Sunday, April 27, 2008
VARIOUS ARTISTS- Left of The Dial CD
(Tim Records/Odyssey Music 1994)
Inspired by The Replacements' song of the same title, “Left of The Dial” is a local music compilation featuring previously unreleased tracks, better-sounding demo recordings and a few already released songs from some of the best Singapore indie bands around that time. This release should not be confused with another compilation that pays tribute to The Replacements, or the 4 CD boxset featuring radio unfriendly 80s bands. The name implies a jibe at how radio stations tend to conveniently “forget” to play local songs. It is therefore apt that the Padres' “Radio Station” is included here as an ironical tribute. Joe Ng made a statement with his sartire of the general attitude towards radio stations, djs and listeners with his amiably unstable vocals, backed by Ben Harrison's trademark expressive guitar riffings. Culled from BigO singles club MCD from 1993, this song is perhaps one of the most anthemic of that era, revolutionary.
Mortal Flower has came a long way since their debut demo “Bathing In The Perspirations of My Ideology” from 1989. Opening track “Atone” is very much the latest and last offering from this band, who had since shifted their style from more of a Cure-inspired goth rock to a more angst-ridden punk-pop sound. This song is supposed to be part of a forthcoming album “Unplucked”, but so far it's been more than a decade since we last heard any sign of life from this band. Sideshow Judy is a good band, but I have to admit that they sounded rather amateurish on “Spaceship Dog”, a track taken from their debut demo “Eye Matter”. Sideshow Judy sounds like a very jangly bright pop-rock bandl led by singer/guitarist Pauline Chong who didn't quite master enough vocal control on this song, which says the same for almost 90 percent of the Singapore vocalists. However her vocals has greatly improved over the years. Daze offered “Release”, a new song which is somewhat disappointing in comparison with their debut EP. I mean “Sexy Little Boy” was a very big hit, and there were many expectations heaped upon this duo when they made announcement of new material, hence the letdown, but this melodic little pop jangle is at least decent, though not awe-inspiring.
More disappointments coming this way from The Pagans' “Star Love”,which sees a huge departure from the heavenly atmospheric shoegazing from their debut. Although Morris' voice had improved quite alot, the music fell from heavenly grace onto more mundane realms. But once again, still a good jangle enough for appeasing curious fans. Things picked up nicely with The Lilac Saints' “Gina”, a very refreshing and beautiful ballad from a very underrated Singapore band. This song was earlier featured on New School Rock IV compilation CD. Lilac Saints never fail to write instantly chiming music that sounds so melodiously delicious. “I Love Singapore” first appeared on Watchmen's “Love” EP, but had since appeared under The Crowd moniker. Performed by the multi-talented Kevin Matthews, this song bursts with wry observations and sheer irony, driven by Ben Harrison's screaming guitar riffs of subversion.
The Ordinary People, how aptly named. They had this very down-to-earth approach to their music, which reflects well on “Shining Through”, a track taken from their debut album “It's A Weird Existence” CD from 1993. Nothing special nothing bad, just simple melodic pop rock. Now Livonia is a more sophisticated outfit. They have this special gift in offering surging melody that sounds cerebrally pleasing. “Backseat Star”, taken from their debut demo “Self”, is a perfectly written indie number that ascertain the good prospect of a band that even know how to dress to please. The Dongs on the other hand is more of a demo-level punk rock band with their “Rebel Girl”, a simplistic three chord affair taken from their cute looking “We Is Grunge” demo and sounding like a trisomy 21 from crossing The Ramones and The Dead Milkmen. The Oddfellows dug “Addiction” from deep inside their vaults. Originally a forgotten recording with just drums, vocals and guitar, additional bass and percussions were overdubbed at TNT studio to make a special appearance on this compilation. The last track on this compilation is “In Desire” by The Nude Pool. This band is made up of members from Mortal Flower, Raw Fish and Pink Elephants. This song loops a Er-hu sample, a chinese stringed instrument and managed to create a very darkly mystical atmosphere which slowly builds up in mental intensity. A psychedelic headtrip to end the compilation. However, there is alot more things going on inside this CD. There's two hidden bonus tracks on the compilation. One track sounds like Humpback Oak and the other is an instrumental version of The Oddfellows' “Your Smiling Face”.
