Monthly Archives: October 2011

#372 Silver Tongues – Ketchup

Black Kite is by no means a perfect album, but this debut from Silver Tongues shows skyward ambition, opening with a prayerful exhortation and closing with an angelic vision. In between, the effervescent vocals of David Cronin echoes through the songs, sometimes with the church hall ambience of a Fleet Foxes hymn, and at other times booming with the polished bombast of My Morning Jacket. It’s very much still a work in progress, with the band searching for its identity through the album, prompting the listener to look out for and witness the moments where they do find their voice. One such glimpse is offered on “Ketchup” – their most focused and intense but somewhat shortlived effort which perhaps because it ends so abruptly hints at greater things to come, be it through highways from above or stories told on shining, silver tongues. – Dan.

mp3: Silver Tongues – Ketchup

Black Kite is out now on Karate Body Records.


#371 Shabazz Palaces – Recollections of the Wraith

Clear some space out, so we can space out. Shabazz PalacesBlack Up, an album big on ideas and rich in detail, finds its sweet spot when the space is cleared and all that’s left behind is the barest and most essential of ingredients. Ishmael Butler’s crisp no-nonsense rapping takes its rightful place at the forefront, finding an almost hypnoptic rhythm buoyed only by a neatly sampled vintage chorus of meandering oohs. Meanwhile, Tendai Maraire’s agreeable beats flit comfortably between the two while giving generous room for stretching out. On paper at least, this may seem almost too formulaic, but the track cruises with such dogged style (“take a chance cos you know we got to dazzle“) and packs such a punch (“I’m dressing like I was at the Ali-Frazier fight“) that you’d forgive its uncharacteristic structuredness. – Dan.

mp3: Shabazz Palaces – Recollections of the Wraith

Black Up is released, also uncharacteristically, on Sub Pop.

#370 Megafaun – These Words

Listening to Megafaun reminds me of that magical feeling of hearing Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for the very first time, of marveling at its perfect balance of country-folk balladry and pop experimentation. While Wilco has since, for better or worse, moved towards solidifying their monolithic sound, Megafaun has in their recent eponymous album resisted the boundaries of genre in producing what must be the most playfully rewarding release of the year. “These Words” opens with half a minute of guesswork, with its storyline coming together in a dizzying whole through the course of the track. The band’s determination to experiment always nearly backfires if not for an assured commitment to their musical roots, which makes for a surprisingly grounded affair. These guys know what they’re doing, and boy do they do it well. – Dan.

mp3: Megafaun – These Words

Megafaun is out now on Hometapes.

Music Alliance Pact – October 2011 Issue

SINGAPORE: I’m Waking Up To…
EtcBig Girl’s Blouse
Etc is truly one of Singapore’s best-kept secrets. There are no fancy fashions or trends associated with the duo of Ben Harrison and Harvey Chamberlain, just well-written guitar-rock to a steady beat. Harrison’s jangle-raggedy guitar work is exciting and tasteful enough to balance perfectly atop Chamberlain’s near-primal approach to the beat, yet also easy enough for that slacker sway. They have an album in the works, but we’ll make do with their generous online singles in the meantime. – Brian.

To download all 35 songs in one file click here. MAP is published on the 15th of every month, featuring a showcase of music handpicked by bloggers from all over the world.

Continue reading

Remembering R.E.M. – All The Way To Reno (You’re Gonna Be A Star)

This is a hazy moment in my life. I can’t see clearly, the air stinks like Pulau Bukom and Kalimantan burning together, and I can’t locate the hotspots giving off all this smoke, let alone put them out. And then R.E.M. disbands. I go through their discography in this haze, music that I knew pre-haze, and continue to learn about. A darker, edgier fan favourite (“Star Me Kitten”? Or “How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us”?) accompanied me as I brooded, but somehow this complacently shiny happy ditty shone through into my consciousness. It reminded me of how I used to be wide-eyed, earnest (“kick me” fastened on your sleeve) and carefree, how I would have gone the full distance to Reno on a whim.

Michael Moore shot the music video for this song in a Brooklyn high school, recalling the band’s halcyon days as they made a name for themselves on the college radio scene. The scenes of Buck, Mills and Stipe frolicking in a sea of earnest and excited young faces without a care in the world, lifted the gloom over me and made me feel hopeful. Surely I could be in that crowd too, breaking the rules, singing along to the ringing guitars and rallying chorus because I know what I’m gonna be. Struggle, self-doubt, ennui, the inevitable break-up of a great band – all part of this life’s rich pageant, and I must go through it writing my own directions and whistling the winds of change. – Eugene.

mp3: R.E.M. – All The Way To Reno (You’re Gonna Be A Star)

This marks the end of our R.E.M. special. It’s been great fun!

Remembering R.E.M. – Leave

My affair with R.E.M. started when I was voraciously reading through interviews with Radiohead. Time and again, Michael Stipe’s name kept popping up and Thom Yorke would describe how he and Stipe were good friends. At the time, I decided that it wouldn’t be too bad to have an American version of Radiohead, and decided in 1998 to buy my first R.E.M. album that didn’t contain “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”.

