Monthly Archives: February 2009

#165 the observatory – waste your life


i was in b’s car last weekend, drifting in and out of sleep to the familiar sounds of singaporean band the obervatory‘s debut album time of rebirth (the band has gone on to two more impressive albums, with a new one in the works this year). it’s an album i’ve listened to through these years, and one with which i’ve formed many memories, in varying degrees of vagueness. i remember buying a copy of the demo from frontman leslie low after one of their gigs. i can’t remember where it was. some time later the song “ask” became the topic of a bet i made with debs, which i won of course. i remember the poh piah treat i got as a result, which was very good. strangely i don’t remember very much about the song “waste your life” in spite of how familiar it sounds, until i awoke to it in b’s car as the ambient intro made way to a haunting lullaby. at that moment, i felt the making of another memory.

mp3: the observatory – waste your life

time of rebirth comes in a lovingly handmade diary. you can order your copy along with the other albums at the observatory store. in related news, leslie low has a new album out called the ground, which is also comes as a beautiful handmade package. do pop by his website, where you can also download a free ep meandering loss.

#164 black lips – starting over


black lips have a rather notorious reputation for their onstage antics, most recently incurring the wrath of indian authorities during their concert in chennai. in “starting over”, taken off their new album 200 million thousand released just yesterday, the band makes certain promises to change for the better, but when it’s delivered with the sloppiest of drawls, you know that it’s just a drunken promise to stay sober. the song itself is a curious animal, beginning with a nostalgic dreampop jangle and chugging along with a call-and-response garage harmony that invokes the black and white charm of the velvet underground’s “there she goes again”. everything about it is imperfect, and that’s exactly how things should stay.

mp3: black lips – starting over

mp3: the velvet underground – there she goes again

200 million thousand is now available on vice records. get it!

#163 elf power – a dream in sound


i’m such an old fart. i woke up this morning, and thought about the new albums i’d finally get about to listening this weekend, but something else guided my hand towards my old elf power album from almost a decade ago. in the aftermath of the blazing trail of e6 contemporaries olivia tremor control, neutral milk hotel and apples in stereo, all reveling in the bombasticity of their three-word band names and the arguable peaks of their respective careers, the relatively understated elf power released a dream in sound. it was an album influenced in equal parts by the pop genius of the beatles, the saccharine harmonies of the beach boys, and the lyrical wit of the kinks. in short, it was a fantastic pop record, rivaling the other e6 pop masterpieces like tone soul evolution and dusk at cubist castle. this morning, listening to songs like “high atop the silver branches” and “jane” brought back memories from way back, sounding just as sweet as when i first heard them.

mp3: elf power – high atop the silver branches

mp3: elf power – jane

have a great weekend! see you next week.

#162 asobi seksu – layers


i’ve been listening to asobi seksu‘s latest album hush for the last couple of weeks now. while the first few listens sort of faded quite benignly in the background, often as relegated to a pleasant ambience with which i’ve gone about my other mundane activities, the album has started to come to life and develop a personality of its own. the overall sound has moved away from the band’s earlier shoegaze efforts to a shinier dreampop lustre, although if you listen hard enough, the hazy noise is really still there but tucked away subtly (like at the end of songs like “gliss” and “meh no mae”). most of the songs, however, are distinctly catchier and janglier, such as in the marching pop of “familiar lights” and the irresistibly endearing “me and mary”. it’s no wonder that understated beauties like album opener “layers” often end up neglected: i can’t really figure out what vocalist yuki chikudate is really singing in this one except for the cannoning chorus of “under layers”, but it sure makes for one of the brightest starts in any album for some time, with the enveloping warmth of a summer sun and the pristine iciness of a winter’s day.

mp3: asobi seksu – layers

hush is now out on polyvinyl. go get it!

