Monday, December 15, 2008

The Meaning of Christmas Music

Given that one of the most sacred of Western holidays has already been irreversibly commercialized, will we ever know the true meaning of Christmas music?

By: Vanessa Uy

I’ve just found out recently that even people who claimed themselves to be devout and / or pious Catholics can’t seemed to provide a good enough definition – to me at least – on what is Christmas music. Given that there won’t be an overarching “easy solution” to this intransigent problem any time in the near future, should we – in good confidence – just resign ourselves to the fact that the true meaning of Christmas music is, well, meaningless? But before all of us resign to this somewhat distasteful inevitability, here are my various representative candidates on the true meaning of Christmas music and what they bring into the Christmas music debate.

On the “over-commercialized” Santa Claus-is-invented-by-Thomas-Nast front, Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” (written by Mel Tormé and Robert Wells) has been well-established as all secular joy and seduction set in the Yuletide Season. Which, to me at least, another “very appealing” tentacle of America’s infamous commercialization of the most holy of Western holidays, which unfortunately was deemed “desirable” by more than a billion non-Americans around the world.

Modern Rock and Pop and Heavy Metal-based Christmas music (Trans-Siberian Orchestra, A Very Special Christmas, Just Say Noël, etc.) might not be everyone’s cup of tea despite of its relentless widespread popularity. But given that over 90 per cent of them donate a significant portion of their proceeds to charitable and humanitarian organizations of their choice, do they pass muster as Christmas music?

Given that most devout Catholics – even priests – under 40 that I know of “choose” not to use their brains for the enjoyment of Classical Music (like the works of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, etc.), will they ever view Medieval period Liturgical drama music as Christmas music? Their Friedrich Nietzsche and Prof. Richard Dawkins loving counterparts already have. But to me at least, ”Hymns for All Seasons: The Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge” surely passes muster as “old school” Christmas Music.

Given that there is already a growing consensus that Santa Claus is a native of Kyrgyzstan and possibly an observant Sufi Muslim, will the Islamic Devotional Music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan be ever considered as Christmas music? Well, our local Sufi community seems to be unabashedly performing live concerts of Qawwali or Islamic Devotional Music during the Yuletide Season since last year.

Or what about those Christmas music with a nautical / tropical Caribbean cruise vacation theme – especially one’s by Jimmy Buffett? Well, Jimmy Buffett’s Christmas Island had never been my cup of tea even though I’m a very big admirer of the artistic merits of his musicianship. Questioning Buffett’s Christmas Island’s relevance as Christmas music might cause me to anger “Parrotheads” around the world. But given most Americans and Europeans with money choose to go to the Bahamas or other tropical vacation locales during the Yuletide Season, then the validity of Jimmy Buffett’s “version / visions” of Christmas surely has validity.

There you have it, despite the onslaught of commercialization Christmas music has never been easier to define. Much less accept the idea that it is utterly devoid of any semblance of meaning. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have this Death Metal Christmas music Website recommended by a friend that I have to visit.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Visual Kei: Has it Gone Global?

Originally emerged during the second half of the 1980’s Japanese Rock Scene, Visual Kei can be a source of both fascination – and conflict – among the genre’s adherents. Is the world turning Japanese?

By: Vanessa Uy

Even though everyone in the West perceive the Visual Kei phenomena as nothing more than the Japanese Rock Scene imitating Glam Rock antics of late 1970’s androgyny of David Bowie or late 1980’s LA-based Hair Metal bands like Mötley Crüe. Which is the very “bone of contention” that I was referring to. The Japanese defenders of the scene really do hold the cherished belief that Visual Kei as truly their own. And that is the reason why Western Rock bands adopting a Visual Kei aesthetic like the German bands Tokio Hotel and Cinema Bizarre were seen as an abomination by hard core Visual Kei adherents when they first appeared. But first of all, here’s an orientative primer to the uninitiated on what is Visual Kei.

Visual Kei refers to the movement among Japanese musicians that is noted for the use of eccentric, sometimes flamboyant looks as de rigeur. This usually involves sporting a striking make-up, unusual hairstyles that often defy gravity, and elaborate costumes, which are often – but not always – coupled with androgynous aesthetics.

Some sources state that Visual Kei refers to a music genre, or to a sub-genre of J-Rock or Japanese Rock that has it’s own particular sound. Even though is reminiscent of Western glam-rock / 80’s Hair Metal, and Punk Rock, it does stand out like the proverbial sore thumb – but in a good way - to seasoned listeners. However most “insider” sources state that Visual Kei’s unique clothing and make-up fashions and “lifestyle” participation in the related sub-culture is equally as important as the “sound” of the music itself when referring to Visual Kei. Image wise, there are a number of Japanese bands and / or musicians that pass muster as Visual Kei, even though they professionally play mainstream pop, Western heavy metal / Metallica-esque power metal, European Classical Music, Rap / R&B based Hip-Hop, and electronica / DJ style music. Given that music genre is no longer of importance, does this make Albert Einstein one of the first practicioners of Visual Kei due to his gravity-defying hair?