I settled for New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996), which was their latest album then. What greeted me was a sprawling mess of an album that almost didn’t seem to have any cohesiveness at all. It sounded like a band that didn’t know if it wanted to be experimental (“How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us”), or if it was going to be grungy alternative (“Wake Up Bomb”) or acoustic based (“New Test Leper”). Overall, I was a little unnerved by the whole experience, and ultimately, I was also coming to grips with my first time listening to an R.E.M. album in its entirety.

Looking back, I think it’s safe to say that this was a very transitional album, and was perhaps a milestone in chronicling the band’s sound up to that point. The question then was probably how they would take it further, or if they would simply keep doing what gave them the commercial success of Monster. As a young listener, I would constantly play the album on my stereo, trying to work out why there was something dissonant about it, a hidden layer of distress or signs of fatigue. I still knew nothing about the band in 1998, and I can’t even say that the album shaped my songwriting in any way.

However, there’s always something nostalgic about R.E.M. when I think about them today. I did go on to buy two more albums, Up (1998) and Reveal (2001), but I suppose their star was already fading then. Despite the shadow of these modern times, I sometimes find myself returning to New Adventures in Hi-Fi, listening again, trying to figure out the one album that never truly sat well with me. For once, as I’m writing this today, I think I know why – it’s rather bleak and melancholic. In fact, perhaps the saddest thing about it is that it sounds so tired. I think it’s in there somewhere, in the frequencies we can’t hear, the disquiet if you will, that reveals the strain of writing and recording the album.

“Leave” captures this perfectly, from the way the extended introduction starts and segues into a daring wah-wah riff that goes on for the entire song, to the faux ending that extends to one more cycle of the chorus, as if all they wanted to do was play that one chord they found explained everything they wanted to express, fade to black and just “leave it all behind”.

And so that’s R.E.M. for me. A rather nondescript band that was just able to empty out the bottom of their hearts even to the point of exhaustion and evoke some queer emotion in the unimpressed listener. Though it may not be for everyone, they’ve given everything they had to give and that is the triumph of the band’s 31 year career. – Brian.

mp3: R.E.M. – Leave

Remembering R.E.M. – Let Me In

My first introduction to R.E.M. was their 1994 album Monster. I had probably heard “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” enough times on the radio to finally decide – a few years later – to spend that twenty bucks at Tower Records for my own copy of the album. It was a limited edition gold CD (which was all the rage back then) commemorating the band’s tour of the region that generously included a Singapore leg. I can’t quite remember my first impressions of that album, but I followed up whatever interest garnered the years after by slowly trawling through their back catalogue.

Perhaps that was when I became more and more convinced that Monster really wasn’t the place to start listening to R.E.M. It just seemed so jarring and sinisterly out of place with everything else they had produced. I found myself falling in love instead with its immediate predecessor Automatic for the People (1992). It was (and still is) a gorgeous album, from the evocative ebb and flow of opening song “Drive” to the beautiful couplet that closed it, “Nightswimming” and “Find a River”. It seemed so much more sensitive and I suppose, earnest, even with all its lush embellishments.

It was only this year that I finally got round to listening to their first two albums Murmur (1983) and Reckoning (1984). Unlike some of their later material (like “Shiny Happy People”) which sound like a product of their time, these early efforts don’t seem dated at all even after a generation past. “Radio Free Europe”, the band’s first single, is still arguably its best: punchy and melodic, anticipating their career-long development of intricately crafted jangle-pop strung together by Stipe’s trademark enigmatic lyricism.

All they had built up through the years seem abandoned when we come to Monster, which plays like an anti-R.E.M. record. The upbeat pop that heralded the Warner years (“Me in Honey”, “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” and, well, of course “Pop Song 89”) gave way to murky shades of cynicism (“King of Comedy”) and sleaze (“Crush with Eyeliner”). The delicate balladry of “Strange Currencies” and “Tongue” in the middle of the album prove to be but a brief respite before the ensuing feedback-laden onslaught that culminates in the darkly obsessive “You”.

Much has been made of this aberration in R.E.M.’s oeuvre, particularly Stipe’s adoption of various pathological characters in his songs. Most memorable is “I Took Your Name”, a song that lives out in first person a fanatical character thief’s chilling psyche. Beneath these layers of impersonation, however, lies a concern with authenticity: the tension between real and fake in “Crush with Eyeliner”, the yearning to “make it real” in “Strange Currencies”, and that crushing revelation in “Circus Envy”: “If I were you I’d really run from me“.

The only time Stipe lets down his guard to deal with his own personal realities is “Let Me In”, the song written to Kurt Cobain after his death, reliving his futile efforts to reach into the Nirvana frontman’s life. In the midst of the other monsters in the album, this track makes for the most painful listening as it’s Stipe’s voice you actually hear, not his development of someone else’s character. For me, realising this makes relistening to Monster after all these years not so much a exercise in nostalgia as I had originally expected, but one of the most harrowing experiences in watching fiction blend cruelly into the coldest of realities. To say goodbye? Nice try. – Dan.

mp3: R.E.M. – Let Me In