Unable to attend the 10 Years & Counting Gig at The Substation in September, listening to this commemorative CD was probably the next best thing for this writer.
Featuring nine bands which performed at the gig plus a bonus tenth track from the now-defunct Corporate Toil, this compilation is a fairly eclectic mix of new and old local bands playing anything from folk, ska, funk, metal, et al, signifying both the healthy foray of new bands into our thankless local music scene, as well as the very diversity of genres of the scene itself.
There are all your old hands like The Oddfellows, Humpback Oak, Concave Scream even a revived Ordinary People. And, of course, since this CD is first and foremost a celebration of 10 rockin' years at The Substation, there could be little dispute to the inclusion of the above bands, which have spearheaded music in Singapore the last decade.
The Godfathers of Singapore pop, The Oddfellows, contribute a spanking Lost My Head, recorded live at a gig at Moods in 1999. Incidentally, Patrick Chng's band was the first rock band ever to play at The Substation, and although Chng remains the sole founder member of the band, The Oddfellows have remained, throughout their various incarnations these past years, an important influence on Singapore music.
I hate to mention this, but Humpback Oak's Normanton Park immediately brought to mind the Red House Painters' Grace Cathedral Park. Fortunately, it was more due to the similarity in titles than in sound.
No matter, I say, enough of those RHP comparisons; Humpback Oak remain my choice local band, riding high on its influences and finding its own voice. Leslie Low's haunting vocals and moving lyrics are something for all aspiring singer-songwriters to look up to. That said, Normanton Park isn't classic Oak, but it is still easily among the highlights of the album, with its atmospherics and affecting acoustic arrangements and that says it all about this great band.
Concave Scream is represented by Fiction, arguably Singaporean Song of the Year; it is an upbeat and exciting three-way tension between Sean's vox, Pann's reverb guitar and Victor's ubiquitous bass. My only complaint is that whereas the other bands offer tracks previously unreleased, Fiction can be found on Concave Scream's Three, released early 2000, so that takes away a bit of the exhilaration of listening to new material on this album.
The Ordinary People's Big Surprise, on the other hand, is a brand new track not to be found on their just-released sophomore album. Funnily enough, Big Surprise is a much better song than most of the material on their recent release, When Stars Collide. Elsewhere, punk favourite Plain Sunset's uncharacteristic ballad, Priorities, is a brooding, intense number.
The most exciting part of listening to the album, however, is sampling the work of the lesser-heard artistes. Brothers Nur and Adee, who make up Nuradee, play a brand of honest-to-God folk reminiscences. One Man Down are already well-known for their kickass live sets. On Forsaken, the band delivers almost six minutes of muscled numetal, led by Ahmad Neezam's empowered vocals.
Although The Edge are a big disappointment, playing a blues and funk jam full of awful posturing ("Funk it up! Break down! Aw yeah! Whassup! Whassup!"), that slight downside is more than made up for by what could possibly be 2000's Discovery of the Year Fishtank's Restless is one of the most refreshing local song I've heard this year.
Flavoured ska musically, and punk lyrically, Fishtank are one of the few local bands able to incite a good mosh when playing live. Zaid's raggae-inflections are carefree as he sings these self-penned lyrics: "Stand up and unite/Together we will fall/Planning for the day/We take the City Hall," as Bambang's trumpets simple move the soul.
The last song featured is Corporate Toil's Hokkien Girl Blues. A feedback noise experiment by the disbanded duo, it ironically throws open the multitudinous possibilities for the future of local music and the arts in general.
Ten good years have passed; where do we go from here? This generation of local talent stands at the gates of a new millennium plagued by the same problems of the old: capitalism, greed and commercialism isms that threaten to destroy the good work the many local artists have tried so hard to create. Regardless, the only thing that artists and supporters alike can do is to keep working at what we are passionate about, and, above all, to remain honest in the face of society's influences and dictates. 10 Years & Counting shows that it is possible. (7.5) Mark Wong
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