1) Recording Equipment Test
2) The Tragedy of Gilbert
3) It Gets Lonely in This Corner of The World
4) She’s Not Taylor Swift
6) Somehow, Something
7) If This Was a Cassette Tape, This Opens Side B
9) Sorry I Called Your Boyfriend Gay
10) Her English Name is Rose
11) Haggang Dito
12) The Woman in Red and the Hong Kong Skyline
13) Tram (Quarry Bay to North Point)
In the midst of a pandemic comes the healing balm of William Elvin’s Faces/Phases. A thirteen-track journey through the myriad aches and pains of the nomadic Hong Konger, Elvin’s quirky observational storytelling offers his honest, oftentimes darkly funny perspective through the lens of indie pop.
Recording Equipment Test is a conversational welcome to the album. Elvin’s rich vocals clearly display his proclivity for musical theatre, even when backed by a simple acoustic guitar instead of a full orchestra. It is the perfect bookend to folksy second track The Tragedy Of Gilbert, which details the melancholic life of a Thai-born Hong Kong expat who struggles to assert his identity. Featuring the tongue-in-cheek mood juxtaposition of an upbeat melody punctuated by bleak lyrics, The Tragedy… addresses themes of existential ennui, displacement (“city he can’t understand”), suicide (“mother offed herself whilst deep in debt”), broken homes (“guess Thai daddy was ditched”), and loneliness despite being in such a densely populated place.
It Gets Lonely in This Corner of The World delivers a scuzzy rockabilly vibe- think old school instrumentation a-la The Beatles teaming up with the grungy apathy of 90s rock. The electric guitar continues to hold its seat in She’s Not Taylor Swift, a narrative affair in melodic pop rock.
Elvin dials it back a touch with the first Tagalog track on the listing, Ikaw, proudly incorporating his Filipino heritage. Atmospheric and featuring slow, rolling guitars, this balladic track is moving even if you cannot speak the language. Another slower piece, Somehow, Something is a special kind of love song: the kind about broken hearts and unfulfilled love. Tragically romantic, its lyrics offer beautiful imagery and metaphors.
Mimicking the conversational tone of the album’s opener, If This Was a Cassette Tape, This Opens Side B provides a brief palate cleanser interlude ahead of Tagalog track Latesleeper, a mellow shoegaze tune replete with echoing vocals and a winding guitar solo. Adding a touch of comedic levity, Sorry I Called Your Boyfriend Gay is a through and through rock track with loud bass and wry humour; “At the end of the day who cares if he’s gay / we’re all a little queer anyway,” Elvin concludes, freeing the girl of his affections from his otherwise very forward advances.
Catchy and playful, Her English Name is Rose borrows its title from an identical lyric in The Tragedy of Gilbert. Both songs occupy the same narrative space, creatively continuing Gibert’s story from the perspective of one of his friends as they discuss a beautiful woman he admires from afar. Haggang Dito again adopts a vintage grunge aesthetic, a strong bass line maintaining a swinging groove whose bluesy flair is echoed in The Lady in Red and the Hong Kong Skyline. This penultimate track is a quintessential jazz lounge lamentation of yearning, all smouldering lyrics and distorted instruments. Finally, Gilbert receives a final visitation in Tram (Quarry Bay to North Point). Told in the same dreamy acoustic format as previous chapters, our unsung hero finds his voice one more time in this sweet ditty which ties the record together with a unified storyline.
By Jasmine Gould-Wilson