We review the good (and bad) releases of August — Vandetta, Chok Kerong, hrvst, LEW, Are and more

We review the good (and bad) releases of August — Vandetta, Chok Kerong, hrvst, LEW, Are and more

August's review round-up comes a bit late this time but don't fret, we've got a lot of ground covered.

From Vandetta's joyful new EP Mindkiller to Elintseeker's ruminative new album, Gerwalk Modes — and even a serving of long-overdue reviews — get ready for an overview of a very interesting month.

Mindkiller | Vandetta

Genre: R&B/electronic pop
Release date: August 25th

Mindkiller is one of many releases by Singaporean artist Vanessa Fernandez — the natural-born hustler has proved her worth, from her time in Parking Lot Pimp and Urban Xchange to her projects under Octover and Vandetta. Even her work under audiophile label Groove Note Records is worth a mention. Not many can boast writing spacey R&B songs and covering Led Zeppelin in their career.

This new EP is possibly her defining work under the Vandetta project. One thing that immediately separates Mindkiller is the audacity of the production work, teaming up with various talent she's crossed paths with — both an artist and a figurehead on Lush 99.5FM, Singapore's premier champion of alternative music (long it may live, even off the airwaves).

Even in her capacity as Vandetta, she approaches Mindkiller as a platform for self-expression and a showcase of something larger than herself — featuring the varied stylings of Fauxe, Lineath, Kiat, Koflow, and Perk Pietrek. It still works as a cohesive EP, but there's also a lingering sense that there could have been a lot more accomplished with the concepts she explores. 

Regardless, Mindkiller oozes with dynamism, with the joyful 'Onz' (featuring her former Urban Xchange bandmate Kim Olsen) leading into a sublime cover of Humpback Oak's 'Circling Square', stripping the song of its mournful reverb and replacing it with absorbing, intimate production that's an absolute treat on headphones.

Vandetta's greatest asset is her voice, and she's proved that tremendously throughout her career. But with Mindkiller, she's taken many steps further as a songwriter with a purpose. Weaved in with immersive production work and heartfelt songwriting, Mindkiller is a veteran's rallying war cry against complacency. — Daniel Peters

Rating: 8/10

Stream the release here.

KINGDOM | hrvst

Genre: Sludge metal, metalcore
Release date: August 5th

KINGDOM finds hrvst rising above their influences, finally coming into their own. While the three-piece still roots itself in the crushing viscousness and density of sludge metal, they are slowly evolving past genre tropes of single-note chugging and an over-reliance on lower strings, utilising a larger spectrum of frequencies than before. The result is a far more dynamic, less plodding listen. 

There are genuinely gripping moments on KINGDOM, such as the opening of the EP, ‘Purusha’, with its groaning bass adorned by eerie string noises, or the middle of ‘The Rise & Fall of a Toxic City’ where the band lets the feedback run wild as the duelling vocals screech into the high heavens, a cacophony of terror.

The problem that hrvst faces is that those aforementioned moments aside (along with a few others), a lot of the EP simply sounds functional. It still sounds gratifying, if not just because heavy riffs are inherently gratifying, but it does not engage the listener significantly more so than its peers do. KINGDOM has shown us that hrvst are capable of special, memorable passages, and here’s hoping there will be more to come. — Yong Junyi

Rating: 6/10

Stream the release here.

Gerwalk Modes | Elintseeker

Genre: Ambient, electronic, new age
Release date: August 18th

One-man project Elintseeker, alias of Fuzz Lee, has graced Singapore’s shores with his tranquil, ambient meanderings for many years. His latest offering, Gerwalk Modes, reassembled from hours of discarded recordings, doesn’t deviate too far from his trademark guitar-based sound. Dreamy, warm shimmers of drone are heard on much of the album, sometimes tastefully ornamented by chamber wind instruments.

What differentiates Gerwalk Modes from his earlier work is a more liberal use of electronics and a warmer timbre, purportedly inspired by 80s pop and the fond childhood memories associated with them. The result is an expansion of Elintseeker’s sonic palette — electronic-laced shoegaze overtones feature on ‘Living in City 7’, while whispered vocals and synthesiser-caked textures drive ‘Nome’ and ‘Defolding to Frontier’. It is less wispy, shrouding and holding one firmly, rather than caressing.

