Saturday, March 07, 2009
THE LIZARD'S CONVENTION- Here's a Funny Fish, Hurrah! CD(Pony Canyon Entertainment Pte Ltd 1995)
--sojourner at 7:52 PM
THE BLACK SUN- The Black Sun CD(Black Sun Productions 1992)
An instant favourite in the local music scene back in the mid 90s, this group makes pleasant and carefree happy-go-lucky music at a time when bands were busy professing how much they hated themselves. Lizard's Convention sounds like the nature loving pixie smoking dandelion and daffodils playing irresistable bright pleasant pop rock music, appearing both innocuous and quirky, down-to-earth and surreal, honest and ironic. Led by four good looking graduates (with Kristin Oehlers and Sol Foo being centre of attraction), the band put out their highly acclaimed debut album “Here's a Funny Fish, Hurrah!” which garners them fame as amiable hippies, charming silly smiling besotted fans. The debut album has been heavily featured in the media, even winning themselves a top place, ironically on the Philippines radio charts with an Elvis cover called “Wooden Heart”. The heartfelt, rustic delivery of this version tastes like aromatic coffee set in the dusk of tropical beaches.
The album is chock-full of extremely well written songs. The first track “The Goat That Haunted Me”, had bagpipes or fiddles that made you want to prance about in squares, a catchy folk pop number that has beautiful Kristin Oehlers luring the dumbfounded with her ethereal vocals. There is yet something plaintive, and blatantly religious content in this track. “Pleasant Song” and “Love Nut” are a couple of my favourites on this album, the chiming guitars soaring with heavenly hooks, giving the sensation of you hovering in absolute bliss with spine-tingling octaves. At the same period of time, Frente and The Cranberries who were prominent were often dropped as comparisons and Oehlers admittedly had to suppress her jitters during the recording of this album. And the result is quite exceptionally different in a good way. “If Cows Grew On Trees”, is upbeat, mischievous and delectable and you can tell the musicians having fun with themselves while recording this one. The impish delight in it sounds like awesome pop with its energy. “Gribbit The Frog” is a bright-eyed child-like folk track which is so artless and simple, yet the very ironic dark lyrics belie its gentle nature.
There are four covers on this album, namely Elvis' “Wooden Heart” and “I Gotta Know”, Stealer Wheels' “Stuck In The Middle With You”, and Hues Corporation's “Rock The Boat”. All the originals sounds special, and all the covers do justice, if not appeared as improved versions. These guys have been around for a long time, even dating back to the late 80s, although Kristin Oehlers and Sol Foo were later additions in the 90s. There is a environmental consciousness as the central theme to the band, and there is also a strong religious connotation. The band grew quite popular back then, but one little beauty of a debut is perhaps what we will ever expect from them. The Lizard's Convention has struck as a familiar heartspot in many a nostalgic music lovers and those songs become anthemic of the mid 90s, the once exciting period of time in Singapore music.
--sojourner at 4:06 AM
WATCHMEN- Love MCD(Odyssey Music Pte Ltd 1994)
These guys were quite famous back in the early 90s, with their “Love You Now” ballad played to death on the radio in a good radio friendly way. Do you remember those three uncles who wrote plenty of nice love songs with a cool bandname The Black Sun? They were already in their mid 30s when this geriatrical labor of love was conceived and they play music that appeals to them and surely to their contemporaries who understands 70s safe rock. I am not sure if this will appeal to the Great Spy Experiment/Electrico crowd but they surely do appeal to me The Oddfellows-era nerd who can be a sane, sanitised conventional music lover every now and then. The three uncles were old time buddies from Nee Soon Camp who shared a common interest in 70s hard rock and they started jamming way back in '75. So they could have been honing their weaponry in some kampong ulus for the past 15 years.
This CD I am reviewing is a DIY effort from these loaded uncles, who forked out a huge sum of money for this, from state of the art recording studios to manufacturing their own CDs and covers. Maybe you can even smell Ben Chia's fingerlicking good stain on the sleeves. I understand that this CD has been reissued later on with a different cover (them in cool postures) some years later. The band called themselves The Black Sun because these uncles are not your average boring AORockers. They have mysticism and dark powers, like Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath and you might hear something funny if you backmask “Love You Now” or something. Musically I can hear influence from Yes, Led Zeppelin, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, yet somehow there is just something exceptional about this group. They really have a forte for extremely memorable songcrafting and these uncles handle their weaponry like a true “blues” samurai.
