The Other Sounds: April

Everyone loves April! In fact, this dude called Geoffrey Chaucer really believed April was the most awesome time of the year.

When that April with his showers soote
The drought of March hath pierced to the root
And bathed every vein in such liquor
Of which virtue engendered is the flower.

We don’t fault him, and we have to say we agree: everything becomes beautiful, the weather gets warmer, and all the dreariness of the winter months are officially gone. (Okay, so this doesn’t really apply to Singapore. But for the sake of poetry let’s pretend for a minute we have four seasons.) On the other hand, there was also another poet named T.S. Eliot who thought that, actually, all that blooming and flowering and growing and rebirth and general spring stuff were horrible.

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Glum stuff.

Well, April could go two ways for you. If you’re still an undergraduate, this would be the worst time of year when exams are in full force. Sorry, but for the rest of us, April and May are really amazing. We don’t mean to rub it in. But, it’s SPRING! It’s a time for travelling to temperate climates to enjoy natural air-conditioning outdoors. And it’s when music festivals really begin to pop up all over the place. Clearly, such a great month calls for a cheery playlist for you to plug in to while frolicking in fields of daisies.

1. Melody’s Echo Chamber / Some Time Alone, Alone
2. Daft Punk / Get Lucky (Official Audio) ft. Pharrell Williams
3. Majical Cloudz / Childhood’s End
4. Pure X / Things In My Head
5. Perfume / Spring of Life 
6. Shugo Tokumaru / Katachi
7. Rhye / The Fall
8. San Cisco / Fred Astaire
9. Savages / Shut Up
10. Sóley / Pretty Face
11. Chairlift / Planet Health
12. Sun Kil Moon / You Are My Sun

[youtube width=”450″ height=”343″]http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLDZpcfnKQYjNECd09UCrcHFJ1pR78nmwW[/youtube]

By Zixin Lin

Cold War Kids – Dear Miss Lonelyhearts

Cold War Kids burst onto the scene in 2006 with acclaimed record Robbers & Cowards, an album of barely-polished, heavily-hyped tunes which set them up as a ‘band to watch’. Their blues-infused indie rock endeared them to many, though the hype didn’t seem to work in their favour with the release of Mine Is Yours — their fairly ill-received 2011 release.

Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, a concept album in the vein of the Nathanael West novel Miss Lonelyhearts, in my eyes, sees CWK redeem themselves to an extent. Though the raw sound of Robbers & Cowards is well and truly lost, replaced by a polished level of production and well-timed instrumentation, the anthemic vibe of the record draws the listener in, helped along by lead singer Nathan Willett’s consistently-raw vocals. CWK seems to be travelling in a similar direction to The Killers, producing a sound that lends itself to stadium sing-alongs, complete with crashing percussion and layered instrumentation. This is particularly evident in closing track ‘Bitter Poem’.

DMLH’s opener and first release, ‘Miracle Mile’, is a keys-heavy and upbeat track, with a distinctly pop-rock feel and catchy hook. Its clean-cut production certainly sets it apart from vintage CWK, but I fail to see how this is a particularly disappointing thing – everyone’s got to grow up at some stage. CWK’s clear evolution from diamond in the rough to clean-cut jewel has polarized many long-time fans, however this hasn’t overshadowed their visible musicality and ability to write a mean track. The primary example of this is ‘Tuxedos’, the fifth track and, in my opinion, a stand-out. Carried by a dawdling guitar riff and layered instrumentation, Willett’s relatively flat melodic line doesn’t go anywhere anytime fast, but in this way compliments the song’s subject matter – the regret of a relationship falling apart.

Another highlight of the album, ‘Jailbirds’ is an attempted throw-back to CWK’s 2006 sound, and accordingly captures the riff-raff sound of Robbers & Cowards, primarily through crashing instrumentation and an indiscernible song structure.

Overall, DMLH is non-threatening. It achieves its aim of putting CWK back on the map, and in the process has come out with some hidden gems (an added bonus!). Played from start to finish, the songs unfortunately have the tendency to run together without particular distinction, but closer inspection reveals the band we fell in love with nearly seven years ago. You’ve just got to dig a little bit deeper.

