Monday, April 06, 2009
THE ORDINARY PEOPLE- It's A Weird Existence CD(Tim Records/Odyssey Music Pte Ltd 1993)
--sojourner at 5:03 AM
ASTREAL- Ouijablash CD(Springroll Creative Entertainment Agency Pte Ltd 1996)
There is a fine line between The Ordinary People and The Oddfellows. One is ordinary, the other is odd, but they are both such nerdy, earthly, humble and pot-bellied bands who can carry a tune. They may not be the most impressive looking people (indeed they are much less than impressive if you see their photos in the liner notes!) but they can seriously rock like no tomorrow. There is no pretension or posing of artistry from this band, you know, that typical levitation into the strata of high mindedness or the construction of meaningless abstract pseudo-intellectual proses typical of many Singapore bands... This band simply rock out their numbers straight in your face with their bouncy teenage naivete and the simplicity of their expression, which at times seems like the second coming of “Teenage Head”. The Ordinary People, led by the multi-talented Chang Kang had already garnered a good reputation amongst the local indie observers with his early heartfelt demo recordings of just simple acoustic numbers with a heart, even before the release of this debut album.
Their debut CD album titled “It's a Weird Existence” is one of the landmark local release that defined the “Singapore Sound”, which is in a way both good and bad. The Ordinary People may be an alternative band, but therein their rockings contain a laidback, heartlander soul that could be found on few bands like The Oddfellows, The Amateurs (a very impressive much forgotten demo-level band) which eventually trace back to the source: in Xinyao (local Mandarin folk pop)! I hope the band will take this as a flatter. The bad thing about this album (and along with many Singapore albums), like how many of the critics and detractors of local music like to put it, lies in the vocals, which may seem unrefined, offkey or having that funny Singlish accent to them. I personally actually find this rather endearing, for this is the earthly charm of our indie music with our unique creole exemplified. The guitars are loosely tuned and loosely strummed, and the band probably don't give a hoot to tabulations and musical notes, which really adds to the allure of this band.
Musically, The Ordinary People rocks the alternative faculty, with substantial modern power pop influence in the veins of Teenage Fanclub and The Posies, add a dash of folk and roots sounds. The album is full of memorable numbers that has this youthful exuberance coursing through its veins. Like the opener “Ready To Be Confused”, there is a ball of rolling enthusiasm and urge after quiet guitar ringings and the blithesome harmonica turns this into a twirling nerdy angst-ridden lament. “No Regrets” is a melodic number waxing lyrical about nostalgia, the good times, old friendships and such, which brings a feel good feeling in the heart, with a catchy chorus that makes a great sing-along. “Older Now” is one of the two acoustic guitar numbers on this album, reminescent of Chang Kang's early works, and it is soulful, tuneful and backed by a female vocals courtesy of Charlene Pang. “Slip Away” is the other one, and this song is a slightly plaintive but still hopeful meditative passage performed with acoustic guitar and harmonica. One of the dearest aspect I observe about this band is how they always maintain that big positive vibe throughout the whole album, which speaks volume about their personality. And in such sad times (economic recession, impending danger of great depression and war), this is one thing that makes The Ordinary People shines like the cheery sun, from the rest of the negative doom-mongers singing about how sad they would hope to be.
--sojourner at 2:28 AM
MUTATION- Void of Disharmony 7" EP (Die Hard Version)(Nuclear War Now! Productions 2006/1992)
Back in the early '90s, I had this serious infatuation with shoegazing bands and when I hear The Pagans (Singapore's version of Ride meets Chapterhouse), you can imagine me sobbing to its hip swaying headswim on Boss pedal effects. After that period we had bands like The Mother and Breed (pre-Astreal) with their wall of art-noise Curve sounding demos. But the biggest name in the history of shoegazing in Singapore if it's not The Pagans, then it is very much Astreal. After Pagit left Breed, the remaining members roped in a particular Melissa Lim for the vocals and they created their unique art noise dream homage of a My Bloody Valentine with Astreal. My first exposure to this band was with the BigO Singles Club 3, which features their song “Stay Awake”, leaving quite an impression with its interesting texture and engaging melody .
Somewhere in 1996, Astreal put out their debut “Ouijablush”, which upon first look reminds me of the cheap techno/dance compilations put out by VMP. But this is extreme indie, very dreamy and sonically rich ambient rocking high on helium. The opener “Just a Dream” is 11 on gain and grating to the max, but a beautiful tune is laid in its architecture, and here the vocals sounds like ghostly whispers which occasionally breaks into clarity. “Wait” is a much more melodic song with a strong Slowdive influence in its structure, and where I can get to hear Melissa's amateurish yet irresistably charming voices. Her airy vocalisation shines on “To The Velvet”, a song which is low on feedbacks and woven by clear, slightly reverbed guitars. The more upbeat songs on this CD are “Stay Awake”, “Vir-Uno”, “Take My Hand”, driven by infectiously energetic programmed beats. “A Blue and Yellow Glow” may be an instrumental, but it is ironically the most complex track on this album, with its beautiful layers of wonderfully chiming instrumentations that aids a spirit into heavenly realms under the right influence.