I've shot down many bands on this release, but am I going to give up on "Left of The Dial"? Au contraire, this is one of my most favourite local indie rock compilation of all time. All the inconsistencies, amateurish arrangements and demo hisses make this one ever the more charming, because the sheer naked rawness of the material here oozes the kind of passion, sincerity and soul that is sadly devoid in this age of technicality and superficiality. These are bands that had over the years toiled hard to lay the brick on the Singapore sound and that by definition has certainly shine through in this release. A testimonial to the adventurous past of Singapore indie rock. And collectors, please do take special note that this CD is one especially tough find because almost nobody I know has seen it after all these years. Yet, the history of Singapore indie rock are all contained therein.
--sojourner at 8:17 AM
Saturday, April 26, 2008
AWOL- Midnight In June CD
(BMG Pte Ltd 1993)
AWOL is a band that upon initial listen may not seem instantly gratifying, but their music had souls filled to the brim and with patience one will find that it is a very rewarding experience, their down to earth sensibility so very humanely comforting to weary ears. The exceptionally clear lucid productions of this album is a well deserved treatment for a group of serious musicians whom exhibit professional attitude in their music. I've come to know the band leader Lenny Garcia from my old Boys' Town alma mater and he is an individual that displays the finesse of conviction and tenacity that are crucial in getting AWOL on the pathway through to produce such proficient piece of art. In 1993, they released their debut album “Midnight In June”, which comes expectedly like I predicted.
--sojourner at 7:08 AM
IMPIETY- Asateerul Awaleen Digipack CD
(Shivadarshana Records 1996)
For those who remember, the AWOL moniker was frequently mentioned ever since they contributed two songs for BigO's New School Rock II CD compilation, namely “Postcards” and “Claude's Dog”. Their adult oriented rock (AOR) made them sound older and more matured than they actually were, and the whole seriousness of the sound scheme set themselves strata above many amateurs from the Singapore bandwagons, having got invited to play in many venues with many headlining moments. Formed in 1989, AWOL also known as “Artistes Without License”, consisted of Lenny Garcia (lead vocals, guitars), Christopher Toh (lead guitar, vocals), Kevin Netto (bass), Fin (drums) and Colin Teo (keyboards). On “Midnight In June”, Dominic Wan was roped in to perform guitars on “Someday”. Musically the debut album rich in soul, is deeply steeped in earthly hue, a little mundane but nevertheless warm and catchy. They sound like they were influenced by U2, Crowded House and REM, but they were also closet Megadeth and Testament fans according to their bio. There are many strong numbers on the CD, with some of my favourites being the energetic “Tear Down These Walls”, the moody yet uplifting “Midnight In June”, two songs with very motivational U2 gist flowing through, “Still Building”, a song inspired by the Hotel New World disaster (for those who never lived through the days, Singapore actually suffered a serious deadly building collapse back in 1986), the infectiously solemn reggae number “Russell The Cat”, the two improved tracks originally from New School Rock II and the beautiful shimmering acoustic number “Someday”, which sounds like Kansas on “Dust In The Wind”.
The band took themselves seriously and it showed on their masterwork, but unfortunately the nuances, conditions and mills of the Singapore society did not permit continued existence of this band and that's the last I've heard from them. So in all technicality, they were literally AWOL this time.