Listen to: ‘Miracle Mile’, ‘Tuxedos’, ‘Jailbirds’

Jailbirds
[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqG6v0L7ZGY[/youtube]

6/10

By Eleanor Turnbull

Kraftwerk @ Esplanade Theatre (25.04.13)

For ten minutes, Falk Grieffenhagen must have been convinced he was having the worst night of his life. In front of a capacity crowd at the Esplanade Theatre, Kraftwerk’s newest and youngest member, entrusted with controlling the visuals for their shows, watched helplessly as the giant screen behind him blacked out.

To be sure, losing video projections is hardly a deal-breaker in a concert. Unless, of course, you’re the world’s undisputed pioneers of electronic music; you’ve built a 43-year career on the marriage of music with iconic imagery; and the selling point for your current tour is massive floor-to-ceiling 3-D visuals.

While Grieffenhagen stabbed at his console in disbelief, his bandmates soldiered on obliviously, maintaining their icy composure behind podium-mounted synthesizers. Grieffenhagen glanced repeatedly at the stage wings, and stormed off to wrangle assistance twice. Unfortunately, all he achieved was the indignity of a Windows 7 startup screen appearing briefly on the projection wall, and whoops of scandalous excitement from the audience. Somewhere during the third affected song, however, the visuals suddenly sparked back to life. The venue erupted with cheers, and Kraftwerk powered through the rest of their set.

It’s difficult to overemphasise the irony and significance of this incident. Kraftwerk are defined by their uncompromising obsession with technology. All their albums since 1974’s “Autobahn” have celebrated the perfection of man through technology–whether in the form of radio, computers, transport, or even medicine. This ethos of Vorsprung durch Technik has carried over to their concerts, which involve minimal physical effort and interaction, and maximum reliance on electronics.

Their current tour, dubbed ‘Kraftwerk 3-D’, is not being undertaken in support of any new material. Rather, it’s the same concert as the one on their previous tour, only with enhanced visuals. It’s a strange and wonderful experience. Founding member Ralf Hütter, ’90s recruits Henning Schmitz and Fritz Hilpert, and Grieffenhagen (who only joined this year) stand in a row, wearing black bodysuits with fluroescent green gridlines. For two hours, they run music sequences from their respective synthesizers, playing only the lead melodies by hand, and manipulating the rest with reverb, pitch and delay effects. Hütter sings alternately in English and German, sometimes through a vocoder. There is no banter apart from a tokenistic “goodnight, zai jian, selamat malam, auf wiedersehen” at the end.

The set comprises of selections from all their albums since Autobahn, with 1978’s ‘Man-Machine’ being played in its entirety. The music, which has been retooled from the original recordings, sounds modern, razor-sharp, and surprisingly danceable. Each song has a meaningful accompanying video, most of which are simple but stylish computer animations. The depth of the 3-D varies from flat black-and-white footage (‘The Model’) to a space satellite that hurtles so close to the audience that a roller-coaster scream swells across the auditorium (‘Spacelab’). There are Easter eggs for diehard fans, such as the licence plates on the cars in the ‘Autobahn’ video referencing the years Kraftwerk was formed (1970), and the song’s release (1974).

Immersive and polished as Kraftwerk 3-D is, however, it’s frustrating to think that the group has effectively been refining the same stage show over the last two decades. The bulk of their back catalogue was produced between 1974 and 1986. The template for their current live setup — four synthesizers in a straight line with overhead video projections — was set in 1991.

The upshot of this is that their setlists and visuals have remained fairly constant since then: the pixelated green integers for ‘Numbers’; the wireframe models for ‘Music Non Stop’; the karaoke-as-modern-art of ‘Man-Machine’. They’re all still there, only bigger, and now they jump out at you. The are small differences, of course–no more costume changes; no more robot mannequins; no more standing on the edge of the stage to perform ‘Pocket Calculator’–these elements were gradually eliminated over the years. For a band that was so far ahead of the curve in the 1970s, Kraftwerk has had a surprisingly half-hearted evolution over the following three decades. And then it hits you. Kraftwerk 3-D isn’t the latest tour by an electronic music act. It’s the longest-running musical since The Phantom of the Opera.

