The Pinholes – Youth of Gold

It’s 2013, and nostalgia is a thriving industry. Hipster bands draw inspiration from ’60s girl groups and psychedelic rock. Instagram filters take everything new and make them old again. But it’s always done with an air of detachment — it seems that modern pop culture junkies are more into appropriating and subverting ’60s sounds and images, rather than celebrating them.

Amidst all this posturing, The Pinholes are a blast of fresh air. They don’t just reference the ’60s template; they live it to the hilt.  Youth of Gold harks back to an era where bands would wear uniforms and pose on the covers of all their records. It evokes that carefree period of adolescence where little else matters besides enjoying life, music, and chasing girls, and a period in music history where such themes were enough to sell truckloads of records (as opposed to angst, doubt, and regret).

There is nothing wry or ironic about the songs — The Pinholes aren’t your intellectual art school friends; they’re your childhood neighbours who would drag you down for soccer in the void deck before you finished the day’s homework. There’s a real charm in lead singer Famie Suliman’s laid-back baritone, the occasionally ungrammatical lyrics (“My life has been so wonderful and miracle“, on ‘Preferably’), and the way his equally skinny bandmates chime in with wah-wah backing vocals on ‘Sunshine’ and chants on ‘Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll’.

The EP’s three-minute pop nuggets are drenched in vocal harmonies, tumbling funk drums, and twangy surf-rock guitar licks. The lyrics are spare, and even within the songs’ short durations, there’s plenty of room for instrumental showboating. The performances are loose and the acoustics are natural, as if you’re listening to the band play in the same room as you. The use of plate-reverbed vocals and spring-reverbed guitars creates such a strong vintage flavour that you’d almost be surprised that the songs are in stereo. The only dead giveaway that Youth of Gold is a contemporary release is the mastering, which compresses the instrumentation, fattens all the sounds and adds a slightly harsh edge to some of them.

Youth of Gold is a joy to listen to. It’s the perfect soundtrack for a day at the beach, complete with somersaults. It’ll take you back to an age where people didn’t have to squeeze their fat first-world thighs into skinny jeans to look cool, because everyone was already naturally skinny. It’ll give you the courage to approach your teenage crush by ‘gelek’-ing (sashaying) up to her on the dancefloor, and maybe even enough chutzpah to punch the jock that’s got his arm around her. So close your eyes, put on Youth of Gold, and get ready for a trip that will put a smile on your face. Ready? Oi, let’s go!

By Don Shiau

Don Shiau

Dreamer-songmaker, philosoposer, tastefaker, popwanker, daywaster, old teenager, giver of the metaphorical finger

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The Pinholes – Youth of Gold

Low – The Invisible Way

Hate to break the experimental trend, but Low have, contrary to popular opinion, not taken a step back with The Invisible Way. While the slowcore veterans are still chugging out that same old low-tempo alt-country indie rock they’ve did in their earlier years instead of the more progressive sound they tried out in their post-2000 albums, they’ve got a new trick up their sleeves: the stunningly high-definition, spacey and emotive production of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, who definitely knows a thing or two about how to make the fullest of these alt-country numbers, like he has done on his own previous material.

So it’s pleasant to know that Low have gone super hi-fi now, as we begin to pick up some of the finer aspects of their sound. Alan and Mimi’s vocals come in with great emotional strength on every track, and it gets even better when they sing these carefully-written lyrics as you’d hear on opener ‘Plastic Cup’ or Waiting’. The instrumentation deserves a mention too, with their delicate melodies each being given proper breathing space on the frequency spectrum for maximal pleasure. Coupled with the post-depression-and-into-desolation lyrics, they could pack a good emotional punch on every song…

But only if you’d pay The Invisible Way the attention. As with other albums of the slowcore genre, it threatens to enter background music territory, only waiting for you to perk up your ears every now and then with its irresistible tunefulness here and there. No discredit to the fantastic first track ‘Plastic Cup’, but things do get a little more upbeat, voluminous and fast come the second-half of the album. Even before the climactic guitar solo (distorted at that!) hits on penultimate track “On My Own”, you feel it coming: the Americana influence that kicks the song off is already a step in the opposite direction. It’s the same feeling you’d get when you hit the fifth or sixth kilometre running one of the 10km’s that have been littering our monthly calendars so far. That soaring exhilaration, post-exhaustion, post-lactic acid build-up. A joyous sensation that keeps you going on with the run, or with life.

