Monthly Archives: April 2009

#177 devo – come back jonee (live at max’s kansas city, nyc, 1977)

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in an era when you couldn’t really go wrong jumping the prog rock bandwagon, devo, the band from akron, ohio, premised itself instead on the concept of de-evolution, a self-deprecating notion on the regression of humankind. the theme was most noticeably covered in the controversially titled “mongoloid”, a song on a person with down’s syndrome having a day job and bringing home the bacon “so that no one knew”, and while no one cared, he really was “happier than you and me”. the critique inherent in their music, together with the new wave, proto-punk edge of the music itself, ironically revealed devo to be much more progressive than their prog rocker counterparts, something even more evident in their live shows, where the band would indulge in the mock-futurism of a pseudo sci-fi pantomime, as epitomized by their distinctive yellow tyvek suits.

i finally caught a glimpse of this when i got a copy of their live: the mongoloid years album at the half-price sale at sembawang music center: while the sound quality of the recordings is barely passable (albeit probably the best of “the only audio tapes that escaped total disintegration” as mentioned in the cd liner notes), i loved how the three shows captured in this record are arranged in reverse order, beginning with their successful gig at max’s kansas city in 1977, the one where legend has it that got record companies calling in the morning after) and ending with the horrendous whk radio concert in cleveland ohio, where the band was hired as a joke to open for psych/space jazz guru sun ra, a night which ends with the plug being pulled on their performance – also the stuff of legends.

the song that got lodged in my head amidst all this was “come back jonee”, which really is a rock and roll number masked in various shades of punk, garage and new wave. in contrast with chuck berry’s “johnny b. goode” who makes good with his toil and musicianship, things really aren’t that pretty for jonee, who in devo’s script also has a guitar but instead of fulfilling the american dream, he leaves his girl and heads for the highway on his ill-fated datsun, which comes to stand for all his wrecked dreams. it’s a sobering take on life, though you can’t help but agree it’s a lot closer to reality than what you’d expect from a bunch of crazy de-evolutionists.

mp3: devo – come back jonee (live at max’s kansas city, nyc, 1977)

and if you’re wondering, devo are actually still alive and kicking. the band just made an appearance at the recent sxsw festival, and have a new album due this fall, their first in almost 20 years.

#176 balmorhea – harm and boon

balmorhea

like any well-told story, balmorhea‘s “harm and boon” begins with an introduction that sets the scene for the events that would unfold. in this case, it’s a quiet depiction, almost tentative but sufficiently intricate for the listener to soak in the ambience and blend into the background. the event itself, the action, or the plot as it were, breaks the monotony with a rather rude awakening and a mixed bag of emotions that eventually spirals into storm of the quietest, tensest proportions. and like all stories we’ve come to love, this one sure resolves itself perfectly with the most resolute of endings, a final statement that lets the rest of the story linger in the silence that ensues.

mp3: balmorhea – harm and boon

“harm and boon” is taken from balmorhea’s latest album all is wild, all is silent, released on western vinyl. a beauty, if you ask me.

#175 mono – follow the map

mono2009_2

judging from their intense, blistering gig here last year, i expected mono‘s new album to follow that deafening path of no return. i could just imagine how it would have sounded: pretty much like their previous efforts, but louder and more hazardous, and because they do this so well, i wouldn’t complain even if it wasn’t the most original sounding record. i guess that’s just a long, convoluted way of introducing how mono’s new album hymn to the immortal wind really is a departure of sorts. yes, the moments of loudness are still delivered in overwhelming doses; yet, the introduction of an overarching cinematic fixation has smoothened those edges in providing a comforting counterbalance. the distinct use of orchestral elements (a 28 piece chamber orchestra, to be exact) in this case have a magical effect, making the quiet moments more wondrous and the louder parts even more emotionally engaging. as a whole, these changes have resulted in a more disciplined output, captured most concisely in the surprisingly brief “follow the map”, where in a mere four minutes the loud/soft spectrum is explored with the gentlest of touches, and with the journey of several short movements one is already confronted with stories to be told and the plunders of travel shared.

mp3: mono – follow the map

hymn to the immortal wind is now out on temporary residence. do check it out!

