Monthly Archives: December 2008

#142 belle and sebastian – o come, o come emmanuel


i spent my christmas eve night at church, as i have been for quite a while. part of the message was on the small and obscure circumstances surrounding jesus’ birth, and i thought it rather apt that my favorite carol, “o come, o come emmanuel” was sung near the end of the service during communion when there was lots happening around and not many people taking notice. it’s such a shy song with such weighty words, with even the chorus of rejoicing sung just barely above a whisper, so hearing it tonight in all its unassuming subtlety left in me the most lasting impression. with that little thought, i pray the meaning of christmas will resound in your heart too amidst all the noise that inevitably comes with the season these days.

mp3: belle and sebastian – o come, o come emmanuel


#141 the arcade fire – neighborhood #3 (power out) / rebellion (lies) (live at the bbc)


i’ve just watched the new arcade fire documentary miroir noir, a film directed by vincent morisset and shot by vincent moon (yes, the man behind the la blogotheque takeaway shows). the camerawork lives up to moon’s reputation of capturing the right moments, in some instances hovering patiently in the background, in others facing the band and their fans directly, giving the closest possible approximation of their live energy on film. shuffling between carefully orchestrated scenes to the most candid ones ala cinema verite, miroir noir offers a precious snapshot of a band on its meteoric rise, interspersed with recordings fans left them on their answering machine. while it doesn’t provide as much coverage of full songs as one might expect, one exception was the favorite live medley of neighborhood #3 (power out) and rebellion (lies), both songs rivaling each other in energy and intensity. i don’t know how much higher this band will go, but i’m savoring each moment while they’re at it.

mp3: the arcade fire – neighborhood #3 (power out)/rebellion (lies) (live at the bbc)

miroir noir will be out on dvd by the end of march next year. the digital download is now available for purchase here.

#140 lcd soundsystem – all my friends


just attended a second christmas party in a row last night at b’s (after a sumptuous feast at a’s), and it was a lovely night with friends old and new, with conversations drifting uncontrollably to the topic of getting older, as much as the thought of it thoroughly mortified us all. i could almost hear james murphy’s deadpan monologue from “all my friends” sung in my face, bringing to mind the years that have gone by, and all the friends that have been there along the way, several of whom i don’t meet anymore. what would it be like to meet all of them again? i think about the decisions i’ve made through those years, and again i find myself concurring with murphy: i wouldn’t trade one stupid decision, for another five years of lies. and then i remember why this lcd soundsystem track was my favorite song of last year: not so much that it was prescriptive or prophetic about my life (you spend the first five years trying to get with the plan, and the next five years trying to get with your friends again), but that it constantly brought me back to reality, forcing me to take stock of my life and then to move on beyond that recognition to the new things i need to figure out.

mp3: lcd soundsystem – all my friends

mp3: franz ferdinand – all my friends

best songs of 2008 (part 5)

05. hercules and love affair – blind (mp3)


andy butler and antony hegarty must have been listening to the arcade fire’s “wake up” when they were writing this song and figured the merits of having a “now that i’m older” line. for them, though, it’s not so much a newfound coldness of heart, but a shattered myth of the luxury of hindsight – that of eventually getting so close to your dreams that you couldn’t see it anymore for what it used to mean to you. it’s a tragic blindness that’s juxtaposed with an ironically upbeat disco melody, which really serves as the perfect context for us to hear antony’s voice in its fullest and clearest form.

04. beach house – heart of chambers (mp3)


you could call this the song that got this blog started, gracing the first post of this humble webspace. there’s a surreal quality to the sound of beach house – one that’s perfected in devotion and captured beautifully in this song – that lets you float along, but never lets you go, holding on to you with the rhythm of each ebb and flow. there’s a haunting sound of the past, but also a stirring semblance of a distant future, both of which add to an unspeakable charm of the present in which time stands still for just that little while.

03. radiohead – jigsaw falling into place (mp3)


ok, i’m not sure if this still counts as this year’s song, since in rainbows came out last year (but the single’s released this year!), but since i’ve been consistently listening to this through the year, i think it deserves its place here. this could possibly be one of the more straightforward radiohead songs that i love, simply because it actually translates pretty darn well what jigsaws falling into place actually sounds like. everything’s rather sketchy at the start, in fact it all stays tentative until thom yorke’s announces that “the beat goes round and round”. from then everything clicks, and the pieces fall into place in a frenzy.

