Friday, December 29, 2006

Soundscape #19: "I'm Leaning On This Broken Fence Between Past And Present Tense"

Hughes Leglise-Bataille. Station Balard, 2006

I think time only passes quicker when one gets older. I never once thought about the passing of time when I was younger; it always just seemed to be hanging in the shadows and tomorrow always seemed so far away. I became more aware of time's passing when I was in university trying to juggle reading 25 books in one semester and working at the same time. All of a sudden, 3 years of what I thought was hell flew past and the pressure to look for a job—and hang on to it—intensified and that's when hell really began.

Sometimes it's a case of "I don't wanna grow up" (if the Toys 'R Us jingle came to you immediately, face it, you're old too) and other times it's just being grateful for all the experiences and the lessons I've learnt. But even as I'm typing this at home chilling out and just basically slacking around, I find it hard to stay in the moment. I either dwell on the past and what I haven't done or whatever, or think about what's going to happen tomorrow or the day after or the coming year. I think that's a big difference between the insouciant school-going years I spent playing around always in the moment and now, when everything needs to be done yesterday and I spend so much time on something I don't believe in or even care for: my mind is split between work and everything else.

So come next year, I really want to appreciate and be aware of time and its passing. I think when you are physically in one moment and your mind is somewhere else, that's when time really slips through your fingers. Therefore, if I'm going to slack, I want to be aware that I'm slacking. If I'm eating, I want to concentrate on chewing up my food and not having to read some stupid fuck report at the same time. I just want to be in the moment, whatever it may be.


1. (0:00) Jason Collett - These Are The Days (Buy Idols Of Exile)
2. (2:54) The White Stripes - I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself (Buy Elephant)
3. (5:40) The Weakerthans - Aside (Buy Left And Leaving)
4. (9:04) Scotland Yard Gospel Choir - Then And Not A Moment Before (Buy Jennie That Cries EP)
5. (12:34) New Order - Regret (Buy The Best Of)
6. (16:44) Rogue Wave - Every Moment (Buy Out Of The Shadow)
7. (19:00) Foo Fighters - Times Like These (Buy One By One)
8. (23:24) Spoon - Something To Look Forward To (Buy Kill The Moonlight)
9. (25:43) Ok Go - This Will Be Our Year (Buy Future Soundtrack Of America)
10. (27:48) M. Ward - Poison Cup (Buy Post-War)
11. (30:40) The Velvet Underground - All Tomorrow's Parties (Buy The Velvet Underground & Nico)

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Soundscape #18: Cheer Up Emo Kid

Jesse McCormack. The Scr-Emo, 2006

I don't know exactly when it started but the term "emo" has become a rather derogatory insult you can fling at someone who's behaving depressed and moping around, and especially if they are decked out in tight all-black ensemble, dripping with eyeliners ...and that hair! They look like mini-Cousin Its! What's with the excessive display of melancholy and the constant whining about how shitty life is?

(to avoid confusion, I will refer to the slang "emo" with the quotation marks and the genre, without)

Some argue that the genre of emo music, on the other hand, cannot be more different. According to what seemed to be the "definitive" definition, emo music is simply "emotionally-charged punk rock." Which is fine by me, really. There are some stuff mentioned on that website that I listen to some time ago but would never have categorised as "emo" as the kids would have it now. I don't know. Someone once told me that all music is essentially an expression of one's feelings and thoughts and they undoubtedly come with some kind of emotional tags. Happiness is an emotion too, right? So what makes the genre of emo music a target of such derision?

I'm not about to give a history lesson here but it seems that the subject of emo music itself has shifted from its punk, more anarchistic roots to a more personal (i.e. more one-dimensional) realisation of one's inability to cope with love and/or life. I hold Dashboard Confessional responsible here for the subsequent spawning of bands like Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday and etc etc (I call them "sad bastard music"). Before anyone whips out a razor blade, I just want to suggest that there are more nuances of emotions or more varied and subtle ways of expressing them than the current emo music "scene" (Dashboard Confessional, MCR etc) allow for. Sure, shit happens to everyone, but that doesn't mean that we can't draw courage from these lessons. So, emo kid, cheer up, there are sadder bastards than you out there.


