2015: TOP TEN SINGAPORE RELEASES

S-ROCK

The amount of new music releases in 2015 is staggering. And it’s basically impossible to be able to listen to everything out there. But when it comes to Singapore Rock, well then it is possible to almost do just that.

Thus, a justification for this list – our recommendations for those of you who have recently come aboard the S-ROCK train. Welcome to the rest of your life!

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EP REVIEW: iNCH – LETTERS TO UBIN

Letters to Ubin

I am listening to the Letters to Ubin EP and smiling to myself because I am thinking of how a critic/observer of the local scene slammed iNCH’s music for being ‘soft’ and ‘not edgy’. Fact is that could not be further from the truth. Perhaps that critic was fooled by iNCH’s public persona! Certainly, there are numerous elements of Letters to Ubin that most casual listeners would consider too arty and indulgent — definitely ‘edgy’!

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LIVE REVIEW: iNCH – LETTERS TO UBIN EP LAUNCH

Photo by Aloysius Lim
Photo by Aloysius Lim

Back in 2011, in a public Facebook note, singer-songwriter iNCH (a.k.a Inch Chua) criticised Singaporean attitudes toward local music. iNCH even moved out of Singapore (to the US) in order to pursue her musical career. Four years later, back in Singapore, as a packed audience demonstrates their hearty approval, iNCH is moved to tears by a post-gig video filled with expressions of congratulations, love, admiration and celebration for the launch of iNCH’s new EP, Letters to Ubin.

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LIVE REVIEW: XIAO ZAR BO – HERE’S TO THE CRAZY LADIES!

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Xiao Zar Bo (“Crazy Women” in the Hokkien dialect) is a bi-annual music initiative fronted by iNCH and Esther Lowless, designed to provide a platform to female singer-songwriters to showcase their own works. The rather stately environs of the Singjazz Club delivered a suitable venue for this sold out ticketed (over 80 pax) premiere event. The audience was appreciative of the efforts of the ‘crazy ladies’ throughout and there was an air of community and collaboration about the performances as performers fronted and backed each other seamlessly.

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For the two headliners – iNCH and Esther Lowless – it was an opportunity to share music from upcoming releases in a safe environment. Eschewing the need for a rhythm section, relying more on backing tracks (for iNCH) and copious harmonies and stringed instruments, there was a beatific ambience about the entire proceedings. iNCH went further and shared with the crowd a sensational little secret (which shall remain so till officially announced) and new songs from her much anticipated Letters From Ubin EP. Esther herself played a couple of new songs – “Warpaint” and “Withered Oak Tree” that highlighted the cinematic prog-rock style that distinguishes her music from the rest. Watch out for the new album!

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KindaKim (aka violinist Kim Eun Hyung) set out an astonishing live looper performance complemented by what would be described as commercial-alternative pop songs. Her use of a looper was illuminating – taking occasional to speed up her loops which made her songs quite distinctive in the main. Though self-deprecating about her singing, it fit her songwriting perfectly (one of the main rules of songwriting) and overall, her set was an engaging one.

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Lisa Haryono opened the night with a enthralling lineup of piano-based originals that hearkened to old-school pop compositions. jazz-pop-soul numbers were thrown out effortlessly as Lisa’s gorgeous voice bounced around the walls and into our collective hearts, sending chills down spines. It’s amazing to think that Lisa is already such an accomplished musician (as a session cellist) as well as fronting one of most promising Singapore bands out there (Enec.e), and to add this other musical persona to the list was simply mind blowing. Please record these soulful gems soon, Lisa!

One of the best local gigs in recent memory left me with mixed feelings somewhat. On the one hand, I appreciated the coziness of the affair and being able to savour the wonder of some of my favourite singer-songwriters up close but on the other hand, I would have loved for 500, 1000 or even 2000 people to have witnessed this! So good! But also, the sight of iNCH’s producer Evan Low in a tight-fitting dress was enough to gain him the accolade of Xiao Zar Bo of the night! See what you missed?

… still there’s more … 

LIVE NEWS: XIAO ZAR BO

Xiao Zar Bo

Xiao Zar Bo: Hokkien for “Crazy Women”.

XZB is a bi-annual showcase of music from Singapore female singer songwriters who have that good bit of craziness in them to go against the grain, make their own music, and carve their own unique identities in this crazier society of rigid convention and uniformity.

This showcase features quietly sensual Lisa Haryono, cute and quirky Kim Eun Hyung, dark and moody Esther Lowless, and one of Singapore’s biggest pioneers of singer songwriter music, Inch Chua.

On the 9th of October, experience an aurally pleasing burst of girl power with these 4 lovely ladies at Singjazz Club.

Cover charge:
Early-bird (Online) – $12
http://xzbmovement.peatix.com/

At-door – $15

Line-up:
7.30pm Lisa Haryono
8.00pm Kim Eun Hyung
8.30pm Esther Lowless
9.00pm Inch

HOUSE OF RIOT: INCH, THE GREAT SPY EXPERIMENT & CHARLIE LIM – SINGAPORE ROCK COMES OF AGE!