#174 suckers – it gets your body movin’

suckers2

just as i was contemplating the legacy of the talking heads, i came across this new self-titled ep by the emerging brooklyn-based quartet suckers, which i must say has quickly become my favorite new release of the year. produced by anand wilder, this four song record sounds perfectly at home with the new wave afro-folk scene spearheaded by wilder’s band yeasayer. the talking heads influence, though, hits you right at the start, with “beach queen” displaying a byrnesque groove amidst tinges of disco, proving to be the ideal starting point for the various tangents the other three songs spin off from. “afterthoughts and tv” meanders from the get-go, sliding from an initially dreamy stupor to an awakening with a tinkling piano and eventually a blaring cacophony of horns and many other things. “easy chair”, on the other hands, opts for an easier entry with a deliriously infectious melody, but emerges equally raucous at the end with a disco campfire singalong. it’s stuff that literally gets your body moving, as championed in the closing track where the outer shades of mourning and melancholy give way to the grandest of finales, rousing even the dullest of souls from the depths of their existential apathy.

mp3: suckers – it gets your body movin’

the suckers ep has just been released this week on i am sound. get it now!

music alliance pact (april 2009 issue)

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it’s time for yet another anticipated issue of MAP, the program that brings you the best music from around the world, as chosen by music blog representatives from their respective countries. an initiative fronted by scotland’s the pop cop, MAP now features 25 different countries, with finland’s glue being the latest addition. as the local ambassador to MAP, i’m waking up to is proud to bring you the best from singapore, as chosen every month by our local music correspondent brian koh, who plays in singaporean band leeson. this month, brian’s choice is veteran shoegaze/spacerock outfit astreal, one of the few local bands to have been featured on the late dj john peel’s show. while released a while ago, their sophomore album fragments of the same dead star still resonates strongly in the psyche of the local underground, and more recently even also on local tv sets with their electric appearance on live n loaded. enjoy!

AMERICA: I Guess I’m Floating
4 Thing OneMop Yards
New Jersey’s Thing One have been on my radar since last year when I first heard a few tracks from their debut album You’ll Be Fine. Mop Yards brings traces of The Smiths and ELO into the new millennium with strange electronic warbles and dancey synth patches. Singer Joey Palestina creates a veritable summer anthem with the repeated line, “The heat is non-stop, hide the women in cop cars”. Whatever that means, Joey, I feel ya.

ARGENTINA: Zonaindie
4 Chau FanBoletos De Tren
Chau Fan is a boy-girl indie folk (or anti-folk?) duo from Buenos Aires, starring Micaela Quinteros and Marcelo Lares. They both sing and play acoustic guitar, and in this particular song Micaela does a charming harmonica solo. Boletos De Tren will be part of Zonaindie’s new compilation which features five songs from artists who have never had the chance to record in a professional studio (we invited them to the studio and helped them record). So consider this a MAP exclusive premiere.

AUSTRALIA: Who The Bloody Hell Are They?
4 Lisa MitchellCoin Laundry
So, yeah, this could easily be an iPod Nano commercial, but catchy accessibility is hardly a terrible quality for a song to have. Who really expected a former Australian Idol finalist to produce anything of worth? This is a lovely song and I hope it gets overplayed.

BRAZIL:Meio Desligado
4 HurtmoldMúsica Política Para Maradona Cantar
There is no other band like Hurtmold. You have to listen and feel it. It’s more than music, it’s an experience.

CANADA:I(Heart)Music
4 Dinosaur BonesNYE
Dinosaur Bones are currently attracting all sorts of interest on the back of their debut EP, and this song makes it easy to see why. They blend together The National’s world-weariness and a very English-sounding pop sensibility, with the end result something that’s entirely their own.

CHILE: Super 45
4 The Same SkyWe Sleep Under The Same Sky
The Same Sky is the music project of Joseph Simon, a 15-year-old Chilean who was born in Canada. It is precisely this biographic fact that can define his music – warm guitar sounds of slow rhythm alongside a smooth voice heavily influenced by bands such as Beirut, Arcade Fire and The National. The recent release of his first album (Two Hearts / Apart Under The Same Sky) supports this feeling of songs as a perfect soundtrack for winter days spent at home, enjoying the natural melancholy.