1. (0:00) Metric - Too Little Too Late (Buy Live It Out)
2. (4:21) Bloc Party - This Modern Love (Buy Silent Alarm)
3. (8:46) Gigolo Aunts - The Big Lie (Buy Minor Chords And Major Themes)
4. (12:13) The Wrens - Hopeless (Buy The Meadowlands)
5. (17:22) Death Cab For Cutie - Transatlanticism (Buy Transatlanticism)
6. (25:20) Stars - Your Ex-Lover Is Dead (Buy Set Yourself On Fire)
7. (29:35) The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely (Buy Get Lonely)
8. (33:23) Teenage Fanclub - Mellow Doubt (Buy Grand Prix)
9. (36:12) Elliott Smith - Say Yes (Buy Either/Or)
10. (38:25) The Decemberists - I Don't Mind (Buy 5 Songs EP)
11. (43:06) Bright Eyes - Lua (Buy I'm Wide Awake It's Morning)
12. (47:32) Feist - Let It Die (Buy Let It Die)

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Mogwai. Fear. Nothing

2006 has been a very good year for music I think, just cos there are releases from my 3 most favourite bands. Mr Beast was the most anticipated among all 3 since Mogwai's last studio album was released back in 2004 (Happy Songs For Happy People). Much had been said about their quiet/loud/quiet signature but if you listen carefully there's a lot going on in a Mogwai track than just blowing your eardrums off. And I think Mr Beast shows that there's a gentler side to the band as they incorporate well thought through arrangements and melodies into their q/l/q thing.

2006 is also the year that my wildest dream came true. When I heard that Mogwai is coming back in April, I thought I must be one step closer to my death (since my wish is granted and all that). Oh it would have been a happy death, that's for sure. I remember ticket sales started on 6/6/ appropriate, the day of the beast and all that. By some kind of providence or divine intervention, we got first.fucking.row tickets. I couldn't stop grinning or pinching myself that whole day.

I never thought that June—August was just 2 months apart; it felt like 2 fucking years.

If you think that their album rocked, you should have seen them live. Everyone present was touched at some level by the music and it's hard to deny the power of the wall of sound. At times it leaps for your throat when you least expect it (Fear Satan), and as the beast gnaws at your jagular, and life slowly seeps out of your body, you would never have felt more alive.

[mp3] Mogwai - Folk Death 95 (from matador records)

Ed: Alright. It's tiring being so "prolific," posting almost every day this week. This is the last of the "best of 2006" posts and we'll be back with the usual lazy weekly soundscapes episodes. Thanks!


Friday, December 15, 2006

Soundscape #17: I Can't Go On, I'll Go On

Vik Muniz. Sisyphus, After Tiziano, 2005.

There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn

—Albert Camus, The Myth Of Sisyphus.

The figure of Sisyphus is a powerful metaphor for all our lives, something we can all relate to. If you've been through any kind of routine for any length of time, you'd know what I mean. Don't get me wrong though, I don't mean that a routine has to make one feel a certain way (do you find comfort in a routine or feel burdened by it?) What I mean is that just being alive condemns you to a life with the balls and chains round your ankles.

The curse of a routine is not that you have to do the same thing over and over but that you cannot hope to have any sort of a stability, a construct, or a context without it. If we believe Derrida, nothing will make sense or have any meaning without repetition, seeing how everything derives its meaning from everything else. So I guess when it comes to routines, you're fucked if you do, fucked if you don't. And if we think about it somemore, the only way we can know that we are doing something (eat, sleep, work, repeat) over and over is cos we are conscious of it. Consciousness—that which separates us from animals—is both a curse and a gift. Although we are cursed with yokes round our necks, the mere knowledge of it should lighten the weight just that little and make us more human.

1. (0:00) Bright Eyes - At The Bottom Of Everything (Buy I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning)
2. (4:33) Bedhead - The Rest Of The Day (Buy Beheaded)
3. (10:53) Editors - Fall (Buy The Back Room)
4. (15:58) The Decemberists - Eli The Barrow Boy (Buy Picaresque)
5. (19:09) The New Year - One Plus One Minus One Is One (Buy Newness Ends)
6. (23:33) The Wrens - This Boy Is Exhausted (Buy The Meadowlands)
7. (27:52) Manic Street Preachers - From Despair To Where (Buy Gold Against The Soul)
8. (31:14) Finch - What It Is To Burn (Buy What It Is To Burn)
9. (36:07) Yo La Tengo - (Straight Down To The) Bitter End (Buy Electr-O-Pura)
10. (40:04) Arab Strap - There Is No Ending (Buy The Last Romance)

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Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo

I've been a fan of Yo La Tengo for I think 9—10 years now and I've bought every single album (that's using real money in exchange for a physical product). It's really hard to describe what their music is like; you really need to listen to them (you can tell already that this post is going to be a short one). And even then, it's hard to recommend exactly which album to start off with because each album is distinctly Yo La Tengo but yet completely different from its predecessor at the same time.

