27 November 2005

three songs this weekend!

Click on the image below each title to listen.

aerial : kate bush
listening time: 7m 52s but well worth it

This is the title track from Kate Bush's first album in 12 years, and the one I love the most. Nothing should stop me from calling it a perfect album. It deserves all the praise it has so far received. Aerial is a deliberate work of sophisticated art. Every note, instrument and pause is arranged to fulfil both contrast and complementarity, and Ms. Bush at 47 has only matured with age, sounding more in control of her style and being more compelling in her songwriting than she has ever been. I can't think of any other artist who can sing the words "washing machine" repeatedly and convey the little tragedies of domestic life. Her greatest asset of course is her voice, which she uses in great variety in Aerial – from the anthemic highs and lows of A Coral Room, a solo piano number reminiscent of This Woman's Work, to the soft sensual warbling of Somewhere in Between. There is no dull moment in this album; just when you think a song has hit that point, as what happens halfway through Sunset, she picks up the pace and injects a dose of flamenco. In Aerial, the final song in the two-CD set, Ms. Bush pushes her talent for dance tracks that she has long demonstrated in songs like Heads We’re Dancing from the album This Sensual World. Here, she morphs into queen of trance, and closing your eyes while listening to its beat, you can imagine yourself being slowly lifted off the ground, shutting off external noise that when she sings "I can't hear a word you're saying," you can feel exactly what she means. The original is great in itself, but Aerial is just begging to be remixed...

vox : extended version : sarah mclachlan
listening time: 6m 50s

...which reminds me of Sarah McLachlan, who isn't new to remixes. In fact, her last album of originals, Afterglow, is now sandwiched between two albums of remixes: Remixed from 2003 and this year's Bloom, which digs deeper into her short but distinguished discography. The former is tolerable; the latter is just awful, especially because it butchers some of her best songs, like Vox. With the exception of Dirty Little Secret done by Thievery Corporation, Bloom reduces her songs to nothing more than the babbling of a woman with a fine voice, then muffling them with relentlessly pounding beats or pointlessly looping them with pointless echoes. Did I just say pointless twice? I guess I can't stress that enough, and that is why I'm posting this early remix of Vox, coming from her album Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff. It is invigorating, as opposed to numbing, which is what Bloom is.

bedtime story : madonna
listening time: 4m 53s

Now I'm posting Bedtime Story because for some reason Aerial also reminded me of this song. Well, I guess not just for some reason. It's also a beautiful trance/electronica track, done to perfection with production by Bjork. This is how it should sound if Kate Bush's song were to be remixed. Bedtime Story comes from Madonna's underrated album, Bedtime Stories, which is her transition from I'm-here-to-shock-you (Erotica) to take-me-seriously (Ray of Light) diva. Unfortunately, everything after Ray of Light has been downhill, and even her fine physical form in the video of Hung Up can't mask the fact that she's past her prime. As I've said somewhere here before, Madonna can't hold it on her own anymore, and her sampling of ABBA is just a more creative variation of her onscreen liplocking with Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears. And to think she's the same age as Kate Bush.

Feel free to agree.

Artwork for Kate Bush and Madonna came from New York Magazine. I normally use publicity shots for this blog, but this one seemed convenient.

24 November 2005

i would like to thank the academy

be thankful for what you've got : massive attack
click on the slogan below to listen

Not being American, I don't celebrate Thanksgiving, but let me use the occasion to post this song anyway. This is Massive Attack's cover of the 1974 R&B hit by William DeVaughn. The song appears on their 1991 debut album Blue Lines, which is widely acknowledged to be one of the first manifestations of the trip-hop genre. I've never heard the original, but this version suits me just fine. There's nothing trip-hop about it if you came to know the genre from mid-90s Portishead or Morcheeba. In fact, vocalist Tony Bryan is sounding very Marvin Gaye-ish here, singing in falsetto almost all througout while remaining assuredly masculine. It's sincerely soulful and lavishly luscious, which is kind of weird considering there is nothing sensual about the lyrics. Then again, Marvin Gaye does the same with What's Going On. Anyway, as the title suggests, the song is about letting go of material desires when what you have in your hands should suffice. Although it's really just about DeVaughn sourgraping over a car he couldn't afford. On a more serious note, it may not be entirely true that I don't celebrate Thanksgiving. Although there are no turkeys involved, it does make me aware that perhaps I should spare more than just a moment to take stock of the good things that have happened to me in the past year, and here are five that top the list, which aren't all this-year specific:
  • Staying healthy. I've never been hospitalized in my life, and I plan to keep it that way.
  • A family I can always turn to, even though I don't call them often enough.
  • A job that I like and where my work is appreciated. I think.
  • The opportunity to travel and see places that awed me as a child. This year, they were the Taj Mahal and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
  • Just being here in Hong Kong, where I find something stunning everyday despite having lived here for over five years now.
And what are you thankful for?

