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Saturday, January 12, 2008

TOMORROW IS OUR PERMANENT ADDRESS

The first time ever I heard the name "B-Quartet" came out of the lips of Danny Loong (Timbre), who described the band as an interesting jazz-rock combo. He also highlighted that the band consisted of two sets of brothers who happened to be cousins as well. This is probably the notable trivia about the band. And certainly everything sounded... interesting.
Of course, there's nothing quite like listening to the band live and in June 2007, at the Rock the Substation gig, I finally got my chance (better late ...) and I've been enjoying B-Quartet since. So, now armed with a copy of their debut album (thanks, Willy), and having listened to the CD as much as humanly possible, here's the blow-by-blow account of Tomorrow Is Our Permanent Address.

When Mathematics Fails - The album opens with electronic noise setting up the rhythm for which the breezy acoustic guitar provides a steady introduction for the track's bouncy pace. Mathematics is an easing into the charms of B-Quartet. Nothing too intricate, almost a simple pop song (by B-Quartet's standard). The pleasing backing vocals on the coda is truly unique.

Shoebox - The coup de grace. Piano ballads normally suggest sentimental cheesiness, but with sound effects lurking behind singer Bani Haykal's heartfelt vocals and the wafting backing vox embellishing the spine-tingling chorus, the experience is like soaking in perfection. The band keeps the focus and discipline throughout, never weakening to temptation to dress Shoebox with a guitar solo or jarring changes, they just let the gorgeous melody work its magic. And magical it is...

Personal Space - This is where the album begins to stretch its wings and soar into experimental skies. Beginning with Haykal and a child-like keyboard riff before launching into an strident emo-tinged segment with screaming guitars and illuminating harmonies then finally settling into an outgoing disco-fied groove and ending on a discordant horn sample. Brilliant!

Disp rs - The Radiohead reference is most pronounced here, even though the track also contains the most conventional jazz guitar playing on the album, making Disp rs a heady trip into alt-jazz territory (think - Steely Dan). Haykal gives an impassioned vocal performance that recalls the late great Jeff Buckley.

Alphanumeric - Holds some affinity with When Mathematics Fails with its combination of electronic noise and acoustic guitar (the rhythm playing is awesome!), with dare I say, a stronger tune. But only up to the point when the band turns left with a jaunty showtune and then cuts loose by upping the ante on the previously meek and casual verse. Throw in a death metal guitar riff (Go!) and the disorientation is complete. Ambitious! I'd love to hear this on 98.7!!!

Stupid Luxury - Next to Shoebox, the jewel in the crown. A serpentine guitar line snakes around a start-stop beat and leads into a keening chorus that leaps from the speakers (or headphones - highly recommended) and then plunges into a feisty rock-out. Such control of space and timing is certainly rare as post-rock elements collide with jazz balladry to produce a special track that always keeps you guessing and never stays in the comfort zone. Outstanding.

Not An Ink Blot - The happy feel of this tune belies the dark undertones bubbling ("A little hiccup during lunch") with the counterpoint of the oddly nursery rhyme quality of the chorus. Perhaps the weakest track here, though.

Boutique - The band attacks this jumping song with gusto, right from the get-go. The chorus is atonal and a tad inaccessible but the band compensates with a beautiful classical guitar break which reminds me of classic prog rock (Genesis!). Not to mention - finally - twin guitar solos!!! Astounding shades of mood explored and exploited. No mean feat! "Morbidly fun!"

Kleptomania - With squalling guitar and pummeling drums, this track is the heaviest of the album. Yet, the band decides to mix the tone with a soothing choral line and then varying the intensity and melody of the guitar riff - and the pseudo-Arabic scatting by Haykal - wow! The song structure never keeps still long enough for you to get jaded.

Beautiful Crash - Another touching ballad - just Haykal and acoustic/classical guitars initially - with a chorus that brought tears to my eyes - awesome chord progression that takes the breath away. Of course, the band embarks on a high speed chase which breaks up the momentum somewhat but tastefully executed as always. It matters not, I'll take that sublime chorus home anytime. Sheer poetry in motion.

"Hidden Track (1)" - Track 11 aka Lullaby, as it's title suggests is a little gentle ditty perhaps the Bani boys hope will catch on amongst new parents. It's a sweet little track but a tad inconsequential, I'm afraid...

"Hidden Track" - Track 42 aka Fireplace, boys and girls! The band goes whole hog alt-rock with intense guitar riffing intro before teasing us with flamenco flourishes, a total breakdown of pace and Beach Boys harmonies (I kid you not, albeit lower key) that lead us gently out...

What more can I say? This album has got to be heard to be believed. I have previously expressed reservations about the commercial viability of such complex, intelligent music and I still believe that to a certain extent but if Radiohead, Arcade Fire, the Decemberists and Modest Mouse can conquer the mainstream planet then why not our very own B-Quartet?

Kudos to Bani Haykal, Bani Faizal, Bani Hidir and Bani Raizan, you have done the Singapore music scene proud!

Available at all good music stores, need I say "essential purchase"? Go now!

More info - here and there.

FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS: RACH!