But with I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, it is now possible to experience what Yo La Tengo is really about. When I first heard it, I thought it rather uneven but in many ways, IANAOYAIWBYA encapsulates the entire YLT oeuvre. They go from completely quiet and folksy in one track and Sonic Youth-reverb-like in another. I have to admit to being biased here because I just kept playing the album over and over and it grew on me more and more. Be it some other band, I really may not have tried that hard. There are many adjectives out there that try and describe what YLT is like and it can be confusing and even contradictory at times but to me it just means that they will never ever be boring.

AND!! And I think it is 99% confirmed that YLT will be coming down to Singapore for Esplanade's Mosaic festival and when I read that on pitchfork, i think i almost choked on my coffee and the first friend I called couldn't even make out what I was saying cos I was rambling incoherently in excitement. Let's just hope that for the sake of everyone who is coming with me, or whom I've forced to go, that my first-row magic finger still works when I get us the tickets!!

[mp3] Yo La Tengo - Pass The Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind, and Beanbag Chair


Thursday, December 14, 2006

I Will Come On The Breath Of The Wind

If The Crane Wife is not on your list of top 5 albums of 2006, then I don't know where your year's been. It is _ the_ most anticipated album of the year, fueled by the fact that this is their first album under the awnings of a major label (they jumped ship from Kill Rock Stars last year). Everyone's either praying that they don't sell out or waiting for them to fuck up. Well, they did neither. In the first place, I don't see how their music can even reach out to a so-called wider audience; The Decemberists are, after all, a bunch of geeks singing about trapeze artists, sailors' revenge songs, and bicycle thieves. They do like their Romeo-and-Juliet tales in various incarnations but a Top 40 song about how a pair of star-crossed lovers was challenged to a pistol duel by the girl's brother, which led to the accidental shooting of the girl and the lover then vowed to burn the city down... hmmmm.... I can't see it.

In the second place, why mess around with things you know already work? They can't fuck up what they've been doing so well for what, 3 albums and 3 EPs right? In fact, I think The Crane Wife is less radio-friendly than Picaresque, and the 12 min "The Island/Landlord's daughter/You'll not feel the drowning" will alienate the unwary listener more than the fun come-sing-along-with-me "16 Military Wives" (Picaresque).

The Crane Wife is loosely based on a Japanese folk tale but the album has all the classic Decemberists' touches: civil war songs, sea chanties, and murder ballads. Is it Colin Meloy's voice (sometimes he sounds as if he's singing from just one side of his mouth) or the subject matter that makes The Decemberists just about the most unique and wonderful band around today?

The Decemberists - Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then) and O' Valencia!


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Everyone Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?: Best Of 2006 (III)

Listening to The Hold Steady always brings to mind a good time, free flow of beer and lots of fun. Boys And Girls In America is one of the most anticipated releases of 2006 and it doesn't disappoint. It's raucuous and sometimes it's more spoken (or rather, shout) than sung and Craig Finn's voice is definitely an acquired taste but god, the pianos! I love how they are everywhere, it just gives a whole new dimension to the bar-rock that defines the previous albums. And it does pay to decipher exactly what Finn is going on about; he's full of stories about restless kids and drunken nights . You listen to "Chips Ahoy" and tell me you don't feel like jumping onto a table in a pub somewhere with a paper cup overflowing with beer, and dancing your arse off.

M. Ward is on the other end of the spectrum from The Hold Steady, that's for sure. He is more contemplative, more folksy than rock. But while this is true in Transistor Radio, we find him ditching his usual quiet self for a rather surprising uplifing persona. It did take some getting used to but all is good. I particularly love "To go home" and "Post-war." I've been getting into a lot of the american folksy-roots stuff this year but M. Ward always seems a little more intimate and familiar to me. It reminds me of Sunday afternoons where it's hot and bright outside and I've just drew the blinds shut and slumped into my big ass chair, reading a book and trying to forget that Monday will come along very soon (don't ask me why).

