if there was any one singaporean band i’d recommend to people, it would be the observatory. while the band’s name conjures images of stargazing, their music manages to cast its eye on both the farthest horizons and the closest held secrets of your heart, a range that the band faithfully and ingeniously reproduces at its live shows. the previous time i caught the band was at invisible room, which was the first time i heard them sound so dark. they played in near darkness, encased by a pentagonal structure around which the audience sat away from the musicians, and facing instead a visual depiction of post-apocalyptic stupor. it was intended as an experience rather than a performative spectacle as most live concerts are, and i found myself drifting in and out of that experience, at times overwhelmed by the music and at others utterly alienated from it.
last weekend, i caught the observatory again, this time at the concluding set for the band’s hexa series of concerts, a self-described “transposition of melancholy” featuring material mainly from their latest album, dark folke. the arrangement was much simpler, with leslie, evan, victor, dharma and vivian seated in a communal round, sharing with the audience a glimpse of the band not just playing for a crowd, but in deep conversation with each other. although the theme was as morose as invisible room, the atmosphere was certainly more familial, and the band’s presence a lot more visible, even while evenly and dimly lit in a somber shade of tungsten. this fit well with the music, which comprised quiet harmonies that were never too peaceful and jarring dissonances that somehow held themselves in place – a journey that made so much more sense as a shared experience. in its own inimitable way, the band also appropriated the music of nick drake and pink floyd, influences that inspired and now are persuaded to participate in what is truly a distinct, observatory sound.
who knows what these dark folke will be up to next, and which new rooms, visible or invisible, they’ll come to inhabit. i can’t wait for the next installation, but i’ll settle nicely for the memories, and the tireless sounds of their latest offering.
dark folke is now out, and available from the observatory website. the album was recorded in norway with producer jørgen træen (jaga jazzist) and comes in a lovely hardbound book illustrated by justin bartlett (sun o))), mono).
do also check out mark’s new radio program free music now! with a special feature on the band’s music and it’s many influences in its pilot episode.