Tag Archives: the observatory

#395 The Observatory – Killing Time

Been awhile since I posted in here, but life’s just been busy for me lately. Still, one of the little pleasures I get out of each day, is the short walk from my home to the train station whenever I commute to work. Going back to the basic roots of this blog, “Killing Time” was literally the first song that popped into my music player as I switched it on. It was also the first song that made me fall in love with The Observatory when I first laid ears on their debut, Time of Rebirth, eight years ago in 2004.

There’s something whimsical about the way time stretches within the song as singer/keyboardist Vivien Wang achingly croons into your ear … “Killing time, killing time, don’t really know what to do.. Sad is the man who lives by the sea..” – all this while guitar swells and a breezy swing on hi hats trickle along in the background. The static in the air as you listen closely also adds a dimension of a waking dream, another testament to the intricacies toward soundscapes that the band pays dire attention to.

By the time we arrive at the final coda, at the final signpost of any human contact, Vivian offers these words “sad is the man who’s lost his way..” right before a melancholic and surrendered nylon stringed guitar solo, courtesy of Victor Low, takes us over the edge to be consumed by the abyss. – Brian.

mp3: The Observatory – Killing Time


Our Favorite Gigs of 2010

What a blast 2010 has been, especially with the sheer number of concerts we’ve had this year. Here’s some of our favorite moments.

7 Feb: XX @ Esplanade Concert Hall
Though the XX was opening for Florence and the Machine, their short set at the start of the gig was my highlight of the night. I still remember standing quite near the front, having every bass and beat shake my body to the core, and feeling the goosebumps induced by relishing and experiencing firsthand the band’s understated cool. – Dan.

mp3: The XX – Crystalised

16 Mar: Dinosaur Jr. @ Esplanade Theatre
My colleague captured it best when she described this gig, part of the Mosaic Music Festival 2010 program, as an unplanned reunion party where you catch up with all your old buddies from school … and everyone is wearing the same stupid outfits from back then! Nostalgia aside, the grizzled veterans of the reunited Dinosaur Jr. played a loose and appropriately loud set that featured their signature brand of melodic discordance. – Keith.

mp3: Dinosaur Jr – Been There All The Time

11 Apr: B Quartet @ Esplanade Recital Studio
These Singaporeans boys are musicians who deliver a hundred percent in a recorded album, and go the distance when they play live. I remember being enthralled by Bani Haykal flitting in and out, between worlds as he sang his beautiful poetry or played the Xaphoon. The rest of the band thundered along like it was following lightning, and for those of us who were in the audience, we were swept up in the storm of one of Singapore’s finest bands, and secretly wanting to be as good as them. – Brian.

mp3: B Quartet – A Dull Taste On My Tongue

27 Jul: Broken Social Scene @ Esplanade Concert Hall
Three to four guitars on stage, horn players come out, synthesizers going out of their mind, and is that a horn section coming out? How do they do it? How does a band have so many members and instruments on the same stage and yet, sound like they were each in the center of the universe? It remains a mystery, and is a beautiful reminder that music has no rules, no time to go unheard and it’s a hella fun to be playing with your friends. – Brian.

mp3: Broken Social Scene – Forced to Love

7 Aug: Belle & Sebastian @ Esplanade Concert Hall
I’d loved to have caught Belle & Sebastian about more than ten years ago during their Sinister tour, but I’d settle for this anytime, especially when they played that song which made me fall in love over and over with that album. Yes, “Judy and the Dream of Horses” came late into the set, but that’s where it belongs, that captivating surprise near the end that keeps you longing for more. – Dan.

mp3: Belle and Sebastian – Judy And The Dream Of Horses (Live at BBC)

17 Sep: Typewriter @ Home
What heart, soul and infectious energy Singaporean band Typewriter exuded throughout this pulsating set. Their debut album Indian Head Massage had been a long time in the waiting, so this launch had an emotionally charged and liberating dynamic that probably won’t be reproduced again, with the band soaking in every glorious moment. – Dan.

mp3: Typewriter – That Deepest Blue (Haramain Mix)

29 Sep: Sun Kil Moon @ Chamber at the Arts House
Attending Mark Kozelek’s intimate solo performance at the old parliament building in Singapore was akin to being caught in a convulsion of the music’s strange serene beauty. Mark played most of the new songs from the recent Admiral Fell Promises album, as well as reworking a few of the more memorable of the older Sun Kil Moon tunes (“Glenn Tipton” and “Heron Blue” were particularly lovely) – but the standout for me, and no doubt for other longtime Red House Painters fan, is the roiling rendition of “Void”. – Keith.

mp3: Sun Kil Moon – Carry Me Ohio

8 Oct Keeping It Peel @ POW
This was one of my favourite gigs because it’s slightly personal. Y’see, I play bass in Shelves, who closed the night at this John Peel memorial gig. It was also our debut. I remember the encouragement of our friends and peers, and the energy that went into rehearsal, performing in a makeshift band pit, playing hard, loud, and sometimes too fast. I remember my fellow band members, the jittery excitement, the nervous beers before (and after), and overall, I remember why I still do what I do. – Brian.

mp3: Shelves – One Live Baby
(Heh, we realized later that this was actually in 2009, but who’s keeping score aye?)

11 Nov: The Flaming Lips @ Marina Bay Sands
It was like part two of a dream come true to finally attend a Lips gig (part one being fulfilled at the Mercury Rev one some years back), and what a show this turned out to be. It wasn’t as if we didn’t expect confetti cannons or Wayne-in-giant-balloon sightings, but actually being there and sharing in the euphoria of the moment was quite an unbelievable experience. Nothing that night was too weird to be celebrated, except perhaps the most baffling omission of anything at all from The Soft Bulletin. – Dan.

mp3: The Flaming Lips – Do You Realize

11 Dec: The Observatory @ National Museum of Singapore
There are perhaps few better choices in the world other than The Observatory to compose an original score and provide the live musical accompaniment to a recent screening of A Page of Madness, Teinosuke Kinugasa’s haunting 1928 silent film. The controlled and yet improvisational nature of The Observatory’s 1½ hour-long performance created a disturbing ambience for the fractured narrative set in an insane asylum, the subtle instrumentation and electronics navigating the contours of an enigmatic film masterpiece whose visual poetry was well ahead of its time. – Keith.

mp3: The Observatory – Invisible Room

the observatory – dark folke, (in)visible rooms


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.

mp3: the observatory – invisible room

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.

#165 the observatory – waste your life


i was in b’s car last weekend, drifting in and out of sleep to the familiar sounds of singaporean band the obervatory‘s debut album time of rebirth (the band has gone on to two more impressive albums, with a new one in the works this year). it’s an album i’ve listened to through these years, and one with which i’ve formed many memories, in varying degrees of vagueness. i remember buying a copy of the demo from frontman leslie low after one of their gigs. i can’t remember where it was. some time later the song “ask” became the topic of a bet i made with debs, which i won of course. i remember the poh piah treat i got as a result, which was very good. strangely i don’t remember very much about the song “waste your life” in spite of how familiar it sounds, until i awoke to it in b’s car as the ambient intro made way to a haunting lullaby. at that moment, i felt the making of another memory.

mp3: the observatory – waste your life

time of rebirth comes in a lovingly handmade diary. you can order your copy along with the other albums at the observatory store. in related news, leslie low has a new album out called the ground, which is also comes as a beautiful handmade package. do pop by his website, where you can also download a free ep meandering loss.