By BJ Lim

The Other Sounds: March on

Unless you’re enjoying a long Easter break from school, March is a pretty dreary month. Lodged in the middle of nowhere, it’s that time of the year when you either have upcoming exams, or you’re waiting for a holiday that’s at least a few months away — all while counting down to the impending hellfire of the Singaporean summer, as you feel temperatures creeping up a degree day by day.

Well, we can’t do much to alleviate your joyless March. But here’s a kickass playlist with an appropriate amount of gangsta injected into it so life can feel less anodyne. March on, good folks.

1. Hurts / Somebody to die for
2. Daughter / Still
3. Maddthelin / Dawn of Tomorrow
4. Chaos Chaos / Winner
5. 12 Rod / 24 Hours Ago
6. Hands Like Houses / Don’t Look Now, I’m Being Followed, Act Normal
7. Animal Collective / Fireworks
8. Albert Hammond Jr / Holiday
9. Suuns / Armed for Peace
10. Pedro The Lion / Bands With Managers
11. Sigur Ros / Glósóli
12. PNAU / Embrace
13. Sleepless feat. Jezzabell Doran / Flume
14. A$AP Rocky feat. Drake, 2 Chainz, Kendrick Lamar / F***kin’ Problems
15. Two Door Cinema Club / Sleep Alone
16. SBTRKT / Never Never
17. Justin Timberlake / Spaceship Coupe
18. Princess Nauwisa / Girl Pants/Bumer
19. K.Flay / Fleas Navidad
20. Suede / Snowblind
21. James Blake / Retrograde
22. Dum Dum Girls / Take Care Of My Baby

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By Zixin Lin

Sean Lam is Hanging Up The Moon

Several years after his last serious musical endeavour with Concave Scream, Sean Lam began a new solo project under the moniker Hanging Up The Moon as a way to “satisfy that urge to get back to music making”. Recorded entirely in his study at “ungodly” hours of the morning (hence the moniker), the self-titled debut album was a raw and stripped-down affair consisting of eleven songs crafted with minimal instrumentation in a move he describes as “going folk”, its quiet sound captivating both critics and listeners alike.

We had a quick chat with the man himself about his approach to his music and the collaborative effort of his second album, The Biggest Lie In The World, which explores a different soundscape altogether with the help of good friends and respected musicians Dean Aziz (Concave Scream), Leslie Low (The Observatory) and Victor Low (Affixen).

We hear that your self-titled debut was recorded in your study – was the release somewhat accidental?
Yes. It was only through home recording that I was able to embark on this solo project. I felt the need to pen down the songs as I was going through a period of uncertainty then. So it was more ‘inspired’ rather than ‘accidental’. I did plan on releasing it when it was done, but only casually, like maybe having it as a free or pay-as-you-wish download.

“I’m pretty much writing for myself and not to please any specific audience. In that sense, how they are received is not really important, as long as I’m honest to my craft.”

Your lyrics bring us back to a time when folk music was about social commentary. Why do you write songs that are socially aware, with the risk alienating a segment of your audience?
I just write whatever comes to mind depending on what I’m feeling at a given point in time. It’s always been the case — writing songs is a form of therapy for me as it helps me deal with my emotions, be it feelings towards something or someone.

So in a selfish kind of way, I’m pretty much writing for myself and not to please any specific audience. In that sense, how they are received is not really important, as long as I’m honest to my craft. It’s the only way I know how to approach a song.

