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rock in the fine city
'80s-'90s singapore independent music archives
Saturday, January 05, 2008
(Springroll Creative Entertainment Agency Pte Ltd 1997)

I'm sure I will get railed for suggesting this album as emo but that is aphorism. Intense ardor of emotion is exuded from here like a broken man cut adrift and drowned in drama, in my word, the true emo before the current swank. I am a very big fan of this amazing album because they have managed to create very personal music that stimulates every point of palpitations on your temperamental humoric territories with nothing but pure emotions. “Erratic” according to the band is odd, irregular, uneven, eccentric; following an irregular course according to Concave Scream's dictionary. However, the band did not fall victim to the old sophomorism syndrome after the hugely successful debut and instead they reinvented the old wheel for a ride of their lifetime. Much has been praised about this album, simply because like all great works of art, it inspires many reactions. My reaction is that this album proved that Concave Scream had transcended Singaporean music to higher plateaus, marking the passing of a “rock like our heroes” era into the “make our own music shine” era. Make no mistake, “Erratic” can only be performed by Concave Scream and it's not easy to drop comparisons anymore, where I am tempted to throw U2 and New Model Army out of the window. Because this is simply Concave Scream where it stands.

“Erratic”, how appropriately named. To err is human, and this album is too human. No quaint adventure into surrealism or high-minded spiritual poetry, this work speaks to you soul baring in your face matter-of-factly from the implicit lyrics to the heartfelt and raw edgy passionate dark atmospheric and gritty melancholic music that really drips with so much emotions that make one fall to his knees. Seriously this album is best enjoyed on your knees because you will quiver the moment the opener “Caged” wrench your heart into strips with its extremely dolorous guitar riff played by the legendary Pann. One thing that also comes immediately to mind is how incredible the production actually sounds. The punching metallic guitar sound and the powerful drum wave runs with extreme clarity and heaviness, accentuated by the dark rumbling bass. After immersing in the powerful texture and the agony of the wailing lead guitar the tortured vocals of Sean broke into the soundpicture.. “tonight ends too late”, setting open the pandora box of misery that follows throughout the course of the album. The sheer engagement of the music is like a key that fits one's afflicted heart making for a really spine-chilling shudder.

The metallic background of Concave Scream (especially Pann since he originally came from a death metal outfit Silent Sorrow) shines on the second track “In Your Face” which is nothing less than in your face in every literal sense of the word. There is enough moment on this track with its punishing riff execution chugging heaviness. Confrontational and anguished. Next comes the moment, the legendary cult number “Driven” which is a very sad ballad played to mid-tempo. I cannot remember how many times I've played this song to death because every moment of it is pure genius. I'm sure when Concave Scream penned this they would have realized that this is a definite hit material. I really felt tempted to drop a Police and U2 reference here but I shall keep my mouth shut (or my fingers away) for a while. The haunting rhythm is laidback and gloomy at the same time, like picturing yourself driving all alone on the highway. This song may be written as something simple like suffering a breakup but the nuances and accents really makes a good suffer. One of the best track ever that got Concave Scream very famous.

“Shattered” is a creepy gloomy number played with sedated repetition of dissonant notes played on acoustic guitar that gets sadder nearing its climax, joined by funereal violin line that accentuates the darkness and the wistful harmonization of vocals. Concave Scream can really play some of the darkest, saddest music and if you want more of the sad acoustic guitar driven suicidal folk ballads you can also find them on “Fade”, “Grey” and “Hush”. “State” is a more upbeat atmospheric rock song with a more dreamy edge, with airy modulated phaser guitar rhythm and a hypnotic drum pattern. Other songs which follows similar patterns are “Shallow Water” and “Gone”. “Down” like “In Your Face” is another more metallic song on “Erratic” but while the former is angry, this track paints a picture of fiery dread, with its cascading doom metal notes. Some of the other raging metal tracks are “Manipulator” and “Prey” which has a very interesting horror soundtrack influenced intro.

Really, every Concave Scream tracks are masterfully crafted, memorable and proficiently executed. But the band gets its biggest prize for having found their own sound. Every Concave Scream songs I noted have those really brilliant lead guitars that play creative melodies (and amazing fret tappings) that transcends above the mundane nature of many standard rock bands, exploring unconventional scales that seamlessly meld into the emotive rhythm guitars. And those painful tortured vocals, effortlessly hitting the right notes at the right change of temperament in the flow of the album. I can't say enough how much I love this album. “Erratic”, like many Concave Scream titles are unfortunately out of print and very rare, and to date I don't see any effort by record companies reissuing these monumental albums for the sake of common decency. Thankfully, the band managed to outlive the common destiny of many dead Singaporean bands with their deserving longevity in the local music scene (if there is a scene at all).