The Hold Steady - Chips Ahoy
M. Ward - To Go Home


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Everyone Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?: Best Of 2006 (II)

These are relatively new bands but have caught my ear just cos they are masters of infectious melodies and killer hooks. Margot and The Nuclear So and So's are a massive 8 (I think it's 9 now) member band orchestrating cellos and violins and trumpets with guitars and drums, producing lush heavenly music. While tracks like Skeleton key and Quiet as a Mouse immediately stand out as the better tracks, there is still some unevenness in The Dust Of Retreat. It's almost as if they can't decide if they should rock out or be all quiet and folksy. The random, wtf band name aside, they are a band worth checking out.

If you like girl-boy back-and-forth vocals with an edge, you'd dig Headlights. Coming at you from behind a wall of synthesised keyboards and guitars, there is enough fuzz in Kill Them With Kindness to balance out Erin Fein's sweet voice so that it never gets too saccharine. Everything about Headlights is balance; you get insanely catchy melodies with depressing words, really, that manage to walk the fine line between shoegazing melancholy and cheerful sing-a-longs. The album too is full of ups-and-downs, like MNSS, but the tracks that stand out ("TV," "Put us back together right") make you reach for the repeat button right after they end.

Margot And The Nuclear So And Sos - Skeleton Key (Buy The Dust Of Retreat)
Headlights - TV (Buy Kill Them With Kindness)


Monday, December 11, 2006

Everyone Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?: Best Of 2006

I tried to compile in my head the best albums I've heard in 2006, and the original 5 I was planning to do (yes, I could do 10 or 14 or 28, but I'm lazy) quickly ballooned. I had also originally planned to rank them but I think that would just be too stressful for me. So, what I'm going to do is to put together a list of the albums with the most play counts on my ipod and feature them over the next few days (hopefully).

So. I think one of the biggest surprises this year must have been Camera Obscura's Let's Get Out Of The Country. Despite being contemporaries, they have always been lurking behind the more popular Belle and Sebastian (The Life Pursuit just doesn't do it for me, sorry). It might have been Tracy Anne Campbell's sweet voice that just seems to make you want to sing along with her; it might have been the clever lyrics and the hooks that just I remember there was this time where I didn't even notice I was humming "let's get out of the country" under my breath, and my friend, who was walking next to me, actually asked me where I want to go.

Puzzles Like You is a pleasant surprise to me too. Sure I liked Spoon And Rafter, but Puzzles just seems so much happier and poppier. I can almost feel the sunshine on my skin when I listen to the tracks. The thing about Mojave 3 is that they are so unpredictable. Just when you think you got them figured out—especially since they were members of Slowdive—out comes an album so confident and forward-looking, you just have to wonder what is going on inside Neil Halstead's head.

Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out Of The Country (Buy Let's Get Out Of The Country)
Mojave 3 - Puzzles Like You (Buy Puzzles Like You)


Ed. Note:

Thanks for writing me with the answer to the question posed in the last soundscape (#15). Yes, it's Collective Soul (don't ask me why I was listening to that). You know, here I am thinking that noone will be old enough to know the answer or at least won't be half arsed to google it, when I was the stupid one who forgot to specify exactly how many should write in. I have 3 cds to burn now. bloody hells.

/muttering under my breath

So congrats to david, leon and puikwan (i'm sorry, kobzilla, I did say email). Send me your postal addresses and the soundscape episode you prefer. I'll send them soon... in this lifetime, at least. I promise.

Oh, there will be changes to soundscapes very soon. I bought a domain space and will be transferring all the episodes up, once I get arsed, that is. It's a lot of work and geekery to trudge through. Anyone with ideas/suggestions for expansion? I'm gonna need help taking over the world!


Friday, December 08, 2006

Soundscape #16: "What Really Matters Is What You Like, Not What You ARE Like"

What does it really mean to get to know a person? When you meet someone new, do you immediately ask loads of questions to figure out what kind of person s/he is? Or would you try and go with the flow and see where the conversation leads you? There is this scene in High Fidelity where Rob, Barry and Dick decide that when meeting someone new, "what really matters is what he/she likes, not what he/she is like." They even talked about making questionnaires for potential partners to answer just so that they won't be embarrassed by her extensive collection of say, Barry Manilow cds (I forgot what the actual reference is in the movie) later on.