DENMARK: All Scandinavian
4 Ruhan DaisyWe Know You
There’s quite a bit of post-rock going on in Scandinavia these days, one brilliant act being this Danish quintet. It’s grandiose, funky with bits of (acid) jazz thrown into the mix and sports an equilibristic sense of detail. Ruhan Daisy’s crowning achievement, however, is their catchy pop sensibility driving the complex compositions out of nerd-country into the mainstream. At least that’s how it should be.

ENGLAND: The Daily Growl
4 Alessi’s ArkThe Horse
Alessi’s Ark is west London teenage sensation Alessi Laurent-Marke and here is the single version of The Horse from the Mike Mogis-produced new album, out next month.

FINLAND: Glue
4 PalmaRide Around
After a couple of years in the making, Helsinki band Palma recently released their debut album Be Bold And Mighty Forces Will Come To Your Aid. Palma refers to an old soda drink in Finland and the band, indeed, produce some refreshing indie-pop songs, rooted in the classic sounds of the 70s, and with a danceable groove. It’s retro and modern. For fans of The Soundtrack Of Our Lives and Supergrass.

FRANCE: SoundNation
4 SundogsSo Close
Sundogs are a French band who live in London but play in both England and France. The group is made up of two guys – bassist Jeff (“le petit blond”) and Pierre on guitar. The other musicians are French or English guests, depending on where they are playing.

GERMANY: Blogpartei
4 Lali PunaNin-Com-Pop
Lali Puna is another band from the great Weilheim circle led by Valerie Trebeljahr. Established in 1998, I consider them to have a higher creative potential than recently featured The Notwist, where her boyfriend and Lali Puna fellow Markus Acher is playing. Nin-Com-Pop is a song from their second album Scary World Theory. A new record will be released later this year.

ICELAND: I Love Icelandic Music
4 Lay LowLast Time Around
Lovísa Elísabet Sigrúnardóttir is a 26-year-old half-Sri Lankan, half-Icelandic singer, born in London. She sings under the name Lay Low and her music is a combination of blues, folk and country. This year, Lovísa has already supported Emiliana Torrini on tour and signed a record deal with Nettwerk. Last Time Around is on her third solo album, Farewell Good Night’s Sleep.

IRELAND: Nialler9
4 202sEase My Mind
There was a general air of being caught unaware in the Irish media and bloggers when this duo’s debut landed on their desks. Without any gigs and already signed to French label Le Son Du Maquis, their charming Primal Scream and Broadcast-indebted indie-pop has skipped a few hurdles without skipping on the tunes.

ITALY: Polaroid
4 Gazebo PenguinsWallabees
A punk band that quotes Alfred Korzybski? Yes, please. The Name Is Not The Named is the title of Gazebo Penguins’ new album and it’s full of powerful hardcore in the style of At The Drive-In, with a nod to Motorpsycho. Sharp guitars, heavy rhythms, driving choruses and smart attitude.

MEXICO: Club Fonograma
4 Mexican Institute Of SoundReventon
Mexican Institute of Sound is a solo project by the multi-talented Camilo Lara. He just released his third album Soy Sauce, another celebration of Mexico’s traditional music fused with funky tunes, electronica and the genre that’s getting ready to shake the world again, cumbia. MIS is an explosive adventurous musical ride of our rich culture. They are preparing to perform at this year’s Coachella festival and with songs like Reventon, it is sure to get the fiesta up in wild spirit.

NEW ZEALAND: Counting The Beat
4 Three Legged HorseRed
Red is the opening track on Down, the debut album of Three Legged Horse, a trio from Waiheke Island, around 20km offshore from Auckland. The band bring together the grungy dark introspection of lyricist/vocalist Bede Taylor, the smooth powerful vocals of Gina Higham and the musicality of Aaron Carpenter into a combination much greater than the sum of its parts. Red is a good intro to an extraordinary album that melds acoustic country blues with dirty guitar and vocal grit and growls.