Visual Kei probably - to me at least - gained prominence outside Japan during the late 1980’s when Japanese bands like X Japan, D’erlanger and Color started their international concert tours. An exposure / PR stunt which forever influenced the fashion and music to anyone who wants to be associated with, or just want to cash in on the Visual Kei phenomenon. When the German band Tokio Hotel became gained international prominence, they are derided by hardcore Visual Kei practitioners and fans as just someone adopting the Visual Kei aesthetic just to cash in on the wave. Even Avril Lavigne and her band were not spared.

But recently, Girugämesh – a very influential Japanese Visual Kei band – professed their admiration to the German Visual Kei practitioners Tokio Hotel and Cinema Bizarre. Girogämesh cited that Tokio Hotel and Cinema Bizarre are genuine Visual Kei practitioners and should be embraced with open arms by the global Visual Kei community. I just hope that this gesture of détente will diffuse the feud between Japanese and “Gai-Jin” practitioners / adherents of Visual Kei.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Spoilt the Musical: An Indictment of GOP’s America?

As a fictitious Broadway-esc musical that seems too political to be performed in the Great White Way, is this “Gonzo” musical still relevant in indicting the follies of a GOP-run America?

By: Vanessa Uy

Everyone writing about politics should be thankful to Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and his invention of “Gonzo Journalism” for without it, the inherent subjectiveness and untruths of politics would be unbearably boring. And since the American Entertainment Industry had become hopelessly intertwined with the country’s political process since the 1960’s, it would only be a matter of time that hypocrisy in politics – by becoming a parody of itself - will be fuelling the American entertainment culture like a perpetual motion machine run amok.

As a contender to be shown on the Great White Way, Spoilt the Musical - a musical based on a Lunachicks song titled "Spoilt" - is probably long overdue. Given that most punk enthusiasts are Abba fans and Abba managed to coexist with the punk movement of the late 1970's and early 1980's - unlike the over-egotistical faux girl power group Spice Girls of the mid 1990's - Spoilt the Musical has enough financial sensibility to warrant an understudy. But given it could easily beome a pale imitation of a neandering 5 hour long Philip Glass opera only makes the task a bit harder.

Recent events – especially the 2008 US Presidential Elections - had managed to segue into my proposals of creating a musical based on Lunachicks’ song “Spoilt”. Every Lunackicks fan know that Spoilt is a critique of the mid-to-late 1960’s US Government’s handling of the Vietnam Conflict. By fielding weapons that kill more innocent civilians than active combatants – like napalm and the dioxin contaminated herbicide Agent Orange proudly made by Monsanto – the devastating effects of the Vietnam War are still with us till this very day.

Since it’s birth in the economically depressed corners of London, punk rock music has always been a critique about the Anglo-Saxon Protestant political system obsessed with it’s own hypocrisy. When The Sex Pistols and The Damned tried to make music that would change the world. These bands not only entertained the masses living in the bubble of self-delusion that their elected officials create assuring them that everything is alright, but a cultural tour de force that’s still going strong till this day. Punk is and should be political. It outlasted many things, from President Reagan’s “whimsical” views on pornography – like the 1,960-page Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography; Final Report of July 1986 is a case in point – to the Cold War created by the Military-Industrial Complex. Its here, …get used to it.

Should the creation of Spoilt the Musical necessitates the reunification of Lunachicks one last time just to appease their ever loyal legions of fans? That would be great, but given that Led Zeppelin – which is quantum leaps more fiscally blessed - had a hard time making possible their ultimate reunion tour after more than 30 years. The phrase “cold day in Hell” comes to mind.

Maybe, as a dedicated Lunachicks fan, its up to us to create our own Lunachicks “tribute bands” similar to that all-girl Iron Maiden tribute band Iron Maidens to make Spoilt the Musical that much closer of a possibility. A self-made Spoilt the Musical would probably be the ultimate Halloween don’t you?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Music Journalism: Nothing but a Sham?

It’s an undeniable fact that music journalists had made a comfortable for jotting down their musings on something as intangible as music. But are music journalists really necessary for the enjoyment of music?

By: Vanessa Uy

Have you ever been stymied by a difficult task when your high-school English teacher asks (asked for the older folks) you to write a 100-word essay about your favorite musician and all you can ever come up with is “how cool they are”? Describing a really good band using oft used buzzwords as “cool” for all intents and purposes is about as far as it goes for 99% of the population. Yet this buzzword style immediacy is usually what comes to mind to a first-hand witness something so magical and yet so intangible that even a tenured multi million dollar earning music journalists eventually succumbs into. It’s never been easy to describe one’s profound sense of awe when it comes to musical appreciation.

There’s a growing consensus – mainly by musicians – that the whole thing about it is meaningless. Most musicians say that music journalism can never ever mean anything because it’s about writing things that don’t mean anything in the first place. Especially the intangibility of what makes a good melody or the creative process leading up to writing good lyrics. Most musicians strongly claim that 99% of all music journalism articles attempt to demystify something that you like – namely music. Though there might be a kernel of truth behind this “babble”.

