It's been awhile since our days doing album reviews, but given the wealth of diverse and fantastic records that have presented themselves to the world these past months, we simply couldn't resist. We've chosen relatively new releases by a variety of bands, both local and international (though with a few more local acts in the mix), for this comeback. Making up for the many months of our album review hiatus though, it's a looong list that we'll be spreading over two instalments.
In this instalment, we feature local musicians like Charlie Lim, In Each Hand A Cutlass, Hanging Up The Moon along with some choice international picks that includes some seductive R&B and black metal fused with...synth-pop? Well, if you've already checked their albums out, tell us what you think! If you haven't… well, you should.
Time/Space | Charlie Lim
As far as it goes for a musician to lock down a coherent conceptual album — or double EP, in this case — Charlie Lim excels in getting it down to a T without forcing it down to the casual listener. There are plenty of choice cuts but Charlie has put in effort to make sure the entire package is worth paying attention to from beginning to end. And it pays off. His ambitions are already admirable from a musician's standpoint — anyone who can incorporate both ragtime and electronic sounds into one consistent project deserves at least some recognition.
The Time side has Charlie armed with his usual weapons of choice — acoustic instruments that, once harnessed by the singer-songwriter, spring forth in the mix to cause emotional devastation. Featuring indubitably lush arrangements that are disarmingly familiar, it's territory he's explored before but he makes the most out of it. Whether if it's the explosive post-rock climax of "Bitter" or the gripping intimacy of "Choices", he's self-aware and acute enough to know when to properly introduce an element of surprise into his work.
Time/Space is an intricate piece of work and it becomes more apparent with every listen, whether if it's the stirring violins on "Light Breaks In" or the slight reverb treatment on his vocals on "Blah Blah Blues", presented to project the illusion of Charlie pouring his heart out on a Broadway stage.
Space gets Charlie playing with newer toys and incorporating modern influences. He upsizes his ambitions to an arena scale with the catchy "Knots" and aims towards the alt-R&B crowd with "Nothing More Cruel". The latter's a song that excels in its seductive instrumentation but ends with a somewhat awkward spoken-word bit that would've benefitted from either a spirited delivery from Charlie or a guest spot from someone else. All that can be overlooked once "I Only Tell the Truth" surfaces — a song that brings the entire project to a stunning close, along with its piano outro that concludes with the delicate sound of waves.
Whether if it will serve to soothe the souls of jilted lovers or astound musicians everywhere, Charlie Lim has presented a meticulously-crafted record that excels in its tasteful musical adventures and poetic inward lyricism. It's grand, it's heartbreaking, it's pretty. And like many great break-up albums, you can either bask in its sadness or find purpose in its conclusion. Either way, Charlie Lim has created a real winner here.
Standout Tracks: 'Bitter', 'Light Breaks In', 'Conspiracy'
Wildheart | Miguel
It's 2015 and Miguel is here to take what he's due. After controversy over a misjudged jump at an awards show and a sophomore album that wowed critics but failed to crack the mainstream, Miguel has launched Wildheart, an epic, sensual, transcendental statement. It's also pointedly his statement – there are no features save for an appearance by Kurupt on 'NWA' and guitar by Lenny Kravitz on 'face the sun'.
It's impossible to get bored of Miguel, though, what with the way the R&B star picks from different genres, including soul, rock, synth, rap and more, confidently weaving them all into his vision. It's also a challenge to sit through this sex-soaked album without gasping or blushing. 'the valley' serves up porny raunchiness, lead single 'coffee' beautifully captures delirious I-could-lie-with-you-all-night intimacy, while 'FLESH' is a peak of sexual and sonic ecstasy. Wildheart is an album for lovers and fighters, and clearly, Miguel is both.
Standout Tracks: 'NWA', 'coffee', 'face the sun'
Desperate Dreams | Violet Cold
This recent record from experimental one-man band Violet Cold offers a fascinating genre meld that is synth-driven black metal. Indeed, the heavy beats and raw screaming of black metal, paired with catchy riffs in synth tones, makes for a unique and almost surreal experience. The album definitely fits its title to a T, and in more ways than one: its tracks are dripping in a desperate melancholy and passion, and are both dreamlike and inspirational (though certainly not in conventional senses).
'Intro: Lonely Universe' provides a very slow and minimalist start to the album, but doesn't fail in capturing its overall feel of cinematic poignancy. Nevertheless, it leaves us (with none so much as a whisper) totally unprepared for the rich emotional adventure ahead. With the incongruent but seamlessly interweaved layers of electronics and distorted guitars, it's a wonder that this Azerbaijani act is all by one man. Many feel that the title track - smack in the middle of the record - is the highlight of the release, but the whole album is one massive, cathartic experience. You might wonder at the black metal record's cover art, but one listen to its tracks and it all seems to makes sense: it is the song of black butterflies, the song of Desperate Dreams.