From the album opening track “Flame In The Night”, you can feel the promising power in their delivery, like a more epic Europe, but no less pompous. But the standouts are the love songs here. Love songs, how often I cringe with every mention, and yet the Black Sun did not even shy away from it, they seemingly embrace every moment of it pouring out their hearts to romanticism. “Love You Now” is undoubtedly the strongest number from this album, a very commercial sounding ballad with very potent melody hook, somewhere in the veins of Restless Heart “Tell Me What You Dream” but so refreshingly catchy, splendid! The track “Black Sun” is a dark, menacing track that best exemplifies the subtle dark, shadowy undertone of the band. With the gruff voice of Def Leppard, the textural impressionistic atmosphere of Alan Parsons Project and the doomsday lyrics of Black Sabbath, this track is the black horse of this record, and a solemn strong contender to the melancholia of “Love You Now”. “Singapore Beat” is upbeat, cheery and a satirical tongue-in-cheek social commentary. This almost reminds me of The Crowd/Watchmen to some degree with their “Orchard Road”, like I'm looking at two parallel dimensions! On “Passage (Song For The Atheist)”, The Black Sun does wistful hallowed British folk music in the veins of Pentangle! Those depressing minor chords are my secret passion and indeed I've been a closet folk junkie since young so yeah I buy this one. The last few tracks are quite experimental from “Visitation” to “Departure”, it's like a journey tripping the blended soundscapes of Tangerine Dream flangering to more structured Alan Parsons Project territory.
This is what happen when three uncles got creative. They could be heartlanders like you and me sipping kopi-o at the coffee shop. They had a vision, they got together, made their own music oblivious to jangling teenage heads out there and they had successfully released a critically acclaimed album with a radiohit to top. Now we don't hear from them but I'm sure there must be a tick somewhere in their bucketlist. For the less fortunate uncles and aunties out there with an inclination for music, they would just hum and whistle along with resignation on their way to work.
--sojourner at 4:01 AM
LILAC SAINTS- Awake CD(Springroll Music Pte Ltd 1999)
Here I am doing reviews on the Watchmen, and coincidentially a film of the same name came out recently (inspired by the cult comics). Well, Kevin did admit that the name for his band likewise was inspired by the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons creation and I wouldn't be surprised if he turns up the first in line to catch the premier (he watched it and you can read his reviews here at http://www.powerofpop.com.) Now, this CD in my hand is the “Love” EP from the Watchmen released apropos on Valentine's Day in 1994 (like their debut album “Democracy”released in 1993 in the same manner, haha), as a dedication to his wife Angela who is one very lucky lady to have met Kevin because frankly speaking how many women in Singapore (or the whole wide world) have proficiently written love songs penned for them (even turning into a radiohit for that matter), and a whole CD dedicated to her and only? Or I may be reading it wrong, this EP is a celebration of love. I can sense that the “Love” EP is not just about love between people, but it embraces and encompasses a passion, a universal love, a compassion, and ultimately, an absolute love that goes along Kevin's personal faith. Quite a mouthful eh? To complete the whole package, long time collaborator Eric Khoo was roped in to give this release a very tasteful touch to it.
On “Love”, assuming that at this juncture Kevin is the sole member of the Watchmen moniker, here features ex-Watchmen Tony Makarome, as well as veterans like Ben Harrison and Patrick Chng. There are altogether five songs on this MCD (wait there's a sixth one hidden and it's there for you to discover). “All I Know” is a very memorable starter of this disc, with compelling melody that keep your attention aroused that stood out strongly from a lot of other contenders doing romantic America/Beatles with very climatic chorus parts. There is an alternate version, titled “All I Know (Ivory Cut)” which is performed solely on piano by Kevin Matthews. Now here comes the way for something more upbeat. “I Love Singapore”, which later appears as The Crowd song with prominent feature in the film “Mee Pok Man” is one bouncy energetic rock n' roll number that is endearing in its tongue-in-cheek high brow punk sartire. Well, sometimes love, like love for Singapore can be ambiguous.“4 Love” sounds like something from a Timothy Schmit songbook, with its very sensually romantic arrangement and its loungey vibe. Track number five is the '94 version of “My One & Only”, the Watchmen signature number with a new synthwork, a fuller sound and a gospel touch that adorns the song in all the right places.
The “Love” EP over the years has become very rare and a collector's item for Singapore music lovers. I count myself lucky to have bought it when it was launched and now I even have Kevin's autograph on the liner. It is also rare indeed to see a band that dared to come forward and put forth a release dedicated to love in a period of time where rock n' roll becomes the haven for all that is nihilistic and hedonistic, where indifference, cruelty, and perversion and everything anti-thethical to love is celebrated as the new cool.