To cite an example, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Party’s music could pass muster as obscure in comparison to contemporary Western popular music. Yet, many outside of Pakistan are into this kind of music – especially in America. But music articles / reviews about Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s musical performance – including yours truly – pales in comparison in attempting to describe to the joys of hearing this kind of music first hand. So far, every journalistic attempt to describe the sound of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s musical performance of Qawwali or Islamic devotional music – especially attempts to demystify what makes this kind of music a veritable artistic tour de force – only detracts the listener from truly enjoying this kind of music.

Or what about musicians with unusual costumes, tattoo’s and what have you. A well-written description of a certain musician’s stage apparel can really make them famous in no time. Like the band Lunachicks forever inexplicably linked with tattooing. The rock end of the musical spectrum is where musical journalism really shines – for better or for worse. And this is also where the big bucks lie, rock music journalism is a money-driven business.

The sad thing is that this kind of journalism can also be described in the world of hi-fi. Even though hi-fi magazines often warn us about dealers you want to avoid – i.e. ones who make us listen with our eyes by keeping their products behind glass instead of conducting demos to the uninitiated to drum up business. Music – or other music-related topics - can be a difficult topic to write about in an objective manner. But that hasn’t stop anyone from enjoying his or her favorite music or made a fortunate few very rich.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Guitar Hero: Savior of Classic Rock?

Guitar Hero, the video game raved by the mainstream media that lets everyone – even musical dimwits – revive their long-dead ambitions of becoming a “Rock Star” has been secretly saving the now-ailing music industry. Should we be thankful?

By: Vanessa Uy

Now on its third edition – as far as I know, with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of 90 US dollars a pop, the video game Guitar Hero has been – believe it or not – been secretly saving the music industry in the past few years of its existence. I wouldn’t have believed it, except it’s the long-established rock acts like Aerosmith and Metallica who praised the somewhat simplistic-to-the-genuinely-skilled-guitarist-ergonomically-speaking video game of single-handedly saving the music industry. Especially the Hard Rock / Heavy Metal branch of the industry devastated by the proliferation of illegal peer-to-peer music file sharing which began near the very end of the 20th Century. The question now is to what degree of gratefulness should we be – especially us true blue rock enthusiast – to Guitar Hero, the video game?

Back around May 2001, I manage to wow my guitar teacher with my virtuosity when I accident discovered his “secret magazine stash” and Horror of horrors it’s the September 1997 edition of Guitar Player magazine with it’s then very depressing headline – “Who Killed Rock Guitar”. To me, it’s about as shocking when a kid finally learns that there is no Santa Claus (the truth is there is, but not like “The Man” portrayed him to be). Ever since then, the contents of that particular edition of Guitar Player magazine only shattered by delusions, but not my love of guitar-based music, especially Heavy Metal music.

Fast forward to 2008 and the runaway success of Guitar Hero in it’s “Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock” incarnation not only revived the record sales “museum-bound” Classic Rock artists like Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, and Aerosmith. The video game almost single-handedly made an ever-increasing majority of the under-18 s to become rock stars again - make that: Guitar Heroes or is it Guitar Gods. Not only that, sales of real electric guitars are actually up since “Boy Bands” and their ilk made us forget how truly evil US vice president Dick Cheney and Karl Rove really are. So the guitar maker Gibson should probably go easy on that copyright infringement lawsuit they are filing against the video game maker that created Guitar Hero. Also, increasing number of the under-18 s are enrolling in guitar classes and the last time my older acquaintances has seen such musical enthusiasm was way back during when the Seattle Music Scene were earning ungodly amounts of money – i.e. 1992. But the question still remains is that whether this upstart variant of the Karaoke is actually a marriage made in heaven between the rock music and the video gaming industry it was touted to be?

In my opinion, anything that would stop a beautiful and established art form – whether Classic Rock or European Classical Music – from dying out should be embraced with open arms. Despite the video games faults – which there are lots of them from a real electric guitar virtuoso’s perspective. Guitar Hero will undoubtedly be one of the unlikeliest heroes that will save the rock music industry from the damages brought about by the illegal peer-to-peer file sharing of few years past.

On my views and playing experiences on Guitar Hero the video game. When I first played it about two years ago. I was expecting the guitar that came with the game as similar to the one marketed by Optek Music Systems back in 1998 called Smartlight Guitar. You know the guitar with those LED s / sensors on the frets serving as inputs which more or less mimics the ergonomics of a real guitar. But NOOO! It was just these five buttons located on the first five frets. If the gaming industry can manage to replicate the ergonomics of an FN FAL assault rifle using just a polystyrene and polypropylene simulacra of the “shoot ‘em up games” that they offer. Video game makers can even do this without the inevitable visceral recoil of the 7.62mm NATO round. On Guitar Hero’s sound quality, despite being played at volumes at under-96 to 97 decibels sound pressure levels. Its relatively poor digital sound quality – compared to a 1950’s era Fender Champ – can get on your nerves as time wears on (three hours or so). It feels as if after three hours of exposure to the video games sound, I feel as if I’m just 70 feet away from a Pratt & Whitney F100 After-burning Turbofan jet engine undergoing a compliance test burn without hearing protection. And believe me, the sound pressure levels 70 feet away from such a test often reach near - or a bit above - 140 decibels. As loud as firing a .50 caliber Browning M2 machine gun without hearing protection. One redeeming factor of the Guitar Hero video game is that when your playing is really good, it is not miserly of praise. It motivates you like some Playboy or Penthouse magazine photographer. Maybe the makers of Guitar Hero should make something incorporating a guitar similar to Optek Music Systems’ Smartlight Guitar – i.e. a virtuoso version of the existing Guitar Hero incorporating MIDI-based technology. I’ll bet there would probably still be buyers even if they sell one for 500 dollars a pop. Hell, if it’s ergonomically good as a real thing, I’ll even buy one if they priced it just a bit under-1000 US dollars a pop. Also the makers of Guitar Hero should branch out into the classical music realm for us “elitists” straddling between two musical worlds. Maybe a Violin Hero for those willing to nurture their inner Itzhak Perlman or a Cello Hero for Yo Yo Ma fans. Or a “Classical Mode / Version” of Guitar Hero for Andres Segovia fans.