The debut itself is a very gentle, psychedelic foray into the kaleidoscope of dreams. Subsequently, the band has witnessed few lineup changes, with the participation of Ginette Chittick (previously from Psycho Sonique) in their rosters and the band has since ventured into a darker electronica realm with their sophomores, which is still good, if not better than the debut. However, there is an allure of the mid '90s Astreal that warms the heart in a way that is snug as a bug in the rug.
--sojourner at 2:25 AM
Saturday, April 04, 2009
FLYING PILLS- Flying Pills CD(Mospleen Records/Compass 1999/1997)
Before extreme metal has gotten the kind of popularity and hype these days, most of the people in the early '90s tend to associate the music with stereotypes in racial, religious and even moralistic aspects, which can be very far fetched and exaggerated. However, it does have its basis when it comes down to the group of people who would readily accept this music form. Malays can pride themselves with a long, enduring tradition in rock/heavy metal that has been very well estabished since the old Geylang Serai scene. And on the hindsight it is pretty uncommon to hear Chinese people playing or even listening to metal especially with this generally prude and less adventurous population (which maybe makes me weird because I am Chinese and I listen to metal).
Well, Mutation for that matter is a death metal band led by Roy Yeo, who is as Chinese as Jackie Chan sounds like to you and they have a reasonably big impact in the underground. The band besides Roy who does vocals (and who very much later runs Pulverised Records) also consisted of Yiu Leng Hiang on guitars/bass and the godly Ayong handling the drum kits (who is a Malay with a cult reputation for playing in Singapore's legendary Leviathan, and of course most famous for his role in Stompin' Ground and his label Dies Irae Productions). Their 1991 demo “Malignant Existence” is arguably one of the best death metal demos that ranked highly up there with other cult classics like the Abhorer and Profancer. I remember to heart the scary intro with monks chanting at a funeral procession before hell breaks loose with the deathly blasting monstrosity of “Nocturnal Reincarnation”, haunting my dreams ever since.
This "Void of Disharmony" 7” EP I am reviewing right now is the much anticipated reissue of unreleased recordings from 1992, kudos to the great work from Nuclear War Now, a label specialising in the filthiest and most extreme of cult metal. I am extremely privileged to get myself a copy of the “Die Hard” version of this release, which features coloured vinyl, a poster, a sticker and a nicely embroidered patch. Here, Mutation has somewhat updated themselves with a more brutal and modern sound. There is one track here “Cannabilistic Horror” which was originally from the '91 demo, but with a more prominent guitar sound, better productions and a more brutal death vocals. The other track is the rare unreleased one, titled “Ceased To Be”, which is played in the same tradition, heavily inspired by the chugging grating bludgeoning of Swedish bands like Grave, Dismember, etc. The other notable band playing in the same style at that time is Silent Sorrow, who has later cleaned up their acts and became the Concave Scream that everybody likes.
I am always happy to review a metal release, since my background is metal. It is an acquired taste for the permanently head damaged and I am glad that's the way it is. But being the skeptical fogey I am, I have an exclusive taste only for Singapore's late '80s to early '90s death metal like Mutation for example. Nowadays, I find many so-called local metal bands playing broken wristed and diluted "metal" very distasteful yet they carry so much attitude with their arrogant mannerism and outfit. Back in those days, metalheads with their t-shirt and jeans moved in the crowd like wolves in sheep clothing. The new kids are really sheep in wolves clothings with their fanciful adornment and whatnot. In that period, when even the leftest of the dial alternatives are somewhat denounced and reprobated in our local climate, the ones who dared to scream, thrash and bash to utter anarchic subversion stood out as the true rebels. Respect for the true underground of the past.
--sojourner at 9:41 PM
STOMPIN' GROUND- Measured By The Richter Scale CD(Smoke/Pony Canyon Entertainment 1995)
I have a weakness for all-females bands playing heavier music than their male counterparts. It is fascinating to hear how this gentle gender are capable of churning out bottom heavy evil riffings and hitting aggressive vocal ranges. My most recent purchase is a Gallhammer CD, a Japanese all-girl sludge death metal band that paid homage to Hellhammer, Amebix and Eye Hate God. In Singapore, there's not many all-females outfit doing heavy shit, and from my hazy memories I can recall Psycho Sonique who scored it pretty big in the '90s with their energetic girly punk, and this band I am reviewing, Flying Pills, who had a sound that was later found on the exquisitely progressive art gothic metal/rock Lunarin (which technically speaking is not really an all female outfit).
