Saturday, June 20, 2009
KELVIN TAN- The Bluest Silence Digipack CD(Aporia Society 1998)
--sojourner at 12:25 AM
Art is open to interpretation, and it's usually subjective pertaining to individual perceptions. However, most people associate pretty stimulus as a superlative of beauty in art. That's for most normal people. Many delved into more “controversial and ugly” alternatives so as to speak, to suggest that subtle beauty of the cool and misunderstood. That's for most normal people who thought they are different. Few however don't give a fuck but live on in their insane existence making art that only pleases themselves. If you scratch the underbelly hard enough, there are your so-called underdogs who lived in mental/spiritual fringes, obsessed with their pursuit of that very curse called art, which has pretty much forfeited them the chance of living a normal life like your average Singaporean. If I think films, I think Toh Hai Leong, and if I think music, no doubt Kelvin Tan will come into my mental picture. He is one guy with an interesting approach to life and he can pretty much live up to the name as the most prolific artist in Singapore. I wouldn't be surprised if few years down the road he would have released his 100th album. Most of his works are very far out for most people, which can even be improvised freeform “noises” that wilfully don't make senses. Some might admire his guts and willpower, some thinks he has an immense passion for his kind of music, most see it as a sign of madness or pretension, for his albums hardly shift in units except that trickling support from the few fervent fans of his work, which incidentally included a professor in the list.
Mind you, Kelvin Tan he is not a no musical gene random noise-generator. And this Kelvin Tan is NOT that blind dude with a short shot at fame. He has been actively involved in music and literature since the '80s. You can find his presence in BigO often, he has written a Singaporean cult classic “All Broken Up and Dancing” (an essential literature during my teenage years), and he has led the role as the unpredictable guitar axeman in The Oddfellows. I first noticed his musical talent when I heard that song “She's So Innocent” from “Carnival”, and it is so beautifully composed and written in its simplicity that it made me feel jaded that such lovely ballads are not heard of ever since in Singapore until 1998, when Kelvin put out his solo debut “The Bluest Silence” and it's an album chock full of songs written in the same vein! Essentially, many would rate this as his best work, and of course nothing on this album sound like his more experimental, inaccessible later works.
“The Bluest Silence” in its entirety is an acoustic folk album like Bob Dylan updated to the more current sounds of the late '90s with a very heartlander feel. The catchy guitar chord works, the bluesy lead shredding, the well thought ot composition, deep lyrics and even right down to the voices of Kelvin Tan are exceptionally well done, especially the vocals aspect which many Singaporean musicians are struggling with. And he managed everything on this album from composition to performance all by himself.
The album begins with “Your World Ragged Shop”, a very strong number that suggest a tired metropolitan life and that very escape by faith and salvation, opening with lines “Heading through the headlights trying to get out of the daze, we came across the crossroads that unravelled into a maze, in your little Charade could the car bring us redemption?” “Fear and Trembling” is a darker, more somber song which could do proud in ahem, Leslie Low's solo work, although Kelvin was here first. Next comes an upbeat, melodic “She Sheds a Light” which was a 98.7 FM Top 10 hit, a beautiful ballad that is more sophisticated and say compared to his simple and kind “She's So Innocent” work from The Oddfellows, a beauty in a different light with saxophone accompaniment. “Jacqueline Among Her Flowers” is another ballad that appears in the same vein as “She Sheds a Light”, and of course it is written for a certain girl called Jacqueline. “Venus Defiled” is a song of a bitter ageing ex-beauty queen (and an actress) with heartwrenching lyrics like “Like the charms she used to taste, as is really an illusion, she asks herself in jest.””Icarus” and “William Blake's Ghosts” are an insight into Kelvin's literary interests which become more apparent, with a philosophical edge even, in his later works.
The packaging of this digipack album is worth mentioning also, with alot of effort put in the layout, the lyrics cardboards with illustrations and all that, making this look like a very hefty piece of productions. It is a pity though that this album is next to impossible to find, and considering the fact that Kelvin nowadays make rather simple DIY sleeves for his albums these days. Alot of people I've spoken to mentioned that tis a shame that Kelvin Tan did not make music like this anymore. In essence, it is still the same old Kelvin Tan, and to put it into perspective he makes great popular music with his debut, and great unpopular music much later on. It's a fine line between a genius and a madman, and I do think he has traversed both paths.