--sojourner at 3:57 AM
CONCAVE SCREAM- Three CD(Concave Scream 1999)
One of the most memorable names from the New School Rock cohorts, Lilac Saints stood out as a band always making very sublime and beautiful indie pop rock music like “Gina” and “Wasting Time” with frequent appearances on radio, and they were even nominated for Best Local Band in Perfect 10 98.7FM awards back in 1996, yet this is one band that you've always heard about but never see their albums in stores. Because at some point of time I wasn't actively seeking out CDs, I missed all the chances of getting Lilac Saints releases when they were launched and for the next many years that follows, I've never come across any of their album. One eventful day two weeks ago, I was approached by one guy wanting to trade his Lilac Saints for my spare copy of Humpback Oak CD and today I am the proud owner of the “Awake” CD! I heard that not many copies of this CD made it into the circuit for varied reasons, and the funniest thing is from the last I heard of this band, they've altogether released three different albums already. You can imagine how excited I was when I first got this one, and could barely contain my excitement to play the CD.
“Awake” however does fall short of expectation quite alot, because I had very high expectations of this band when I first heard their stuffs since the New School Rock IV days. This band from what I heard, had a very magical quality to their songs, a very laidback, casual yet sensually romantic style that sound like music played by decent cleancut friendly people, which appeared to be the case. Some people may even think that this band has some kind of “Christian” connotation which wouldn't surprise me if it turns out to be the case. Under normal circumstances the whole idea should be quite cringeworthy but Lilac Saints really know how to charm with their songs.
On “Awake”, the songs are still bright and pleasant, but it does not seem to possess the same magical sensuality of their more well known songs. If I choose to look at it as indie pop rock for what it is, “Jamaica”, “Awake”, “Daffodil”, “Wander”, “Window”, “Facade” and “Windowsill” are very catchy and well written songs on this CD. However some tracks like “Life” and “Jennifer” stuck out like sore thumbs on this otherwise quite interesting CD. Still all in all this sounds nothing like their old mojo. When I listen to the whole CD as a whole, I couldn't help feeling bored and restless. There is nothing that makes you sit up and pay attention or lulls you into a mode of relaxation. It sounds like just any other indie pop/rock. That however shouldn't stop any rabid collectors of local music from getting one of the rarest, most elusive release from one of Singapore's best bands, although this sounds nothing like what they were famous for.
--sojourner at 3:41 AM
I'd sort of written off most music since '99; that year of uncertainties, paradigm shifts and doomsday prophecies (don't smirk, watch out for 2012). I had always watched with anticipation, keeping my eyes open and holding my breath, steadily observing the stream of evolution to ignite a revolution of a grand proportion, being the epic addict I am. Also, being an Aquarian I seek changes, in a good progressive way, otherwise I'd rather get stuck in the rut of good old familiarity. Unfortunately the state of local music culminates to a point in '99 where the well of inspiration runs dry, with a dearth of melodies that tickles the heart and a sickening entrapment within the pentatonic scales of rock n'roll, forever reinventing the same wheel and exploring new frontiers within their miserable box. Postrock and whatnot, when nothing can be juiced from rock music they moved on to do a perversion of classical music. What happens everywhere are devolution, regression and stagnation.
Well, so where does that leave the third (this time self-released album) from Concave Scream? This band is no doubt one of my most favourite Singapore band. They had something very special in their earlier works, the gist of a darkly intense, deeply emotional and melodically wonderful nature. Those guys always wear black and they seemed so anti-radio. Well, “Three” here sees a departure of their angry emotionally charged dark passion, and they make dreamy pop rock that have almost every moment screaming the radio favour of the month. No longer angry as before, the so called maturity also possibly sees them running out of ideas. Their lacklustre rendition of very typically modern Brit rock inspired droning sometime bordering on pussified shoegazing, sounds too often like sound which you can't remember after a while. Which is sad considering the fact that these guys used to mix U2, New Model Army and Slayer into a very potent concoction. Some tracks like “Near” and “Fiction” had promising starts, that unfortunately leads into the same endless dream pop drones loop. My most favourite track on this albym is ironically an instrumental, “Rewind”. It has got fantastic fret tappings, New Order/Joy Division kind of riffs and it did hark back to the earlier adventurous days of this band.
The album should be a good release if you are not me, because it has just got that very accessible pop/rock quality and you can't fault these talented musicians. “Three” saw them moving closer to the spotlight out from the miserable gloomy place known to the few sober drunkards as the underground and of course in the process alot more people heard their songs and some people probably would not mind downloading some mp3s into their collection. Though this release does not do it for me, I actually bought this album, because Concave Scream still holds dear a place in my heart. 1999 is a year best remembered for bands moving forward with gaining new fans and leaving many old fans stranded, while aimlessly trying to find that new sound and shedding away the formula that made them famous.