It's about time I write some metal reviews. I've been writing many reviews on local indie rock and recently suffered an overdose from it with dreams of guitar parading boyscouts haunting me. How often do you not conjure up images of Singapore indie boys as folks who tread a fine line from the sterile Xinyao dudes? Is Joe Ng in black the scariest thing you've seen? Singapore music of course is not just about a bunch of clean cut nerdy people playing in a band and singing "yeah yeah yeah". And if you look hard enough, we actually have many really, mean gritty bands that can never be found on your regular BigOs. This bigoted publication is not your underground bible. I would love to respect BigO, but when they compared Black Sabbath to black metal, I've totally lost respect of the editorials. When one carefully peel deep in between the crevices of the fat Singapore underbelly, one will discover a very exciting scene known as underground metal. And the sheer amount of demos churned out by these bands far outweighed those cute looking alternative demos with artsy pretension. Most importantly, with strong interest from the international metal community on South East Asian metal scene (because the tropical heat makes some good fiery metal), Singapore metal bands by any measure is actually very much more popular overseas than the most commercial Singapore pop/rock/indie. And this band I am reviewing, Impiety is actually way bigger and more popular overseas than Dick Lee and The Quests for that matter. Their music is heard by inhabitants from the North pole to the South. Singapore metal was an actual LOCAL EXPORT that is truly in demand. People overseas will not give a rat's ass to see a rare Humpback Oak CD on eBay at USD$4.99 “BUY IT NOW”, but many would gladly bid the rare Impiety- Skullfucking Armageddon picture disc all the way up to US$216.66 without hesitation. It takes a metal fanatic of more than 20 years to really appreciate this pot of black gold and yes, my background is metal. Not your average dude who look angry in a metal t-shirt but very much more than that. You're only beginning to know me.
How can I not include Impiety in Rock In The Fine City? While your average Singapore nerds are clueless about a genre known as black metal, Impiety, which is a black metal band, is ironically the most famous Singaporean band outside of Singapore. Seriously how long have you been in ignorance and hiding? In this closed society, the average plebeian is blanketed from reality. Even Beijing uncles know about their extreme death grind underground, but the average Singapore nerds are living in Mediacorps entrapment. Ignorance is however pure bliss especially for the more prudish, because the actual ideology of black metal draws from all that is dark, occultic, violent and quintessentially anti-religion. Not your average shocking cock rock heavy metal superstars. If you are even offended by Depeche Mode's "Blasphemous Rumours", then black metal will probably make you get a cardiac arrest. I know this topic can be controversial, so for the sake of objectivity I will not take sides here but solely focus on its musical merits.
--sojourner at 2:51 AM
Friday, April 25, 2008
Actually black metal has been around for a pretty long time already. Those so called "metal historian" conveniently see black metal as the tail end of an evolution or mutation in heavy metal music that stems from thrash to death and then black metal. However, even before Venom (so called black metal godfather) came into existence there is already many signs of black metal tendency in many early bands. In Singapore, there are many black/death metal bands by the turn of the late '80s and early '90s. Bands like Abhorer, Beheaded Nasrani, Thartarus, Euronymous, Libation and the band in review here Impiety, are some of the unholy names that released demos that pledged allegiance to the dark. Incidentally, Impiety is the moniker with the greatest longevity and influence, and currently they had earned a status as the godfathers of Singapore black metal. Black metal however is recently getting very trendy in Singapore, being the darker choice of fashion for idiotic emo kids with gothic inclination, and even Chris Ho has professed his new found love with this music and how he thought of it as the “true alternative” but still most Singapore nerds could not tell if this is different from that heavy metal noise they detested. Well by convention, black metal usually meant sped up metal with lightning fast drummings and frenzied evil chords with blasphemous lyrics sung with Donald Duck-like guttural vocals by musicians who wore scary makeups and spikes and leather and Impiety is pretty much that. Very violent and noisy for the uninitiated. You might want to do more research on black metal as currently it is the most varied and versatile genre in music with way more creativity and originality churning forth in logarithms than those so-called postrock bands. I know Shyaithan, the band leader of Impiety personally, he being a close friend for many many years, and he is of course much more normal than your typical rock stars so try to envision them as the perverted evil cousins of Kiss to see the whole point and change your biased perception.