Standout Tracks: 'La Petite Mort', 'Desperate Dreams', 'I See The Air You Breathe'
The Kraken | In Each Hand a Cutlass
The host of raving reviews offered by the likes of Russian Circles' Brian Cook and Niall Arthur Kennedy from And So I Watch You From Afar is an impressive enough incentive to check In Each Hand A Cutlass (IEHAC) out. And true enough, this new release 'The Kraken' doesn't disappoint in the slightest. The instrumental act's free and fearless exploration of dynamic textured soundscapes, coupled with their insane creative and technical prowess, voraciously wipes the boundaries of music from existence. Rolling interwoven layers of groove crash together in a cinematic explosion of sound, enhanced occasionally with the inclusion of some majestic strings in the midst of their sprawling guitars.
Given the band's obvious captivation with all things marine, their music certainly does that justice. The Kraken's vivid tracks aptly embody the rich darkness and unpredictable mystery of the ocean, the legendary power of the formidable Kraken, even the bold swagger of pirates. It's at once a fascinating and breathtaking experience, entirely a different beast from anything we've heard before. Untamed by the shackles of any one genre, the progressive outfit toy expertly with elements of post-rock, experimental, metal and more to form their unique spectrum of sound. This range is already compactly displayed in their first two tracks, 'The Deep' and 'Overture', epic intros to this majestic tracklist and possibly the highlights of IEHAC's intense, diverse masterpiece.
Standout Tracks: 'The Deep', 'Overture', 'Heracleion'
Moirai | Sphaeras
It seems difficult to strike that balance between being memorably groovy and keeping people on their surprised toes, but Sphaeras have gotten it down in their debut album as if it were second nature. Whether it's accompanying a catchy riff with an unexpected rhythm, or taking those riffs on unforeseen turns, the local quartet ensure that throughout the album's entirety their listeners know no boredom. And to be sure, the indomitable combination of their unconventional artistry and technical chops make this record ceaselessly fascinating.
As if their musical intelligence isn't enough, the very titles of the album and its tracks reveal the well-read maturity of the band. Their esoteric references range from the Swedish word for man ('Människa') to cars ('DeLorean') to of course, Moirai - the Greek Fates, and recognising or discovering these allusions is a whole other bonus to the release. One of the definite highlights of the album is the finale tracks of Akinetic / Mutism, the name referring to the medical inability to move or speak. The two tracks meld smoothly together as if they were one and, unlike its titular reference, certainly has the power to move us (physically or emotionally) and speak to us. The surprising but seamless arrangements of each track are testament to the band's adept and artfully fresh musicianship, and the album's timelessly bewitching power is not unlike the divine forces it alludes to.
Standout Tracks: 'DeLorean', 'Akinetic', 'Mutism'
Immaterial | Hanging Up the Moon
Ever so mild yet unconventional, there's a rare balance and maturity within the gentle, subdued sounds of Hanging Up The Moon's newest release Immaterial. Their soundscapes are delicately tame yet lush; their distinctly imaginative musical quirks are quietly subtle, yet the key ingredient that holds their music together. Lilting guitar melodies slide lightly over each other, and paired with former Concave Scream frontman Sean Lam's thoughtfully poetic and heartfelt lyrics, provide an intimately soothing but thought-provoking soundtrack to please the ears. The immense layers of vocal and instrumental harmonies never overwhelm but wash over you, comfortingly smooth without compromising on richness.
The folk outfit's dreamy and endearingly vulnerable sound perhaps shines through most in 'Unconditional', a sweetly earnest ode to a pet, the "smallest of companions" pulling one through life's difficulties. Throughout the profoundly emotional record though, it's a sensitively nuanced and sophisticated artistry that's still shrouded in an air of unassuming humility - even if the fine inventiveness and immaculate musicianship is lost on an uninitiated ear, the tender serenity of the serenade buoys it through.
Standout Tracks: 'Brave New World', 'Ebb And Flow', 'Unconditional'
Songs of the Well | Victor Low
A solo endeavour for veteran Singaporean music Victor Low, who previously served in experimental rock band The Observatory and is currently holding court in folk group Hanging Up the Moon, Songs of the Well is touted as a collection of songs about childhood and dedicated to his daughter, "whom we would share many silly stories together".
Even without lyrics, the album encapsulates its themes impeccably well with a set of short songs, running the gamut from playful to ethereal Baroque melodies. The album is easy to digest and engaging enough to prevent itself from being relegated to background music. These songs play more like sketches of ideas that, while could be fleshed out into longer compositions, work well with the style of the album. Songs of the Well is tagged as 'children's music' but its whimsical charm is enough to capture the attention of any music lover.
Standout Tracks: 'Dunbar Walk', 'Song of the Well', 'Garden Maze'
Written by Chew Wei Li, Karen Gwee & Daniel Peters