NORWAY: Eardrums
4 Dylan MondegreenAnimal (Hiawata! cover)
For this month’s MAP I will present not one Norwegian act, but two. The performing artist here is Dylan Mondegreen, one of my absolute favourites in Norway. He is currently working on his second album, which should be released later this year. The song he sings is written by another favourite of mine, an indie-pop band from Oslo called Hiawata!. Mondegreen’s cover of their song Animal was a b-side on Valley Boys, the first single from their second album, These Boys And This Band Is All I Know, due out soon on SellOut! Music.

PERU: SoTB
4 AutobusVolver
Autobus formed in Lima in 2006 and released their debut album last year. Although they have a clear rock essence, they have electronic influences and a pop touch which sets them apart from their peers, so much so that many people are surprised by where they come from. They have made a good impression abroad, achieving their aim of drawing attention to the local scene.

PORTUGAL: Posso Ouvir Um Disco?
4 The ClitsLay Low
If there was a such a genre as electro-psychic-punk-rock-pop, The Clits would be the kings. It all started in 2006 when Carlos (guitars, keyboards and backing vocals) invited Ana Leorne (vocals) to form an electro-punk project, influenced by the riot grrrl movement and some of their favourite artists such as Joy Division, Bauhaus, Nina Hagen and Suspicious (another Portuguese electro-punk project). Their first record, The World Is A Mess But My Hair Is Perfect EP, was released in December 2007.

ROMANIA: Babylon Noise
4 PersonaMomentary Lack Of Passion
Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s movie Persona, this band belongs to the new generation of Romanian musicians that bloomed after the anti-communist revolution of December 1989. The group’s members have been involved in the music scene since then, playing in several acts before forming Persona. Their music is, indeed, one of British influence but cannot be strictly labelled – the musical background and influences of each of the members, refined by experience and artistic maturity, blend together in the Persona genre.

SCOTLAND: The Pop Cop
4 There Will Be FireworksForeign Thoughts
Bands of the calibre of There Will Be Fireworks are far too rare, but that’s not a bad thing because you’ll end up appreciating them all the more. Although TWBF seem like the perfect new students in Scotland’s renowned post-rock school, their take on the genre is far more moving and lyrically impassioned than anything that has gone before them. Foreign Thoughts, taken from the Glaswegians’ forthcoming eponymous debut album, has the beautiful intensity of a Band Of Horses classic and will stay with you long after its three-and-a-half minutes are up.

SINGAPORE: I’m Waking Up To…
4 AstrealSnowflake
Some may say that when you’re in love, the stars align. For Astreal, love is more of a cosmic collision course between stars and planetary bodies. In the unassumingly titled Snowflake, there lies so much destructive potential in a love so intense that, yes, even “the stars, they burn for you”. Taken from their second album Fragments Of The Same Dead Star, the song combines the melodic infatuations of shoegaze with the aural impudence of noise-rock for a blistering and haunting love song that almost borders on maniacal obsession. Is this love? That’s for you to decide.

SOUTH KOREA: Indieful ROK
4 ToxicbiasfleurivyParallel Assembly
GDM duo Toxicbiasfleurivy might not be the obvious choice for MAP but their latest album, Particles, provided an interesting exception from my usual listening when it was released late March. Electronic, experimental and pretty much the opposite of easy listening, the listener is advised to enjoy astral emotions while digesting this music inspired by quantum physics.

SPAIN: El Blog De La Nadadora
4 AnntonaNunca Es Tarde
Apart from his membership in the band Los Punsetes, Manu has a solo project called Anntona, in which he makes the best pop songs imaginable. He has just released his second album, En La Cama Con Anntona (“In Bed With Anntona”) which contains 10 fizzy and addictive pop pearls such as opening track Nunca Es Tarde.

SWEDEN: Swedesplease
4 The Late CallLinnea
The Late Call is really just one guy (and friends) from Stockholm named Johannes Maye. His debut album, Leaving Notes, chronicles the long distance relationship he had with his girlfriend. The record and this song has an organic feel on account of the mostly acoustic instrumentation. Linnea is a perfect example of the gorgeous pop you can expect from The Late Call.


