Monthly Archives: February 2010

#248 califone – funeral singers

Recently I was watching Luis Bunuel’s Tristana, at home alone ’round about midnight, a film that’s perhaps not immediately recognized as one of his best. Then again, Tristana’s got quite a few things working in its favor: it’s one of just two Bunuel films that star Catherine Deneuve (who gave arguably a better performance here than in the more oft-mentioned Belle de Jour); the story arc’s pretty wicked; and it’s a film that sports a few of those ravishing surrealistic touches that the Spanish filmmaker is known for. And one thing you can always say about Bunuel is that the guy directed each of his 31 films with an untamed heart.

Which brings us to Califone and the mercurial All My Friends Are Funeral Singers, an album that happens to reference Bunuel in a few of the songs. (There is apparently a companion film of the same title.) “Funeral Singers”, a vertiginous mix of shuffling acoustic blues and skulking singalongs, presents a rather intriguing, stripped-down portrait of Califone’s music, a lively anachronism unrepentantly out of step with modern conveniences. The song’s vague lyrical preoccupations, seemingly about disembodied spirits and with Tim Rutili’s vocals sounding uncanny as ever, further place “Funeral Singers” on the map of decidedly strange terrains – where it’s dreamy weather, away from the hiss of suburbia, a mirthful rat-and-tat filling up disused rooms wreathed in narcotic warmth. – keith.

mp3: califone – funeral singers

Califone’s All My Friends Are Funeral Singers is available on Dead Oceans.


#247 humpback oak – pain

upon the release of ghostfather by singaporean band humpback oak in 1997, local musician, dj and critic chris ho termed their music “heart-core”. listening again to ghostfather after all these years, i can’t help but agree with that label, even if it sounds a little awkward and clumsy today. the wry, brooding folk of the quartet led by leslie low (now of the observatory) never shied away from matters of the heart, whether via personal or philosophical routes. at the same time, their music was always biting and penetrating, digging beneath the surface despite the pain and discomfort. for me, the song that captures this best is the album closer “pain”, a song that walks with such trepidation across the experiences of confusion and hurt, whilst building up repeatedly to a chorus that forcefully tears apart the wretchedness of sorrow from the joy of pain. it’s a harrowing conclusion to an exhausting journey that rewards you for sticking it to the end. – dan.

mp3: humpback oak – pain

humpback oak’s entire discography has been reissued in a limited boxset titled oaksongs. it will be sold exclusively at polymath & crust (86 club street, singapore) this weekend (27 & 28 feb, 1-5pm).

#246 thee silver mt. zion memorial orchestra – collapse traditional (for darling)

the silver mt. zion‘s latest release, kollaps tradixionales, stands out for its unmistakable symmetry spread over 4 lp sides. sides 1 and 4 begin and end the record with the ebb and flow of long, winding movements reaching deep into their familiar repertoire of mournful strings, tensely depressed piano keys, and cries of desperation by orchestra leader efrim menuck. side 2 builds upon their more recent obsession with punk and rock with a more crushing brutality delivered in two parts, both inseparable components of the live favorite “metal bird”. in contrast, side 3 turns on itself with some degree of introspection by exploring the album’s title and theme in a 3 part concerto. at the heart of it is “collapse traditional (for darling)”, a work of stunning brevity that captures a rare instance the band lets down its guard by casting aside its ideology and ethos and laying bear a soul still brimming with childlike wonder. it’s a moment to savor, even if it goes by as quickly as it came. – dan.

mp3: thee silver mt. zion memorial orchestra – collapse traditional (for darling)

kollaps tradixionales is now out on constellation.

#245 scott walker – it’s raining today

through the years, scott walker has acquired a certain reputation for being ahead of his time and creatively uncompromising. and sure enough, his early solo albums in the sixties (the scott 1-4 albums) tend to be rather divisive. some people would find this music to be hopelessly melodramatic, while others can’t get enough of his enigmatic songs about the plague, plastic palace people and earthy prostitutes who dream of a fire escape in the sky, his ability to create trance-inducing beauty in the loneliest of places. “it’s raining today” is one of my favorites, and it’s an elegant snapshot of walker’s gifts as a songwriter and arranger. i’ve always liked the way the ominous strings creep up from a distant background and drift along like a proustian reverie while the singer retraces his steps to a forgotten corner of the universe, haunted by visions of the train-window girl he’s trying to forget. life is elsewhere already, he seems to be saying amid the hallucinatory unease, and so be it. – keith.