The album does suffer from an absence of variety — for all the changes in instrumentation, the same sense of warmth, the same timbre and tone colour remains throughout the entire 50 minutes. Maybe that’s the point, maybe it is intended to sound still and unmoving. But it could come off as monotonous too. Still, it is a heartwarming and blissful listen. — Yong Junyi

Rating: 7/10

Stream the release here.

Lullacry | LEW

Genre: Indie pop, singer-songwriter
Release date: July 7th

Noise Singapore 2015’s Music Mentorship winner LEW has evolved well past his days as a viral Singapore Police Force (SPF) star. 

The indie-folk musician’s debut full-length effort Lullacry documents the ‘Loved You So’ songwriter’s position as an artist in transition and growth. The result of it is a meticulously-arranged record. Tied in with the production and musical finesse of multi-instrumentalist Bani Hidir (of 53A and B-Quartet), Lullacry boasts succinct instrumentation along with a mastery vocal melodies evident in tracks like ‘Organs’. 

Songs like ‘Crazy’ and ‘Wings’ come to no surprise to fans who've been to a handful of his shows, and they're balanced out by duets with singer-songwriter Joie Tan in ‘Reality’ and ‘Baby Steps’. 

As a debut album, Lullacry is a well-packaged gem best savoured from start to end, but more importantly, it's a good benchmark for a debut record injected with heart-aching sincerity. — Ronald Goh

Rating: 7/10

Stream the release here.

Cannonball | Are

Genre: Experimental pop, art rock
Release date: July 25th

In theory, Are are a chore to listen to, because (1) they lack any regard for effective EQ mastering, (2) they stretch small ideas to oblivion in seven songs averaging 8.5 minutes each, and (3) I’d rather listen to Kraftwerk/Animal Collective/Talking Heads, etc.

But what puts this Can-sans-talent outsider pop a notch beyond unlistenable is their deliberate retro-kitsch posturing: Their shameless excitement at the silliest, most obvious, melodies known to man put a giddily whimsical pop spin on their neo-psych. Yes, the tunes may sound deliberately stupid, but in the process, they make even the most minor progression sound genius. And that’s... kinda genius. — BJ Lim

Rating: 6/10

Stream the release here.

Recommended 4 U | FAUXE 

Genre: Electronic, hip-hop
Release date: July 24th

Fauxe’s experimental eight-track beat tape Recommended 4 U breaks the silence from the prolific producer

Since working with R&B artist Sam Rui on the lush and focused Season 2, FAUXE’s latest release comes as a conceptual breath of fresh air — entirely freewheeling and loose in execution, these songs will make full use of the aux cord at a party.

Recommended 4 U may be largely repetitive, but Fauxe takes some stylistic detours that keep the tape fresh — employing jazzy instrumentation along with occasional off-beat transitions.

Final track ‘It Ain’t Over’ is a standout, with underlying R&B undertones accompanied by KL-based rapper MC SYZE's guest spot. It may be uneven, but Recommended 4 U is material proof of an artist unravelling in constant creation. — Ronald Goh

Rating: 6/10 

Stream the release here.

Tales They Told Me | Chok Kerong

Genre: Contemporary jazz
Release date: July 28th

Chok Kerong's Tales They Told Me is as much a showcase selection of boutique styles as it is a compilation of jam cuts, rooting the straight-ahead categorically by pinching fusion towards neo-soul ('The March Bounce'), Latin jazz ('Regression') and blues ('Famous A').

All of this — in the grander scheme of a full-length — might come across as being far too compartmentalised and baroque. But that’s all right so long as the band stays playful; Tales spare little for hooks to let keyboard and guitar pass buck and do as they please. What "do as they please" means, well, keyword: baroque. — BJ Lim

Rating: 6/10

Stream the release here.

The Lesser Of Your Greater Friends | Calix

Genre: Hip-hop
Release date: August 18th

The tenacity of Calix’s sophomore album, The Lesser of your Greater Friends, largely confronts the continuum of societal and moral ills that continue to plague the Philippines, through equally ominous and fitting trap production from labelmate Serena D.C. of No Face Records. 