The gig organizer. Not someone who is often in the spotlight. So for a change I thought I'd do something different and kick-off the promo efforts for Fasten Your Seltbelts with an interview with Rach, the young lady behind this gig, which comes up on 26 Jan 08 at the Guiness Theatre, the Substation. Take it away, Rach...

Why organize local gigs?

For me, it is my passion and my utmost interest to organise and plan events. I love to work with people. You can also say that it the least I can do to play my part in the scene.

What do you do in the “real” world?

In my “real” world, I help run a monthly gig called ‘Deafcon’ and I am currently organising Fasten Your Seatbelts!. I love music with a red hot passion and I play a bit of drums. Other than that, I'm a student, taking Multimedia and Infocomm in Nanyang Poly. Currently doing my final year attachment. I go to work all day long and shake my leg.

How did the idea of Fasten Your Seatbelts! come about?

Well, my friend and I were studying for our Math paper one night. We were talking over the phone (whilst studying) about the school's band competition (BandzOut 2006/07) that we were part of (I was the co-organiser of that event.). Then suddenly, I exclaimed, "Let's organise a Halloween gig!" We got really excited about it, I closed my book, took out a piece of paper and started writing out the general details and stuff. Unfortunately, the Halloween gig did not happen as the school was not supportive of it in terms of sponsoring cash and a venue. So I told myself that I was going to organise my own event, outside of school. It was scary at first; seeing that I did not have any experience organising an event from scratch (which included seeking out for sponsors and such) Luckily, I met a few people like eXe, who helped guide me through; Kenneth, who funded the whole show; Lil'rampage, who helped me along the way with certain details here and there. Without them, I might not have been able to make the first installment of Fasten Your Seatbelts!, as successful as it was.

What was the criteria for band selection?

Basically, I want a gig which involves bands of different genres, bands who have more or less carved their name in the scene, and young bands. For the previous and the current Fasten Your Seatbelts!, I made sure that for each 'young' band in the lineup, I had an experienced band. This is to allow the young bands to play together with their more experienced counterparts so as to garner exposure and experience while building their confidence level as musicians.

How did you get involved in the local music scene?

I can say that my first time attending a local gig was when I went to watch Summer's Over at the Woodlands Community Club. That sparked off my curiosity and interest to watch bands perform live. What really got me involved was when I helped organise my school’s annual band competition. I was scouting for guest bands and judges and through that, I got to know more people who are so much more involved in the scene. Made friends with them and yeah, took my first official step into the scene.
What can the fans expect to get out of Fasten Your Seatbelts?

Look at the lineup, I think everyone would know what to expect!

What has been your favourite local gig so far?

The first installment of Deafcon (24th March 2007); Although it had only 3 bands (Bad Obsession, Firebrands and West Grand Boulevard), they were (and are still) three of my favourite bands to watch live on stage without any interruptions in-between.
Where do you see the local music scene one year from now?

To be honest, I really don’t know! However, I can safely say that right now, we are getting more support from the younger generation. I’m saying this based on my observation from running Deafcon.

Inspiring and encouraging to know that the local music scene is in good hands for the forseeable future. With dedicated folk like Rach behind the scenes, the future's so bright...

... and there's more...

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS!

Three weeks after Stasis 10 comes FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS! Ten bands in eight hours! Get your tickets now for a thrilling ride at the Guiness Theatre, The Substation...stay tuned for more updates...

STASIS 10: ... BUT THERE'S MORE...

Pix that is. Courtesy of Lavinia C.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

STASIS 10: REFLECTIONS

I've had a couple of days to reflect on Stasis 10 with B-Quartet's awesome Tomorrow Is Our Permanent Address as the perfect soundtrack.
Personally, Stasis 10 was my first gig in quite a while. Well, a gig in which I was not performing but watching, that is.
I got to the Substation early to catch the soundchecks and caught a few certainly. A little disappointed to see the lack of a stage and concerned about the implications.
The bands that played in the afternoon had maybe twenty people for an audience. Which is a bit of a shame. Someone remarked to me that perhaps it's not a good idea to hold a gig on a Saturday afternoon. It was the same for Rock the Sub as well - so might be some truth in that.
I mean as much as I admire the ambition of these events - eleven bands in eight hours - sometimes I wonder if it's all a little too much. Perhaps, it would be better to maybe have a gig that starts at night - one main headliner and two opening bands. Or something like that.
Of course, the main objection to this arrangement would be less opportunities for bands although I do not seriously think that this is a problem if the forum posts at SOFT are anything to go by.
Anyways... not to take anything away from the superlative achievement of NUS OMS in putting it all together...
What I'm trying to say is that these "rojak" events do have bit of a downside in that the earlier bands do not get the exposure you might expect. That said, its promising to see local bands opening for bigger foreign bands e.g. Fire Fight and West Grand Boulevard for Switchfoot at the end of the month. Also encouraging to learn about more CD launches and more local headlining gigs at the Esplanade Recital Studio. This is the direction I want to see our local scene go... a local band selling out the Indoor Stadium, now that's a goal to work towards... who would it be?

Monday, January 07, 2008