--sojourner at 7:08 AM
Thursday, January 03, 2008
WATCHMEN- Democracy CD
(Odyssey Music Pte Ltd 1993)

1993 was the year we saw the Singapore presidential election being contested. But alas what “Democracy” is here to stay but the power of pop from The Watchmen, whose name was inspired by Alan Moore's comics? Earlier that year they made their first CD appearance on BigO's “New School Rock III” compilation and had their brisk bask in spotlight when “Orchard Road”, one of the featured tracks was aired on radio and made into a music video, notwithstanding the fact that the mastermind Kevin Mathews penned his first music since 1979 and had released a couple of demo tapes, one of the most notable mention being the cult “This Savage Garden” demo which had garnered very positive acclaims. But what really paid off the twenty years of tormenting artistic accidie was a Perfect 10 Number One hit “My One And Only”, from this very debut album that I am reviewing. This song was the perfect pleasing paen of love in a simpler time 15 years ago when I was a impressionable teenager easily falling in love. While “Circling Square” had me falling out of love but enough of that. I can't name off my head any local songs even barely grazing the Perfect 10 top ten spots besides “My One And Only” and if it was that successful we owed it to the power of pop! Pop by definition means popular music and if Watchmen could make real pop then who really cares about the underground?

While most Singaporeans choose to make a premature drift into retirement upon hitting the 30s, the more seniorly Watchmen were only just reaching their musical primes. “Democracy” definitely sits well with the older music fans as they paid homage to the bluesy country/folk rock sound for a more jaded generation. However, this unit perfectly captured the timeless quality of those bands with a modern, even relevant gamemanship that stokes the good spirit of our heartlanders. Just listen to the upbeat Motown merriment and get versed with the quirky protest on the opener “The Highcost of Living”. Doesn't “the more you pay, the more you have to pay!” strike you all too familiar? This is up my alley! Watchmen are virtuosos of gentle and catchy incredible harmonies, and often time the music reminds me of a hearty cross between The Beach Boys and Elvis Costello even right down to the pitch perfect vocals from Kevin Mathews (who also just about handled most instruments on this album).

“My One And Only” is simply one of the best Singapore composition ever. But this album is not just based on the merit of this track. Indeed it is chock full of memorable songs. Most of the songs are rather light pleasant numbers that goes easy on the ears, like “Angela Part Two” (dedicated to Kevin's wife) with its bright enticing tropical-like winds, “Details”, a laidback gentle acoustic number akin to Gram Parson's country/folk visions, although “Mister Ong”, one of my most favourite track off this album carries a dark undercurrent which belies its upbeat rhythms and jovial harmonica punctuations. “Bus Funk” sees another side of Watchmen with what else but pure funk of the James Brown school while dishing out on an interesting ride on bus service 14 to selling away parents to buy a car, haha typically Singaporean. However, not all is bright and sunny on “Democracy”. “This Savage Garden” is a rather plaintive introspective number that meditates on existence and its equivocal escape. It starts out with a soundscape of ambient intro before giving way to 10cc-like piano keys painting the whole sound picture with a very foreboding imminent doom.

Just like the Force Vomit review I written two days ago, this album review is long overdue. “Democracy” is one of the best written Singaporean album that will sadly go into oblivion given the lack of attention from many of Singaporeans who don't care about local music, which is ironic in a sense that they had a Number One hit on radio, voted by who else but Singaporeans themselves. Anyway, c'est la vie life is indeed an irony. Like Singapore as a democracy. So don't take the album cover painted by Eric Khoo too're one squashed powerless mozzie in the face of tyranny-saurus rex.

--sojourner at 5:37 AM
Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Ever since the advent of industrial music, the local underground community had seen a surge of musicians from the marginal techno frontier creating post-industralized/apocalyptic visions upon our Metropolis. Zircon Lounge conceived the cold wave, Corporate Toil toiled the tradition and in the early 90s several cyberpunks came into the picture, bands like Avant Garde, Rocket Scientist, Kim, The Raw Fish. But there was one band that refused to label itself as cyberpunk and acknowledged its key influence to lie in iconoclasts like Einsturzende Neubaten. It's the strange strange world of Convent Garden, a one man army from a dark visionary by the name of Jay. He had previous outings in Trip, but the sound on Convent Garden proved to be his most proficient vision of a futuristic electronic age. On his debut demo released as a self-titled in 1992, ambient electronical music are spawned from a fusion of abrasive cold guitars and hypnotic drum machines. And to add to that, vocals from the depths of biomechanical hell (think Giger). The demo begins with "Deception City" with a Journey vocals sampled backwards and it is a black humoured satirical poke at politicians. The track that made this demo famous was "Dreamscape", an ambient piece with nightmarish effects. In the current musical climate of boyscout guitar jangling kids, the future of music seems to point at the past.