To download all 25 songs in one file click
here.

talking heads and joy division

talking-division

how do you translate sound to words and how may those words be recoded back in terms of sound? what gets lost in the process? in what way is one’s interpretation of music accurately translated into a literal, textual form, and how is that eventually decoded by its reader who then tries to picture (as if it’s now a visual thing!) how the music sounds like and whether it’s worth checking out? these are questions every music writer faces, as his or her writing stands in gulf between the musician and the audience. it’s an intriguing chain of interpretation and reinterpretation, a process made even more complicated if you replace the music reader/listener at the end of the line with another musician.

a post-lunch conversation on time led to a mention of the talking heads‘ song “once in a lifetime”, which subsequently prompted me to give my old remain in light (1980) album a relisten. while much of that record is rightly known for its polyrhythmic structure and its pioneering work in bringing a world music vibe to the post-punk movement, the last song “the overload” was conceived as an interpretation of what joy division might have sounded like. none of the members of the band had ever heard the work of joy division, but attempted this song solely based on what they had read in the press on what their music sounded like. i’m sure words like cold, distant and atmospheric must have been most recurrent, judging from the song’s deliberate break from the exotic grooves of the rest of the album.

the result is uncanny: “the overload” loses the band’s distinctive compactness in favor of an ambience spread thin over its 5 minutes, with david byrne‘s vocals inheriting an eerily distant ian curtis drone, reminiscent of deathly ballads like “candidate” from unknown pleasures (1979) or “eternal” from closer (1980). if anything, though, talking heads attempts this mimicry far too well in reconstructing perfectly the structure and form of joy division while paying little attention to its heart and soul. the darkly metallic overtones of “candidate”, for instance, is but a mask painted in response to curtis’ state of alienation and his singular cry of despair: i tried to get to you. and recorded closer to curtis’ eventual suicide, “eternal” sounds a lot more at peace with its own self-destruction with the deadpan delivery of its final two lines: no words could explain, no actions determine/ just watching the trees and the leaves as they fall.

but who could blame talking heads for neglecting all these nuances in their interpretation of a band they’ve never even heard before? and what right had they to even step into the territory of ian curtis’ bared soul, which underlay each joy division song? indeed, “the overload” never attempted to fulfill the latter; yet, it still succeeds not simply on the grounds of successfully sounding like joy division (which is itself a laudable achievement considering the circumstances), but in the critique presented therein. particularly, “the overload” lays bare the futility and meaninglessness of genre formation, an issue that is especially striking today with the overload of bands emulating and pigeonholing themselves in the new-wave, post-punk joy division sound, capturing all the form but containing none of its substance, which can never be replicated.

the issue of musical influence of course still remains, and i’m sure both talking heads and joy division have their fair share of influences worth dissecting and comparing. but let’s leave that for another article.

mp3: talking heads – the overload

mp3: joy division – candidate

mp3: joy division – eternal

#173 mercury rev – blue and black

mercury-rev-early

in simon reynolds’ melody maker review of mercury rev’s london gig in june 1991, he concludes with a prophetic statement that has been in most part fulfilled today: “i like to think that mercury rev can and will take it anywhere from here. i imagine them working with an orchestra, or buying a flotilla of moogs and mellotrons, or sampling eskimo and pygmie music, or collaborating with sun ra. i like to think we are unsafe in their hands“. 18 years on, he couldn’t have been more right, and while i’ve loved the progression of their work as predicted by reynolds, there cannot be a more significant starting point as their debut yerself is steam. for me, the beauty of the work lies in the sweetest of touches amidst the atmosphere of brutality, and listening to it tonight for about the hundredth time in my life still stops me in my tracks halfway through at “blue and black”, where dave baker’s ominously operatic vocals inhabits every visible shadow in the cold outside and sits stubbornly in the more cinematic sounds led by a haunting piano on repeat that bruises you blue and black. this is where i feel the most unsafe in their arms, and this is where i’m drawn back to, time and time again.

mp3: mercury rev – blue and black