough to be heard saying there's “nothing on the radio”. Self contained with imports, tape-tradings, exquisite tastes and making own music, who cares about Vanilla Ice?
But Joe probably heard Queen's “Radio Gaga” and felt the same way. And he also probably heard it over the radio. In 1991, Joe Ng abandoned the electro-pop of Corporate Toil and formed his first rock band, The Padres, a moniker hastily selected impromptu, based on a US baseball team t-shirt. This band wrote “Radio Station”, which is anthemic for that time, a sartire on how radios would conveniently forget to play their favourite songs, but the funny thing is I actually first heard it on the radio. This song was found on the “BigO Singles Club #1” that comes together with an issue of BigO magazine back in 1993 along with other song like “Angel” (as well as a hidden track which sounds suspiciously like Kevin Matthews effort). The MCD that I am reviewing here is a piece of history for Singapore indie pop/rock music and I would consider it as the epitome of the movement because it is the first media that propagated “Radio Station” before radio gets it. This release of course is now a collector's item that every Singapore music fans talk about. No, BigO does not sell it anymore, so let's just talk about it.
In 1994 it was played on the BBC World Service; and music for the masses take on a twisted meaning.The mad hatter sliding guitars of Ben, the unstably amicable vocals of Joe, the dramatic thudding of Pat and the foreboding plodding of Francis point to the defiance of their Bohemian impulses, a sweet dream come true from a long period of toil in the Singapore music underground. Suddenly you can feel it in the air. We would wave our hands in the air like antennas to the sky, signalling for the great mothership of revolution. The idealists could envision a rock n'roll utopia and psychos prolly see an anarcho bleakness. So many years have passed, so much have happened with local music, and “Radio Station” still resonate the whole spirit, ethos and heart of Singapore indie music circa late '80s/'90s as an anthem of our youth, ideals and revolution. The Joe that made “Radio Station” will die a happy man. The other average Joes can only stand and stare.
--sojourner at 7:09 PM
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
EDGAR'S FAULT- Edgar's Fault CD(Route 88 Music Production 1991)
Dulcie Soh can make wave with Radio Active. Her new band after Do Not Ask (DNA) actively abused the geiger counter for a large part of the '90s radio when the radar zoomed in on the Singaporean ruckus. You sometimes wonder if Dulcie was a Triple Sciences student with her choice of bandnames. But she has just got the right kind of chemistry and formula for this band, a departure from the full of life science rock n' roll of DNA into the thinking man physics of Radio Active. She has forsaken her rock goddess leather jackets for the gothic little black dress, complete with the holy cross dichotomy and a more somber visage. Radio Active consists of her, ex-DNA comrade Jeff “Spookz” Long and Herey Teper, and it was formed one year after DNA went defunct. They released their one and only debut album “Eyes in the Attic” in '93, produced by Martin Tang, and a large part of the songwriting/music creative processes are split between Jeff and Dulcie. Herey Teper may be the bassist, but he is the official Radio Active Marlboro man; he is either seen smoking or holding out a box of Marlboro for endorsement.
On “Eyes in the Attic”, Radio Active continued the tradition of their adult oriented rock, oblivious to the more caustic and simplistic noise that were churning forth from the then “indie” Singapore music scene. “Needles and Pins”, “Eyes in the Attic” are more upbeat rock n'roll numbers amid the newfound Blondie influences in “Don't Take Advantage of my Good Nature” and “Soul Searchin'”. Incidentally, they covered Blondie's “Dreaming” on this album, as well as Bad Finger's “No Matter What”.
This album had a couple of famous hits active on the radio, like “Changes”, a hearfelt tearjerking ode to Dulcie's father laden with its interesting ethnic sound (didgeridoo intro?) and beautiful composition coupled with the worldly, passionate voice of Dulcie, and “To Be With You”, a ballad that seems rightfully at place on a radio roster full of Mr Big and Saigon Kick ballads. I remember quite recently I was driving one morning when I heard the Class 95 Morning Express trios played “Changes” out of the blue and after that Vernetta Lopez went kinda pensive and said in her low smoky voice that she felt good hearing this after a long time. Well, of course that morning some idiot messaged in and said that song is written by Tanya Chua (no offense to Tanya I love her too). Well, I admittedly still listen to the radio, albeit moreso for entertainment than for the music. I'd also have to confess that I first heard Radio Active's songs, and even The Padre's “Radio Station”...ironically on the radio. Maybe it's still pretty much trendy and cool to say that there's “nothing on the radio”. Well, “some thing's were better before, some thing's not the same anymore. Life's full of changes, they say...” You have the free will to change channel but I am not sure you will hear of Radio Active anymore again, on radio..