--sojourner at 2:33 AM

(Snakeweed Records 1998)

“Mantra” is one exceptional local album that explores the rainbow coloured spectrum of spirituality in music, a rousing blend of psychedelic swagger and metal fusion. Psychedelia of this age is a placebo but Neural Vibe hit it right on the spot with its potent medicine. Neural Vibe's debut album so excellently provides an esoteric, cognitive landscape of surrealistic passage for deep meditations, yet drives a point with a tremendous energy experienced in the metallic riffings and all the rage. This exceptional album is another excellent product from Leonard Soosay's Snakeweed Records catalogue which has once again defied convention and found individuality. Check out the label my dear readers for some good headswim for this new age.

Anyway, Neural Vibe is essentially an ethnic fusion tribal metal band with strangely superlative presentation and a perfect package both music and sound-wise. The music has an inclination towards magical Indian-styled raga which can be felt in the carnal scales played. However, the guitar replaced the sitar and the drums is played like the tabla. They manage to make the ethnic/rock fusion interesting, without sounding like a Culture Vulture struggling with too many kitschs. Vocals-wise the singer sounds like Chris Cornell on a lower register meets a higher register Eddie Vedder when he's subdued and Layne Staley when angry. Music-wise there is two very big distinctions. One part of it is like Indus Creed, with more Shankar in it than the formulaic rock in which the former is known for. Such influences are found in more LSD-induced tracks like “Free My Soul”, “Beyond” and the environmentally-conscious nature trip of “(My) People Are Trees”. The other part is more metallic, which can range from the sometimes Indian vibe on Soundgarden, to the full out brutality of Soulfly and they are found on “Vicious Cycle”, “Applewhite” (dedicated to the 39 star trekkies of the Heaven's Gate), “Kamadewa”, “Apart”, “cpw201”...

It scarcely lets up from there. I'd always maintain that there are some bands in Singapore who manage to steer in line with their own orientation and settle on unique niches. Neural Vibe is one of them but it's been a good ten years ago since this album was released. Sometimes I feel that yesterday was more exciting than tomorrow and it appears to be the case here. Let's see if I can get my dirty hands on some funny mushrooms with Neural Vibe on full blast to go back several notches in time and I'll tell you the result when I'm back. Keep your fingers crossed.

--sojourner at 1:22 AM

Album Reviews

Anesthesia- Anesthesia CD Astreal- Ouijablush CD AWOL- Midnight In June CD Band of Slaves- 45 MCD Bird Brains- Peanut Butter Jelly Sandwich CD The Black Sun- The Black Sun CD The Boredphucks- Revolution 69 MCD The Boredphucks- Banned In Da Singapura CD Chris Ho- Nite Songs In Day-Glo CD Concave Scream- Concave Scream CD Concave Scream- Erratic CD Concave Scream- Three CD Daze- Sexy Little Boy MCD Do Not Ask- Just Play It! CD Edgar's Fault- Edgar's Fault CD Fection Dasche- Eternal Transgression CD Flying Pills- Flying Pills CD Force Vomit- The Furniture Goes Up CD Global Chaos- The Art of Listening CD Humpback Oak- Pain-stained Morning CD Humpback Oak- Ghostfather CD Humpback Oak- SideASideB CD Humpback Oak- Oaksongs Boxset Impiety- Asateerul Awaleen CD Kelvin Tan- The Bluest Silence CD Lilac Saints- Awake CD The Lizard's Convention- Here's a Funny Fish, Hurrah! CD The Mother- A Dark Trip On The Ill Tip CD Mutation- Void of Disharmony EP Neural Vibe- Mantra CD The Oddfellows- Teenage Head CD The Oddfellows- Carnival CD The Ordinary People- It's A Weird Existence CD The Padres- BigO Singles Club #1 MCD The Padres- What's Your Story MCD The Pagans- Stereokineticspiraldreams CD Radio Active- Eyes In The Attic CD Starfish n Coffee- Ghost MCD Stompin' Ground- Measured By The Richter Scale CD Stoned Revivals- Golden Lovesongs From The Evil Island of The Handsome Tropical Cannibals CD Sugarflies- And That's Why CD Watchmen- Democracy CD Watchmen- Love MCD Zircon Gov.Pawn Starz- Follywood CD Zircon Lounge- Regal Vigor LP Various Artists- +65 Indie Underground 3 CDs Set Various Artists- Left of The Dial CD Various Artists- The Substation 10 Years & Counting (Rock The Garden) CD Various Artists- 12 Storeys CD Various Artists- New School Rock MCD
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