#161 midnight masses – heaven


music written and made while mourning a death makes such a powerful statement with the most personal of subject matters. so many times i find myself speaking of how i thoroughly enjoyed the arcade fire’s funeral, only to think later of how perverse it is to say something like that. the same dilemmas seep in when i listen to midnight masses, a collaboration between autry fulbright from dragons of zynth and jason reece of … trail of dead. fulbright had left brooklyn for his hometown in atlanta to spend time at the bedside of his father until he passed away, after which he traveled to austin to seek solace and comfort among his friends at …trail of dead. it was there that songs like “heaven” emerged, with autry’s grief buried deep under the voices of the gospel choir. it’s a treatment that never fails to tug at my heart, an art that the likes of damon albarn have mastered (“tender” and “don’t get lost in heaven/demon days”). the choir treatment lifts the song to a certain level of universality, but the real feelings of loss and mourning remain fulbright’s alone.

mp3: midnight masses – heaven

the heaven 7″ is currently available only on tour, although a digital release is slated for march. look out, too, for an ep this summer and a full length later in the year.

#160 dadamah – papa doc


i’ve really been digging up old stuff recently, and one of my favorite re-discoveries is the now defunct new zealand band dadamah. the band only played three gigs in their brief existence from ’91 to ’94, and released two 7″ singles and one ep. all these songs were quickly picked up then by the newly birthed kranky label (now firmly recognized as one of the best experimental labels) as their second ever release, which also turns out to be the last and only standing document of the band’s work. for a band this underrated, the music itself is sublime. most befitting of the band name, both their production and delivery rely on primal instinct. and while fellow countrymen the dead c (the only other nz band from that era and scene i’m familiar with) often makes for a heavy, seasick inducing listen (which i’m in the mood for only on some days), dadamah sounds surprisingly accessible considering their sonic palette. a great example is “papa doc”, which sounds exactly like an ian curtis/patti smith guest-duet for the velvet underground. don’t let this pass by you.

mp3: dadamah – papa doc

#159 a place to bury strangers – don’t think lover


with the pains of being pure at heart on heavy rotation on my stereo these days, i couldn’t help revisit some of my other shoegaze/noisepop favorites. one of the more recent bands to have caught my fancies these past few years (yes, years, not days or weeks. let’s keep some perspective on things, people) was a place to bury strangers, hailed by many as the loudest band in new york. i remember placing an order for their self-titled album once i heard about them and before i even heard their music. i love doing things like that. and i remember how the first three tracks blew my mind. while opening track “missing you” introduced perfectly the band’s taste for jarring noise and underlying melodies, and third track “to fix the gash in your head” was a glorified spasm-fest, my favorite was really the second track “don’t think lover”, which fittingly paid tribute to their heroes: check out the rude mbv-ish intro and the beautifully wretched jamc melodies for starts. i can’t wait for the next record already, and the day they become big enough that referring to them as aptbs will do, alongside tpobpah.

mp3: a place to bury strangers – don’t think lover

#158 belle and sebastian – we rule the school


last week i had a class reunion, meeting up with friends, some of whom i haven’t seen more more than a decade. school seems so far away, and while the memories remain, they have over the years been buried under new things which themselves will soon become old memories in due time. that evening, at least, was an almost surreal experience in reliving those memories, and digging up those that have already been archived and filed neatly in some secluded corner of my brain. strangely enough, everyone looked the same; the same with me, i was told, even when it’s clear everyone’s changed in some way or another. how much have i really changed through these years? maybe i’ll wait to the next reunion in another ten years’ time to find out.

mp3: belle and sebastian – we rule the school

music alliance pact (february 2009 issue)


for those of you who are new to this, the music alliance pact is a monthly project with blogs from all over the world featuring their respective local music selections, initiated and organized by jason the pop cop from scotland. this month, we welcome another new member – club fonograma from mexico, which brings the map representation up to 22 countries. this time round, our own singaporean selection is indie rock band nuance, who also happen to be playing a free gig at the mosaic music festival at the esplanade concourse on 18th march, with two sets starting at 6.15pm and 8.15pm. do catch them then!