Calix weaves a narrative that hones in on galvanization: doing its damnedest to provoke – whether it’s the aiding and abetting of commander-in-chief or the arguable merits of a certain local rapper – as an exercise of uncensored speech (in Tagalog, no less), clearly to conduct immediacy and disrupt any sense of comfort. 

It’s a lengthy, 20-track album that swings from maddening frustration (with a society that is morally culpable of its government’s indignities) to incendiary satire (on false idols; the rich and privileged lifestyle) let loose in a bleak and harsh sonic atmosphere, not unlike the origins of trap music itself.

Its conscious effort to be brash, mocking, and technical — rather than stylish — is precarious, especially in a culture that mostly puts a premium in politeness and utang na loob (translated as "a debt of one's inner self"), will relegate Calix into an agitator, a troublemaker. His kind of activism is not often appreciated, let alone rewarded.

While courtesy, rare and foreign as it may be these days, is considered a form of resistance, it only works when there remains to be a common ground to tread and work on together. — Mary Christine Galang

Rating: 8/10

Stream the release here.

Desiderata | Zeekos Perakos

With virtually no online presence, sound designer electronic artist Zeekos Perakos (real name Muhammad Haziq Bin Abdul Khalid) remains an enigma. Which is just as well, given the sort of deliciously dark, twisted music on Desiderata.

While a large part of electronic music has always revolved around samples and/or loops, the motifs and sounds used on the album are generally more abstract, more discomforting — tonality is largely absent, and in their place is the very essence of music, that of sound, flitting around like pieces of a puzzle trying to fit together. 

On ‘Aoi-u’, synth pads dart in and out in turn, like lasers in the dark. The percussive motif on ‘Elit’ seems unbounded by tempo and cuts off abruptly, like a broken record player.

The moaning whale-like sounds and bubbling pops on ‘Moonpath’ are juxtaposed with an atonal synth melody. And even with all that, there are a number of less abstract tracks with pulsating basslines.

Taken with the music, the album's title can be interpreted in many ways — as yearning, worship, ironic, or more, depending on one’s response. Zeekos Perakos certainly isn’t the first artist to take on abstract atonal electronic compositions, but it is executed with sufficient finesse and creativity that it still sounds incredibly fresh. — Yong Junyi

Rating: 8/10

Stream the release here.

The Only Way Is Up | Iman's League

Genre: Pop punk
Release date: August 12th

It's 2017, and pop punk, post-hardcore and its other variants are growing up. At least, the kids are — the ones whose fandom and undying devotion ensured the music would thrive beyond days of MySpace and Tower Records. "Hardcore will never die but you will," as they say.

In The Only Way Is Up, pop punk trio Iman's League strap themselves in for a reality check — while lyrical motifs of "leaving things behind", "moving on" and "letting go" constitute the album's thematic qualities, its combination with a blistering brand of punk rock makes for a fun and concise listen. 

Songs like 'Rescue Me' and 'No Way Out' address lingering issues that go beyond teenage-hood, but the trio remain fixated on what's to come, never more obvious than on 'Perfect Dad'. Their solution? Suck it up, because tomorrow's another day. On your toughest days, The Only Way Is Up will be the reassuring pat on the back you may just need. — Daniel Peters

Rating: 6/10

Stream the release here.

Forever Near | Avaneer

Genre: Alternative rock
Release date: August 19th

Alternative rock outfit Avaneer’s debut release Forever Near presents a raw entry for a newly-minted band.

Even with its qualities as a cathartic, back-to-basics alternative rock record, Forever Near falters with sub-standard vocal performances — Avaneer's guitar solos and focused instrumentation make up for the listening experience, even if most of it lacks purpose.

Mid-album, ‘All Dressed Up’ could possibly be the record’s most intriguing piece, and the band’s songwriting and instrumentation holds the fort remarkably well. 

Avaneer shows off some clever moments in Forever Near, but ultimately the band needs a lot of work and refinement to harness their abilities into something more palatable. — Ronald Goh

Rating: 4/10

Stream the release here.