02. the magnetic fields – too drunk to dream (mp3)


stephin merritt has a wicked sense of humor, which sounds even better when it’s delivered in typical magnetic fields’ folk singalong fashion, but only this time (as the album title suggests) washed in a sea of distortion. more than simply promoting the (if illusory) benefits of drunkenness, this is really a lovesick ballad sung with face planted on the bar counter, though never to drunk to forget the reason for the binge in the first place. i don’t know about you, but my ears start ringing when i’ve had too much to drink. for stephin merritt, i think it’s what he hears all day long.

01. fleet foxes – white winter hymnal (mp3)


was there ever a doubt “white winter hymnal” would make it to number one? all the cliches of music writing – adjectives like warm, timeless and even classic – actually do genuinely apply to this masterpiece (ah, another cliche!). but far from sounding like a rousing epic (oh, that word!), this is in fact one of the gentlest and most sensitive recordings to have made such an impact, delivering in lush (and another!) tones and with a delightful cannon a song that’s personal yet aware, deeply intimate but also sensibly worldly.

best songs of 2008 (part 4)

10. the ting tings – that’s not my name (mp3)


how embarrassing is it to like the ting tings? very, but it’s even more embarrassing to be caught liking them without admitting to it, so i might as well settle for the lesser of the evils. this has got to be the year’s catchiest tune, even brinking on being the most annoying one as well in its petulance, saved only by its laudable lack of pretensions. “we started nothing”, the album title reads, reminding us to leave our prejudices, expectations and judgments at the door before we join in the party.

09. crystal castles vs. health – crimewave (mp3)


it’s funny i heard the remix before the original, but as it turns out, it doesn’t really matter considering how different the two are. in this crystal castles version, video games, along with disco, become sexy again (i feel even wearing my calculator watch out isn’t so nerdy anymore) with what was originally a nasty heap of filthy noise filtered through an atari 2600 and fed onto your screen in its full pixelated glory.

08. cut copy – hearts on fire (mp3)


everything producer tim goldsworthy touches turns to gold (how could it not, with a name like that?). what starts off like a straightforward new wave disco hit with a dash of 90’s euro (did i hear some technotronics whoops along the way?) ends up takes a different turn every time the chorus comes on, sometimes with a psychadelic bleep-fest, and on other occasions a seedy saxophone. whatever the formula, the result is gold.

07. thao nguyen and the get down stay down – feet asleep (mp3)


i first heard this song in its stripped down form on a krs sampler some years back, so when it finally came out on thao’s debut album this year, i was really keen to check it out. i didn’t take to it too well at first, but it had a swing so irresistible i was won over after a few listens. thao honed her songwriting skills through the many hours spent at her mom’s laundromat, so it’s most apt to have a song written about her.

06. hot chip – ready for the floor (mp3)


hop chip’s made in the dark has one of the brightest openings of this year’s releases, with three close to perfect songs. the most perfect of them all was the third, a single made for the dancefloor for every dj who’s run out of ideas for an opening song. beyond theme, however, hot chip has also perfected the dance pop genre, dishing out unhateable melodies at every possible opportunity with an impeccable sense of timing. it’s very fun too.

best songs of 2008 (part 3)

15. portishead – machine gun (mp3)


is this the best song on third? probably not – in fact i really can’t decide if there is a best song considering how exquisite the whole record sounds. but in terms of musical significance, the aggressively repetitive bursts of said weapon probably best ushers in the portishead we know so well sounding so much better, as if we ever doubted them even after that decade long wait. it was well worth it, i’d say.

14. lykke li – dance dance dance (mp3)


most of my friends hate her voice and hate how she really can’t sing. but that’s the point, really. every time she goes flat singing “hips”, i genuinely feel the music world getting just that little bit more democratized. it wasn’t too long ago that lykke li was just like us, attending gigs and dancing awkwardly to them. now she’s on the other side, but at least she’s still shy, shy, shy, and still not the best dancer around.