Friday, May 30, 2008

NY Loose ’s Year of the Rat: An Evergreen Punk Album?

Though I only discovered this album back in 2005, it does beg to question the naysayers’ adage that punk is dead because it sounded same-old, same-old for over thirty years. Is it really?

By: Vanessa Uy

Originally released back in 1996 which is coincidentally a year of the rat under the Chinese Zodiac, Year of the Rat an album by the New York-based punks NY Loose. A band that's named after a Stooges song (Stooges, the band that propelled Iggy Pop to stardom for those of you too ashamed to remember) NY Loose not only used traditional Chinese motifs to design this album’s cover art (you can’t do that with downloadable music these days) but also to the illustrative lyrics of an otherwise American Punk Rock music. With Year of the Rat, NY Loose manage to fulfill a goal that fewer and fewer bands ever achieve as time goes by. Namely, generating a large enough fan-base while not sticking to prevailing musical trends. Although the much hackneyed verse-chorus-verse songwriting formula being played via guitar, bass, and drums has been de rigueur in American pop music for over 50 years. And yet, a lot of people never seem to grow tired of such predictable formula. To overanalyze something that works so well might be deemed hair splitting, but it’s a good springboard for creativity for upcoming musicians. Noting that it’s much easier to make ear-friendly rockers from such tried and tested formula.

The songs on Year of the Rat seem to come from a stylistic wellspring that still inspires the current crop of punk / power-pop bands – like Paramore for example. NY Loose ’s Year of the Rat is also one of those rare albums that’s very satisfying to listen through from start to finish. The lead track “Pretty Suicide” still sounds fresh and interesting in 2008 like it probably did back in 1996. Other more interesting tracks include “Broken” which the band’s vocalist - Brijitte West – sang about her trusty six-string that’s broken beyond repair. With interesting lines like “black water around my bed” seems to be an attempt at illustrative poetry on how traditional Chinese paintings portray deep water as black, making the albums salient Chinese motif that more consistent. NY Loose did also a very good remake of that John Cale hippie anthem “Sunday Morning” which I thought was their original the first time I heard it. The version by NY Loose interests me to no end because they only applied only a smidgen of modernity. And this resulted as if the song is the viewpoint of someone looking 30 years into the past – from the mid- 1990’s. Other interesting track is the song “Hide” which lyric-wise is the vantage point of Western phenomenology looking at how traditional Chinese societies reconcile the pragmatic tenets of Sun Tsu’s Art of War with their relatively arcane-from-a-Western-perspective spirituality.

In short this album not only rocks it seems to also resist the ravages of time. Which from the perspective of the music industry might be seen as a solution for their ever-diminishing return on investment. NY Loose ‘s Year of the Rat could still be fresh when the next year of the rat rolls in – in the year 2020!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Twisted Red Cross: The Glory That Was in Philippine Music?

Given the dearth of both beauty and creativity of the current OPM offerings, will the retrospective of “past glories” kick-start a revolution for the “aesthetically ailing” Philippine music industry?

By: Vanessa Uy

Of all the 50 or so Original Pilipino Music in current rotation on the country’s leading FM stations and music video channels, only about one or two past muster – to me. This is quite sad because given the windfall of royalties – i.e. money – now up for grabs to every Filipino musicians and bands willing to release their works in the form of music recordings / downloadable media. Shouldn’t this have resulted to better songs, or at least a wider variety of musical genres? Sadly no, it seems as if the Bush-Cheney Neo-Conservative Cultural Gentrification Machine has reached our shores. And it probably established a foothold back in 1998! But all is not lost because a brilliant solution lay in the past, 11 or so years before I was born – 1985.

The Philippine record label Twisted Red Cross and her retinue of bands probably made the lives of a whole generation of Filipino teens seem more humanely bearable during the dying days of the Marcos Regime back in the mid-1980’s. But more importantly, Twisted Red Cross – quite single handedly as it seems – made bands like Wuds, Betrayed, Dead Ends, and George Imbecile (GI) and the Idiots establish the Philippine Punk Rock Scene when the phrase “Punk’s not dead!” is still a veritable cultural tour de force.