Flying Pills put out an album sometime in 1999, but the material I believe was originally written in 1997. What I like about them is their big Black Sabbath (and other heavy metal) influence in their music. They also have this very free spirited sound that traverses rugged chick rock, with a voice from vocalist Zarina that is deeply soulful, accentuated expressively across a wide vocal range, especially with that painfully angry caw and tongue rollings characteristic of Tori Amos, to Alanis Morissette and The Cranberries (and later on in Lunarin as well), sounded wounded yet proudly feminist. While this is no “Jagged Little Pill”, Flying Pills evokes a rather similar passive aggressive bundle that is naked with raw emotions.
I happen to like alot “Yourself” and “Bitter Faith”, two exceptionally heavy numbers with its Black Sabbath moments. Many other tracks here are soulful hobo jangle like “Who's Innocent”, “Foolish One”, and “Riot Dame”. Their music sometimes tread a fine line away from female-fronted pub rockers, and they would probably make a fine one at that if they intend to head that way. Local releases are hard to track down due to very low amount of copies released but this Flying Pills debut is particularly one tough find although it was released only in 1999. Not to mention that this album has got a very nice silver foil logo on the mysterious black cover, which makes this a nice addition to any self respecting Singapore music collection.
--sojourner at 6:56 AM
THE ODDFELLOWS- Carnival CD(Tim Records 1992)
If a real earthquake strikes Singapore, we would all be doomed. But how about a groundbreaking band that is so sonically powerful that it needs to be measured by the richter scales? We get more hardcore. This band has left a huge impact in the local music scene since its activities were first reported, and any lion city hardcore musicians will somehow point backwards at Stompin' Ground as the premier hardcore gargantuan of local music. This band is often credited for spurring the whole hardcore punk establishment in Singapore. I had followed the band since their very early days. I remember fondly how Hafidz pranced about with a bucket on his head, and how “botak” my dear friend Ayong is. Back in '89, there was not as much fun in the scene with pop/rock, but everywhere there's plentisome metal, hardcore and punk with demos that even made themselves famous across the globe, something that is unfortunately seldom acknowledged amongst the current elitist indie rockers in the scene. The wave created by those bands like Stompin' Ground, Opposition Party, Mindrape Protestants, Global Chaos, and Rotten Germ (a band which had actually influenced U2's drumming when they were in Singapore!) swept through the lion city and subsequently we see the cohorts of famous names like Voice Out, Retribution, Four Sides and Obstacle Upsurge bringing hardcore to greater heights after been inspired by the legends.
In 1995, “Smoke” label, a subsidiary of Pony Canyon tailored to releasing more extreme bands put out the debut Stompin' Ground album aptly titled “Measured By The Richter Scales”. Earlier on, the band had found fame in their “Grey” demo days back in '91, appearing on BigO's “Lion City Hardcore” compilation in 1993, and put out their debut EP “We Set The Pace” in the same year. On “Measured By The Richter Scales”, the productions is powerfully strong and the music is truly bottom heavy with groundtrembling sonics and chugging riffings. When “Tunnel Vision” kicks off this CD, the soundpicture caves in like a monstrous bulldozer. The basslines are frenzied and hypnotizing on “From Within”, with Hafidz snarling hoarse with intense angst and Ayong's need fluid drum patterns with alot of play on the peddles. “Ages” is more straight ahead with melodic riffings, with very disturbing lyrics directed at parents who lost their kids due to neglect. “Better Day” is dedicated to the hardcore scene calling for unity, and which is partially stemmed from an incident in the past; back in a Kuala Lumpur gig in '94 when the band got booed off stage by a group of Nazi punks. “Betray” is a cover of Minor Threat's classic punk anthem and it is often played at shows to rabid response. There are two bonus tracks on this album, namely “Generator” and “Life”. The two tracks are killer hardcore and Red Hot Chilli Pepper-like funk fusion with plenty of grooves.
The hardcore scene has died down considerably quite alot in recent years, with many extreme music lovers shifting focus either to the trendy modern black/death metal, or reintegrating back into fashionable norms with the current retro-indie and emo. Back then, many hardcore musicians took themselves very seriously and at some point, alot of the straight edged positive mindset driven factions even function like highly disciplined monks, with extremely tight ethics, strong ethos and principled living. This is pretty much unlike the impressionable, susceptible and “sensitive” crowd we often see a lot these days. Unfortunately throughout the years there's too many infightings amongst extreme music fans with mob mentality, them punks, skins, skas, metalheads and whatnot. Worst still, there's always the threat of the racist/fascistic infiltrations to further manifesting, poison and divide the scene, making the underground precarious and unpleasant. I remember very well a warning that came from the hardcore scene during the “Lion City Hardcore” days,”...united we stand, divided we fall...”
