Monthly Archives: April 2010

#269 bibio – the palm of your wave

in the opening title track of ambivalence avenue, bibio borrows the musical canvas of the like-minded boards of canada, and fills it with broad strokes of 60’s british folk treated with generous shades of sepia. it sets the tone pleasantly for an album that playfully fuses both organic and electronic elements, swinging from one end of the continuum to another with baffling ease. the detours that he indulges in, though, is often a gamble – the old school funk jam of “jealous of roses” and the deconstructed r&b of “fire ant” are surprisingly good, but the bleeps and bloops of “sugarette” sounds awkwardly out of place. things, however, fall nicely together with the achingly beautiful “the palm of your wave”, the simplest of ballads that clings so tightly to freezing time and savoring the moment even it’s just the memories that remain. - dan.

mp3: bibio – the palm of your wave

ambivalence avenue is out now on warp.

#268 boris – farewell

Two single espressos in separate cups, please, while we discuss this one. Jim Jarmusch’s extraordinary The Limits of Control (2009) is quite possibly the American filmmaker’s most meditative work to date, an utterly modern film that boldly eschews narrative conventions in favor of an ambience of sparseness and a preternatural calm unsuited for contemporary tastes.

Or as Jarmusch himself puts it, an action movie with no action in it whatsoever. This poetic film’s molten beauty is entrenched in a stoic refusal to offer easy explanations, the languid colors and densities of The Limits of Control settling into trancelike rhythm with the fluid ingenuity of cinematographer Christopher Doyle. The camera shadows a nameless protagonist (“Lone Man”) played by the fastidiously poised Isaach De Bankole, who roves across illusionary landscapes with a quiet grace that personifies his role as the film’s solo avenger. Neither distance nor time matters much to this avatar of cold dawns, as he embarks on a series of symmetrically surreal encounters with mysterious strangers doubling as ephemeral conspirators.

Watching The Limits of Control is akin to immersing into a cinema of careful contemplation and in his openness to preying on the boundless possibilities of film as a narrative/deconstructive medium, Jarmusch seems to be suggesting that it is only in the hinterlands of imagination where everything is truly illuminated. (In a pivotal scene, Bankole’s character manages to enter a heavily guarded fortress by literally “using his imagination”.)

Jarmusch claimed to have been listening to a lot of the progressive metal bands who are on the movie soundtrack, songs that were apparently integral to his initial ideas for The Limits of Control. The shimmering “Farewell” by the Japanese noise veterans Boris (featured prominently in the film) coalesces nicely with the film’s enigmatic textures, its waves of tuneful guitar distortion broaching an unutterably ecstatic peace and clarity of purpose that Jarmusch may have been trying to invoke in the Lone Man’s highly refined stratagem. - keith.

mp3: boris – farewell

#267 destroyer – the bad arts

The recent Merge reissue of three early records by Destroyer offers a decent reminder of how amazing and greatly underrated Dan Bejar is as a songwriter. His enigmatic pop songs are economically crammed with enough rambling wit and glittery musical opulence to defy any attempt at proper description – clearly, this is not meant for easy listening. On “The Bad Arts”, a song off arguably Destroyer’s best album Streethawk: A Seduction (2001), Bejar moves effortlessly between foggy strands of classic popcraft and a gin-soaked atmosphere of inebriated dancing under rusted chandeliers, the music grinding on blissfully while the singer slips in his fill of wry, faintly nonsensical references to Dostoyevsky and Joy Division. A recurring theme I notice when I listen to the bunch of Destroyer songs that I adore most seems to be Bejar’s inclination to romanticize the past in his droll and patently ironic fashion (“Why did you spend the nineties cowering?” he questions on “The Bad Arts”, tongue firmly in cheek), but always delivered with a purposeful swagger that is almost celebratory and ever so entrancing. - keith.

mp3: destroyer – the bad arts

The reissue of Streethawk: A Seduction is available from Merge Records.

#266 mercury rev – chasin’ a bee (peel session 1991)

like brian, blur featured very early on in my music journey – i’ll write about that some time in future, to give fuller credit to the first band whose discography i obsessively hunted down, cd by cd. but since we’re on this topic of musical milestones, i thought i’d talk about one band that opened my eyes like none other has.

it was in 1998, and i remember reading several reviews for mercury rev’s deserter’s songs. having never heard them before, i was intrigued by how each one marveled at how wondrous and magical this album sounded, especially in light of their darker, noisier past. at the end of the school term, i finally picked up the cd from tower records at pacific plaza after saving up the cash for it (S$26.95, if you must know), and spent countless days of my holidays listening to deserter’s songs over and over again. this was my musical disneyland, made of stuff that was ornate and intricate without ending up whimsical. yet, knowing that this wasn’t how they’ve always sounded, i couldn’t help but start digging up their earlier work, just to hear for myself how noisy this lovely band could have sounded.