16 November 2005

jai guru deva om

across the universe : the beatles
click on the guitar man to listen

This is for my dad, who would have turned 55 today. He was a huge fan. I can't listen to a Beatles song without being reminded of him. Growing up, it seemed to me as if every sober moment of his life was spent listening to them or playing their songs on his guitar. He loved Abbey Road more than Revolver. He would criticize anyone who ever covered Help! He would carry my little sister and sing And I Love Her. And I would be jealous.

13 November 2005


pictures of you : the cure
click on the icon below to listen while browsing my pics!

I'm dumping pictures I've stored in my cell phone since I bought it about two years ago. It's an old SonyEricsson T610, so the resolution isn't great. Save for the two Hong Kong pictures, these are mostly from my travels, which is about the only time I remember to use the phone's camera feature. Meanwhile, enjoy the song, one of my favorites from The Cure, definitely one of the best bands to ever walk the earth.

This is the door to Casa Mila, or La Pedrera, Antoni Gaudi's last civil work prior to dedicating his life to La Sagrada Famiglia in Barcelona. During his golden period (1892-1914), Gaudi drew inspiration from natural elements, which is why you will hardly see any straight line in most of his work. This main door, for example, is supposed to resemble a spider's web. Taken in December 2003.

Obscene, immoral, depraved stuffed toys waiting to be won in Ocean Park, Hong Kong. Taken probably around this time in 2004.

My favorite dish at Restaurant 369 along O'Brien Road in Wan Chai, Hong Kong. The first time significant other and I ate there, I frowned upon seeing not too many vegetarian options. The waiter probably saw the knot in my eyebrows, and said the kitchen could prepare this off-menu item for me. It's diced tofu fried with noodles, chili, and salt and pepper. Taken some time early this year.

Chastity: I know you can be underwhelmed, and you can be overwhelmed, but can you ever just be, like, whelmed?
Bianca: I think you can in Europe.
-- From the movie 10 Things I Hate About You
The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Easter 2005. I was whelmed.

The first picture I took with the T610. Need I say more?

This fish has a story. It was significant other's dinner in Phuket three nights before the tsunami. We were there when it happened. I have pictures online, but I can't find the link.

My dinner on the same evening in Phuket. They do all sorts of crazy stuff with fried rice in Thailand; sadly they lack creativity with the vegetarian kind. So I asked them to put lots and lots of cashew in it. And cashews were given unto me. Yum.

Taken at the beachfront of our hotel in Koh Samui, Thailand, Easter 2004. We stayed at a nice botique hotel called Muang Kulaypan, which has a minimalist landscape, the highlight of which is a striking black-tiled pool.

Cable car along Powell Street in San Francisco. This, along with the ones that follow, was taken in September 2003.

You can't see it properly, but this is the world's crookedest street.

Houses photographed from a street corner in the Haight-Ashbury district. I love that place, especially because there's an Amoeba there. And lots of Mexican restaurants. And vintage clothes. And bookstores, including an anarchist one.

From a mural of rock stars along Haight Street.

One dreary afternoon at Fisherman's Wharf.

Cafe Tacuba in concert at The Fillmore. I've already written about it here, where you can also listen to a couple of their songs.

What have you taken with your camera phone?

10 November 2005

separated at birth?

stay in the shade : josé gonzález
north marine drive : ben watt
click on their images below to listen
total listening time: 4m 40s

No, I'm not talking about their looks. (No shit, Sherlock!) These guys are so much alike they could have come from the same musical gene. Their voices, their fingerpicking patterns, the overall mood of their songs – I've never heard two musicians sound so similar. And yet, these songs are 22 years apart. José González, born to Argentinian parents, is a new act just emerging from Sweden, and Stay in the Shade comes from his debut album Veneer which came out last September. González is being counted as part of the so-called New Acoustic Movement that embraces mostly male – and mostly European – musicians who make sensitive music out of nothing more than their steel-string guitars, languid voices, and self-refective lyrics. Ben Watt, on the other hand, is half of the British husband-and-wife duo Everything But The Girl, and North Marine Drive comes from his pre-EBTG album of the same name released in 1982. He has now found a new passion as a producer and DJ. In both gentlemen, the Nick Drake influence is quite obvious; these songs can sit side by side with Road or From the Morning (from Drake's landmark album Pink Moon in 1972). I'm just fascinated by the fact that these works are decades apart, yet sound like they're contemporaries. Long live the one-man-one-guitar affair?

