Tuesday, June 26, 2007
HUMPBACK OAK- Ghostfather CD
(Springroll Creative Entertainment 1997)
The curtain fell and the pervading darkness enveloped the stage, blurred the vision and poisoned the mind. Everything became darker, bleaker and sadder it’s almost overkill. I predicted this introspective fold into the deeper recesses of the human soul wrecked by strings of events tied to its existence when Humpback Oak announced its second offering “Ghostfather”. I expected this as a natural progression to the stronger call for catharsis, he Leslie Low the troubadour (note how much it spells like trouble) would be too eager to show. This thin poet of existentialism somehow managed to turn this dramatic experience into a tragic intimacy. He is an interesting character study because the sheer complexity of his poetry grips your consciousness with huge dosage of empathy before one realizes that he is a master craftsman of tragedy. The fervent listeners were offered a glimpse of the tumultuous currents in the poet’s mind and given a boat to sail the meditation. Rest assured that this is not an easy ride, but when you sail its transient transit you will draw up the completion of life, its futility and its essence, like young Siddhartha on pilgrimage, or Jesus Christ on trials. Incidentally the demise of Leslie’s late father influenced this work, which all the more makes it more personal and depressing. Get ready your prozac and proceed.
The second album is iconoclastic, kafka-esque and indulgent. Humpback Oak probably did not expect this to be an accessible work in the tradition of “Pain-stained Morning” either. And they probably also understood that creating really moody pieces of work is their second nature. This is art, and this is not instantaneously attractive unless you have the right faculty to fathom the beauty in its essence. The caustic sound of the album reminds me of the murky depths with layers to be explored. This adventure in soundscaping is rather not common as it involves creating thickly enveloping ambience that still bears clarity when the musical notes are played at lower, heavier registers. Humpback Oak was heavily influenced by Red House Painters and it shows on this album with its droning folk-inspired guitars strumming in hypnotic repetition. The long brooding passages unfold myriad of emotive surge that ripples across its phlegmatic flow.
When “Scared Scarred” began, one can sense the eventual loss of innocence impending. While the debut album still holds some bits of redemption, here it is a barren land of the futile. The vocalisation sounds resigned as he whispers the one last torch song to his “beautiful blistering blind find”. Note the way of the lyrical play, this one is a poetry for a very forlorn longing, jaded and gentle. Musically it traverses the lost art of sensitive singer songwriter folk of the enigmatic Nick Drake and more recently the equally tragic Elliott Smith.
Religion has a prevalent presence between the debut album and this. The expulsion of an old “new reason, new freedom” leads to the final nihilism painted in “Christ In Black” for faith tested failed right at the doorstep of Leslie. As much as he questioned, he had to reach the conclusion that the silence is imminent. Swam steeped in the black currents he reached for “Balm”, a respite for his long meditations as he explained how to “take a break, a recreation of my depression and devotion”. It does not take a Freudian expert to see the desperation of this poet. “Home” is an indication of the subtle political inclination that blossomed on their third album “SideASideB”. Here the vocalist questions the value of his existence right at home here. The album of course has its lighter notes with “If I Go Wrong” and “Stressed Out”, both songs which came to terms with the absurdity of it all, dancing about architecture with its tongue-in-cheek sartire of miserable living, like a lazy shrug of defiance.
“I am a Jug” is a passage into psychedelia, tripped out in the same blood streaming through Jefferson Airplane's “White Rabbit”. Here the trip makes use of metaphorical symbolism with a fixation on the morphing of objects before coming to the conclusion that “I am a Drug”, a wordplay of the title. Incidentally, Jug is also the same name of Leslie Low's solo project band after he left Twang Bar Kings, prior to joining Humpback Oak. “If I Am Weak” plays the imagery of altruistic anti-hero, before the tyranny of the weak turns wicked on “Cursed”. Funny enough, “Bridge” is also another track which sees more of the altruistic anti-hero here, this time in a selfless yet helpless yearning to fix right the dire and bleak world we're living in.