This is a facetious opinion, of course, but it’s not entirely untrue either. For all their fixation on the union of man and machine, it’s really a third ‘M’–the myth–that has sustained Kraftwerk. They’re so celebrated around the world, they could play the proverbial telephone book and get away with it. Fortunately, they stop short of that. There’s a moment in their current stage show which reflects, beneath all the history and the space-age kitsch, a desire to remain vital and relevant. 1975’s ‘Radioactivity’, originally an ode to a nuclear-powered future, was reworked as a cautionary anthem in 1991, citing accidents in Chernobyl, Harrisburg and Sellafield, and the bombing of Hiroshima. Since 2012, the song has been further reworked, replacing ‘Hiroshima’ with ‘Fukushima’, referencing the nuclear meltdown caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan. It’s a minor adjustment to a show that has been largely unchanged for years, but one that reveals it is ultimately the man who remains the heart of the machine.

By Don Shiau

Coheed and Cambria x Circa Survive @ The Coliseum (23.04.2013)

“Not trying to sound cliche, but this is a very beautiful country.” Cliched words indeed from Anthony Green, the vocalist of Circa Survive but entirely genuine. Beginning with rocker ‘Strange Terrain’, the band seemed all at once comfortable, as though they’d played on that stage every day of their lives. The band meshed perfectly together playing favourites off all their albums such as ‘Suitcase’ and ‘In Fear And Faith’ with their well-known atmospheric, intricate guitar work coupled with Green’s soaring vocals.

Green, although casually dressed in a white t-shirt and brown bermudas, was a fine example of a frontman, jumping all over the stage, going up to the barrier to sing with the crowd and even throwing his microphone stand into the air. His performance, as that of his bandmates, was spectacular all night, rising from a shrill cry to softly crooning “Now who’ll, get left behind?” in ‘Brother Song’. Noticing someone in the crowd raising their crutch during the song, Green dedicated the next song to them: their breakout song, ‘Act Appalled’ to which everyone sang along enthusiastically.

Throughout the set, Green would continue reminding us of how humbled that the band had travelled so far and thanking Coheed and Cambria, whom he affectionately referred to as Coco and encouraged everyone to do the same. He then proceeded to announce that the next song would be for Coheed and their last, before bursting out into their hit song ‘Get Out’.

It was an impatient wait for Coheed to come out but come out they did amidst clouds of fog while the lights dimmed and an interlude played from their Afterman albums.

Watching the band play together was like watching a well-oiled machine, each member playing with a precision honed through numerous years of touring together. Lead singer, Claudio Sanchez was in top form, alternating between letting his enormous mane of hair hang loose in his eyes or tie it up out of the way. It didn’t affect his playing at all as he shredded through the night along with guitarists Travis Stever and Josh Eppard, showing off their technicality and proficiency on songs such as ‘Juggernaut’ and ‘Vic the Butcher’.

There were a little more than 1000 people present and yet Coheed played as though they were performing at a stadium. The crowd milked every moment, singing along, shouting out the lyrics and clapping along. The band stormed through their set effortlessly and even showed off their instrumental prowess with a lengthy outro to ‘Silent Earth’ before leaving the stage.

The crowd stubbornly chanted ‘Encore!’ over and over for the band to return. Their wishes were granted as Coheed took the stage again, playing ‘Domino’ but everyone at the venue had been waiting the whole night for the next song: ‘Welcome Home’. And as soon as the first note rang out, the crowd just went wild. Fists were raised and cheers rocked the air as everyone got to their feet. Coheed had seemingly let all hell loose as the crowd moved as one, singing the lyrics at the top of their lungs as Sanchez ripped a solo with his guitar over his head.

Fans would remember this night for a long time and Coheed could not have asked for a better welcome home.