13. vampire weekend – walcott (mp3)


walcott was the main character in lead singer ezra koenig’s film titled vampire weekend – a boy tasked to get out of cape cod to bring the warning of an impending vampire attack. does that make more sense now? anyway, it’s such a simple song, relying on such a simple formula of frenzied piano and strings, executed to perfection, no less. do check out the live versions too.

12. vivian girls – where do you run to (mp3)


taken off the debut self-titled album that reportedly sold out in just over a week, “where do you run to” must be the heartbeat of the record, with the most generous streams of sunshine peeking through the haziest fog in your dad’s old garage. the charming harmonies here would never have worked in any other situation without the relentless pounding beat and all its stubbornly fuzzy edges.

11. antony and the johnsons – another world (mp3)


there’s an escapist in all of us, with traces of idealism we never admit to having, and bits of nostalgia we only sometimes dare indulging. the intoxicating voice of antony hegarty romanticizes everything to remind us there’s no shame in all that, and with the astounding beauty of his delivery exposes only the ugliness of the world we worship much too freely.

best songs of 2008 (part 2)

20. empire of the sun – walking on a dream (mp3)


just like the mind-blowingly ridiculous cover art, it’s excessively indulgent in all that glitters, drenched to the toe in its own disco dust simply for the thrill of it (thrill of it).

19. mgmt – electric feel (mp3)


there’s much to like, but my favorite moments are the expectant beats before every chorus. it’s the only times i get to breathe before i’m enthralled all over again.

18. the legends – seconds away (mp3)


i love destroying my already damaged ears, especially when the relentless sheets of noise hide so poorly the pop melodies they’ve just butchered.

17. the pains of being pure at heart – everything with you (mp3)


it starts as if it needs no introduction (naive? audacious?), and at the end it leaves a trail of unfulfilled promises which fade inevitably into the dark (ok, probably both).

16. the dutchess and the duke – reservoir park (mp3)


many questions find their way into songs, but few get asked with as much urgency as this royal duo. the answer, someone might tell you, is blowin’ in the wind.

music alliance pact (december 2008 issue)


initiated by jason from the scottish music blog the pop cop, the music alliance pact (MAP) is a coming together of music blogs from all over the world sharing their favorite local songs on the 15th of every month. i’m waking up to… is proud to be the singapore representative for this project, so i’d like to take this opportunity to introduce a new contributor to the team (now that makes 2!), brian koh, our local music correspondent who’ll be contributing to MAP every month, on top of a forthcoming column featuring singapore music. look out for it!

AMERICAI Guess I’m Floating

Mississippi-based Dent May has been recording in various southern states since his formative years in high school. After going to college and refining his sound, he emerged with a new act that made use of his self-proclaimed magnificent ukulele. His pleasant pop arrangements, strong vocals and doo-wop-like vocal harmonies will appeal to anyone hoping to hear some happy music. His debut album is due out in February via Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks label. Never underestimate the ukulele.

Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele – 26 Miles


Mágico Corazón Radiofónico is the first album by Banda de Turistas and it turned out to be one of the biggest surprises of the year. With Mario Caldato Jr. (Beastie Boys) in charge of the mixing, this song reprises the beat sound of ancient Argentine rock bands like Los Gatos.

Banda de Turistas – Todo Mío El Otoño

AUSTRALIAWho The Bloody Hell Are They?

Three long-time Sydney musicians start the funnest band to come out of the city in the past year. You might have known them in previous lives as one part Berkfinger, two parts The Sweats. Combined, they channel an updated retro rock style that somehow manages to both pay homage to Elvis and sound incredibly cool. Not an easy feat, so respect where it is due.

The Philadelphia Grand Jury – Going To The Casino (Tomorrow Night)

BRAZILMeio Desligado

Macaco Bong is an instrumental trio from Cuiabá, considered one of the best live acts in the country. They sound like an original mix of post-rock, alternative metal and free jazz. Their guitarist doesn’t use any pedals or effects, playing his Fender online with overdrive from the amps he uses. The band is part of Espaço Cubo, a collective that works with culture and its social aspects, starting a revolution from the underground.