Would you say that the way you make music is very conscious and intentional, or spontaneous and organic?
To a certain extent, it’s very conscious, in terms of how I would like the albums to sound; but I’d say that the process of putting it together is pretty organic. It has to be– if it’s all too thought out, the music risks sounding too polished and fake.

Can you tell us about how you came to work with Dean, Leslie and Victor for The Biggest Lie In The World?
After the first album, I was looking to explore a different sound and I felt that a collaborative effort would be a good follow up project to work on. With that in mind, I approached the guys for help– it also helps that they are all good friends of mine. They were all very supportive of the idea and were keen to contribute. It was as simple as that.

“I was looking to explore a different sound and I felt that a collaborative effort would be a good follow up project to work on.”

There wasn’t much actual real-life collaboration on The Biggest Lie In The World, was there? Can you tell us more about the process?
We were exchanging files via the internet most of the time. I basically recorded my songs in full and provided the guitar parts and vocal tracks to Victor. He then set a click track for each song that served as a guide for everyone else to follow. And based on this, both Leslie and Victor recorded and added more tracks over mine. These tracks, or ‘stems’ as they call it, are then cleaned up and worked into the final mix. Dean’s drum parts however, were recorded seperately at Affixen,Victor’s studio.

There are many people involved in both music and design. Is there an inherent synergy between the two fields?
I believe so. Sound and vision do go hand in hand.

You’ve been involved in music here since the early nineties. That’s a good twenty-something years! Can you tell us what has changed, for the better or for the worse?
My body! Seriously though, I haven’t been active in the scene for the longest time, but from what I gather, things do seem to be looking up.

We’re all excited to see the full band on Friday. Anything special we should be expecting for the show?
There’s nothing too fancy really, just a simple setting for simple tunes. It will be cosy though! Merch wise, we’ll be bringing our LPs as well as a very limited run of specially letter-pressed posters for sale. Hope to see everyone there!

By Melissa Yong

The Biggest Lie In The World will be performed for the first time at LateNite@Esplanade on Friday, 29 March, where Hanging Up The Moon and friends will play an analogue version of the album (to be released as limited edition vinyls as well as digital copies).

The xx announce Asian tour and debut Singapore show

Mercury Prize-winning band The xx have just announced via Facebook an Asian Tour in late July and early August, with dates confirmed in Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan.

Presented by Now/Live, the UK trio, comprising of Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sims, and Jamie xx will be performing at a brand new 5000-seat performing arts auditorium, The Star Theatre on 2 August.

Having previously performed at The Esplanade with Florence + The Machine in February 2010 just months after their debut album was released to critical acclaim, this will be the band’s second performance and first headline show in Singapore.

Since the release of their second album Coexist last September, the band has been touring the world and will go on to perform in Australia, North America, and Europe before they finally land in Asia.

The xx
The Star Theatre
2 August 2013
$148, $128, $108, $88, $68

Tickets will be available 17 April 2013 at all authorised SISTIC outlets.

Four bands to collaborate with legendary producer at Steve Lillywhite Production Week

The Singapore Music Society (SGMUSO) has just announced the four bands who will join five-time Grammy award-winning producer Steve Lillywhite in the studios next week for the Steve Lillywhite Production Week, an idea conceived by president of SGMUSO, Graham Perkins.

The four personally selected bands are folk rockers Monster Cat, pop group The Sam Willows, experimental band sub:shaman and newcomers Atlas; all of whom are relatively new but familiar names in the local music scene.

The bands will spend one day recording with Lillywhite before one of them is chosen to collaborate with and be mentored by the producer for the rest of the week. The three remaining bands will return to the studios with three additional producers who will also be mentored by Lillywhite, Roland LimDon Richmond and Jason Tan.

The Steve Lillywhite Production Week will conclude with SOUNDCHECK, another new initiative held by SGMUSO where Lillywhite’s selected band will perform.