--sojourner at 7:50 AM
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
BAND OF SLAVES- 45 MCD(Prometheus Sound Art 1993)
Raunchy rock n'roll is the secret passion of many a so-called punks who wish to progress beyond the three chords to do four. Jared Ellington, a teenage skinhead from Anti-Social Kiosk (an old punk band from the Opposition Party era) shared this passion and while hanging out at Woodstock at Far East Plaza, met a bunch of rockers from Route 88 and together they formed Edgar's Fault, a rock/heavy metal outfit heavily influenced by the LA sound. Their big break came when their song “Positive Mental Attitude”, appearing on WEA's “Let's Celebrate” compilation got positively acclaimed as the best song on that record. Eventually they did not get signed to WEA but released their debut album on the independent Route 88 Music instead.
The material on this CD is best described as a blend of hard rock with a fair mix of heavy music and ballads that sounds mostly like Guns N' Roses and Skid Row affairs, although Jared seems to be also quite heavily influenced by Dave Mustaine's (Megadeth) vocals. “Dead Roses”, the opener is a popular material from the band, having extensive radioplay on the old Radio Heart station. This song is hard rocking with vicious riffs, cool licks and catchy chorus, the string works of both guitarist John Chee and bassist Kamal, and Jared's raw, nasty vocals cooking up a lethal combo. “Doctor Doctor” (I'm surprised that this song managed to pass the censorship in 1991), “Never Say Die (Part I and II)”, “Master Swindler”, “Black Eye” and “Speed Sleep” are the other more upbeat rocking songs from the album, and they are great metallic music to headbang on the mean streets, to the same effect as the omnipresent influence, Guns N' Roses. While “Our Tree”, “Dear Lord” and “You're Not The Only One” (another heavily featured song on radio back then), are more soft rock ballads that are distinctive, memorable and mandatory for any self deserving LA influenced rock band to showcase their sensitive side, haha. “21 Second War” for the record, is just 21 seconds of filler. The technical proficiency of the band is nicely demonstrated on the songs here, with some very neat sounding riffings and drum fills, and of course sounding nothing like simple punk numbers, yet very punk in attitude.
Edgar's Fault was supposed to have recorded another album featuring old material, after Greg (the drummer guy after Bong) and Kamal left the band but we didn't hear from them anymore. Last thing I heard Jared left for Canada, so it could have possibly spelt an end to this cult band from the early '90s. Those long hair, facial hair, leather and the bad ass attitude is not a regular feature in today's rock music but for those who relish the crazy sounds from those wild days, you'd have agreed that Edgar's Fault did it exceptionally well. From the way I see, they fittingly commemorated our favourite “Dead Roses” and its generation of jaded rockers.
--sojourner at 7:41 AM
Saturday, June 20, 2009
KELVIN TAN- The Bluest Silence Digipack CD(Aporia Society 1998)
There are a number of things going on with this EP from Band of Slaves. This was made by the band after been spurred on by the death of its vocalist, the late Ian Xavier, who met his misfortune at the Tornado Disco incident. As Alan Ann, the bassist puts it in an age-old interview, “it's not the motivation we would ask for but this will certainly be the impetus for us to buck up and complete the album.” And hence this commemorative MCD. Band of Slaves were great entertainers with their energetic, highly groovy blues rock-reggae music and socially conscious lyrics, rocking the circuits since '87, but this EP “45” is an artwork that is somewhat dark and ominous, the handiwork of Ian and his passings. Ian wrote the song “Eternity” as an eulogy to his late father and lyrically it talks about death, which is eerily philosophical and prophetic.
Band of Slaves were few of the local bands after IGTA that did rock reggae before The Bushmen revived the movement. Musically they were very much influenced by The Police, Bob Marley, Don McClean, Lenny Kravitz and Bob Dylan. The MCD contains five songs, of which all are original materials except for “Redemption Song”, a Bob Marley cover, which is a surprising choice given so many other more reggae selections from this legendary man, yet this may also seem like an appropriate choice for the sombriety of the stuffs here. Selena Wee was roped in to do some of the vocals here, like “Blue Gates” and “Another Cold War” whereby the former has a Latin soul style and the latter more roots rock. “And Justice For Some” (is this a wordplay of Metallica's “And Justice For All”?) is the only song that has a strong reggae sound, which may not seem obvious at first with its contemporary pop piano passage.