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Well you turn when I talk/Run when I walk/Rise when I fall/Burn when I shiver/Smile when I frown/Go when I come around/You twist when I shout/In when I’m out/There when I’m here/Why do I bother?/Laugh when I’m down/Whine when I make a sound

I didn’t realise how much I would be affected by The Great Spy Experiment’s swan song performance until I sang along to “The Great Decay” and I lost it – the tears rolled freely and all the precious memories flooded into my mind.

One of many emotional high points of House of Riot’s ambitious concert to put Singapore indie music where it belongs – in the mainstream. How else to describe a concert at a packed out Esplanade Concert Hall where I failed to recognise the majority of the audience? This was no longer an underground movement, this was a Singapore audience doing something never done before, paying hard-earned money for SINGAPORE acts playing at arguably one of the best (and most prestigious) concert venues on the island!

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iNCH opened the night, resplendent in a cape playing familiar tunes (“Chefalo Knot”, “The Artful Dodger” & a spine-tingling “Dear Paramour”) and a couple of new tunes (“Lyre Lyre, Hearts on Fyre” was particularly affecting). It was clear that the enormity of the night’s achievement was also weighing on iNCH as paid an emotional tribute to those who had been supporting her music since 2009. It was a victorious comeback for the petite singer-songwriter, with a new EP due in September.

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Hard to believe that the GSE are no more but all things must pass and surely, there could be no better way for this Singapore indie rock institution to say goodbye! It has been eight years since I first thrilled to their music and tonight the songs seemed stronger and grander – from “Late Nite Request” to “Class ‘A’ Love Affair” – it was an emotional farewell. It was a proper Singapore rock send-off in a venue more suited for classical music, which in itself was so symbolic. An unforgettable performance from a beloved S-ROCK band. Thank you and love always – Saiful, Fandy, Mag, Khai and Song!

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And finally, Charlie Lim  – surely, the brightest hope for Singapore rock. Backed by the Mothership, Charlie played tracks off his hit new double EP Time/Space with aplomb and finesse. Personally, I favour the folk-rock majesties of “Light Break In” (kudos to the string section of Lisa Haryono, Josh Wei and Kim Eun Hyung), “Choices” and “Bitter” where Charlie’s heartfelt lyrics are expressed in rustic tones but my new favourite “I Only Tell the Truth” (this time with Charlie on keyboards) also provided a memorable ‘lump-in-throat’ moment. Triumphant!

The audience stayed behind as Riot chief honcho Mike See took time to appreciate everyone who played a part in the magnificent venture. It was heart-warming to see a primarily mainstream audience giving a standing ovation to a group of Singapore indie artists (and I include managers and crew into that description) and receiving the deserved recognition that has for so long been denied. Mike rightfully described the success of the event as historical – those of us who remember the scene of a decade ago would have never imagined the scenario which unfolded before our very eyes. But tonight on June 6th 2015, Singapore rock came of age.

… still there’s more … 

 

HOUSE OF RIOT WITH CHARLIE LIM, INCH & THE GREAT SPY EXPERIMENT!

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On 6 June, House of Riot – home to Singapore’s well-loved independent acts, Charlie Lim, iNCH, and The Great Spy Experiment – presents an ambitious live show in homage to made-in-Singapore music, at The Esplanade’s grande dame The Concert Hall.

#sgindie music at the Esplanade Concert Hall? Somewhat unprecedented but surely the potentially record-breaking triple bill stands perfectly placed to do the deed.

Tickets for the Riot show are now on sale at SISTIC, and priced at S$50 for normal admission; S$40 for students and NSFs.

BAYBEATS 2014: DAY TWO

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Typically, I find that the second day of Baybeats is the best of the Festival. I guess it’s part of the programming being on a Saturday and all that. But for me personally, it was day of discovery as well as pride in our local musicians (now, that’s a cause I really get behind!)

It began with lunch with Sean and Dee from Ssighborggg – two expat Americans making a name for themselves in the Seoul indie scene. As always, with music people there is an inexplicable connection that I never take for granted. Fun-loving and humble the duo might be but dead serious when it comes to their music as proven with their distinctive set later that night. One of the most unique aural experiences I have ever had. Kudos!

The absolute highlight for me was the performance of my former NOISE mentees ENEC.E at the Concourse and naturally I was emotionally invested. Just so you know, it was love at first sight with the songs and sisterly harmonies of Lisa and Michelle when I heard them at Thunder Band Slam and I have been a fan since. The stripped down environment suited them somewhat with more emphasis on vocals and ‘feels’ (as the kids like to say) – I must confess that I welled up quite a few times during their spine-tingling set (“Ghost”, “Satellite” & “Crystallized” OMG). Magic!

Lost Weekend – like a few budding bands – had to handle rejection the first time it tried out but the group never gave up and came back stronger. I liked the eclecticism within the band’s early 90s alt-rock vibe and certainly Rachel did her best to capture the crowd’s attention – which she did. Some of the banter was a little awkward, and the band could have been tighter but my feeling is that Lost Weekend is a work-in-progress and that once they hit their stride, they are going to take some stopping. Mark my words!!