mp3: scott walker – it’s raining today

#244 eels – in my younger days

one of the powerful qualities of music is its ability to deal emphatically with human brokenness, often as cathartic release as in the case of the break-up album. a much tougher issue to address, though, is the theme of aging and mortality, perhaps owing to its individual rather than relational nature that makes it so much harder to articulate, much less express lyrically and musically. mark everett, the man behind eels, combines the two uncompromisingly in his latest album end times, in managing to remain emotionally sincere without indulging in self-misery. for someone who’s had to deal with both his mother’s death and sister’s suicide just a couple of years apart (see 1998’s electro-shock blues), the reality of death could not be more pronounced. in the achingly nostalgic “in my younger days”, everett single-handedly confronts the limitations of age, and faces up to what he’s become without resorting to bitterness (now i’m a statistic/but i’m not fatalistic/i’m not yet resigned to fate/and i’m not gonna be ruled by hate). yet, the yearning for love remains ever so strong in the face of loss, something that makes growing old so very much harder. – dan.

mp3: eels – in my younger days

end times is now available on their online store.

music alliance pact – february 2010 issue

it’s always been a great thrill introducing the finest local talents to an international audience through MAP. this month, we’re especially excited to be attacking your ears with the ferocious sounds of stellarium, as handpicked by our local music ambassador brian koh. even as we speak, their recently released self titled album is generating interest among shoegazers abroad, with one listener describing it as “what [a place for burying strangers’ latest album] exploding head should have been”. heads up everyone – this is one Singaporean act you shouldn’t miss. Continue reading

#243 cass mccombs – dreams come true girl

you’re my dreams come true girl.

mp3: cass mccombs – dreams come true girl

#242 yeasayer – ambling alp

The outstanding video for “Ambling Alp” is a surrealistic journey of a mirror-faced horse-rider through a desert with naked humans, suggesting a sci-fi scene set perhaps in 2080. But the music is also unmistakeably 1980s in its outlook – listen to the slabs of cold reverbs, long digital delays, synthesisers, and drum machines. The snare drum at the end of every alternate bar in “Ambling Alp” is pure Eighties.

Like many visionaries, Yeasayer’s forte lies in stealing ideas and putting together never-imagined possibilities. Odd Blood fuses (believe it or not) Michael Jackson’s wanna-be-starting-something grooves, Animal Collective’s rollicking exuberance, and Roxy Music’s just-barely-dramatic vocals. On “Ambling Alp”, listen out for the bridge, where lead singer Chris Keating’s voice is transformed impeccably into that of Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Yeasayer isn’t unjustifed in naming this song after Primo Carnera, a world heavyweight boxing champion who earned the nickname “Ambling Alp” for his gargantuan frame. The song punches incessantly throughout its duration, and drills its memorable chorus into your head. By the end of its 4 minutes, you can still hear the chorus even after it’s knocked you out. – Song-Ming Ang

mp3: yeasayer – ambling alp

Song-Ming Ang makes art about music. Write him a letter and get a mix CDR in return:

#241 davy graham – both sides now

while 60’s british folk revivalist davy graham has been recognized by many as an influence in the development of “world music”, his cover of joni mitchell’s “both sides now” may be best described as otherworldly. to be fair, the original already had a certain mystical quality to it, for in spite of its accessibility, there was a certain fluidity embedded in the song that magically opened it to much reinterpretation, both by mitchell herself and countless others. but graham’s version stands out above the rest with its decidedly multicultural approach to a song that’s aptly about accepting new perspectives. taking his time with an intro most likely influenced by his trips to morocco and tangiers, graham weaves together a dirge-like opening prayer before launching into free-spirited folk performance that floats above the clouds he sings of. it’s the very life he injects into the song that keeps it rolling along faithfully but never wearily, delivered in the most liberating spirit that finds its place today in the equally free-roaming trajectories of bands like animal collective. – dan.

mp3: davy graham – both sides now

#240 the xx – shelter

we weren’t planning to go at first, but at the last minute, b and i got ourselves passes to see the xx and florence and the machine at the esplanade (many thanks v and a!). bursting with enthusiasm, florence delivered a spectacular show of epic proportions, with impressively high energy levels sustained to the very last song. in very stark contrast, opening band the xx operated with the barest of setups, presenting every note and breath to the audience’s scrutiny. barring some rather disastrous sound engineering for the first few songs, the atmosphere they created was indeed crystal in the air, with songs that threatened to break into a party always reined in just in time in deferment to their consistently brittle state. but there were also times when chill also meant more tension and build-up, like “shelter” which the band seized by the throat and cruelly refused to let go, leaving it throbbing with such haunting and terrifying beauty. – dan.

mp3: the xx – shelter