The highlight here “Ghostfather”, the title track is the root of this bleak creation, the very same ghost that haunted and tortured this poet into such doom and gloom. The song is interpreted as an anguished eulogy to Leslie's late father, yet you can feel an immense regret, loss and sorrow welling up in his trembling vocals. The strain, the confusion one can also feel and smell and what with the unsettling “I live with my mother, I live with my ghostfather” line. This is pure genius. “Drop of Soul” could very well be the soundtrack to the real 12 Storeys, playing the predicament of unfortunate Singaporean tragedies that happen on daily basis as the cogs of society turns in cold precession. In the song, the vocalist plays the narrator to the dead suicide victim, saying “there's not a drop of soul left in there.” The twist to this tragicomedy is that the narrator is none other than the victim, his ghost staring helplessly at the broken body of what once used to be. From a death in HDB setting, comes a metaphorical death in the sea with “Oh The Load Heavy Don't Float”. This is rather the last stage of innocence lost as finally the last figment of memories faded off, washed into the infinitude of darkness as all is gone away. “Pain” closes off the album as an epilogue to the philosophy of it all. One finds wisdom in “pain is a void that life borrows”, which pretty much summarizes the whole experience of this dark journey.
From the lengthy reviews you could assume that “Ghostfather” is an exceptionally deep, profound and masterful work. While I was initially disappointed at the fact that this is not “Pain-stained Morning part II”, over time this CD has become one of the most spinned album on my stereos. And undoubtedly this is one of the most important album in the history of Singapore music.
--sojourner at 9:29 AM
Monday, June 25, 2007
THE BOREDPHUCKS- Banned In Da Singapura CD
--sojourner at 8:06 AM
DO NOT ASK- Just Play It! CD
(Pony Canyon Singapore Pte Ltd 1992)
To add to the posthumous sniff to this album, I was at the “Rock For Wayne” tribute concert few days ago to catch them bands paying tribute to the late Wayne Thunder, a well known musician amongst the local independent music circles who passed away couple of weeks ago. Of course being someone adamantly narrow-minded and old-school I was only there for the few, most notably the last Humpback Oak reunion, Force Vomit and Electrico. I felt out of place amongst them emo and neo-goth crowd, I felt so old. And I didn't see anyone particularly quite get the meaning of this concert, treating this as another event of fun and laughter, peace and joy. The moon phase's not on full so we did not get the chill, but I bet Wayne would have felt equally out of place. The spirit of rock n' roll was simply not there.
So everybody misses (or claims to) Wayne except Zoe Tay who probably had the last laugh, and the future of The Suns remained uncertain, but still life goes on. Here, out of respect for a great personality who would probably beat up those emokids if he's still alive, I decided to revisit the great Singaporean punk classic from The Boredphucks, appropriately titled “Banned In Da Singapura”.
This debut album by our favourite phucksters had Wayne turning up in the pseudonym “Sir Richard Tulan” and of course along with the other dudes “J-Bob” and “Sig Lendonn”. This album is a tongue-in-cheek sartire against censorship, never quite the same testy reaction expected since The Oddfellows sang about some asshole. They were perhaps bored, laden with raging hormones and mischiefs but they served up some of the most memorably punk ethos engrained in the immortality of compact discs. The songs and profanities are of course spewed forth from the sewage pipe with humourous lyricism, and every one of them is literally littered with fuck. They were uniquely Singaporean because they traded vulgarities in more than four different languages (with the necessary Singlish lingua franca that connected all races here) which evinced the interesting multicultural vibe of our garden city. They should have been given a medallion on racial harmony day but this cannot be seen through the short-sighted narrowminded range of the censors' eyes.