08 November 2005

burning down the arcade

haiti : arcade fire
click on the image below to listen

Never has bilingualism in rock sounded so good. Before the last couple of days, I hadn't listened to Montréal's Arcade Fire long enough to strongly like a song from their album Funeral. What a shame that I'm writing this a year too late. The 2004 album is so confident that it's hard to imagine it as a debut record from an indie band that started performing together only just the year before. In 10 songs and 48 minutes, Arcade Fire set themselves apart from the sometimes-cocky emo and retro rockers that have been lucky enough to find a broader audience over the last couple of years. Perhaps until we hear their second studio album, expected next year, it's hard to say that there is a single sound that distinguishes the band. The first three minutes of Un Année Sans Lumiere, for example, could already have stood on its own as a richly melodic, jam-friendly acoustic number, and the frantic scratches of electric guitar in the final minute could have provided an angry hook for another song. But there they are together, giving an appropriate polarity to a song that, to me, deals with the thin line between accepting death and fighting it. It's quite different from the singular tone and theme of Haiti, which is a clear elegy to the war-ravaged country from where singer Régine Chassagne's parents originate. In fact, although she sings lead in only two songs in the album – Haiti and In The Back Seat – Chassagne's jazz-trained voice alone adds even more variety to Arcade Fire's material. Hearing her was, after all, the reason Win Butler, who would become her husband, decided to form the band. Funeral was made in a year when personal tragedies struck members of the band. That obviously gave the album its theme, and probably the complexity of its sound as well. Now that Arcade Fire have (presumably) gotten over it, I can't wait to hear how they will live up to their amazing debut.

06 November 2005

third rock from the sun

3rd planet : modest mouse
click on the image below to listen

The first time I heard 3rd Planet, I felt like I had just been punched in the chest and needed to sulk in a corner to recover. It's the first song from Modest Mouse's album The Moon and Antarctica, and it's most memorable for its opening and last lines. Everything that keeps me together is falling apart, vocalist Isaac Brock declares in the first 23 seconds of the song, and in the last 30, The universe is shaped exactly like the earth, if you go straight long enough you end up where you were. It's not exactly groundbreaking songwriting, but honest enough as to be brutal and piercing. Like most Modest Mouse songs, the lyrics of 3rd Planet are illustrative and disguised, but not so that they're impossible to penetrate. Brock just seems to prefer to relate his thoughts and experiences by transcribing fragments of his dreams. How do you make of words like this: Outside naked, shivering, looking blue, from the cold sunlight that's reflected off the moon/Baby cum angels fly around you reminding you we used to be three and not just two. There's just no one way of telling what it means unless you speak to the writer, and I've read interviews with Brock saying he too often gets lost in his own words. Yet in spite of its disparate images, the song allows you to form your own complete picture of what it could be about, which to me involves a tragic death. But perhaps no one sums up Brock better than Mark Kozelek, who does a complete remake of 11 Modest Mouse songs (not including this one) for his latest album, Tiny Cities: "The lyrics take all these twists and turns...You don't know what it is, but something about it makes you stop and think and feel, and it puts you in this other place." It's not a comfort place, but it's good to touch base with it once in a while.

02 November 2005

everything and nothing

everything is everything : live acoustic : phoenix
click on the image below to listen

Sometimes just one line from a song is enough to move you to tears. In this dreary version of the pop-rock song by the English-singing French band Phoenix, it's when vocalist Thomas Mars mumbles "The things I do possess, sometimes they own me too" that does me in. It's not bourgeois guilt on my part; it's just a universal truth that's hardly acknowledged, and the downright dispiriting melody of the song puts that line in proper context. Frankly, there's not much cohesion in the rest of the lyrics. There are nuggets of existential thought on the self and on relationships, which seem to have been put together only because they belong to the same emotional shelf. But maybe that's the point. After all, in a state of depression, thoughts run through your head like a million images overlapping one another; each one is different, yet they all come around and lead to the same conclusion: everything is nothing. And that, folks, is my cheap shot at philosophy today. Oh, and thanks to one anonymous visitor who recommended the song to me.