Now what can I say about Bani Hidir? I still remember marveling at his drumming skills with the immortal B-Quartet back in 2007-2008 (barely 20 years old) and then falling in love with Page (wherein he sang and played crunching power chords) but last night he impressed the Concourse audience with a set that showcased sophisticated songwriting, mad skills and a boyish confidence that charmed us all! Backed only by the impeccable Naz on piano, Hidir blew everyone away with his seemingly effortless display! So glad that he will be releasing an EP of his new material very soon. Best!

One regional band I was really looking forward to was lightcraft (Indonesia) and they certainly did not disappoint. It was basically unadulterated 90s shoegaze with a hint of the post-punk revival peeping over the reverb-drenched soundscapes. Heavenly! Frontman Imam was intense and driving the band forward with 150% commitment – some of his banter was really emotional and despite the odd technical hitches, the band melted my face many times over. With an epic new song – “The Art of Acceptance” – sweeping me away with waves of white noise I was hypnotized! Best part was that after the show, Imam came up to me and passed me the band’s latest CD – Colours of Joy – humbled! (Glowing review to come…)

Somehow it all came full circle with Inch. My very first Baybeats in 2007 was spent very much hanging out with Allura and living the experience through the eyes of someone like Inch. Hard to imagine how much she has grown up to become the very person she said she would be way back then. Amazing. PoP readers will know how much I loved her sophomore solo effort Bumfuzzle, and “Dear Paramour” had me in tears with the chills running down my spine (not to mention, new song “California”). With a crack band of musicians behind her, Inch ruled the roost and had the audience eating out of her hands – again all I could feel was pride and gratitude for being given the best view in the house for the ongoing development of our indie music scene!

Once again, this post has been personal and confessional and well, nostalgic but honestly I don’t give a fuck. It’s my website and I’ll cry if I want to…

My final word on Day Two goes to Leonard Soosay. Again, I recall chatting with him at that 2007 Baybeats Festival and regret certainly not spending more time with the man since then – he is truly one of the leading legends of our indie music scene when you consider the sheer number of bands and artists he has shepherded in his time as one of our top producers and I really enjoyed our short but insightful chat last night. Something I hope to rectify in the near future – what say you, Leo???

… still there’s more …

 

 

 

BAYBEATS 2014: PoP RECOMMENDATIONS

Which bands/artists will Power of Pop be focusing on during the next three nights of Baybeats 2014?

Friday 27th

STOPGAP | Powerhouse 7.30pm SPHAERAS | Arena 8.00pm DEON | Chillout Stage 9.15pm

JAIME WONG | Chillout Stage 10.15pm GIANTS MUST FALL | Arena 10.15pm

Saturday 28th

ENEC.E | Chillout Stage 5.00pm LOST WEEKEND | Arena 6.00pm BANI HIDIR | Chillout Stage 7.00pm

SSIGHBORGGG | Arena 8.15pm LIGHTCRAFT | Arena 9.15pm INCH | Arena 10.30pm

Sunday 29th

PITCH FEATHER | Chillout Stage 5.45pm .GIF | Chillout Stage 6.45pm

PIXEL APARTMENT | Chillout Stage 7.45pm MONSTER CAT | Arena 9pm

Have a great Baybeats weekend!

 

 

 

 

INCH CHUA

INCH CHUA Wallflower (Aging Youth)

The strength of Inch’s debut LP is not merely evidenced by the two catchy openers viz. Mt Epiphany and Rule the World, but by her ambition in presenting an artistic mission statement that prizes the song above the appearance of the hip and cool.

My personal observation of many young Singaporean singer-songwriters is a cloying need for acceptance rather than an allegiance to the form itself. However, there are of course the exceptions, where passion and verve are injected into songs like labors of love.

Thus in tracks like Hurt and Discern, the use of jazz structures highlight intricate melodies and chord patterns. Elsewhere, the heartfelt title track (with a truly affecting violin performance from Ismahairie Putra), the insightful Red Dot (with obligatory ukulele), the atonal Cold, Conned & Conquered and the piano ballad Have It Your Way deliver a consistent, uniformed maturity in composition and execution.

Standing out and holding her own, Wallflower is the sound of a performer coming of age, you might say. There’s precious little pandering to the masses here as Inch plots her own path to musical achievement. When Inch does decide to be pretty, there’s always the melodic candy of Mt Epiphany and Rule the World to more than provide the sugar rush.

Wallflower will be released on Saturday 17 July 2010 as a free download www.inchchua.com.

Inch will launch Wallflower (together with backing band, the Metric System) at the Esplanade Recital Studio, on Friday 30th July at 9.30pm. Tickets – S$25 (excluding taxes) at all SISTIC outlets. Not to be missed!

INCH CHUA

Whoa?!! When did Inch become a pop underground princess? The little lady has dropped a free download of Mt Epiphany, the lead track from her upcoming debut LP, Wallflower and if this delightful ditty is a teaser of things to come, then all of us are in for a sumptuous treat. Pretty, pretty, pretty good. Okay, press play again. Enjoy.

Free Download: Mt Epiphany

More information at www.inchchua.com.