Musically they bore the snarky goofy touch of classic punk ala Sex Pistols, meets a dash of Naked City grind and madness, some coccaine-induced reggae and mushroom-triggered psychedelia, alot more Oi in veins of Sham 69, dirty nasty AC/DC hardrock and god knows what else. “Boredphuckin” rocks in pentatonic chords like a perversion of a jailhouse rock, with the mean street spirit parading for spars. “Ballad of Tabitha” is the fare of verse chorus verse The Clash/Ramones before the trepidation of college rock sets in slowly. “Kita Nak Seks” is a mishmash of reggae, surf punk and mod stirring sleazy lyrics in some of the most effective combo I've heard, with the “cao ang moh” line as particularly enlightening. “Old Man Kaupeh” is one of the most interesting filler I've heard with the dudes impersonating our dear old local heartlander doing his round of whining and “kao beh kao bu”, while “Cheryl” is a porn dub with twisted banjo playing and moaning “I love the Boredphucks!” “St.Pat's Classroom” is their tribute to the irritating teacher and it is summed up with “Phuckda Skool” in its glorious vengeance! Note: This CD has a hidden track, check out at your own discretion!
This great band like all cults of yesterday lived too fast and died too young, and of course Wayne is dearly missed by all people from under the radar, left of the dial. But life goes on, you're still going to pay your bills, worry about your CPFs and Zoe Tay still has her last laugh. Anyway the CD reviewed here is the original and it has went out of print within the few years it was released. Since then BigO has reissued the album with three bonus tracks. Get it before it's too late.
Singapore's music scene had been seriously screwed and skewered by its industry for a long time since the '70s, and if anybody can remember there was actually one record company that sought reconcilliation between the drifting factions in the '90s, a Japanese company by the name of Pony Canyon. They (and Paul Zach) taught us locals that we had some heroes amongst us who can actually rock, sometimes better than a foreign artist with extensive radioplay and suddenly we saw local faces on CD covers. Of course there were certainly some cautious calculations on their part, and albeit low profit margin, they put out some damn fine acts with professional treatment (meaning expensive studio budget, and their trademark thick CD booklets).
Do Not Ask (DNA) was on their catalogue CS00020 and they certainly did Pony Canyon and us locals proud with a one of a kind treasure of an album “Just Play It!” released in 1992. DNA, led by the local rock goddess personality Dulcie Soh started writing furiously for their debut album since 1991 when their song “One More Night Alone” was featured in an SBC (Singapore Broadcasting Corporation) documentary. At that point DNA fitted just right in the bill with their complete package of hard rocking attitude leather jackets outfit and what not, and they even had their personal stylists. Before grunge took off in the later parts of early '90s by storm, DNA was perhaps the last bastion of genuine “true old school big hair” hard rockers who actually can play their guitars.
Rock N' Roll was growing lamer by the day and most of '90s radio rock staples were actually commercial love songs played with electric guitars. DNA however drew inspiration from the prime movers, with marked influences from the femme fatale of rock n'roll Vixen, Lita Ford, the god of wankers Joe Satriani and the mandatory Led Zeppelin and Uriah Heep. Not as wild as Edgar's Fault and not as creepy as Elaine Kang this band treaded Adult Oriented Rock territory with heavy edge, apparent in tracks like “Rockin' Radio” and “(Another) Sad Story”, “Steal My Heart”which has the right amount of attitude to do a Heart. They also did not shy away from the soft side, with sparse amount of keyboard synth sound to go they created some really atmospheric numbers that epitomised the free spirit that is the rock siren of Dulcie Soh, like “Edge of A Dream”, “Flame”. “One More Night Alone” is pure synth based ballad with Dulcie's haunting melancholia seeping through a crestfallen vocals. Towards the end of the CD they did a cover of The Rascal's “Good Lovin'”, bluesy but also surprisingly modern.
After the debut was released Dulcie shed her rock image for polished sophistication and along with most of her bandmates, except Jeff Long, the core member of DNA. One year later she got Herey Teper on bass and together they formed Radioactive, a band that was immensely popular back in the early '90s with really out of this world hits on radio (pun intended). All the rest is history. This CD “Just Play It” may be an especially tough find these days, much rarer than the most covetted Humpback Oaks and Lilac Saints, but it is an essentially mandatory listen for anybody remotely interested in the transition of rock n'roll's former glory in the history of Singaporean music. For we don't quite rock like this anymore.
--sojourner at 3:54 AM