Macaco Bong – Bananas For You All


Their hiccupped vocals and apocalyptic-sounding music makes bringing up Wolf Parade almost inevitable, but Black Hat Brigade make a pretty convincing argument with their self-titled EP – and particularly with Swords – that they don’t necessarily come off any the worse in the comparison.

Black Hat Brigade – Swords

CHILESuper 45

One of the weirdest and most original bands from Santiago, Fredi Michel are a mix between cumbia, dub and avant pop (via Broadcast). Even though they’ve been playing for years they have only recorded a few songs and some of their friends have made some remixes, such as the one featured here. Fredi Michel have announced they will finally release their debut album next year.

Fredi Michel – Enganamí (Comeme Remix II)

DENMARKPastries, Peppers And Canals…

Oliver North Boy Choir are the kind of band that Denmark does spectacularly well. Signed to Danish uber-indie label Crunchy Frog, Camilla Florentz, Mikkel Max Hansen and Ivan Petersen release pieces of ethereal beauty via download only. Oh, and they don’t play live either.

Oliver North Boy Choir – Tonight

ENGLANDThe Daily Growl

You may not call it a ‘scene’, but there’s only one degree of separation between many of London’s young bands and artists. Jay Jay Pistolet, friend of Mumford & Sons, Derek Meins and no doubt plenty others, is no exception. Not that this is important. Let JJP, who often comes across as a young English version of M Ward, be judged for himself.

Jay Jay Pistolet – Golden Age


Switch is the latest single of the Nuremberg-based quad Mio Myo. It can be seen as a description of their sound – a bit ghosty and spheric, a diversity of electronic and analog instruments, and a voice reminiscent of Thom Yorke. Their songs always deserve a second hearing.

Mio Myo – Switch

ICELANDI Love Icelandic Music

Vicky, previously called Vicky Pollard (named after the Little Britain character), is one of the coolest new Icelandic rock bands. The band started in November 2006 when they accidentally got together and started jamming in their hometown Hafnarfjörður. They produce a sort of poppy metal or heavy pop. In 2008, these four girls and male drummer recorded their debut album Pull Hard, which was released on the Töfrahellirinn label in October.

Vicky – Alien


The brilliantly titled Sunken Foal (think about it…) is also known as Dunk Murphy of Ambulance. After an appearance on BBC Radio 1’s Mary Ann Hobbs, his debut Fallen Arches has just been released on Planet Mu. The album is a textural, ambient, electronic-acoustic and, most of all, beguiling release of leftfield sounds.

Sunken Foal – On Platinum Rays


Young, talented and stylish, Scarlets play nervous and tight songs heavily influenced by new wave. They’ve just released an EP on Angle Records full of love for The Smiths, The Jam and the sharpest Brit sound. They’re definitely a name to keep an eye on in the coming months.

Scarlets – Every Waterloo

NEW ZEALANDCounting The Beat

Bearcat are one of a bunch of new New Zealand bands dabbling in folk influenced indie-pop. Apparently Bearcat is a literal translation of the Latin word for panda, and as well as naming themselves after the endangered mammal, the band have chosen to make pandas the subject of many of their songs too. Bearcat avoid the danger of this resulting in one-line-joke novelty songs by writing catchy and memorable tunes that have every chance of survival.

Bearcat – Red Panda Blues


The Little Hands Of Asphalt is the solo project of Sjur Lyseid, the singer in the Norwegian indie-pop band Monzano. As TLHOA, he makes warm, sensitive folk-inspired songs, often performed with an acoustic guitar as the main instrument. Sjur Lyseid is a great storyteller and his lyrics are always worth listening to. The song we have for you is a Music Alliance Pact exclusive, taken from his forthcoming debut album Leap Years which will be released in March 2009.

The Little Hands Of Asphalt – The Future


After his successful debut album, Ciudad Naufragio, Pelo Madueño returned this year with No Te Salves, an intimate album full of emotions. Based in Spain, Pelo shines as a songwriter and gives us a real insight into the independent scene.

Pelo Madueño – Es Hora

PORTUGALPosso Ouvir Um Disco?