--sojourner at 5:23 AM
Before the star dimmed for Humpback Oak, The Oddfellows had already known the languishing spotlight. The music scene of today care not for down to earth, humble ordinary-looking heartlanders who sincerely want to rock out with all their heart and soul. And for The Oddfellows, add bulging tummies and receding hairlines. I wouldn't be surprised if The Oddfellows have no groupies at all, save for that few odd and queer Bachelors of Engineering taking “So Happy” too literally. To be frank with you, The Oddfellows is indeed not relevant in this age where you need really lots of hair on your scalp, and a scrawny, wimpy frame to complete the emo package. Patrick Chng, the main guy behind this band probably saw that coming long time ago before deciding to call it quits and moved on to his other endeavours. Kelvin Tan (not the other one who is blind), the lead guitarist guy from The Oddfellows also moved on to do solo and to this date had released more than fifty (!!!) albums, which undoubtedly made him Singapore's most prolific musician. From what I've read, their debut album “Teenage Head” did not do very well in sales (although it's a mystery where those remaining stocks have gone? Burnt?) and likewise the same goes for “Carnival”, the second album from these veterans, and which I am going to review here. Both albums however are historically very relevant. Almost every local musicians have cited these works as the most influential Singapore indie rock albums of the '90s, and just like “Teenage Head”, “Carnival” has scored hits with songs like “Unity Song” and “Goodbye”. I can almost empathize with Patrick Chng when he refused BigO's offer to reissue the two legendary albums, because it would indeed be pointless to do so. The real Oddfellows fans would have bought the albums already, be it in CD or cassette form and of course the best rockings are exclusively reserved to the fanclubs of fan's memories.
The Oddfellows on this album sees the departure of Wai Cheong, and the inclusion of two other old affiliates namely Vincent Lee on bass, and the multi-talented Kelvin Tan who shred guitars. When you break down “Carnival”, you find a Carny within. There is a reason why these bunch of guys are known as The Oddfellows. They are freakishly unique with alot of talent hanging out like meat which you would either wince away or take a bite. I assume that probably at that juncture, Patrick was facing his mid 20s crisis. On “Goodbye”, he mentioned “...oh I'm 25 and still doing things I like, lost enough to know what I really need to find...” He would have made up his mind, packed up his bag and left the crossroads and headed for lifelong dedication in the music scene. “Carnival” has very beautiful music that sounds like it was made by shy, socially awkward misfits who has a heart of gold. This is as awkwardly beautiful as Tracey Thorn from Everything But The Girl, and like her with outstanding soul.
“Don't Fight” begins the album with a very cheery Husker Du meets Reivers kind of energy, melodic and yet punk rocking at the same time. The naivete and enthusiasm of this track is a very purposeful starter of this “Carnival” experience. When it comes to “Goodbye”, the band gets gently melancholic in a very real, earnest manner. Like I've mentioned earlier, this song is suggestive of the uncertainties that Patrick and company is facing, and the uncertainties that Patrick is facing inside. The mood changes with “Unity Song”, the highlight of this album with its soaring uplifting melodies ala 10000 Maniacs and positive feel that exudes from the beautiful lyrics and music. The jingly-jangle quality of its bright pop easily made it a frequent on airwaves. “Walter Says” is an observant social commentary with drum machine driven beats. On “Pretty Faces”, The Oddfellows head back to their old punk roots along the line of “Lost My Head”, with its upbeat rhythm and loud, brash riffings. “She's So Innocent”, an acoustic number written by Kelvin Tan is exceptionally touching and beautiful. It is a very simple and heartfelt torch song dedicated to a particular Jacqueline Fan and it has that beautiful “nerd crush lament” that flows through its entirety in its unique Oddies ways. “Carry On” sounds like straight from the chapter of The NoNames with its infectious reggae beats and good spirits. Things became very twisted and dark with “Why Don't You Try To Find Out?”, written by Vincent Lee. It has a got a dejected and painful undertone, with subtle implications on sexuality, isolation, and depression. I do not know the real answer, so why don't you try to find out or ask Vincent if you care? Haha, ok ok it's about AIDS.
“Carnival” is refreshing for their time because they understand that indie pop/rock is meaningless without good melodies and words. They have the tunes and words to endear themselves to a whole generation of local music listeners and in the process probably inspired many would be musicians. The Oddfellows has succeeded in creating a work that is compelling without resorting to the high minded art garbage that many bands these days are striving to become, because they are playing themselves on this record, being Oddies, simple, slightly quirky heartlanders with a heart. It is a pitiful and sad thought that I will probably be the last person on Earth writing something about this band before the tiny red dot disappears in say 50 years down the road. For 99% of the readers out there, you probably would not be able to find this classic Singapore album anywhere since it, along with many supposedly low selling but rare local classics, simply poofed into thin air into limbo. But if you do, keep it stashed well, treasure it, for the Carny will not come to this tiny town anymore.