By Izzan Haziq

Setlists:

Circa Survive
Strange Terrain
The Great Golden Baby
The Birth of the Economic Hit man
Sharp Practice
In the Morning and Amazing
Glass Arrows
Phantasmagoria
Brother Song
Act Appalled
Living Together
Suitcase
Oh Hello
In Fear and Faith
Stop the Fuckin’ Car
The Difference Between Medicine and Poison Is In the Dose
Get Out

Coheed and Cambria
No World for Tomorrow
A Favor House Atlantic
Goodnight, Fair Lady
The Crowing
Key Entity Extraction III: Vic the Butcher
Key Entity Extraction IV: Evagria the Faithful
The Afterman
Here We Are Juggernaut
Dark Side of Me
In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3
Encore
Key Entity Extraction I: Domino
Welcome Home

The Radio Dept. @ TAB (23.04.13)

Swedish dream pop band The Radio Dept graced our sunny shores for the second time on 23 April, and put up a show that could really be called ‘short and sweet’. Their hour long set covered their entire 13 year discography, with songs from Lesser Matters to material from their last LP, Clinging To A Scheme, as well as the many EPs they released.

The trio’s set seemed to be full of economical efficiency, from the spartan stage set up, to the muted way they came up on stage with a brief wave and nod of acknowledgment to the applauding audience, made them seem inconspicuous even. But when the music began with an intro to ‘Always A Relief’, we got a sense that the band was here just to play their best, and they certainly did. Employing an alternative set-up with only live guitars and recorded synth and percussion gave a different dynamic to their sound which thankfully did not reduce the quality of the songs. Johan Duncanson’s unmistakably reverb-drenched vocals were as heartwarming and wistful as always, and the mesmerizing and stylish guitar playing of Martin Carlberg was hypnotic and a lesson in effortless cool. The sound of the band was also comfortably lo-fi and very tight, thanks to the electronic rhythms and pre recorded synth that were used together with the bass. It was amazing to see so much sound come out of the tiny Samick amp that Johan used, watching it provide the trademark fuzzy sounds. It was really quite an experience to see such a diverse mix of grungy noise and beautiful melodies and intoxicating rhythms come out from so little. The band had no problems transiting between slow, hazy numbers to heavier, more percussion-driven songs, but never losing the band’s identity and characteristic style and sound. The use of visuals was also kept to a minimum, other than the standard lights that were provided courtesy of TAB, but the darkness and smoke complemented the sounds and provided fuel for the imagination, and many an audience member was entranced and drifting slowly along to the likes of ‘I Wanted You To Feel The Same’ and ‘A Token Of Gratitude’.

The songs came one after the other, with minimal banter between band and audience, other than phrases of gratitude and announcing the title of the next song. It was even more surprising when Johan announced after ‘David’ that it was their last song, leaving audience members with an unpleasant shock and begging for an encore. But ultimately, the unique vibe of The Radio Dept’s songs and the atmosphere that was created made for a pleasant evening. The quality of the band’s music was clearly evident, and despite some claims that they are ‘lazy’, I believe that quality always makes up for time lost, and am part of a growing fan base that is eagerly waiting for the next EP or LP from a band that can still raise their bar even further, and can’t wait to see what comes of it.

By Jared Monteiro

Baybeats 2013 announces its line up featuring a diverse range of local and regional acts

Baybeats, the annual three-day alternative music festival, will be back this year from 28-30 June. Presented by Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, the line-up is bursting with a host of exciting local and regional artists.

Launched in 2002, Baybeats features bands from Singapore and the surrounding region, covering a multitude of genres aimed at engaging the youth with live music. This year, 35 bands will be hitting the stage, including 21 Singaporean acts, as well as bands from Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Australia.

Local highlights include indie heavyweight Electrico, comeback kings Force Vomit, Wormrot, and Baybeatsalumnus Flawed Element.

2013 will also see Baybeats seeking to further engage Singaporean youth, with the inclusion of a Festival Village, the Budding Entrepreneur Initiative, the Baybeats-Esplanade Youths Emcee Mentoring programme, the Yfest-Baybeats Budding Photographers programme and the Baybeats-Esplanade Youths Budding Writers programme. Find out more here.

