24 March 2005

happy easter everyone

i'm in venice, italy right now, and will be away until about april 9. no new songs until then.

hope your easter break is as good as mine! i'm not having a great time with my meals though. i broke my vegan diet over lunch. had a huge pizza with the layer of mozzarella thicker than the crust itself, and with lots of artichokes swimming in oil. and i paid 8.50 euros for it! dinner sucked too. i could have cooked better gnocci with tomato sauce. what i had was tender but bordered on the raw, while the tomato sauce one can easily tell came straight from a can.

must pick better trattorias tomorrow.

21 March 2005

somewhere over the rainbow / what a wonderful world: iz

click here to listen
listening time: 5m 07s

something to cheer up the monday morning. i first heard this song from the closing credits of the movie finding forrester, and nearly cried. it's a very beautiful medley of the two favorite standards, by the late hawaiian artist israel kamakawiwo'ole, or simply iz. it lights up my mood every time i hear it.

spread the love, people.

19 March 2005

cattle and cane : the go-betweens

click here to listen
listening time: 4m 20s

how do you discover new music? in my case with the go-betweens, it was rather long-winded. i was in singapore in 1997 or 1998, browsing at a music store in a subway station, when the shopkeeper played a song that got me hooked at the intro. it was an acoustic number with a jangly rhythm, the voice raspy but cool. i lingered, and it was love at first listen: the song was in your bright ray, by an artist called grant mclennan. for some reason i didn't buy the album, but i noted the name down. as i expected, the song stuck to my mind, and it wasn't until i returned to singapore months later that i finally bought his album.

it turned out that in your bright ray was the best track, although the rest of the album was still good enough to intrigue me. i searched about mclennan on the internet, learned of his other works, and more importantly, that he was the second half of the little-known and very defunct australian band called the go-betweens. nearly every article i read about them was raving, citing the lyricism of the duo of mclennan and robert forster, and the inevitable comparisons to lennon and mccartney and morrissey and marr. i bought the go-betweens' best-of album, bellavista terrace, and eventually every single album they released, and found the critics to be right. the band reunited about three years ago, and have since come up with two remarkable albums that remain true to their original sound.

it's easy to understand why they didn't achieve commercial success during the peak of their creativity in the 80s. for one, they never employed synthesizers. seriously though, most of their work is rendered to perfection, but as a guitar band, they were so far left of the 80s center that for a first-time listener today, i imagine it would be hard to pin down exactly what era they're from. with notable exceptions, many of their songs are a tad unharmonic, and i would even venture to call some of them experimental. being australians, they also didn't belong to any musical movement, and their lyrics are absent the angry political ramblings of punk-rock icons like the clash.

but i think this detachment only makes the go-betweens more lasting. their greatest strength lies in their songwriting, and cattle and cane is the perfect example -- sentimental and yearning of the past without falling into a gaggle of verbal cliches. the words, the melody, the marching guitar and taut percussion, and mclennan's whispering vocals with forster's haunting ad lib and backing harmonies -- they all give you a strong sense of the incomplete memory the song tries so hard to express, but you can never predict what the next line will be. i call that original.
cattle and cane
grant mclennan

i recall a schoolboy coming home
through fields of cane
to a house of tin and timber
and in the sky
a rain of falling cinders
from time to time
the waste memory-wastes
i recall a boy in bigger pants
like everyone
just waiting for a chance
his father's watch
he left it in the showers
from time to time
the waste memory-wastes
i recall a bigger brighter world
a world of books
and silent times in thought
and then the railroad
the railroad takes him home
through fields of cattle
through fields of cane
from time to time
the waste memory-wastes
the waste memory-wastes
further, longer, higher, older
poetic, no?

18 March 2005

panic : pete yorn

click here to listen
listening time: 2m 39s

pete yorn makes for good listening if you're looking for the sensitive-singer-songwriter type of music in the john mayer mold, but he falls flat in this cover of a smiths classic. his guitar work makes it decent, but the vocals are limp. it lacks the urgency that the title itself suggests, and that takes away the spirit of the song. hearing it on my way from work this evening, it got me thinking: why is it so hard to find a good smiths cover?

let me know if you hear one that does justice to the original.

16 March 2005

rhapsody on the taj

flatfoot meets taj: click here to see my pictures

So I went to Delhi on business last week, and had a chance to see the Taj Mahal over the weekend. You know that feeling when you finally see something so iconic and you get all disappointed? Well it didn't happen to me with the Taj Mahal. From the moment that I saw it from the rooftop of my hostel, I was already rendered speechless, and when I entered the gate to the garden and saw the tomb in the flesh, the sight of it broke my pace and I stood frozen and in awe. The Taj Mahal was one of the first world wonders I learned about when I was a child – a picture of it occupied a spread in my children's encyclopedia – and since then I had been wanting to visit this so-called monument to love. Having seen other postcard-perfect icons – the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge – only this one has taken my breath away, and I can't be more literal. Something about it breathes. What I find amazing about it is, it's not ornate in the way most other architectural wonders are – like La Sagrada Famiglia, the Kremlin, most Italian and French buildings – and yet it's so visually compelling. It demands your attention. It turns your head to face it. I love its obsessive symmetry. I love the way it changes color when the sun is all over it and when it's covered by clouds. It's the reason God created marble. I clearly remember thinking this when I first saw Michelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica three years ago, but the Taj clearly owns the distinction.