Like the influence of the record label Go Kart to the New York Punk scene of the 1990’s as epitomized by the runaway success of the Punk Rock phenomenon Lunachicks, Twisted Red Cross also had a lasting – if somewhat relatively obscure to the overall mainstream culture – influence on the Philippine Punk / Underground music scene. Even though our current powers-that-be in the Philippine music industry usually abhors the mere mention of Twisted Red Cross as a matter of policy. Especially when it comes to the record labels influence. Sometimes I wonder if these execs threatened by politically charged protest songs?

Though Twisted Red Cross recordings that survive the rigors of time are few and far between, especially when it comes to “garage sale” and swap meet availability. Fortunately during the 1991 to 1995 “Third Wave” of Philippine Punk, these albums were re-released – at the expense of the bands themselves – when they found out that there are still a market for their older stuff even though the record label was already several years defunct. You could almost smell the beer-stained floors of Club Dredd circa 1994.

After having acquired audio (and video) processing software that allowed me to digitize Twisted Red Cross’ cassette tape releases so that they can be transferred to CD while their audio problems like tape hiss and dull timbre can be alleviated in the digital domain. I manage to make them about MP3 download quality audio – you know that overly compressed Tom Lord-Alge kind of sound. Having allowed unsuspecting civilians aged 25 and below as my test subjects to gauge whether Twisted Red Cross bands circa 1985 can still rock their world proved really interesting. The test subjects’ first impressions of the bands’ performance were “highly gifted amateur musicians who should record and release an album”. I lied to my test subjects a little, telling them there a start-up band from my school – little did they know that they were already famous 23 or so years ago. My “test subjects” should plead the record label execs in Manila to re-release the entire Twisted Red Cross Catalogue.

Also, I recently acquired in a garage sale BETAMAX handycam recordings of the Wuds concert in PHILCITE – a purpose build ASEAN venue back in the 1980’s. Even though the quality is limited, this is probably the best live performance of the Wuds playing their two workhorses “Patay Buhay” and “Inosente Lang Ang Nagtataka”. Is this the famed July 1988 performance? Now transferred digitally to my currently available digital recording media available i.e. DVD and Video CD. In short, they too can still cut the proverbial mustard. Maybe I should start a campaign to re-release this stuff. Just to remind our current crop of mediocre musicians there’s more to life that riding high on the hog of music royalties. If you don’t want Anglo-Saxon musicians stealing your thunder, try listening to old Twisted Red Cross releases. We – the Filipino People - are long overdue to be amazed. I hope the next time when I turn on the radio or watch music videos on TV, I’ll be amazed as well.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Is Music Really Good for You?

Ever since the “Mozart Effect” became a buzzword in the mid-1990’s as expectant mothers began playing Classical Music to their unborn as to provide them the best start in life. After ten years or so, can we really say that music - especially Classical Music - is good for you?

By: Vanessa Uy

Back around 1995 and 1996, film documentaries made about studies on exposing young kids to music – especially Classical Music – has a purportedly positive effect on their educational development gained widespread popularity. But recently, there’s increasing evidence that teachers and educators back then watched and participated in such studies more for their “novelty factor” than the intended outcome of increasing the participating kid’s intellect. Some studies even included programs of teaching the kids to play musical instruments as well. And surely enough, every one of these studies showed results that the kid’s became smarter.

Despite the study’s detractors, there’s a preexisting rationale for the experiment to be undertaken. An overwhelming majority of the “intellectual giants” that ever walked the Earth are either accomplished musicians or music enthusiasts (Does these include audiophiles?). Even Albert Einstein played the violin – albeit only on a recreational basis. If music made these people smart then ipso facto our kids could get smart also via music, even the mercurial frontman of Guns N’ Roses, W. Axl Rose, has a 120 IQ. Or is now a good time to tell everyone to get a grip?

But by 1999, increasing controversy has arisen over scientific with regards to the practice of playing classical music to babies may enhance their brain functions. Even the then newly established habit of expectant mothers in their final trimester playing Classical Music to their unborn child. A ritual once considered fashionably hip in 1996 was just – three years later – called into question.

The publication of “The Myth of the First Three Years” by Dr. John Bruer in the late 1990’s probably served as a “nail in the coffin” in ending a ritual. The ritual that an increasing number of the “Generation X” – you know those expectant mothers back in 1995 to 1996 who are fast approaching 40 by now (2008) – has a strong perception that listening to Classical Music is not only “unnecessary” to an overwhelming majority of them. But was also perceived by them as ritual that is an “anathema” to their generation.

In his book “The Myth of the First Three Years”, Dr. John Bruer says that there is no neurological evidence of enhanced brain functions of babies exposed to Classical Music. Even Dr. Francis Rauscher, co-author of the original studies on the “Mozart Effect”, has told The New York Times that she feels the press mangled her results. The original study was not conducted on young children but on college students, and the music’s effects were brief and limited to performance on a specific task of spatial imagery.

Basing on my quite extensive knowledge of “historically trivial events” that occurred in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the growing resentment disguised as a “silent consensus” that engendered studies relating to the “Mozart Effect” is the reaction of the music teaching community across the American Educational System. They feel that their (the music teachers / educators) “mystique” – even their livelihood – was threatened when the Reagan Administration in collusion with the US Board of Education spent disproportionately large sums of money promoting “Team Sport” programs over music education and appreciation. This was a nationwide phenomenon that came to define the fiscally austere period of the 1980’s.

