Thankfully, the flood of made-in-Singapore releases continues unabated even though we have uncomfortably transitioned to 2016. Here is a sampling of what is to come in the coming year for Singapore music fans. Reviews to come.
2015 is almost done and dusted but there are still a couple of loose ends to tie up. Here’s a couple of Singapore instrumental albums released this year that you might want to examine a little closer.
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!
Saving the best for last? I must confess that this spanking new EP from Cashew Chemists might very well be tied for best release of 2015 with Cheating Sons’ eponymous sophomore effort. Mainly because of its dogged persistence in the pursuit of old school pop-rock excellence.
As popular as modern indie pop-rock was in the early noughties (I am tired of the ‘post-rock revival’ moniker), it does not seem to have caught on in a big way amongst Singapore indie rock bands. What I am referring to, are the bands that have been influenced by The Strokes, Vampire Weekend & Arctic Monkeys, and in that respect, apart from Cashew Chemists, the only local indie band that has successfully taken a crack at this style is Stopgap.
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’!
Indie rockers Stopgap have issued a music video for “Nervous” – a track off upcoming new album Totems. Not quite sure if it’s the strongest song the band have ever written but there you go.
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.
Cadence formed a year ago & in that one year, they have already played at Baybeats Festival as a Budding Band! Well, that is quite often the ‘be all and end all’ for a local indie-alternative rock band. But at the launch of its debut EP – Heights – at Hood Bar last night, there was evidence that the band might just have the potential to truly make a name for itself, not just in our indie music scene but even beyond our shores.
Polymath – “a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas”.
I am certainly not suggesting that JAWN (aka Jon Chan) is Leonardo Da Vinci but at a superficial level, I found the above definition to be representative of my experience of JAWN.
Boys just wanna have fun. Five lads who come together to make the music they love to play whilst hoping that music lovers will tag along for the ride. That sums up Cadence perfectly.
BigO (Before I Get Old) was a self-styled indie magazine that existed in print form from about 1985 to 2003 (give or take). Founded by Michael and Philip Cheah (with Stephen Tan) from the ashes of the Singapore Monitor, the magazine would be a major pop culture force in Singapore in the 1990s. Though it still exists online, its influence in local culture has been deliberately curtailed for reasons unknown.
Alright, here’s the concept – let’s have ‘crossover’ events with music for the Singapore Writers Festival 2015. All perfectly logical – after all songs have lyrics.
Now, let’s stretch that further and have the opening event a concert featuring two of Singapore’s leading INSTRUMENTAL rock bands!
Yes indeed, that’s the way to do something completely different and with In Each Hand a Cutlass (left, above) and I Am David Sparkle on board, one can be sure that the music will be up to the task.
Luckily for Power of Pop, we get to quiz the bands and they get to write some words to – hopefully – offer some clarity about Island of Dreams.
How did the organisers set out the task assigned to you regarding Island of Dreams?
Sujin Thomas (IEHAC): We were approached at first as a potential band to write the theme song for the Singapore Writers Festival and later commissioned to do the job. I think the organisers decided on an instrumental band because we offered that element of songwriting without words. What was cool was that they left the creative process entirely to us to work out.
Daniel Sassoon (IEHAC): We definitely appreciate the creative freedom given to us, although the track is ultimately a commissioned piece. We shared our ideas and vision of what the song was meant to capture – namely, the spark of inspiration that ignites the whole creative process, and the birthing of new worlds as a result. They saw where we were coming from and liked the demo, and gave some feedback; we tweaked it a little when recording it, and off we went to Snakeweed Studios.
I Am David Sparkle: Expressions of life’s liberties.
What was the main challenge in coming up with a set that would be suitable for the theme assigned to you?
Sujin: For the theme song itself, we had to think outside of our familiar realm, that is, to steer away from the technicalities and mood shifts of our own tracks. We kept in mind that we had to create an instrumental song that could not only be catchy and engaging but also be palatable for mainstream listeners. Our set for the gig is made up of a range of songs off our second LP, The Kraken, with a few tracks from our debut album, and of course, the theme song. Again, we kept in mind that the audience at the gig may not all be familiar with our stuff so we’ve curated a set list that will offer them an easy introduction to the band, with a few fan favourites thrown in the mix for good measure. Basically, we plan to blow their minds to bits.
IADS: Aggressive discipline and barbaric control.
What is your interpretation of Island of Dreams – what does it mean to you?
Amanda Ling (IEHAC): Dream factory, through the mind, to the hands and out to the world.
Daniel: I imagine this island as a safe space in the middle of the ocean, which carries certain danger and the unknown that lurks in its depths.