I wanted to wrap myself all over it, but I didn't want to look like a pervert with a marble fetish. I was ecstatic. Having longed to see it, and finally being able to do so, was in a way a sensual achievement for me. My entire seven hours there was almost a tantric experience, it was like having a seven-hour orga...never mind, I'm being facetious, you get the idea. But seriously, I'm at a loss for words. The only disappointment was that the Taj wasn't illuminated when the garden's gates closed at 7pm, and for some reason it was an early dark evening. I went back to the rooftop of my hostel before going to bed, and I could only see a hint of its silhouette.

A lot of the time I was there, I was running my fingers through its smooth marble surface, thinking to myself how the workers laid every piece of marble so perfectly, how they managed to achieve the roundness of the minarets and the dome. Suddenly 20 years of construction seemed like an awfully short time. I wondered what kind of relationship Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal had. I wondered how the woman looked like, and what became of the child whose birth cost her life. Corny, I know, but that's how I felt. There was so much emotion that went into the building of the tomb, and it shows to this day.

I'm sorry for gushing. I know some of you might have had a different reaction when you saw it, but to each his own. Anyway, I wanted to share some pictures with you. I couldn't help but take photos of the building from all angles, which is what you'll see in the first set...then after that it's just people. The crowd didn't bother me at all. If you can't beat them, shoot them. Pictures.

15 March 2005

graceland : the bible

click here to listen
song length: 3m 25s

this song was playing in my head on the day i was at the taj mahal grounds in agra, india the other weekend. rightfully so, as it pays tribute to the beautiful structure that was built as a tomb for mumtaz mahal, the wife of mughal emperor shah jahan. i will rhapsodize about the taj mahal in my next post; in the meantime, enjoy the song, which also happens to be one of my favorite lesser-known tracks from the 80s. searching for the lyrics on the net, i was surprised to find that the man who headlined the bible and wrote this song, boo hewerdine, is still in circulation. i sampled his recent tracks, and let's just say let's stick to his old stuff.


would i give you money?
i don't know
the free-est things in life are best
and so put me to the test now
and when i die
will you build the taj mahal?
wear black every day of your life?
i doubt it
you will never see graceland
all my wanting, all my waiting
all my working, all my wickedness
for all my yearning, inside i'm shutting down
you will never see graceland
so what am i doing
without you?
love at second sight would see me through
but not this time
you will never see graceland
what has happened to your favorite 80s band?

12 March 2005

sleeping with the lights on : teitur

click here to listen
song length: 3m 40s

when was the last time you heard a song for the first time and thanked god you found it? i felt that way when i heard this song by teitur, a danish musician who writes simple, melodic ballads and sings them in a voice that's vulnerable and honest. "we got broken wings and we were bound to fall," he sings in this bittersweet love song about a relationship that refuses to move forward. "until the sun comes up, you can hold my hand." as a stripped-down acoustic number it sounds raw and amateurish, but it's also polished and self-assured in the way teitur expresses himself. when he sings "i still sleep with the lights on" in the chorus, you believe him and imagine what it feels like to be in that kind of a relationship. it's disquietingly tender.

tell me about your latest discovery.

07 March 2005

carry me ohio : sun kil moon

click here to listen
song length: 6m 21s

blogging from india. i'm having a sleepless night in a hotel in mumbai. the tv is on, but even cnn is incomprehensible. my room has a view of the arabian sea; i see nothing but darkness, interrupted only by faint yellow light bulbs. i need to wake up in four hours, but i can't even close my eyes, yet neither am i fully awake. my mind is way away. i turn my laptop on. he sings softly in my ear, and he breaks my heart again.
carry me ohio
mark kozelek

sorry that
i could never love you back
i could never care enough
in these last days

her tears fell
on her pages
found me well on her words
i don't know what to do or say

wading through
warm canals and pools clear blue
Tuscarawas flow into
the great lake

back where the highway met dead tracks
ground and now cement and glass
so far away

heal her soul
and carry her my angel

green green green
what about the sweetness we knew
what about what's good, what's true
from those days

can't count
to all the lovers i've burned through
so why do i still burn for you
i can't say

sorry that
i could never love you back
i could never care enough
in these last days

heal her soul
and carry her my angel

children blessed
gather round the home she rests
so poor and cold in their midwest
moon and sun

flashes bringing on
my open eyes to lightning storm
the touch of mist felt soft, felt warm
on my face

graving dreams
a million miles ago you seem
the star that i just don't see

words long gone
lost on journeys we walked on
lost her voice is heard along
the way

sorry for
never going by your door
never feeling love like that

heal her soul
and carry her angel

thanks to sadreminders for the lyrics.
how was your sleep?

02 March 2005

a night in lenasia : deepak ram

click here to listen
song length: 4m 10s

i'm flying to delhi in 10 hours and 27 minutes (on business, unfortunately) so i thought i'd post a song that traces its roots from india. a night in lenasia, which comes from the putumayo album asian groove, got me hooked the first time i heard it. flautist deepak ram is at the top of his game with this song. the lilting melody conjures up images of a dreamlike, pretend place, which i thought lenasia was until i googled it. it turns out lenasia is a suburb of johannesburg in south africa that immigrant indians have called home since the late 19th century, a fact that became official when the apartheid established residential segregation according to race in 1950. for an overview of the indian townships in south africa, check this out.