Sadly, I have this nagging feeling that what the “Mozart Effect” study really exposed is a pre-existing “Kultur Kampf” in the contemporary American Educational Society between Team Sports and “formal” music education / appreciation classes. For what its worth, studies relating to the “Mozart Effect” was primarily designed to gain sympathy from then President Bill Clinton. Since the president back them is an amateur musician and a serious music enthusiast, then music educators across America could finally get what they are deprived of during the Reagan Administration.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Of Music and Sound Levels: Hurting Each Other

All of us know that very loud sounds can damage our ears but what if it is required in a particular piece of music, is this the end of artistic integrity?

By: Vanessa Uy

For over a year now, my audio and music buddies have been actively speaking out about the role of loudness / decibels i.e. sound pressure levels in maintaining the artistic integrity of a piece of music. When it comes to loudness levels, the genre of music that usually gets the flack is the modern 20th Century variety like Rock & Roll, Disco and especially my favorite Heavy Metal Music. But the controversy surrounding the issue seems to be born out of ignorance. Almost nobody raises an issue or blame my other favorite form of music, namely Symphonic Classical / Romantic Music. A live Symphony playing a particularly loud piece can easily drown out the racket produced by an M-16 assault rifle fired in full automatic mode 30 feet away from you. And my current audio system can play that loud cleanly, the only sign I know that I’m playing to loud is when my ears ring afterwards. A really great sound system is really dangerous because you won’t know it’s hurting you ears but the damage produced like tinnitus is cumulative. But before going any deeper, let me try to dispel some myths surrounding loudness before our politicians legislate laws that violate the laws of physics.

Sound pressure levels – the one that travels in air since “almost all” live musical performances are performed on dry land – is measured in decibels. Decibels are determined on a base 10 logarithmic scale. So a sound wave that measures 10dB SPL (decibels sound pressure level) has ten times the acoustic (sound) energy than a sound wave measuring just 1dB SPL. 20 dB SPL has 100 times more energy than 1dB SPL and 30dB SPL has 1000 times more acoustic energy and so on progressing logarithmically. And since our ears perceive sound levels logarithmically we hear sound differently from artificial conveyances like microphones. Imagine two sound sources, a sound wave has to be ten decibels louder than another in order for us to perceive it to be twice as loud. So, what does the measured sound pressure levels of the sound that we hear in everyday (to me) life? An ordinary conversation 3 meters in front of us measures 60 to 70 dB SPL. A Symphony Orchestra in the loudest musical passages (especially pieces by Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler) can generate 120 dB SPL as does a Heavy Metal concert held in a typical stadium. And that’s only a couple of decibels shy than a military fighter jet taking off with afterburners fully aflame. A typical assault rifle that uses 7.62mm NATO round generates about 130 dB SPL or a bit louder (measured using Radio Shack’s “relatively inexpensive” but sufficiently accurate 33-2050 Sound Level Meter) when fired in full automatic mode inside a tiled bathroom. 20th Century era artillery pieces, like howitzers usually approach or go over 140 dB SPL and generating sounds louder than this can become impractical because we are now reaching the “linearity limit” i.e. the acoustic power input = acoustic power output of air. That’s why military / naval SONARs that can get as loud as 230 dB SPL is never tested on dry land (in air) since their sound waveform can get distorted not to mention the racket it can create.

On the more tranquil side of the scale, 40 dB SPL is the loudness level of the softest note used in a musical score “technically” referred to as “pianissimo”. 30 dB SPL is the sound level found in a residential neighborhood at 2 in the morning when there is no electricity. 20 dB SPL is the level of ambient noise in a typical multi million dollar recording studio that’s acoustically treated properly (Don’t you just hate those people who claim that their sub-prime mortgaged “el-cheapo” houses are this –20 dB SPL - quiet?). Zero / 0 dB SPL can only be achieved inside an anechoic chamber commonly referred to as “the dead room” like the one found in Bell Laboratories. Anechoic chambers / dead rooms are pretty eerie places because if the person inside talking to you is not in the line of sight to your ears you can never hear them, even if they are only a few feet away from you.

There was a news story aired on DW-TV’s People and Politics last February 12, 2008 about the expanded plan to amend current laws concerning noise abatement in the workplace. The most “ridiculous” place targeted by the planned noise abatement in the workplace law were Germany’s world class Symphony Orchestras. It was shown on that piece that even a flute generates over 100 dB SPL within 30 centimeters (1 foot) from the instruments “bell”. Tinnitus could ruin a professional musician’s career. Currently legislated worldwide laws regarding occupational safety in the workplace requires anyone exposed to sound levels over 85 dB SPL over an eight hour period be required to wear ear plugs / ear muffs. To me, this law is extremely ludicrous because the first hand experience of my friends who worked in the music business since 1989 had never come across ear - plugs / ear protectors that are tonally transparent. Ear - plugs just spoils our enjoyment of the musical instruments proper timbre. Ear - plugs are nothing like the volume controls of our audio playback systems. I’ve tested one that’s designed back in 1992 exclusively for jazz musicians (still sold at the exorbitant sum of US$200 after all these years) and was touted to be acoustically transparent. The sound levels going to my ears did become softer but also extremely dull, all of the high frequency sounds went on hiatus. Though not as dull as the ones used for gun practice that’s commonly sold for only half a dollar per pair.