AMERICAI Guess I’m Floating

Brooklyn’s Here We Go Magic is the bedroom folk-pop project of Luke Temple, who is releasing his self-titled debut this year. He has been praised by Sufjan Stevens and Ben Gibbard for his uniquely gorgeous vocals and meticulous lo-fi production aesthetic. Tunnelvision is the first single – one part Shakespearean sonnet and one part circus music, swirling in a beautiful mess of poetic acrobatics.
mp3: Here We Go Magic – Tunnelvision


Pablo Dacal is a musician, singer and songwriter from Buenos Aires. His first songs circulated in tapes and between 2000 and 2002 he published a series of EPs that caught the attention of the media. The Orquesta De Salón was founded to collate this loose collection onto his first proper album, 13 Grandes Éxitos (2005). His next record was La Era Del Sonido (2008) and Ella Ya Está En La Playa is one of the finest songs from it.
mp3: Pablo Dacal Y La Orquesta De Salón – Ella Ya Está En La Playa

AUSTRALIAWho The Bloody Hell Are They?

More furious fiddling from The Crooked Fiddle Band, who have a new EP called Rise which they are currently touring. I’ve been getting into bands like Balkan Beat Box and while these guys are different, I like the punk element in the songs. It just sounds like it would be a whole lot of fun to watch.
mp3: The Crooked Fiddle Band – The Rom Rebellion

BRAZILMeio Desligado

Like a tropical version of Girl Talk, João Brasil’s music is a mashup of beats and artists from different styles and backgrounds. With a strong influence of Brazilian funk carioca, a style derived from Miami bass and famous because of its explicit lyrics about sex, João Brasil released his first mashup album last year, Big Forbidden Dance. Orgasmadance is one of the best samples of his work. It starts with pieces from Orgasmatron and Brazilian heavy metal band Sepultura, before suddenly meeting Justice’s D.A.N.C.E. and other songs from Justin Timberlake, Nirvana, Snoop Dogg, CSS and Michael Jackson.
mp3: João Brasil – Orgasmadance


The Rural Alberta Advantage, who are actually from Toronto, with frontman Nils Edenloff’s birthplace being Alberta, are one of Canada’s best-kept secrets. They specialize in Neutral Milk Hotel-esque pop with a slight twang and, as Four Night Rider demonstrates, the results are simply, passionately amazing.
mp3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – Four Night Rider

CHILESuper 45

For more than 10 years, Congelador have been a cornerstone of the Chilean independent rock scene. After four record releases and two years in a hiatus, the band came back with the Abrigo EP – six songs that gracefully move around post-rock, noise, pop and electronic music.
mp3: Congelador – Abrigo

ENGLANDThe Daily Growl

I could continue to bring you songs from London’s fertile folk-pop scene but it’s time for something a bit different. This month we have a singalong theme song from the self-professed ‘most miserable and hateful band in London‘.
mp3: Let’s Wrestle – Let’s Wrestle


Bratze is a Hamburg-based duo consisting of Der Tante Renate and ClickClickDecker. They make beautifully simple electroclash and indietronic music accompanied by sophisticated lyrics, all mixed with a DIY mindset. The featured song, Jean Claude, was their breakthrough as a newcomer in 2006.
mp3: Bratze – Jean Claude

ICELANDI Love Icelandic Music

Hjaltalín is a nine-piece collective, so almost an orchestra, which uses an eclectic selection of instruments, from bassoon to bass, accordion to clarinet. With these instruments and two singers they create a wall of sound for their folky indie-pop songs. This song features the beautiful voice of singer Högni Egilsson, a catchy chorus, broken up with an Icelandic hymn sung by Sigga Thorlacius.
mp3: Hjaltalín – Goodbye July/Margt Ad Ugga


Tenaka is Ronan Carroll, a one-man band who creates melodic and sinewy slices of electronic pop from his bedroom but which suggest an imagination far beyond the physical. Alaskan is the soundtrack to dipping your toes into a lake before dive-bombing into its sunshine-infested yet chilly waters. The song features on EPonymously Titled, a free EP available from his MySpace. No excuses, download it now.
mp3: Tenaka – Alaskan


Wax Anatomical Models may just have formed but they already have plenty of skills. Their sound mixes post-punk, hardcore, shoegaze and electronic influences, but the results in their first demo stand on a different level. Emotional and driving, they are a band to keep an eye on.
mp3: Wax Anatomical Models – Recollections Of Our Times

