Thanks to Kubrick for this opportunity and thanks to the musicians who took part.
Love, Chris B xx
Avery & Ginkgo
- Summer of Bohemia
- To Xi
- 5. You and I
There was the most brilliant of odd vibes in the Kubrick bookstore-cafe that evening. It didn’t help much that while trying to get notes for this review half my mind was trying desperately to ignore the various appetising smells wafting toward me from the kitchen. Still, I tried – so, forgive me if there are any random references to food in these snatches of text. Besides tantalising smells, the numerous arty and philosophy books combined with the quiet eagerness of the place’s patrons made for an atmosphere thick as a fog. The wonderful thing about that was how it seemed that there were no gaps between sets, or even songs, and the ebbs and flows of sound were smooth and almost indiscernible. It was great to be there right in the thick of things, as the show that night was kicked off by Wain.
The first act was, I am given to understand, a not-regular collaboration between two guitarists – one of The Underground’s video-dudes OC, and Ah Chin – and a singer/songwriter girl who called herself Avery. I’m given to understand that some of their songs were poems set to tune. This was probably what contributed to some of the disjointedness in the set – it kinda showed that they don’t usually play together because there was little chemistry. But, their style of gentle acoustic-pop/soft-folk doesn’t require tremendous coordination between the band-members, so no real harm done. This style, however, also means that you can’t develop your own sound within its bounds because it’s too shapeless and generic (and not in the Flipper way) – if they plan to continue as a group they should really look at getting their guitar sound right. Avery seems very young and, perhaps consequently, doesn’t seem to have figured out her sweet spot within her vocal range. Some songs that she sang a little higher on, like Sleep! And Summer of Bohemia, made her sound as though she were holding on to her voice, and hence a bit choked up. When she did sing in the middle-notes, her voice had a lovely Cat Power-like paperiness to it, which was made better when contrasted with OC’s deeper, richer voice and almost spoken-word approach, such as on March. He too, though, needs to get a better handle on his voice which was inconsistent in the higher range. Technique, technique!
They were, it seems, quite clever about their songwriting – aside from the poems used, they used the Chinese national anthem’s first couple of lines in (if I’m not wrong) Summer of Bohemia, which is a clever device. March featured some social commentary about the working class and had some nice mid-range harmonies (which is their vocal strength). OC’s more dominant style of melodic soloing on the middle strings interlocked nicely with Ah Chin’s focus on accenting the richer notes with the higher parts of the first two strings – this kind of coordination can only come from practice, and these two have clearly got a good complement system going. To Xi had a more pastoral, almost-country feel to it and was a good change from the very poppy nature of their other songs. Avery had a bit of an emotional moment during You and I, as she broke down while singing it, but this only seemed to endear her to the audience. After that, her voice seemed to have spontaneously developed years of character – so, the catharsis seemed to have done her good. Overall, a soothingly mild set of songs performed competently, so there’s definitely promise there if they do continue playing together.
P.S. – Part of these comments is based on information that may be termed hearsay, so I apologise to the musicians if I’ve got something wrong. My brain sometimes shorts out and synthesises “facts” from bits and pieces of intermittent information. But, I think we can agree that these manufactured details are more interesting than the truth, so try to get over your obsession with reality, will ya?
1. Come What May
2. So Good to See You
3. Elastic World
4. Stop the World
5. June Sunday
6. London’s Waking
7. Hey You
The next to perform was Stuart Lennon, usually the singer for local rockers Papancha, but who has recently “accidentally gone solo” (a happy by-product of the band’s search for a new bassist). He’s far more experienced at this music thing than both the other bands that night, and it showed. His songwriting has a much more stable and mature form than that of either of the other bands that night because he’s found his particular style of expression. This style, acoustically, is one of simple chord progressions that combine “sweet-sounding” chords with more lopsided and dissonant ones in close proximity, usually moving from one kind to the other in the space of the verse to the chorus. Without this dynamic he would sound like a typical acoustic-folk or pop artiste, but because it does exist he sounds more like alternative-indie mixed with grungy influences. At its best, it is reminiscent of the deceptively casual approach to strong emotions that Pavement took, lulling you into a false sense of “everything’s going to be okay”-ness. This allows for a sarcastic interpretation of his songs because of the way the lyrics mingle with the music, adding a layer of complexity to the songs, which is always positive.
His voice, though, is a bit of an acquired taste– it’s a bit nasally thin, with that slanted quality which makes you feel like it’s missing the note even while hitting it. This kind of edge is not something you can fake (not well, anyway), and is another unique feature of Stuart’s sound, so give him a chance and you may end up quite liking this kind of timbre. It also contrasts well with the smooth and bouncy nature of his guitar-style. Having said that, a little work on having the voice maintain its integrity on the sustained notes wouldn’t hurt.
Everything I just said was basically embodied in Come What May which has a buoyant energy that propels it through its REM-“happy song”-like territory. So Good to See You saw the use of one of the six harmonicas he had with him, which helped to enact the emotional lift that I was talking about as the chorus began. He began Stop the World with a Kerouac haiku (which instantly gives you tonnes of cred) and launched into a grungy ditty which sort of sounded like acoustic Love Battery. Hey You was a definite highlight and a great way to round out the set; despite being a little more conventionally pop-soundng, it gave closure to any pent-up frustrated energy in the previous songs with its annoyed yet level-headed railing against, ostensibly, “The Man”. This sort of maturity in treating a subject is good to hear in songs, and I hope to see more of it in future songs.
4. He is Definitely Coming
The last time these guys played the Underground, they were good but still sounding way too much like they were trying to sound like Radiohead. This seems to have been solved by now because they seemed to be much further along towards figuring out their own approach, which is more like the sinister feel of Alice in Chains circa 1993-6. The way the rhythm and lead guitar act as counterpoints allows the songs to have a strange frantic calm, and you can feel this oxymoron. The eeriness of their sound in the electric form was replaced by a pervasive uneasiness, which works just as well. This is draped in singer Sun Yu’s near-drone style of singing. He, like Stuart, has obliqueness to his voice, but because his tone is much deeper and his style of singing much stronger (it’s almost like Scott Weiland’s softer baritone), it takes less time to like his voice. They still do Creep though, and it’s still good because they make it their own by underscoring the flailing frustration in the song (as opposed to the original which masks it). They need to work on adding more substance to the guitars, though, because the songs sometimes get a bit lost in their depth during the bridges.
The atmospherics continued with Deep which allowed guitarist Miu Tham to show off her more fine-tuned soloing skills. She’s developed a positive knack of really probing the areas of sonic weirdness the songs reach without overplaying, especially with higher notes, which makes the songs more effective than before. This is not a band that shies away from using non-harmonic notes and they used them best in Isolation, though the song suffered a bit from the lack of percussion that would’ve really driven its pace changes home. The melancholy was heaviest in Fog with its gritty, muddy feel; and yet, it still had a bit of resigned happiness because of the lyrics. They chose to change it up a little at the end with the plaintive Lost and its much more simple approach to the broody sound. The song ended softly, and in keeping with the tendencies of that night, the sounds faded into the books as it slowly sun in that the show had ended.
Photos by Nino Lin
Poster by Wain Yee