#014 Livonia – Vengeance is Mine (live)

Photo by Mark Wong

For a band whose second EP was self-mockingly titled Three Years Late, my experiences of Livonia have always been marked by some kind of delayed gratification. For example, the last time I’d seen the band was at the Stasis 2 gig in 1999. What I took back from that gig was less the band’s actual performance and more the sensations of suspense and anticipation, of wondering whether the band would even play at all. The band had been due to play earlier in the evening but kept getting pushed back until they became by default the closing act of the evening, their lead guitarist delayed on his return flight from Australia. In fact, my memory of Daniel Sassoon at that gig was less his flamboyant guitar solos than the image of him lugging his guitar and bags into the old Substation Garden, straight off a cab from Changi Airport.

Fast forward to 2010 and I found the prospect of seeing the band live again after more than a decade quite exciting, more so since I really didn’t expect them to ever regroup again after a reportedly acrimonious bust-up. As a familiar synthesiser melody began playing, I was reminded of the fact that I’d never actually seen a live performance of their radio hit, “Vengeance is Mine”. Somehow, I’d missed their earlier performances when the song still featured on their setlists, and after it topped local charts, the band had gotten sick of the song and had refused to play it live anymore. And so as the extended synthesiser refrain droned on (there’s your dose of heightened anticipation again), the band gamely trooped out: Robin and Alfe to their respective drums kits, Ami picking up his bass, Daniel his guitar and Joseph with his guitar to the mic stand. Then…

Before we know it, Robin taps out a 1-2-3-4, Daniel and Joseph begin chugging their machines and Joseph’s rich tenor finds its way into the mix after a momentary false start. The rest exists for me in vivid snapshots: Ami going footloose and dancing in perfect rhythm, Joseph’s lanky stature and commanding presence, Robin and Alfe thumping away in unison like little boys set free, Daniel’s delicious guitar licks, any other number of gravity-defying leaps by band members…

Here was Livonia. Back with a vengeance, as they say. And boy, did it taste sweet.

mp3: Livonia – Vengeance is Mine (Live at +65 Indie Underground pt. II, Apr 11, 2010)


#013 I \ D – Assimilate and Spit Fire. Destroy!

Midnight Hot

Her ray gun eyes whispered, 'Hello'...

Already gaining notoriety on sleazy Internet forums for its risqué cover art, I \ D‘s second album, Midnight Hot, is the five-piece band’s tribute to the improvised activities that take place on the backlanes of Geylang, Desker and even the old Keong Saik and historic Bugis in our own SIN City. Track 2, “Hot boy” is, pants down, the standout song: spearheaded by bassist Ian Woo’s rubber runs, the whole band gets deep, deep into the groovey to score with its forward thrust action — but what I really want to talk about is the preceding song. If “Hot boy” provides the album’s climax, the track it grows out from–“Assimilate and spit fire. Destroy!”–is all about the foreplay. Beginning as a moody urban sprawl with the desperate sowing of wild notes, the song is a wonderful display of the hearty cosmopolitanism that Singaporeans are known for, channelling the wail and sleeze of ’80s’ Downtown New York, before settling into a serious Krautrock grind. But, of course, Cosmopolitanism is what Singapore does best right?- Especially the happy United Nations that greet every hot boy on the even-numbered Lorongs on Geylang. Trust the boys from I \ D to teach the rest of us about the pleasure principle.

Listen: I \ D – Assimilate and Spit Fire. Destroy! (from Midnight Hot, self-released, 2009)


Unitext #001 – David Marshall on a More Wholesome Approach to Living

I’m starting a new section which will deal with words, either written or spoken. Featured will be (forgotten? lost? overlooked? as-yet-unearthed?) quotations of (primarily) Singapore(an) voices dealing with music or music-related issues. Sometimes the connections will be obvious; at other times, the issues raised may seem more tangential. The overall aim is to uncover linkages between music and other “larger” issues, of which may include (but are not limited to) aesthetics, culture and society, politics, political economy, etc.

david marshallThe first quotable is from David Saul Marshall (1908-1995), a charismatic public figure who established himself as a top criminal lawyer before becoming Singapore’s First Chief Minister in 1955 as leader of the Labour Front. Later, as the People’s Action Party (PAP) swept into power, Marshall became a key opposition figure and was noted for his sharp criticisms of the PAP and its leader Lee Kuan Yew. However, he was also known to be a fair critic and would give credit where it was due, praising the PAP government’s economic achievements as well as the integrity of the civil service.

In this interview from 1984, Marshall criticises the petty materialism that has been allowed to hold Singapore society in its vice grip, a phenomenon not unrelated to the government’s stubborn insistence on privileging statistical economics and neglecting less easily quantifiable pursuits. In turn, Marshall proposes a more Romantic, “wholesome approach to living”, one which would value an intrinsic goodness of music, a sublime mystery that Singapore’s political leaders in all their one-dimensional wisdom have not been able to decipher (as least not in pragmatic, calculable, utilitarian terms), spiritually impoverishing a generation of people (or two, or three) in the process.

I wonder if Marshall might have been a Pink Floyd fan?

David Marshall: In Singapore, you scrabble for what you can achieve for yourself. And status symbols of Mercedes Benz, swimming pool, a string of women and horses and that is, those are the symbols of success. I think we are going through a dangerous phase. But it is a gold rush phase that is not unknown. And I’m hoping, and I believe, that our very basically decent people will soon settle down to a more wholesome approach to living.