many consider see you on the other side (1995) as the bridge between their past and present, with the introduction of much more elaborate arrangements. however, their debut yerself is steam (1991), while sprawling in its epic lo-fi chaos, already showed glimpses of that orchestral affinity. this is evident right from album opener “chasing a bee”, which juxtaposed original vocalist dave baker’s psychotic mumblings with jonathan donahue’s thin, wispy harmonies. and while the meandering noise that so characterized this recording must be regarded an unmistakable highlight, the song would have been incomplete without suzanne thorpe’s recurrent flute, as i was reminded when i recently listened to the rev’s recent peel sessions album, which features a stunning 1991 performance of this song. enjoy! - dan.

mp3: mercury rev – chasin’ a bee (peel session 1991)

mercury rev’s peel sessions may be purchased from the john peel store.

#265 feeder – just a day

When I was a wee boy, I emerged from the Oasis camp into the finer points of British music like Blur and delved into the technological brilliance of Radiohead’s OK Computer. Before long, it was further experimentation along the lines of Godspeed You! Black Emperor or the progressive nature of Dave Matthews Band. In my mind, I had worked out what music was, and how it should be made and evangelized. Technical prowess, musical integrity and being forward thinking were all that mattered.

Then, one day for reasons unknown, perhaps drawn by the album title, Echo Park, I sampled this seminal Feeder album at my local HMV. I probably thought it had something to do with a reference to a science fiction theme or something. Whatever it was, it sounded sonically geeky enough. But when I put those headphones on, what greeted me was a wave of power-pop, melodies that sounded familiar and yet, I had never heard anything quite like it. The best thing was, each song was over in less than four minutes, and yet, they each brought me to the same high points as all my other heroes.

I always credit Feeder for saving me, musically speaking. The lessons I learned about melody, that would of course homage my love for Fleetwood Mac and inspire me to play basslines that were simple and catchy, were all because a humble Welsh band with humble melodies saved me from a swirling vortex of convoluted musical elitism.

My all time favorite Feeder song, “Just A Day”, will bear testament to this particular life changing event … and even when I listen to it today, it stands as my anthem to an unwritten future, raising our hands and throwing caution to the wind. “All by myself, wakin’ up at twelve in my clothes again, because I don’t wanna drag you down, hold you down, because you’re a friend.” - brian

mp3: feeder – just a day

#264 nino rota – guido e luisa

Over the next four weekends, the National Museum of Singapore will be screening a host of extraordinary movies directed by Frederico Fellini in a complete retrospective of the Italian filmmaker’s oeuvre that is not to be missed for lovers of European cinema. Fellini’s revered masterpieces such as La Dolce Vita (1960) and (1963) require no introductions but this is also a fine occasion to check out some of his other less heralded works. I Vitelloni (1953), a rollicking portrait of a group of scraggly young men and their shiftless existence in an Italian small town, has long been one of my personal favorites as well and is highly recommended.

And for all the restless mysteries and self-reflexive fantasy lives that dwell within Fellini’s chimerical cinematic vision, what’s perhaps equally memorable and very much compatible to the films is the string of amazing musical scores composed by Nino Rota. “Guido e Luisa”, from the soundtrack for , bears the mark of sophistication that define much of the collaborations between Fellini and Rota.

In the context of , although the song is named after the film’s main autobiographical character (played by Marcello Mastroianni) and his wife (Anouk Aimee) – Fellini himself said of the frayed marriage: “The relationship between Guido and Luisa has to show what once was there between them and what is left over in their relationship. It is still very much a relationship, though it has undergone changes from the days of courtship and the honeymoon” – the song’s waltzing rhythms reflect more of the manner in which Guido attempts to dance his way through the innumerable hang-ups (a crippling creative block, marital woes, feelings of alienation) in his chaotic life. The beautiful confusion (as is originally titled), indeed. - keith.

mp3: nino rota – guido e luisa

Fellini! A Complete Retrospective is running from now til 9 May at the National Museum of Singapore. Check here for more details.

music alliance pact – april 2010 issue

this month, the local band we’ve been most excited about is b-quartet, which explains our rabid coverage of the band with both a beautifully written guest post by bani haykal and one of the most enjoyable interviews we’ve done. their new album conformity has replaced consciousness (yes, that line is from adorno, you frankfurt school faithful) has just been released, and sharing more about them this month for music alliance pact is our very own local music ambassador brian koh. it’s great hearing this along with 36 other offerings handpicked by the map bloggers from all over the world, so enjoy!

Continue reading