Baybeats line-up:

7nightsatsea
A Vacant Affair
Dropbeat Heartbeat
Dyeth
Enesya
Electrico
Esther Lowless
Flawed Element
Force Vomit
Mannequins
Monsters in Living Flesh
Overthrown
Pastelpower
sub:shaman
Tall Mountains
These Brittle Bones
The Pinholes
The Psalms
The Sets Band
Wormrot
YouthWreck
Asian Chairshot (KR)
Busco (MY)
Frida (AU)
Froya (MY)
Hightime Rebellion (ID)
Incarnation (MY)
L’Alphalpha (ID)
Modulogeek (PH)
Nothing To Declare (JP)
Priceless Stupid Box (MY)
Save Me Hollywood (PH)
Sloppy Joe (JP)
Windmill (TW)
Withyouathome (TH)

By Eleanor Turnbull

Bored Spies: An unlikely plot

“I really don’t like playing at festivals. They’re kinda impersonal; there’s too many people”, admits Panther Lau. “I played Lollapalooza once. It was terrible.” This is not quite the nonchalance you’d expect from someone whose newly-formed band has just landed a slot at Primavera Sound 2013 in Barcelona. But Lau is no stranger to big stages. He’s a founding member of Bitch Magnet, a band credited with laying the template for math-rock, grunge and post-hardcore in the 80s. And between 1988 and 1998, he chucked out seven albums with Bitch Magnet and Seam, playing to audiences around the globe.

Tonight, however, he’s at the modest Night and Day Bar in Singapore, preparing to perform the first music he’s written in over a decade. It’s an unlikely journey that’s brought him here: an invitation for Bitch Magnet to reunite and play at All Tomorrow’s Parties 2011 led to a tour that involved a gig in Singapore, where Lau occasionally works. At the gig, he and drummer Orestes Morfin met Cherie Ko, lead guitarist for Obedient Wives Club, and they began talking about writing music together.

“All of us were like, can you really book a tour off a single?” – Lau

“It’s funny how these things turn out”, says Lau. “For twelve years, I was really out of it. I wasn’t even thinking about music. But it feels good to be doing it again.” ‘Funny’ is the right word. It doesn’t make sense that a band like Bored Spies exists. Lau and Morfin are more than twice Ko’s age; they’re based in three different cities (Arizona, Seoul and Singapore); and as Morfin puts it, “we haven’t come together over our love of any one thing”. Ko agrees. “We’re just three random individuals… but we’ve made it work”.

Not so random, perhaps — Lau and Morfin go back together half a lifetime, and half a world away in 1980s Oberlin, Ohio. However, neither of them feel deja vu in starting another band with each other after all these years. “It’s like a conversation with an old friend, just a different topic”, says Morfin.

Still, Ko is right. Her collaboration with Lau and Morfin absolutely works. Even before their debut gig tonight, Bored Spies already have a single on iTunes, Bandcamp, and vinyl, a limited release Record Store Day exclusive. The track, ‘Summer 720’, is gorgeously wistful and slow-burning. It’s quite surprising that a band that’s essentially two-thirds Bitch Magnet has made such quiet — even pretty — music. In fact, the sparse, chiming guitars on Summer 720 wouldn’t sound out of place on a Seam album. Could Lau be yearning to pick up where Seam left off in 1999? “You know, I’ve heard that too”, says Lau of the comparison. “But I actually think that’s Cherie’s doing — she probably doesn’t even realise it. I really don’t think it’s my influence.” Ko protests, reminding Lau that he kept asking her to simplify her melodies during the writing process.

“I’m interested in how much I can do with less. I find that simpler approaches are harder to pull off correctly, and more difficult to give emotional content to.” – Morfin

What of Morfin then? His drumming in Bitch Magnet and Walt Mink was characterised by power and complexity. Even when sitting down, his burly frame–a striking contrast to Lau and Ko’s leanness–emanates a workman-like strength. Surely it must have taken some adjusting to Bored Spies’ minimalist aesthetic? Not quite. Morfin gladly lets on that he studied jazz in high school, and writing with Bored Spies has allowed him to return to the fundamentals of rhythm, time and space. “I’m interested in how much I can do with less”, he enthuses. “I find that simpler approaches are harder to pull off correctly, and more difficult to give emotional content to.”