Lily Tan: How would you interpret this wholesome approach?

Marshall: First, a recognition that gold dust in our veins is not necessarily good. That the warmth of human relations is the ultimate good of all human beings. That the joy of living is not tied to the sound of the cash box. That there is music and there is beauty and there is joy that no computer device by the PAP could ever evaluate. A greater understanding of the miracle of living.

– Oral History interview with David Marshall, 1984

Source: Oral History Centre, National Archives of Singapore, Acc. no. 156, Reel 19


#012 Astreal – Losing You (live)

If there was ever a song to perfectly capture the sex and turbulence of an abusive relationship, that song may well be Astreal‘s “Losing You“. From seduction (“touching/burning”) to destruction (“falling/dying”), “Losing You” chronicles an affair gone painfully wrong, the caged-up rage and repression of an unhealthy relationship perfectly mirrored in the song’s naturally repetitive structure, in which all the pent up intensity of the verses is released by the slash n’ burn guitar and thrashing drums of the chorus. Ginette Chittick’s vocal performance here is inch perfect, dripping both sex and, subsequently, a brilliant sardonicism embodied in the refrain of “Funny, how it hurts to love”. This line, delivered with a wry and twisted glint, turns a story of victimisation into one of revenge. Who fell? Who died? Surely not Ginette’s protagonist, who has lived to tell the tale of her abuse. Seen in this light, “Losing You” acquires a chilling resonance, making a twisted statement on self-defence and female empowerment.

mp3: Astreal – Losing You (Live at Baybeats, Jul 18, 2004)


#011 Stellarium – Paddle Pop (live)

The first sound we hear from shoegaze revivalists Stellarium at their debut gig is a caterwauling guitar screech set aglow in crashing hi-hats. Then, just as the title “Paddle Pop” suggests, a sticky sweetness follows as a pop structure emerges and the boy-girl voices of Az and Mar appear, wrapped snugly round a collapsed melody like an unstable double helix. This immediately brings to mind My Bloody Valentine, and the wavering melody doesn’t stray too far from “When You Sleep” (even though Az has more of a Jim Reid sneer, a point emphasised by the fact that his vocals are turned up so unforgivably high in the mix).

In a Guardian article about the shoegaze revival of recent times, James Chapman (aka Maps) is quoted describing “nu-gaze” as “music that doesn’t stare at its shoes. It stares at the stars.” This sounds like what the five young musicians from Stellarium might have had in mind when they named their band after the 3-dimensional mapping of star systems. Whether star- or shoegazers, Stellarium wear their noise pop influences proudly and loudly. 

mp3: Stellarium – Paddle Pop (Live at Even Ruder, Nov 28, 2008)


#010 Manic Street Preachers – You Love Us (live)

Useless Generation

Useless Generation

The Manics live in Singapore? 4real? When I was fifteen it was difficult enough trying to get my hands on their music. Their albums were banned (or so I was told)– even the venerable Chua Joo Huat (old record store at Far East Plaza, R.I.P.–they brought in a copy of Marilyn Manson’s also-allegedly banned first album for someone I knew) refused to take my order. After scouring countless record stores, I finally bought a copy of Generation Terrorists for $30 (bargained down– he gave me a “student discount”) from a place called The Musical Shop. More than ten years later, Generation Terrorists is still the Manics album I listen to most (even more than the intense tour de force that is The Holy Bible) and for the same reasons that it hijacked my devotion all those years ago. Where else to experience such a ridiculously uncool agit-pop blend of glam, heavy rock and punk powered by youth, sex and militant boredom? One of the tracks on the album, “You Love Us”, was actually released as a single about a year before the album came out, and here it is seventeen years later, live in Singapore with our Middle-Aged Preachers (minus Richey, R.I.P.) in the flesh– still that wanton energy, incredible Guns N’ Roses riffs, spit n’ soar vox and Burroughsian cut-up lyrics.

mp3: Manic Street Preachers – You Love Us (Live in Singapore, Nov 24, 2008)


#009 Furniture – False Start (live)

Photo by Mark Wong

Photo by Mark Wong

Furniture‘s modus operandi is to confound expectations and break down assumptions. That’s why their forward-looking music completely belies the sedentariness their name suggests- more desiring avantpop forage than wallpaper background fittings. “False Start”, an unlikely seven-minute pop song, starts with upbeat, sunny electrolines before band leader Ronnie Khoo’s wafer-endearing, fingernails-on-board vocals break into a winsome melody that induces in listeners a liminal sensation between a cringe and a smile. Just before the five-minute mark, the music changes tact and sets forth on an unstoppable rise- climbing, doggedly climbing- gone! Instruments drop out and a glorious choral blast breaks on through to the other side. Believe it- one the most inventive pop bands operating in this corner of the world, Furniture renews my faith in pop.

mp3: Furniture – False Start (live at We Came Down From the North, Oct 4, 2008)

a paean to bootlegging,
to memory,
to ubiety,
and to the Unity
of the Song

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November 2018
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cd reviews

i'm always looking forwards as well as backwards, so i'm opening up the site for cd reviews of new music

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reviews will be done the UNITY SONG way: i will choose one song from your release to feature and provide an audio stream. cheers

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