Unready Demo is Nuno Rancho’s first solo work and you can download the other tracks on the EP for free via a link on his MySpace. In 2002, he started playing music in a band called Wheelchair and two years later he formed Kyoto. Today, besides Kyoto, Nuno Rancho still finds time to play and write for TiMaria, an electro-pop trio which has a completely different sound from his other work.

Nuno Rancho – Not For Sale


The Pop Cop only ‘discovered’ Dotjr last week and we were so bowled over there was no choice but to fast-track him into this month’s Music Alliance Pact. Dotjr (pronounced dot-jay-are) is the solo project of James Reeves, a 21-year-old native of the Isle of Lewis, and his joyous, soaring music has the kind of ambitious pop sound that radio DJs fall over themselves to play. More Than You Know is epic, swooning and Christmassy. Pretty much perfect then.

Dotjr – More Than You Know

SINGAPOREI’m Waking Up To…

Leeson are a five-piece indie-pop band from Singapore who play a revelling cocktail of poppy, dancey tunes that will have your feet tapping and singing along to their infectious melodies.

Leeson – Some Girls


The Black Skirts is the name used by Castel Prayon and his live band when climbing the digital music charts of Korea. In November the band’s first album, 201, was released. The first song up for promotion was Like Me and people soon heeded the title’s request. For somebody who usually isn’t too keen on being poppy, Castel Prayon sure knew what he was doing when making those songs, and Dog is an excellent example of that.

The Black Skirts – Dog

SPAINEl Blog De La Nadadora

Richar and Mikel are from Euskadi and sing in Euskera, their own language. Their songs are inspired by The Beach Boys, Burt Bacharach, Jonathan Richman, Mikel Laboa and C86. You can download their last album, Momo Eta Beste Izaki Batzu, from their website. Elurretan love music and want to share their songs with everyone who likes them. Is it possible? I think so.

Elurretan – Momo Alper Bat Da


Francis take the strange blues of The Tallest Man On Earth and add a cabaret atmosphere. Debut single Bad To The Bone sounds like a transgender version of Stevie Ray Vaughn if he/she worked in a travelling eastern European circus and was channelling Tom Waits.

Francis – Bad To The Bone

To download all 21 songs in one file click here:

best songs of 2008 (part 1)

i love lists. i make lists for everything, pretty much like that guy in high fidelity, only that most of the time, they just stay in my head. since this blog’s centered around songs rather than albums (maybe i’ll cover that next week), i thought it fitting to share a list of 25 songs i really liked this year. ranking them was fun, but really don’t read too much into it. hope you like them too.

25. northern portrait – crazy (mp3)


the artwork looks uncannily like a smiths cover, and song itself doesn’t hide its morrissey infatuation, and that’s really not a bad thing.

24. brass bed – olivia (mp3)


for as long as i’ve been listening to blur and the kinks, i’ve had a weakness for character songs, so i’m glad people still write them today.

23. the bug – poison dart (featuring warrior queen) (mp3)


to be honest, i didn’t really like the bug’s london zoo album, but “poison dart” is the vile drink i love drinking in large, forceful gulps.

22. man man – hurly burly (mp3)


a rather sordid tale with a frantic delivery to match. so was macbeth i guess. i love the trumpet squalls.

21. the dodos – winter (mp3)


winter’s supposed to be lonely, i’m told, so i imagine this to be the perfect accompaniment.

#139 milton nascimento & lô borges – clube da esquina, no. 2


when brazilians milton nascimento came together with lô borges and the rest of the clube da esquina (the corner club) to record this self titled masterpiece, a piece of music history was being made, perhaps all the more significant and bittersweet as it marked the start of the falling apart of a band of immensely talented musicians who were never to make music as free, moving and inspiring ever again. the album, named after the collective, is a melting pot of ideas and genres, held together by little else but the sheer chemistry within the group. the centerpiece, as it were, also happens to be self-titled. requiring no words at all, the song conveys a breadth and depth of emotion no lyric could ever muster, with nascimento’s distinctive falsetto blending beautifully into the delicately sculpted soundtrack. it feels like it could go on forever, and indeed you wish for an experience like that to never end, but it fades off as quickly as clube da esquina themselves drifted apart and dispersed.

mp3: milton nascimento & lô borges – clube da esquina no. 2