Despite having written a handful of songs together, ‘Summer 720’ and its b-side ‘沙鼠 E’ remain the band’s only recorded output. Yet, it’s already worked like a charm, landing them a coveted festival appearance and a UK tour with dates in London and Manchester. It’s an incredible story, and the band think so too. “Until very recently, we weren’t sure any of this would be happening”, says Morfin. Lau explains that a Madrid-based booking agent had been writing to him for years, asking about the possibility of a Seam reunion. Lau consistently declined, but remembered his earnestness. When the first Bored Spies demos were done, Lau decided to send them to the agent, who loved them enough to pull the European dates together. “All of us were like, can you really book a tour off a single?” says Lau. The answer, as we now know, is yes — even if it’s not ‘Gangnam Style’.

“For twelve years, I was really out of it. I wasn’t even thinking about music. But it feels good to be doing it again.” – Lau

Bored Spies have tasted early success, but have no concrete plans for a full-length album yet. They’re focusing on getting their tour logistics and publicity sorted out. For Ko in particular, it’s also nerve-wracking. She’s no newcomer to music, with almost 30,000 subscribers on YouTube and close to 5,000 ‘likes’ for her Facebook fan page. But it’s clear from her disposition around Lau and Morfin that she feels she’s in the company of giants — giants who have had far more international exposure than her. And in a few weeks, she will stand in front of them, as the face of Bored Spies, playing at the same festival as My Bloody Valentine.

Lau, on the other hand, appears unfazed by it all. If he’s excited about anything, you can’t tell it from his voice. “I personally prefer club shows”, he intones dryly. “They’re more personal.” Thinking ahead to the UK tour, he observes that “there aren’t a lot of bands in Asia that are doing tours of Europe. Maybe bigger names like Mono, but there isn’t a circuit”. It’s a stretch, but it’s possible that Bored Spies will lead the charge in establishing one. If their unlikely success hasn’t worn itself out, they just might do it.

By Don Shiau

KO Double Bill with Obedient Wives Club and Bored Spies @ Night & Day Bar (18.04.13)

The graffiti-splattered walls and dimly-lit confines of Night & Day Bar added to the intimacy of The KO Double Bill, a clandestine affair where fans and friends of local bands Bored Spies and Obedient Wives Club convened. This would be, for either bands, the last of live local gigs before taking some time off to concentrate on other endeavors.

It was in this ambience, coupled with a musty air of excitement to see them perform together for the first time, where Bored Spies kicked off what would be the first of several live performances stretching throughout Europe. There was definitely a sense of unfamiliarity about them — the band not having done shows together before — but that soon slipped between the cracks as their genuine efforts shone through. The apprehensiveness also worked in the favor of lead singer/guitarist, Cherie Ko, as her quiet mumbling in between songs played out as endearing to the audience.

The most outstanding band member of the night, though, had to be drummer Orestes Morfín, who had apparently flown all the way to Singapore for this performance. He drew attention away from the muffled vocals and slightly cluttered guitars with extremely tight and skillful drumming throughout the short set. And as they settled down, with the initial adrenaline of performing live dispelling, the show got noticeably more captivating and they finished with the two pieces from their upcoming new EP, ‘Summer 720’ and ‘All That’s Real’. It was equal parts dreamy and melancholic.

Cherie Ko then stepped down from the spotlight of lead vocalist — but not entirely; she was also the guitarist of dream pop band, Obedient Wives Club, who proceeded with their half of the show after a swift sound check. Their lo-fi, unpolished and mellow songs fitted wholly with the mildewy atmosphere, but this also meant that there were intermittent moments of staleness. Dream pop, or according to the band, ‘spectorgaze’, is meant to be fuzzy and relaxing — we know — but addled by muted microphones, parts of it ended up sounding inconsequential. Good studio versions of songs like ‘Razor Wire Love Song’, when translated live, lost its bedroom romanticism and tended to sound messy. Still, enthusiasm in the room was sky-high toward the end of the set as friends cheered them on with spirited shouts of ‘Encore!’, to the point where they plain ran out of songs after obediently complying with the audience.

By Zachary Tang