Monster Cat
These five cats have quickly made a name for themselves shortly after their formation in 2010, playing several gigs in Singapore, touring Japan and the US, and performing at the Reeperbahn Festival in Berlin in 2012. Their debut release Mannequins is available on their website as a free download.

The Sam Willows
Formed in May 2012, The Sam Willows are one of the newest bands on the list. The soul-folk group have since released a self-titled EP and are supported by major record label Warner Music Singapore. The band has also appeared on national television with a performance at ‘Celebrate 2013’, Mediacorp Channel 5’s New Year’s Eve countdown event, and recently performed at a showcase at renowned music festival SXSW in Austin, Texas.

sub:shaman may have only made themselves known in the past few months but they are not newcomers to the Singapore underground music scene. The band includes members of established local band Pleasantry; and singer-songwriter Weish, who has performed solo as well as with MUON.

Formed in January 2011, indie-experimental band Atlas has just recently performed at the Mosaic Music Festival.

By Cindy Tan

Timbre Rock & Roots @ Fort Canning Green (21-22.03.13)

Timbre has never disappointed us with the quality of acts it programmes for its annual Rock & Roots music festival, and this fourth installment was definitely not an exception. We were stoked to finally catch the epic line-up over two days at Fort Canning Park, certainly a more fitting site than the Marina Promenade for the growing festival. Enough to hold about 4000 people, the area provided enough space for ticket holders to have a seat on the grass, and for the vertically challenged, the sloped grounds were like a natural cinema, allowing everyone the luxury of an unobstructed view all night despite the large number of people in attendance.

Despite the early evening start at 6pm, the heat and humidity were killing us when local blues and funk gurus, Raw Earth, took the stage. After a number of originals, the band, led by vocalist/guitarist Surath Godfrey, wanted to “bring the old school to the new school”, when 13-year-old Miguel Antonio appeared on stage for a rendition of The Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’ to massive cheers of encouragement and almost astonishment from the crowd. The highlight of the band’s set was perhaps Kara Grainger’s appearance alongside the five men, a leading female Aussie known for her wicked slide guitar skills. Her dynamic vocals were a delight to behold for all fans of the blues. Together with Raw Earth, they performed flawlessly together; you’d mistake them as a full band that has been playing together for years.

Women (and maybe some men) screamed the moment the next performer came on and it was none other than American-Canadian crooner Rufus Wainwright. He had an undeniable aura of “cool” surrounding him as he walked up on stage decked out in shades and patterned jeggings.  His voice was in top form with incredible pitch control as he sang all his songs stripped down with just his voice accompanied by a Steinway grand piano or an acoustic guitar (notably, a Hello Kitty model he acquired from Korea). It felt surreal as we sang along to songs like ‘Hallelujah’ & ‘Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk’. Wainwright entertained us with jokes throughout and even dedicated a song to “all the homosexuals out there”, quoting Star Trek: “Live long and prosper.” And to close the set was a particularly serene moment when he sang a song he wrote for his mother, sharing an intimate and emotional experience with everyone who listened.

Led Zeppelin fans were anxious to catch the next act of the first night as we noticed all of the fanboys (not really boys anymore really, but we respect the young at heart) had moved to the front for a better view. Robert Plant, lead singer of legendary rock band Led Zeppelin, made our night. The 63-year-old could still hold all his notes with the energy he had during his younger days. He warned us jokingly before starting that it could be a “questionable evening” as he said that they’d keep changing it up, and his band, The Sensational Space Shifters presented a massive spectrum of rock n’ roll; from old school hard rock to psychedelic jams.  We couldn’t stop head-banging to his music and when the set ended, everyone shouted for an encore till he came out again… with a birthday cake for his Gambian band member Juldeh Camara, who gave a special twist to their band’s sound with his African musical instrument.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band closed the first night with their tight sounds of blues and rock. Fronted by Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, the 11-member band gave us a great closing performance with their sweet tunes. If you ever once thought you could play the guitar, you have clearly never seen Trucks. He absolutely shredded solos accompanied by keys and a trombone with two drum sets, making the band sound so full live — far better than any of the studio recordings. Tedeschi did all lead-women proud with her powerful vocals and sick guitar skills.  The whole performance seemed so natural, as though it was an improv set that they’d just came up with on the spot. Songs like ‘Midnight Harlem’ sounded new and fresh and the tunes were truly stuck in our heads as we left Fort Canning that night.