IADS: No disguise can deface evil, that stains the primitive sickle blood red.
As an instrumental band, how do you convey your ideas effectively, without the use of words?
Amanda: Music is a universal language that can be understood through its emotive nature of the mood, tempo, instrumentation set by the musicians. The dynamics of each element interplay with each other and the wordless nature provides the listener with a vast possibility of interpretation through their imagination.
Nelson Tan (IEHAC): Most of the time I go with the flow. If I feel that it sounds right, I would go for it. I also try not to focus too much on the technical aspect of my bass playing but more like let the song develop into the way I feel is right. Many a times I’ve tried to introduce more advanced ways of playing only to find that grooving with the drummer prevails over tapping demisemiquaver notes over a 3 octave B harmonic minor scale in major 3rds using both hands at 300BPM. Sometimes less is more for most of the time.
Daniel: I didn’t even understand that, but that’s why Nelson’s got that music degree!
IADS: Oppression ruled by bloodshed.
Besides the music itself, are there any other aspects of your performance that will go towards an interpretation of the theme?
Daniel: We should be having some background visuals and mood lighting that would enhance the atmosphere; but we’ll leave that to the professionals to come up with all that good stuff. We’ll just focus on playing as best we can.
IADS: Seizing all civil liberties.
Island of Dreams will be held at the Victoria Theatre on 30th October.
Tickets available from http://www.sistic.com.sg/events/swf2015c
Listen to In Each Hand a Cutlass’ “The Paper, The Pen and the World Began” – the theme song of the Singapore Writers Festival.
It begins with a barrage of ambient noise before settling into an acoustic/electric guitar dream-pop soundscape topped by the angelic vocals of Michelle and Lisa. Certainly, the arrangements have altered quite a bit from the way in which the band (now with new lead guitarist and drummer) used to play “Crystallized” live but from my perspective, it feels ‘right’. I would say that guitarist Ridhwan (from wyd:syd) has provided the definitive last piece that completes the jigsaw with his textured work.
After a prolonged wait, it is exciting that Enec.e is finally going to release recorded material & this is big news! Only the tip of the iceberg. MORE!
“Crystallized” is available now.
More info – https://www.facebook.com/enecdote
The Quartermasters want the music to speak for itself – no hype, no labels, just the music. On that count, this debut EP should be enjoyed on its own merits. By and large, it will be.
From a reviewer’s perspective, stripped of the need to pigeonhole this music, it is obvious that the Quartermasters’ goal was to make emotionally resonant music and again, on that count, they have succeeded.
For the bulk of the EP (viz. “The Harlot Train”, “Catch on Fire” and “Invincible”) reflects the influence of country-folk music that runs across the past five decades. Whether or not this music has been somehow appropriated by modern indie-pop fans (due to the popularity of Noah & the Whale, Fleet Foxes and Mumford & Son), there’s little doubt that the ‘age’ of the reference points have not impacted on opinions of millennials who have adopted this kind of music as somehow relevant and suitable modern pop.
Which goes to prove that folks still judge a book by its cover. Form over substance.
But these extraneous concerns are moot when one comes to the gorgeously soulful “Worry”, which manages to insert jazz-inflected harmonic progressions within its generic country-folk construct. No mean feat and at over six minutes there’s a whole lotta country-soul to enjoy!
Zhong Ren Koh is probably one of the most talented musicians in Singapore that you have never heard of. Well, to be fair, if you are a hardcore S-ROCK fan, you might remember Zhong Ren playing bass in Basement in My Loft or sessioning as a cellist for Hanging Up the Moon, Victor Low or Alise.
But really, what you should realise is that as Plate (with support from drummer Jason Cruz and violinist/co-producer Yi The Seow) – Zhong Ren (on (vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, cello, glockenspiel, drum machine!) is one of the more exciting singer-songwriters out there in the #sgindie wasteland. And here’s the evidence: a nine-track debut album (Tear Down the Marketplace) with a maturity and intensity that belies Zhong Ren’s own personal under-stated style and underscores the artistic depth of what can still be achieved in 2015 with indie rock.
The easiest reference point for Plate is Radiohead & perhaps early Muse (especially on the opening tracks “Revolutionaries and “Building With Sticks” but that is only the starting position for Plate). On the atmospheric, cinematic folk of “River”, “Nest” & “Landslide”, Plate echoes the work of Hanging Up the Moon and Leslie Low, plundering the 1970s British electric-folk scene for raw inspiration.
