Enough of Electrico and The Great Spy Experiment already. The local music scene today features so many more new musicians that are seriously worth checking out. From an instrumental post-rock band to ambient soundscapers to straightforward rock ’n’ rollers, these acts demand to be heard. Listen up, or be left out.
Who are they? Guitarist/producer/laptop programmer Nick Chan and drummer Edwin Leong recently played an absorbing three-song gig at indie bar Home. By the time they finished, we were mesmerized. MUON also produced local rock band Astreal’s acclaimed album Fragments of the Same Dead Star last year, and has had many gigs, including fashion shows like Wardrobe at Zouk and at the opening of the RedDot Design Awards.
What sound? Initially comprising solely of just music ingénue Nick Chan, MUON has moved on from its more electronica-driven soundscapes (as heard in previous releases Reprogrammed: Modules for Serial Killers (2002) and In Flught (2004)) to being more rock-ish and organic. MUON’s brand of explosive rock, samples, moody electronica and ambient guitar (think a soundtrack befitting the next Sofia Coppola film) is a dream for the initiated.
Why listen? This is as good as it gets when it comes to local acts. MUON’s sound has progressed and matured over the years, and is more robust than ever. As stated by Chan: “These days, the music is more mechanical and colder…but musically, we’ve also managed to touch on the cerebral and intellectual.” We couldn’t agree more.
Word Up: “For the first few productions and releases, I was still feeling my way around,” says Chan. “But in terms of sensibilities, MUON have always had a band-like quality. Technically, I’m not very comfortable with just the laptop, which is why it’s important for the group to incorporate some live music components too. Our musical performance is still evolving, and we’re still finding ways to harvest our sound.”
What next? Look out for the highly-anticipated album The New Mutants under indie label Wallwork Records mid this year. Tracks on the album, like the emotional “Love Drops” and soaring and head-banging 10-minute opus “This is Not the End,” will send you to kingdom come and back. Log onto www.myspace.com/muonmagick for more info.
I Am David Sparkle
Who are they? Comprising guitarist Amran Khamis, bassist Yamani Ismail, guitarist/keyboardist/laptop programmers Johnny Mo and Nico Santino, and drummer Zahir Sanosi, I am David Sparkle was formed in 2001 as an improvisational instrumental collective, and was mainly known among fringe music lovers. After going through some reshuffling, the group features a tighter and more competent lineup today. Previous gigs include 2005’s Baybeats.
What sound? The group creates slow-burning soundscapes reminiscent of Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed You Black Emperor and Mogwai’s, but less dramatic. Their first self-titled independent EP, released in Nov last year, is a testament to the group’s musical artistry and brilliance.
Why listen? Comprising just two tracks—“Apocalypse of the Heart” and “2024”—which average about 20 minutes each, these numbers are drawn-out, organic and riveting all at the same time. Layers upon layers of guitars create a textural mood that ranks with some of the best post-rock sounds out there.
Word Up: “We’ve always been an instrumental band all this while, but in terms of mood, our sound has progressed from apocalyptic to hopeful,” says Khamis. “Our sound/songs tend to be lengthy and perhaps a bit self-indulgent. But we are trying to move away from that, and keep our songs shorter. We see making music as an act of self-expression and a creative tool, and we don’t really care if we don’t sell that many CDs. After all, when we release the tracks, we see it as a form of documentation. If people are interested to come along for the ride, sure, if not, no worries.”
What next? Gigs at the upcoming Good Vibrations Festival and regional music festival JamAsia in KL next month will put the group on a more popular pedestal. I am David Sparkle is now available at Straits Records, 43 Haji Lane, 9431-1572. Log onto www.myspace.com/iamdavidsparkle for more info.
Who are they? The group, lead by singer/songwriter/guitarist Randolf Arriola, has been around since the early ’90s, performing gigs at the defunct Moods Café. Members have evolved over the years. Today, The Embryo also comprises singer/bassist Wendy Phua (formerly of Zhen) and drummer Mervyn Asher.
What sound? The Embryo’s eclectic range of sound is more cohesive than the band would like us to believe—which is a good thing. “Our music plays like a cross between U2, Tears For Fears, Bjork, and Pink Floyd,” says Arriola, who also cites Brian Eno, The Cure, Joni Mitchell, The Sundays, Beth Orton, Placebo and Daniel Lanois as influences. But before you think the band is schizophrenic, we assure that their sound is cohesive, catchy and suitably dark.
Why listen? The Embryo is the only local band that builds their sound and textures it by using a sound-shaping tool during live performances. This atmospheric advantage gives them a bigger and grander sound. “We don’t use instruments like keyboards, synthesizers and other sound effects, although it sounds like we do,” quips Arriola. “We just basically use guitar and bass.” Music lovers are in for a killer ride. Track “Local Music” features an infectious bass and a spoken word sampling of musician X’Ho, while “Waiting” is a dreamy sojourn into ambient bliss.