“Asateerul Awaleen” is Impiety's debut album on CD and they had already made a good name for themselves in the extreme metal scene with their cult demo tape “Ceremonial Necrochrist Redesecration” from 1992 and 7” EP “Salve The Goat: Iblis Exelsi” 1994 all of which sits comfortably in my extensive metal collections. Nowadays being considered a legendary and influential local metal band, Impiety has an impressive discography that spans more than twenty years in existence. Originally conceived back in 1988 as Sexfago by Goatlord Cunt-shredder (early pseudonym of Shyaithan) and Roslan (later formed Tetragrammaton) and Gaddafi (from Mayhem Force) because of the band leader's love for two Brazillian blackened death thrash bands at that time Sextrash and Sarcofago, they played an early primitive version of blackened death grind much alike Beherit and that two aforementioned Brazillian bands. Then sometime in 1992, Shyaithan hooked up members from Leviathan (another cult legend in Singapore), Infidel and Libation (pre-Itnos) to release the debut demo and this time they were more brutal and aggressive playing low registered grinding black/death metal like the Canadian Blasphemy. The EP was released two years later on an actual record label Shivadarshana and it was a covetted cult item of extreme desecrating black metal gem (and also lived up to its controversy because of a statement made by Shyaithan against the Norwegian black metal scene at that time). “Asateerul Awaleen” came forth with a set of new lineup which included As Sahar (a nationalistic Malay black metal band) members and is equipped with a new music direction that led Impiety further away from the basal primitive aggression from older school. Technically I would say that this album is right in the veins of a typical second wave black metal sound, somewhat close to the Dutch Funeral Winds and many Norwegian bands at that time.
The CD opens with a very creepy epic intro titled “Dzuul Ar'Shil Jaheem”, which is actually sampled from the Conan soundtrack. After the brief foreboding moment of impending doom settles in, the album kicks off with a raging fast classic Impiety number “Anal Madonna”, with its evil chords evoking Bathory, and Shyaithan's wicked Donald Duck-like vociferations and snarls. Don't read too much into the title though. I personally would say the highlight on this album is “Magick-Consecration Goatsodomy” which is my favourite track of all time from Impiety, and it had appeared in a slightly different more deathly version on their EP. This one has alot of wicked grooves ala Celtic Frost, which offers many variations deviated from a more straightforward sometimes monotonous blasts of the black traditions. The album closes with “Blasphemyth... The Seventh Goatspawn” which is a very short fast grinding track as the band eagerly concludes the somewhat short album.
Well, of course I still love my local indie rock and all that but I hope that the average Rock In The Fine City reader will expand their horizons from within their small closed arty farty circles and to actually see the REAL world out there, where reality is only a fine line away from brutality. While this may not be the best release from Impiety, it is indeed a good starter for blur little Kafka-expounding indie sotongs to see beyond their three chords and converse shoes. Anyway, this first version I'm reviewing is long sold out from the defunct label, but the title was recently reissued by Agonia with updated cover and sound. So look under your bed and deep inside your toilet bowls, and head down to the nearest underground to check out the biggest Singapore band you never knew!
The last time I saw Daren Lauchengco he was peddling his killer artwork at Vivocity and I have to admit that I was totally amazed by the sheer talent he has. For your information, he illustrates very dark, morbid, surrealistic and psychedelic stuffs which is outsider underground art of the highest order. I later found out that he had a website and you might want to check out at: http://dlauchengco.spaces.live.com/ . I knew that he had contributed to comic coverarts for the MIS (Made In Singapore) cassettes compilations but you have to see his recent dark stuffs that simply defines cult. Anyway, he used to head a cult band that went by the name S.U.D.S. and they had released several highly acclaimed demos which was listed as the most outstanding demos by the local underground presses. S.U.D.S. was formed in April 1990 as Die Laughing and it boasted the lineup Daren Lauchengco (vocals), Nizam (lead guitar), Azlan (drums), Amin (bass) and Imran (rhythm guitar). They were influenced by the bottom heavy rock/metal bands like Black Sabbath, Soundgarden and even Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and they labelled their music as “Funcore”, which sees a heady mixture of punk, blues, metal, hardcore and funk in their first demo “The Demo” released in 1990 while they regressed (or should I say sought the early roots ) to classic rock sound ala Led Zeppelin with their “Invasion of The Killer Suds” demo 1993. It is indeed sad that the band is another closed chapter in Singapore music underground history because this band will hit this sad state of local rock right at the funnybones.
