Wednesday, July 04, 2007
HUMPBACK OAK- SideASideB CD
(Springroll Music Pte Ltd 1999)
I've been particularly enthusiastic hence prolific in writing reviews these days so here I take this opportunity to round up the much awaited last in Humpback Oak's discography, the ever elusive “SideASideB”. However, from this point onward much of the mojo cannot be relieved because Humpback Oak is truly dead. I lamented how much magic was lost with the band's tiresome reunion on Rock for Wayne concert, and I wasn't even that interested in The Observatory or even Leslie Low's solo projects for that matter anymore. Much of the better memories were etched in the past and the name Humpback Oak is forever associated with the mystifying allure of "Pain-stained Morning", "Ghostfather" and "SideASideB". Humpback Oak, not just Leslie Low, but as a band will never be replicated, replaced or reunited. “SideASideB” is the genuine swansong, elegy and tombstone for, in my humble opinion, the greatest band in Singapore. And yet this release is not heard by many, including fans of Humpback Oak because Springroll folded up soon after the CD was pressed, which really trickles down to little exemplaries on this small island.
The title “SideASideB” holds multiple meanings to it. Some material here can be regarded as the B-sides from the Ngee Ann Poly/Ghostfather sessions. These songs are cleaned up efforts from their last outings and are largely acoustic guitar driven and based. These songs ironically are grouped in the “SideA” of this album labelled under “Here Comes The Nausea”. On the flipside “SideB” are experimental tracks to be consumed separately. These songs are made to sound like an avantgardish transcendance from the normal “oaksongs”. They are a natural progression steer headed into Soft Machine-like psych/jazz-folk fusion that led to the formation of The Observatory. Frankly speaking, this album does fall short of the kind of “atmosphere” found in the epics of “Pain-stained Morning” and “Ghostfather”, but it is good enough to conjure up the last visions of a world weary band intent to call it a last. And for the first time in the history of Humpback Oak, this album has protest songs.
SideA kicks off with “Kingdom”, with that familiar acoustical lure into its protest folk allure. This song sings of the very kingdom we are too familiar with, in a typical Dylan-esque twist that makes reference to alot of time the “seeds sown in disarray” and “bound for an island far away”. The highlight, in the good haunting way we know of Humpback Oak takes form in “Judas & I”, a very brooding and unsettling track that melds lost faith, betrayal and hurt into a wonderful concoction of really depressing passage like their earlier hauntings with “Deep Door Down”. Dejected folk crawl, through the darkest of Labrador Parks, Changi and Fort Cannings. “The Mist” is a gentler folk passage backed by the misty backing vocals of Meow, making the song a rather trippy experience to headswim. “Game For Blues” and “The Last Homegrown Lost Boy” are almost reminescent of “Ghostfather”, the carryover feeling of emotional folk rock experienced in the “Christ In Black”, delivering the same tortured cries of despair where we find the normally mild Leslie howling. “One Hell of A Country” is one funny track. The familiar folk instrumentation is there, but the vocals do some wicked rapping here, which even goes into X'Ho territory at his "rappiest". The simpler life ends and then comes a disjointed interlude to a whole new experience.
Here on, SideB has the acoustic guitar replaced by tweaking Fender Rhodes, creating a multi-dimensional soundpicture with experimentations in textures and most of the songs have a more upbeat nature than those on the SideA. SideB begins with “Lost Boy Or Girl”, a bluesy androgynous number that speaks and plays the confusing uncertainty, undecisiveness and irony of existence. “The Recycler” and “Technohuman” are two harshly modulated tracks with murky gains, the experience uplifted by the strong pulsing presence of the bass guitar. On “Modelcitizen”, the vocals was processed through harmonization and sounded muffled, perhaps to fit in to the repressed image created for this song. Another highlight track of this album, this song is an angst-ridden track voicing repression, “sure I'll like to be sexual, but I am a modelcitizen, good job and pay” and “I am a product of an experiment”. “Any Last Words” waltzes its way through with the passive progressive vibe of Pink Floyd, before the band made their final offering “One Big Happy Family”. An intense political rocking with such catchy chorus, “One pretty government, one big happy family”, making a witty closure to the whole Humpback Oak affair.
I believe this is pretty much the end, the journey's end for this bunch who would like to go down in history as felons united. I think the only misdemeanour of this band is the refusal to go on and make more albums. But alas all better things in life have shelf lifes, and maybe this should be more or less expected when they asked the fans in return, “any last words before expiration?” They heaved a last bit of consolation, patting us in the shoulders “take a deep breath, you deserve it”, and gracefully closed up the last good chapter of Singapore rocking, and when you look back you'll find yourself acquainted with a worthy force to reckon with, the last bastion of hope for local music. 1999, a thin filament over the millenium and changes beckon, and what we are left with are memories of the past. One might even count the end of Humpback Oak as the demise of Singaporean indie music. But life goes on. Thus since, the members ventured out into the wilderness of the real world and Leslie Low moved on with The Observatory and his solo projects. What's rest is history yet to be known.
--sojourner at 11:32 PM