I personally think that this tribute feels rather heavy on the heart, prefering their more cheerful material on “New School Rock III”, music that brings one back to the good ol' days when Band of Slaves and The Nonames were pleasing the crowds with their laidback roots and reggae. Still despite the apparent sense of seriousness with “45”, it is a very strong release which is unfortunately too short in length (what else do we expect from an EP) and too limited to make it to more Singapore music lovers. This MCD of mine is handnumbered and I don't remember seeing it been sold anywhere after I purchased it many years ago (maybe I bought the last copy), like all the mysteriously elusive Singapore music CDs out there. Let's say according to popular belief that very few people support local music, then where did all those CDs go to? Burnt? There MUST be another person spinning “45” somewhere on this island.
--sojourner at 12:25 AM
Art is open to interpretation, and it's usually subjective pertaining to individual perceptions. However, most people associate pretty stimulus as a superlative of beauty in art. That's for most normal people. Many delved into more “controversial and ugly” alternatives so as to speak, to suggest that subtle beauty of the cool and misunderstood. That's for most normal people who thought they are different. Few however don't give a fuck but live on in their insane existence making art that only pleases themselves. If you scratch the underbelly hard enough, there are your so-called underdogs who lived in mental/spiritual fringes, obsessed with their pursuit of that very curse called art, which has pretty much forfeited them the chance of living a normal life like your average Singaporean. If I think films, I think Toh Hai Leong, and if I think music, no doubt Kelvin Tan will come into my mental picture. He is one guy with an interesting approach to life and he can pretty much live up to the name as the most prolific artist in Singapore. I wouldn't be surprised if few years down the road he would have released his 100th album. Most of his works are very far out for most people, which can even be improvised freeform “noises” that wilfully don't make senses. Some might admire his guts and willpower, some thinks he has an immense passion for his kind of music, most see it as a sign of madness or pretension, for his albums hardly shift in units except that trickling support from the few fervent fans of his work, which incidentally included a professor in the list.
Mind you, Kelvin Tan he is not a no musical gene random noise-generator. And this Kelvin Tan is NOT that blind dude with a short shot at fame. He has been actively involved in music and literature since the '80s. You can find his presence in BigO often, he has written a Singaporean cult classic “All Broken Up and Dancing” (an essential literature during my teenage years), and he has led the role as the unpredictable guitar axeman in The Oddfellows. I first noticed his musical talent when I heard that song “She's So Innocent” from “Carnival”, and it is so beautifully composed and written in its simplicity that it made me feel jaded that such lovely ballads are not heard of ever since in Singapore until 1998, when Kelvin put out his solo debut “The Bluest Silence” and it's an album chock full of songs written in the same vein! Essentially, many would rate this as his best work, and of course nothing on this album sound like his more experimental, inaccessible later works.
“The Bluest Silence” in its entirety is an acoustic folk album like Bob Dylan updated to the more current sounds of the late '90s with a very heartlander feel. The catchy guitar chord works, the bluesy lead shredding, the well thought ot composition, deep lyrics and even right down to the voices of Kelvin Tan are exceptionally well done, especially the vocals aspect which many Singaporean musicians are struggling with. And he managed everything on this album from composition to performance all by himself.
The album begins with “Your World Ragged Shop”, a very strong number that suggest a tired metropolitan life and that very escape by faith and salvation, opening with lines “Heading through the headlights trying to get out of the daze, we came across the crossroads that unravelled into a maze, in your little Charade could the car bring us redemption?” “Fear and Trembling” is a darker, more somber song which could do proud in ahem, Leslie Low's solo work, although Kelvin was here first. Next comes an upbeat, melodic “She Sheds a Light” which was a 98.7 FM Top 10 hit, a beautiful ballad that is more sophisticated and say compared to his simple and kind “She's So Innocent” work from The Oddfellows, a beauty in a different light with saxophone accompaniment. “Jacqueline Among Her Flowers” is another ballad that appears in the same vein as “She Sheds a Light”, and of course it is written for a certain girl called Jacqueline. “Venus Defiled” is a song of a bitter ageing ex-beauty queen (and an actress) with heartwrenching lyrics like “Like the charms she used to taste, as is really an illusion, she asks herself in jest.””Icarus” and “William Blake's Ghosts” are an insight into Kelvin's literary interests which become more apparent, with a philosophical edge even, in his later works.
The packaging of this digipack album is worth mentioning also, with alot of effort put in the layout, the lyrics cardboards with illustrations and all that, making this look like a very hefty piece of productions. It is a pity though that this album is next to impossible to find, and considering the fact that Kelvin nowadays make rather simple DIY sleeves for his albums these days. Alot of people I've spoken to mentioned that tis a shame that Kelvin Tan did not make music like this anymore. In essence, it is still the same old Kelvin Tan, and to put it into perspective he makes great popular music with his debut, and great unpopular music much later on. It's a fine line between a genius and a madman, and I do think he has traversed both paths.