Word Up: “We like pop, rock, and all other experimental music, and the group pieces all these elements together…it’s like a string of pearls, with all these influences.”
What next? Scheduled for release by 2007, their first full-length album should be a smash. After all, previous EPs sold at their various gigs at Timbre and The Esplanade have all been snapped up.
Who is it? SONICBRAT, a.k.a. Darren Ng, is full-time sound designer who has worked predominantly in theater. Arts aficionados might have heard of Ng’s works in plays like Luna-id’s Quills, but music fans will soon get a taste of Ng’s obscure and ethereal sound bites with the release of his first album, Hi.a.tus.
What sound? Produced by Chris Lee (of boutique Asylum fame) under his label Asylum Sounds, Ng’s album Hi.a.tus is a demanding excursion to an unrelenting world of beeps and bleeps that will send listeners into the nether regions. Openers like “The Lacuna Medley” and “Hiatus Lullaby” have a dreamlike quality and lovely piano refrains, while more experimental numbers like “Synaesthesia” and “8Bit Pathology” will make the head spin with their spaced-out stereo effects.
Why listen? For those into truly experimental and niche sounds, Ng’s sound is probably one of the best to come out of Singapore. His seamless mix of baby piano and sitara (an instrument that works like a cross between a guitar and sitar) sounds like floating forlorn memories lost
Word Up: “The sound I create is different from sound artists out there,” says Ng. “Whereas they play with mostly just laptops, I try to manipulate and utilize as many found sounds and other instruments as well. It involves a lot of fusion between the analog and digital realms…going towards a modular synthesized sound. I’m not too worried if people don’t get my music. It’s a very personal album that I cut from the bottom of my heart.”
What next? Since they have no live gigs lined-up, it’s best that music lovers grab themselves a copy of Hi.a.tus when it’s out. Available from Asylum, 22 Ann Siang Rd., 6324-2289 from Feb. Log onto www.freewebscom/sonicbrat for more info.
Who is it? A composer by profession, Rennie Gomes, a.k.a. Gomes, has 15 years of music experience. Besides being involved in the soundtrack of Royston Tan’s controversial 15, Gomes has also remixed homegrown band The Observatory’s tracks like “How’s Life?” and “This Sad Song.” Last year in Oct, Gomes released his first album Fade To Black. Although he doesn’t have a gig to his name yet, his competence is undeniable.
What sound? A fusion of dark trip hop and electro, Gomes sets his sound somewhere between the accessible and the obscure. Tracks such as “Free” bring to mind Massive Attack, while more experimental songs such as “Octave Lives” and “Mine Ocean” lean towards experimental sound art.
Why listen? Often intense, ominous and sinister, we love Gomes because it gives us goose bumps. Fade To Black, which is the result of three years of hard work, is certainly one of the freshest and more outstanding offerings in recent years.
Word Up: “One reason the album is called Fade To Black is because it gets progressively darker by the minute,” he states as a matter of fact. “As you know, at the end of every movie, everything fades to black and music becomes the foreground. No more pictures…just music. Music is always accompanying something else. By naming the album Fade To Black, I’m throwing the focus back to the music.”
What next? Gomes, together with Royston Tan, is currently working on an animation music video for “Missing,” one of the tracks in Fade to Black which has Japanese mutterings by the late Japanese actor Muragishi Hiroaki. “I’m hoping to target the Japanese market with this track,” he states.
Fade To Black is available at Asylum, 22 Ann Siang Rd., 6324-2289, and other online music stores like CD Baby and iPod Tunes. Log on to http://www.myspace.com/renniegomes for more information.
Who are they? The Nerves may be only one-and-a half-years-old, but with the help of music competitions like School of Rock and Power Jam, the group has set some tongues wagging. Made up of bassist Muhammad Syuaib, drummer Muhammad Syakirin and guitarist Williem Siddek, this cheeky band started off jamming in a fruit stall cum studio, and loves to perform onstage barefoot.
What sound? The sound of The Nerves reminds us of Nirvana. Hear out for low growls and hypnotizing guitar strums set at a moderate tempo. The group’s blend of music should satisfy those who dig the grunge-rock era of the mid ’90s. Other influences cited by band members include Oasis, Supergrass, The Kooks and Wolfmother, just to name a few.
Why listen? It’s easy to lose yourself in their music. Slightly bleak and depressing, the trio has an absorbing sound that makes it one of the more promising bands around. Some local music fans have even commented that The Nerves should have won the Power Jam competition held at Zouk a few months ago. To this, Syuaib quips, “It was a bit disappointing. But it’s great just to get to the finals and perform in front of so many people.”
Word Up: “What sets The Nerves apart? Well, I think we’re the ugliest band around,” jokes Siddek. “And another reason that people support us could be because everyone can relate to underdogs. It would be nice for an underdog to be famous,” adds Syakirin.
What next? The Nerves is recording its first studio demo now. Watch out for it. Log onto www.myspace.com/thenerves for more info.
A list of other bands to check out and bands we want to hear less of.