--sojourner at 11:31 PM
THE PADRES- What's Your Story MCD
(Odyssey Music Pte Ltd 1994)
This EP by the Padres was once feted as the biggest thing to look out for in Singapore music. With a cast of big names like band leader Joe Ng, Ben Harrison, Patrick Chng, Evan Tan (and a host of ex-members who were just about the whole Singapore scene), “What's Your Story” would have seemed like the second coming, the great expectation...revelation to the radioheads in the island city. And mind you, it's Joe Ng, the Godfather of Singapore music whose lost, confused and sad puppy eyes belie the realistic business savvy opportunist. We can't blame Joe for his pretension nor can we fault his passion for local music, he had to play the underdog mythical anti-hero to fit the bill because it is always a romantic notion to root for the struggling bohemian and to that effect he did drew an audience to witness the motley of Singapore misfits who can rock. Joe was pioneering frontman of electro-gloom duo Corporate Toil in the mid-'80s before pioneering the alternative all-stars outfit of the Padres. To quote a response from Koh Nguang How, artist-photographer regarding this release, “I'm a big fan of Corporate Toil. To me, the Padres lack identity”, he actually said it quite right. However, while this is no David Bowie, the Padres made this a really fun record with alot of energy and sheer wit.
I love Corporate Toil. Industrial experimentations bordering avantgarde. They may sound like the most amateurish demo level band from the underground but they had so many interesting ideas that really sounded way ahead of their time. Now, Padres is your beloved indie alternative rock, a genre that molests the same three chords from the time of the Beatles and to quote from Bjork, it's boyscout guitar strumming rock. They made their first appearance on BigO singles club (in a different lineup) with an EP featuring two songs, namely “Radio Station” and “Angel”, which is a legendary release that stamped the alternative mark on Singapore music. “What's Your Story” is a vast improvement from the aforementioned, with exceptionally poignant performances from the gifted and musically proficient musicians.
The youthful energetic vibe here is satisfying. This EP is jangly, poppish and somewhat drunken, with the distinctive whiny voices of Joe, which is off key, tone deaf yet hugely appealing in an idiot savant way. It is like putting on the Pogues and ridiculing Shane MacGowan yet liking him at the same time. Music-wise this is your favourite alternative rock but at times it really bears the mark of Dinosaur Jr meets Jane's Addiction with its crazy twirling technicolour guitar swirls courtesy of Ben Harrison of Electric Penguins fame and the caffeine driven drum poundings of Mr Pat Chng of the Oddfellows! The MCD starts off with “Joni”, a nice mellow ballad which could have easily graced the Oddies albums. Up next is “So Sorry” which really kicks off the first sign of upbeat delirium. Here, Joe offers a sartirical scenario of guilt, regret and the excuses of life in modernity which evinces the impotency of the word “sorry”. “Teenage Story” is one fun song which is best summed up with the chorus, “When you're lonely, and you're horny, then you're sorry, what's your story”. My most favourite track off this MCD is no doubt the high energy charging frenzy of “Mary Said” which boasts the most insane slide guitar solos that squeals and screams so much life and mischief. The two aforementioned tracks were featured on John Peel's session on BBC by the way. Finally the MCD closes with an acoustic ballad “Whenever Her Heart Sang”, where I was shocked to hear Joe's voice trembles, almost on the verge of crying. Haha, emotional stuff.
Like Joe's prophetic words “We're so young....” (from Radio Station), this EP came from a youthful time of fun and laughter, peace and joy. Now those bunch of Padres guys are in or near their 40s and time still goes on, and we can only hope that the young at heart will take heed and never let the fun ends.
--sojourner at 10:49 AM