MEXICOClub Fonograma

The expectancy for Natalia Lafourcade’s upcoming album Hu Hu Hu is building up quick, her redefined lyricism and instrumental complexity showing true signs of an potential masterwork. She’s naturally cute and affecting, and previous material indicated talent, but her sharp new musical vision has finally reached widescreen. Azul is ornamentally sublime. In Mexico, it’s rare to find such a beautiful delicacy.
mp3: Natalia Lafourcade – Azul

NEW ZEALANDCounting The Beat

The Enright House is the musical project of Mark Roberts from Christchurch. Despite being predominantly a solo affair, his 2007 album A Maze And Amazement was filled with songs that had a real sense of grandeur. Some of these have recently been re-released in acoustic form on the Six Acoustic Renditions EP and, as demonstrated in Scattering The Sun Like Gunshot, they lose none of their epic qualities in the translation.
mp3: The Enright House – Scattering The Sun Like Gunshot


Richard Holmsen is the singer of the band Delaware but his main focus these days seems to be his solo project. His music is fragile and simple, with few elements other than his guitar and tender vocals. This is quite the opposite of Delaware’s grand, melancholic indie-rock sound. In recent years Holmsen has also made music for film and been involved in an electronica project called Sea. Great Speed is a Music Alliance Pact exclusive, written and recorded only a week ago.
mp3: Richard Holmsen – Great Speed


After 10 years in the local scene, Catervas – formed by brothers Pedro, Raul and Javier Reyes – swapped their previous shoegaze sound for melodic rock on 2008 album Hoy Más Que Ayer. With its optimistic, convincing pop songs, Hoy Más Que Ayer is pure passion made into music. Covida is the second single from it and easily the band’s best song to date.
mp3: Catervas – Covida

PORTUGALPosso Ouvir Um Disco?

PressPlay are Playgirl and Lisa (aka The Party Queen). Playgirl does vocals and guitars, while Lisa does vocals and electronica. Their influences are PJ Harvey, Peaches, Electrocute, Cobra Killer and Miss Kittin but they sound much better than some of their heroes – and they’re definitely cuter. The extended version of Play Hot, which is the debut single for their upcoming debut album, was mixed by Woman In Panic, who is actually a guy called Pedro Lourenço.
mp3: PressPlay – Play Hot (extended mix)

ROMANIABabylon Noise

The Amsterdams are a post-punk, indie power-pop band based in Bucharest. Inspired by the famous Dutch city, their name symbolises the freedom of spirit in every sense. Suffering And Surfing is featured on their forthcoming album, a blend of reckless vocals with freewheeling, volatile riffs and rhythms.
mp3: The Amsterdams – Suffering And Surfing


Edinburgh seven-piece Broken Records have just signed to renowned label 4AD, the just reward for over two years of personal sacrifice and preaching to the soon-to-be converted with their relentless touring schedule. Devoted followers like myself have already amassed as many as 18 of Broken Records’ epic, swooning, orchestral songs in one form or another – enough to predict that their debut album, scheduled for release this summer, will probably be 2009’s best.
mp3: Broken Records – Nearly Home

SINGAPOREI’m Waking Up To…

Nuance is a four-piece rock band, with a recently self-released eponymous EP. At the heart of the record is the two-part epic Fear Strikes Mankind, an ambitious and intense journey that invokes the rock sensibilities of 90s Radiohead and contemporary post-rock experimentation. In the first part of the song (provided here), the biblical narrative of Abraham’s willing sacrifice of his son, Isaac, is related through the perspectives of both father and son. It’s a troubling journey, but the band does well to face the challenges head-on, both existentially and emotionally.
mp3: Nuance – Fear Strikes Mankind I


Seokjune released his first EP, Dok, at the start of 2009. Equipped with an acoustic guitar and a voice that conjures Elliott Smith, he performs one delicate tune after another while singing in Korean or English.
mp3: Seokjune – Dok

SPAINEl Blog De La Nadadora

Nouvelle Cuisine are a band with a French name but Spanish nationality. They come from Galicia and have self-produced their new album, De Memoria, which is reminiscent of indie bands in the 90s. They develop their essence in personal lyrics and the soft melodies of their songs.
mp3: Nouvelle Cuisine – La Comunicación No Verbal


I’m a real sucker for catchy music like this which builds and builds into a frenetic climax. I love when the horns kick in. I love the DIY nature of the video – you just know he asked all his friends to help out. In short, I think I Love Lindblom.
mp3: Love Lindblom – Till Min Syster

To download all 22 songs in one file click here or here.

so it’s valentine’s day …


here’s something i wrote some time back for my college newspaper, the campus observer, on this same day.

jarvis cocker and the feeling called love
by daniel tham

Listening to the fashionably urban love songs on Jarvis Cocker’s self-titled solo album brought back many memories for me.