Day two started off wet with rain right before the gig, but surprisingly, the ground was not muddy, perfectly fine for everyone who didn’t prepare picnic mats. There were quite a number of people who attended the event with their children and grandparents on day two, and it was nice to see that the festival and its music was still a family activity even despite all the modern attractions of our world today. Things did get a little testing however, when groups of people had to squeeze their way over our legs with trays of beer and drinks, as the organisers had blocked out the back for VIPs, leaving no other way to get across the green. Nonetheless, the evening was perfect and nothing stopped us from having fun that night.

Kicking off day two was Indonesian band, Mike’s Apartment. They played a number of decent covers of rock songs that got the crowd singing along and were a great warm up for the next few acts we were waiting for, but the acoustic covers felt like just that — a mere filler for the early-comers before the main attraction.

Bonnie Raitt came on next though, and really got the groove on. Upon hearing her music, you couldn’t just sit still and watch, even if you were too lazy to stand. Being an all-rounder, Raitt performed hits of many styles and genres, from RnB to country. She said that she was glad to be performing at a music festival that had three strong female leads and her attitude and swagger deserved our respect as her soulful voice resonated, making us love her even more. Raitt’s band was made up of talented members of other established bands too, and they all had neat stage presence.

It’s safe to say that most of the audience on the second night were there for the next performance by Paul Simon. Everyone knew who this legend was. He looked so small compared to everyone else on stage but youthful at the same time, with a voice that hasn’t changed in decades. The audience stood up and danced along to his anthems like ‘Call Me Al’, and Simon would invite a little boy Harrison up on stage to dance along with him, which really got the crowd going to see how much fun he was having with the music. The stage set up was elaborate — two drum sets, and racks of guitars. Instruments were constantly being switched around and Simon played a different guitar with every song. He could still perform with much energy and it was clear that he’s still got it, especially so when he came out for an encore singing The Sound Of Silence’, which gave the whole venue goosebumps as everyone sang along. The set had already been quite long, but so much love was in the air that the legend had to come out for a second encore.

After the fantastic performance by Paul Simon, there was still one final act to go. Most took the set-up time to refuel on beer or take a break lying down on the grass, but a large number of the audience started making their way home. Everyone who stayed though, made sure to have a good rest, because when the next performer came out to perform, we all knew there would be massive amounts of dancing to reggae artist, Jimmy Cliff. He knew exactly how to engage the crowd as he instructed us to cheer, chant and sing along to some words or raise our hands to really feel the good vibes. The audience was having so much fun not worrying at all about how silly they looked as they imitated his dance moves to the happy peaceful sounds of reggae. There were a few songs that everyone was definitely holding out for, like Cliff’s cover of Cat Steven’s ‘Wild World’ and Johnny Nash’s ‘I Can See Clearly Now’. We especially enjoyed ‘Hakuna Matata’, which of course reminded us of The Lion King we watched some decades ago.

Timbre Rock & Roots 2013 boasted an incredible line-up, not to mention the awesome atmosphere of Fort Canning and the professional sound crew that made sure no technical errors would happen. With so many new genres of rock and new bands popping up so frequently, these respected legends brought us back to the roots of good music and unified everyone that were there those two nights. The festival’s “Know your roots” and “Music = respect” slogans could in no way better represent the Timbre Rock & Roots festival.

By Jared Rezel