As socially unacceptable as that may seem (hey, it sounds fine to me), it does ring true to a certain extent. What you want to do when you meet someone for the first time is to talk about things you have in common, right? I know it may be a little stereotypical but you can probably tell what kind of person I am if I like High Fidelity and the music I put up every week sorta fits into that profile, doesn't it? Of course, much of this is serendipitous. I remember that I got into reading Ayn Rand because I came across an interview about some band that I was listening to at that time who said that they got their name from The Fountainhead*. Or reading Coupland's Gen X just cos I was in the library in between classes, bored out of my mind and came across its bright hot pink cover. Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I never come across that interview or if I decide to skip classes that day. So I was thinking that since I've been doing this for 16 weeks, I should tell you a little more about myself. So here goes: mogwai, yo la tengo, teenage fanclub, the decemberists, explosions in the sky, bedhead/the new year, the wrens, sufjan stevens, bloc party, neutral milk hotel, wilco. Also, don't forget kafka, dostoevsky, salinger, derrida, samuel beckett, camus, nick hornby, douglas coupland.

nice to meet you.
what do you like?

1. (0:00) Mojave 3 - Breaking The Ice (Buy Puzzles Like You)
2. (4:05) The Boy Least Likely To - Be Gentle With Me (Buy The Best Party Ever)
3. (7:54) Voxtrot - The Start Of Something (Buy Raised By Wolves EP)
4. (12:26) Teenage Fanclub - The Concept (Buy Bandwagonesque)
5. (18:01) Air Traffic - Never Even Told Me Her Name (Buy Never Even Told Me Her Name)
6. (20:46) The Spinto Band - Oh Mandy (Buy Nice And Nicely Done)
7. (24:21) Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - Me And Mia (Buy Shake The Sheets)
8. (27:56) Dinosaur Jr - I Know Yer Insane (Buy Hand It Over)
9. (31:03) The White Stripes - Why Can't You Be Nicer To Me? (Buy De Stijl)
10. (34:23) The Hold Steady - You Can Make Him Like You (Buy Boys And Girls In America)
11. (37:14) Beulah - My Horoscope Said It Would Be A Bad Year
12. (39:58) Wilco - I Am Trying To Break Your Heart (Buy Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)

* guess the name of the band correctly and I will burn you a copy of this week's soundscapes and send it to you. Email please.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Soundscape #15: I Felt A Funeral In My Brain

Jacques Louie-David. The Death of Marat, 1793.

Epicurus once said that death is nothing for when you are, death is not; when death is, you are not. He makes perfect sense of course but sometimes it has to be said that human beings can be anything but rational. Else, who can account for the fact that the fear of death ranks higher on most people's lists of phobia than say, spiders?

So why is death so scary? On the surface, death simply means that one ceases to be but if you really think about it, death also means that you flipped the switch on all that could ever be. All the things you ever wanted to do, all the places you wanted to go, all the people you wanted to see, all the things you wished you said or wished you could take back, all the books you wanted to read, all the music you wanted to check out, all gone. I think that is a scarier thought than just *ceasing* to be.

I'm sure some will say that thinking about death is a little macabre but I think that death, being a destination, gives meaning to the journey itself. Anyways, if I'm gone, somebody, please, burn me the following mix to be played at my funeral or wake or whatever. I don't think I'd have a say in the funeral thingies but burn a copy of my funeral mix, blast the amps and maybe we'll be able to chase people I don't want around away.

And! And if anyone would read "Funeral Blues," I would be very touched indeed*

1. (0:00) Nancy Sinatra - Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) (Buy Kill Bill Vol. 1 OST)
2. (2:40) Stars - He Lied About Death (Buy Set Yourself On Fire)
3. (7:50) The Velvet Underground - Who Loves The Sun (Buy Peel Slowly And See)
4. (10:36) Aberdeen City - God Is Going To Get Sick Of Me (Buy The Freezing Atlantic)
5. (14:05) The Stills - Love And Death (Buy Logic Will Break Your Heart)
6. (18:22) The Organ - A Sudden Death (Buy Grab That Gun)
7. (21:16) Morrissey - First Of The Gang To Die (Buy You Are The Quarry)
8. (24:55) The Decemberists - We Both Go Down Together (Buy Picaresque)
9. (27:56) Jason Collett - We All Lose One Another (Buy Idols Of Exile)
10. (32:20) Death Cab For Cutie - Title And Registration (Buy Transatlanticism)
11. (36:00) Yo La Tengo - Blue Line Swinger (Buy Electr-O-Pura)

*right, so I won't, or rather, I can't. But you know what I mean.

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