In his prolific career fronting Britpop band Pulp for over two decades, Cocker injected into his albums and songs a witty, scathing and often self-loathing songwriting that either made you hate loving it, or love hating it. That has probably something to do with the imperfect way he writes about love or, rather, the way he writes about the imperfect love we understand so much better than any romantic, sappy love song could describe.

His first major hit with Pulp in 1992, “My Legendary Girlfriend,” was a seven-minute epic whose main character did not feel right and had no one to hold. For Cocker, it could not be more simply put – “her love was a sham.

Positive reviews followed the album “His ‘N” Hers” two years later. In this Casiotone-drenched record that introduced a much bigger audience to Pulp, Cocker continued to revel in the torrid memories of past loves and the lowdown of present ones. In “Do You Remember the First Time?” Cocker follows up the question in the title with his own recollection: “Í can’t remember a worst time but you know we’ve changed so much since then, Oh yeah we’ve grown.” However, he also peppers his songs with the idealisms that make love all worth that while despite its all its sleaze. “Oh I want to take you home. I want to give you children. You might be my girlfriend, yeah,” he sings in the anthemic chorus in the aptly titled “Babies.”

By the next album “Different Class” in 1995, Cocker and Pulp had reached cult status, riding high and above the Britpop wave and on the staggering success of their first single off the record, “Common People.” The song told the story of a bourgeois Greek girl wanting to slum it out with the common people such as Cocker himself. In this milestone album, Cocker expands his narrative but sticks to that same sorry view of love, singing of meeting up with past loves now married with babies. But it is here that he also builds up the sexual tension as would any teenage boy would, trying to understand this “Feeling Called Love,” looking up pencil skirts and seeing girls in their underwear.

If “Different Class” was a tease, then 1998’s “This is Hardcore” was an exorcism of all the sex-soaked nightmares festering in Cocker’s mind. In a much darker record than the previous ones, Cocker’s version of love turned into a plastic re-enactment of a pornographic film. For him, this was “music from a bachelor’s den, the sound of loneliness turned up to ten.” A bitches’ brew of morbid fear, lifeless performances, fantastical delusion and psychopathic paranoia was what Cocker’s songs had morphed into.

The exorcism seemed somewhat complete. In what would turn out to be the last Pulp album, “We Love Life” was an enigmatic end to the Pulp dynasty. Produced by Scott Walker, this last waltz saw Pulp bowing out with a charmingly developed sound, a far cry from the cheap-synth sounds that so characterized their earlier records. Cocker also rediscovered his old self, once again drowning in his own self-loathing in “Weeds,” recounting tragic stories of date rape, and finding enough wit inside of him to face his ex-lover.

“The word’s on the street, you’ve found someone new. If he looks nothing like me, I’m so happy for you.”

Some things never change.

And indeed they never do, as I listen to Cocker’s new solo effort. Minus the heavy presence of Pulp, this new record sounds stripped down, but still overflowing with Cocker’s new old tales of stagnating loves and futile dreams of relationships made right again. Somehow, after all these years, Cocker continues to live for the moment, telling of the human condition as it is, or at least from how he sees it. However, it also becomes telling as he adds some perspective to it at the end.

“And someone’s getting born. And someone’s getting killed. Somebody falls in love. Somebody falls from the window-sill.”

Perhaps that is what Cocker thinks today – of that feeling called love.

mp3: pulp – my legendary girlfriend

mp3: pulp – do you remember the first time

mp3: pulp – feeling called love

mp3: pulp – bad cover version

mp3: jarvis cocker – tonite