There is a strong melancholic vibe on Tear Down the Marketplace that is fairly relenting – on “Straphanger” & “Expanse” Zhong Ren explores the lower register of his vocals to induce a depressive mood and again, displays the range of his inventiveness – ever restless to find the suitable ambience for the song. It’s difficult not to respond emotionally to what the compositions convey.
Though this album has been out for a while now on Bandcamp (see below), Plate is planning a general release on 31 October with live shows to follow. For more info, follow Plate at https://www.facebook.com/platemusic.
The first time I heard Suasion live I fell in love with the band’s basic approach to songwriting and performing. Whilst it is true that more often than not, you can walk into a club in Singapore and hear country-inflected melodic pop-rock but typically, it would be played by a cover band. Suasion were a refreshing change – playing their well-construction originals within a popular medium that for some reason is overlooked by artists and bands here.
For me, this reflected the band’s strength of conviction – not content to merely get on the bandwagon – but to make music on their own terms. The kind of music that they wanted to make. The kind of music that they wanted to listen to themselves. Highly admirable it must be said.
Frontman Michael Intrator – a Swiss expat – possesses a honest voice that resonates with power and feeling on tracks like “Resolve”. Backed brilliantly not only instrumentally by lead guitarist Chris Bong and bassist Lyndsey Long but also on luscious three-part vocal harmonies that elevate Suasion’s music from the typical Singapore indie sound. Completed by drummer Alvin Lim, the quartet keep things simple but accomplish the task with some aplomb.
This comes across in memorably infectious tracks like “Melanie in the Morning”, “Firelight” and “Drinking on Sunshine”.
My last word? Forget about Ryan Adams’ lame attempts at covering 1989, best spend your time checking out the Suasion EP.
Suasion launches its debut EP at the Substation on 30th October 2015 (with Joie Tan).
Tickets now available from http://suasionlaunch.peatix.com/.
More information from https://www.facebook.com/events/1647020308907934/
An excellent sign that Singapore music is slowly (but surely) permeating the mainstream consciousness is the clutch of music events to be held in the upcoming Singapore Writers Festival, from October 30th to November 8th 2015, organised by the National Arts Council.
Kicking off is Island of Dreams, an instrumental rock concert at the Victoria Theatre on 30th October, featuring In Each Hand a Cutlass and I Am David Sparkle, two heavyweights in the local indie scene.
From epic rock bombast, the music gets all stripped down and fragile with Story Songs by Tiny Ruins. Kiwi Hollie Fullbrook returns to Singapore on 1st November at the Chamber, the Arts House.
Finally, we have Dimensions and Demons, with artists from literary and musical disciplines collaborating on works to be presented on 5th November at the Esplanade Recital Studios. Writers Dave Chua, Daren Shiau and Stephanie Ye have been rehearsing with musicians weish (.gif), Riot !n Magenta and Ferry (Giants Must Fall) for the past few months for this co-presentation with The Esplanade.
Power of Pop will be in the thick of the action with reviews and interviews but so can you. The Festival organisers have kindly offered a pair of tickets to each of the above events to lucky PoP visitors.
Now, you can only select one of these events to apply to – simply write in to firstname.lastname@example.org with a 5o-word note on why you love Power of Pop so much! (Also include your full name and NRIC No., please) Oh and let us know which event you would like to attend and voilà (!) you could be on your way. (Winning entries will be published here! Be warned!!)
First come, first served and all that jazz. The decision of Power of Pop regarding the identity of the lucky recipients shall be final & conclusive. Closing date is 27th October.
Well, that’s it for S-ROCK trio Another Sunday Afternoon (left to right above: Zhiwei Xu, Caleb Lye & Kamal Yacob), they have released their final single, “No Word No Bond Row On”, a chilled out instrumental rock beauty. We caught up with frontman Caleb Lye, for the last word on Another Sunday Afternoon.
What has the band been up to since The Bookmark?
Since releasing The Bookmark (2012), we’ve been playing some shows, with the highlight probably coming when we opened for Biffy Clyro in 2014.
No Word No Bond Row On is an instrumental track. Why?
Honestly, I think we kind of ran out of interesting things to talk about, to sing about. Our music has always been primarily about telling good stories, and I guess when you run out of good stories to tell, you lose your voice. We also thought it would be cool to explore instrumentals and soundscapes. I’ve always been a fan of layering and this seemed like a good time to get into that.
Is this a new direction or just a minor detour?
I think it’s neither really. It would be cool to do something like this as part of your traditional Another Sunday Afternoon album, as a segue, to connect the rest of the tracks to each other.
What does the title signify?