So what does this all mean? First of all, lawmakers everywhere should familiarize themselves with the laws of physics because we cannot easily repeal those as easily as legislated / man-made laws. Just imagine if we could amend the law of gravity, commercial aviation could become very cheap and non-polluting, space tourism would become available to anyone. If we could just repeal the laws governing sound of acoustics, the world would be a happier more aesthetically pleasing. But we can’t, we can only work in harmony with the physical laws that govern sound and acoustics. The sooner our policymakers realize it, the sooner sensible laws governing the auditory health / occupational health and safety of our professional musicians can be legislated. Just remember that tinnitus is still incurable, so Rock On responsibly.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

30 Centuries of Scott Walker

A retrospective on a career that spans from being a lead singer for the Walker Brothers to “The Drift” album, will a documentary on Scott Walker’s creative process shed more light on his artistry?

By: Vanessa Uy

“Scott Walker: 30 Century Man” a “Rockumentary” released to whet the appetite of dedicated Scott Walker fans. Being young, I’ve only known Scott Walker’s circa 1960’s musical career with the Walker Brothers after seeing this documentary. I never knew that the Walker Brothers’ fame at the time rivaled that of The Beatles. Also, the deep baritone voiced Scott Walker was named as one of the most influential people of Rock music history and one of his famed admirers were David Bowie. Despite of this, Scott Walker is not exactly a household name in either Britain or America. But if you can manage to find a dedicated fan from both sides of the Atlantic (there are more of them than you think), you might gain a first-hand experience of what it means to be a dedicated Scott Walker fan.

After his success during the 1960’s, Scott Walker withdrew from the public limelight. Now 64 years old, Scott Walker still receive god-like devotion from his fans and most of them (even the under 35’s) claim that they stuck by him since the “Walker Brothers” days. “Scott Walker: 30 Century Man” is a documentary directed by Stephen Kijak documenting Scott Walker’s creative genius and his legacy with the attendant live performance footage from the 1960’s to the present. This documentary serves to spread awareness of Scott Walker’s works and even his existence (!) to the uninitiated.

In assessing the merits of “Scott Walker: 30 Century Man”, I also reevaluated my views on Scott Walker’s last two albums: “Tilt” and “The Drift”. I can say that Scott Walker is one of those gifted musicians who are terrified by fame even though he truly deserves praise for his talent. To me, Scott Walker probably single-handedly influenced the “anti-fashion” musical movement of the 1990’s with his Richard Wagner meets Heavy Metal style. After first hearing “Jesse” from Scott Walker’s “The Drift” album, my first impressions are- Did Scott Walker just invented a new genre of music? “Jesse” is a trippy sounding Oriental Modalism meets Guitar-Driven-Rock. This is a very radical departure from the sex-drugs-and-rock n’ roll that we have come to know and love of “conventional” Rock music. “Difficult avant- garde musician” is a description that comes to mind after hearing Scott Walker’s latest album. And the DVD of “Scott Walker: 30 Century Man” is also worth it because it caters to the uninitiated-and successfully-at that. Although the documentary raises more questions than answers about weather Rock music in its current format needs revision beyond its dogmatic “three chords and the truth” format.

If you like Keiji Haino or love those Miles Davis’ albums that are a tribute to the passing of Jimi Hendrix like “Bitches’ Brew” and “Agharta” then you will surely love this documentary and the attendant music. Scott Walker just reminded me why I love listening to music in the first place.

Digging For Hazeldine

As a part of my ongoing curiosity for relatively unknown but very talented bands with a penchant for originality, I invariably dug up a veritable gem.

By: Vanessa Uy

Ever since I’ve started listening to music on a regular basis, I’ve fantasized on being an “A&R” person working during the golden age of rock (1950-1980). How exciting it would be hearing The Runaways (Joan Jett and Lita Ford’s first band) or Jimi Hendrix playing their hearts out just for me to gain my approval for that all important “music deal”? If you ask me, it might be my way of compensating for being born too late to meet Jimi Henrix “in the flesh” or for being born too early for interplanetary colonization or interstellar travel. To be pragmatic, I’ve put it upon myself to tour record bars and used LP stores in search of unknown but talented bands. The “sense of satisfaction” I usually get from these adventures are more or less similar to my “A&R fantasy” except this is healthier because it’s for real.

I’ve been listening to Hazeldine’s “Digging You Up” album for almost two years now and it never seems to disappoint me. On this album, their sound and style could be described as “alternative country” i.e. a genre of music that became somewhat popular during the mid 1990’s like Grant Lee Buffalo or Cowboy Junkies, or as my audiobuddies jokingly describe as any well recorded country music with college level lyrics. Hazeldine’s “Digging You Up” is first and foremost an electric guitar driven album. The skillful inclusion of acoustic stringed instruments that are “de rigueur” in traditional country music like banjos and glockenspiel only help the band in the originality front to no end. Their vocal style is reminiscent of “Cowboy Junkies” except it is rawer in a way that compliments the tones of the electric guitars used in this album. If you fancy the sound of a “Fender Champ” and you don’t have US$3,000 burning a hole in you pocket then this album is for you. The tempo on most of the songs on this album is slow as in Ben Harper circa1998 slow, but like Ben Harper this only helps in their song craft. If you’re into Lunachicks style 300 beats per minute frenzy, then this album might not be to your liking.