This is where it gets really interesting. We asked our friend Charlie, who came up with the title for our first album (“The Uncanny Tree of Fractured Hearts: featuring the Peculiar Case of Janet Leno and other short stories”), to help us out for what could possibly end up as our last effort. She came up with this because, after listening to a demo of the song, she thought it would be cool for the title to be a palindrome (even though the song, in itself, isn’t). We’re also very lucky to have Boon, who designed the album art for “The Bookmark”, come up with an ambigram, which was really cool. So if you actually flip the album art upside down it says exactly the same thing!
What were the feelings and ideas you wanted to convey?
When we let some of our friends listen to it, a lot of them mentioned that this sounded like a perfect song to say goodbye. Maybe it’s something like this – something different (and free!) to remember us by, till we see you all again.
It’s not really goodbye to Another Sunday Afternoon, is it?
Well truth be told, I think in its current incarnation, this is sadly, probably it. We do need some time to go away, rediscover ourselves, think about what kind of music we really want to bring to the table the next time – so it’s something like a soft reset if you like. Probably play with other bands, expand our music palette, evolve and come back in the not-too-distant future. I think that’s the key word for us: evolution – because we certainly don’t want to be doing that same thing over and over again!
And there you have it – pick up your copy of “No Word No Bond Row On” from Bandcamp now, and if you have not done so before, do check out the band’s other releases as well.
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.
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!
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.
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 …
This coming weekend (October 2nd & 3rd), Power of Pop recommends the following live gigs for your rockin’ enjoyment. On Friday, Esther Lowless will thrill us with her art-rock stylings whilst Gareth Fernandez & The Momma Shop will get a groove on. That’s MAAD Sounds at the Red Dot Design Museum. On Saturday night, over at Hood Bar, Melbourne rockers EMPRA (with S-ROCKER frontman Sanny Veloo) will take no prisoners. Post-hardcore local legends Caracal will open the night!
… still there’s more …
New band The Quartermasters has a deliberate air of mystery surrounding it – no photos and a cryptic descriptor like “indie supergroup” given on its official press. But listening to its debut single, “Catch On Fire” it’s clear that at least in this song, the music is unadulterated country music – nothing ‘indie’ about it!
But seriously folks, I don’t give a fuck about the labels – only the music and in that respect, it’s great to hear a Singapore band playing this kind of pop-rock music. Truth be told, I recognise a Charles J Tan song when I hear it – so mystery solved! Not that far removed from his solo work, which has a strong country-folk vibe running right through it.
Anyhoo! The debut EP can be pre-ordered from http://smarturl.it/qmpre now.
The EP will be officially launched on Saturday, 10th October 2015 at a ticketed show in Lepark, Chinatown. More details to follow.
Listen to the new single at Official website
I have always been passionate about having more female artists/musicians in our local scene. Certainly, one of the signs of a progressive music scene would be the number of talented and creative women operating within the same. Well, in very recent times, you basically cannot keep the women out of the local music scene even if you tried and the rise to prominence of Eugenia Yip (a.k.a. Ginny Bloop) is one significant milestone, for sure.
The enigmatic vocalist is making a name for herself fronting TWO critically acclaimed acts viz. The Steve McQueens and Riot !n Magenta, and whilst there is no denying the strong musicianship of the men behind her in both bands – there is also little doubt that Ginny is the star of the show whenever she steps up on stage. Fresh from a triumphant Japanese tour with The Steve McQueens, Ginny lit up the proceedings at the Ignite Music Festival 2015 with her idiosyncratic stylings. With her aviator shades and tie-dyed top, Ginny looked (and sounded) like a rock star – the consummate stage performer holding court. Considering how Singaporean musicians are generally awkward on stage, Ginny is a rarity and utterly mesmerising in performance – once you are hypnotised by the Ginny Bloop experience, it’s never enough. Seriously, folks.
Has been a while since I have seen The Good Life Project in action and the presence of three ladies in the septet (singer Pamela, bassist Stasha and violinist Kim) has always spiced things up. Not that the guys are slouches in the instrumental department with Sano, Naz, Intriguant (Lewis) and Ritz (subbing for Boey) more than able to pull their own weight. Considering the sheer amount of talent that resides in this group, I am still mystified at the fact that they remain somewhat obscure in the scheme of things in the local scene. Their pleasing blend of sophisticated jazz-funk-R&B-pop-rock is a recipe for mainstream success, with as much as potential for overseas acceptance as that currently received by The Steve McQueens. At Ignite last evening, they owned the stage, oozing class and dynamism from start to finish – they deserve so much more! Here’s hoping we will see and hear more from the band in the months ahead.
Riot !n Magenta
The Good Life Project
Photographs courtesy of Jazreel-Anne.