To me, the first four songs of the album were standouts compared to the rest. “Allergic To Love” really speaks to me as most can’t-stand-the-heartache kind of songs (there aren’t many of them). My partiality to this song is only enhanced by my current love interest who likes the same TV shows as me like 24, Prison Break, Jericho, “Leno”, ”Conan”, ”SNL”, etc;. “Drive” relates to me in a way that’s not might have been intended by the songwriter, because I play this song in my head every time I fantasize about space travel. I wonder if those “servicemen” involved on the “War On Terror” listen to this song on their way to their bombing target. “Digging You Up” the title track to this album is one of those rare “boy mistreats me” songs that is not crappy. Well most of them are! While “Realize” to me is a song that should be included on the soundtrack on the famed movie director Alejandro Gonzales Inarrittu’s latest opus “Babel”. Even if the rest of the songs on the album pales in comparison to the first four that I have mentioned. These songs are still miles ahead in terms of musicianship and lyric writing in comparison to the current-crop of “alternative rock” songs in both airplay and down-loads that stress fashion over music or emulate the latest cash- cow band du jour.

If I were asked on “Why does fame elude Hazeldine?” I think it’s because they’re a band that places creative and artistic integrity of paramount importance. Next, it’s even harder now in post September 11, 2001 America to be a “red neck” woman country singer who is a philosopher-queen of sorts to gain superstar status. I think one would be an anathema to the “Fascist Bush Administration” as what had happened to the Dixie Chicks a few years ago. But enough about that, I’m just glad that there are bands like Hazeldine out there who aren’t afraid to speak their mind. Looks like New Mexico has other subjects of interest besides Georgia O'Keffe’s paintings of flowers that look like a puckered up “labia”.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Band Called Scrawl

Here’s a supremely talented, amazingly original rock band that’s been unjustly forgotten by both fame and fortune.

By: Vanessa Uy

If there was a redeeming quality of the on-line music business, it’s buying used vinyl LPs on e- bay. It’s Scrawl’s Bloodsucker album, the price offered is only half that of a full priced CD. Who says there are no more miracles?

I’ve always wondered why fame and fortune has eluded this band ever since I first started listening to them. Now that I have heard both of their Nature Film and Bloodsucker albums, it’s time for a deeper insight on why Scrawl achieved cult status despite of relative obscurity. While Bloodsucker is the first album that they released since the demise of their former record label Rough Trade. Rough Trade was a legendary record label that many a famous and infamous punk and power pop bands laid the foundation for the “alternative rock” movement of the 1990’s. Rough Trade is also notorious for releasing albums (especially CD) during the mid- 1980’s with a markedly more aggressive recorded sound quality than the norm. The band Young Marble Giants’ “NITA” CD (to be reviewed later); is a very good evidence to start.

What makes Scrawl great is not just defined by the timeframe when “foxcore” was in vogue circa 1989 to 1994. To me good songwriting skills can transcend the limitations of the music being created, thus making it timeless even though on closer scrutiny it betrays the era on when it was created. During their heyday, Scrawl resisted the urge to be a fashionable “foxcore” band like Courtney Love’s “Hole”, by cranking the volume or playing out of tune. Scrawl’s guitarist Marcy Mays has a whole different idea on what “foxcore” means because for her, it means less adept at your instrument and being more bitchy.

Scrawl’s minimalist and rhythmic style might make you think that they are cashing in on the popularity of early alternative/power pop bands like “The Replacements” or Bob Mould’s “Hüsker Du” but theirs is a bit more rough and brooding. Scrawl’s trademark has always been dark but catchy pop songs that stop just short of being melodic. Marcy Mays ascribes much of the credit for this sound to her Hamer sunburst- the same model favored by her favorite guitarist, Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen. As the band’s sole guitarist, Mays makes the most of it by using a lot of open strings as opposed to full chords to make her guitar ring and sustain. This may also be a factor in Scrawl having a distinct “sound” of their own.

Even though as a musical format, post World War II popular i.e. rock music is a rather old and utterly predictable medium (verse, chorus, verse, bridge, verse…), Scrawl still manages to infuse theirs with intelligence and wisdom and ends up with songs that are hardly boring or routine. Lyric- wise, they are not your current-crop of Billboard Chart divas who are hell-bent on singing angry songs about the way boys treat her.

In my opinion, it’s a bit strange to label Scrawl as a guitar-driven rock band because in most of their songs, bassist Sue Harsh and drummer Dana Marshall are recorded a bit louder than Marcy Mays’ guitar parts. To me, this will only make their recordings sound more natural.

While they do most of their tours in the continental United States, they wish on someday taking their act overseas. As an audiophile we can help them by asking our “almighty record industry” to release their albums to our local record stores so that every local audiophile can buy them without hassles. Lets help Scrawl fulfill their wish in playing in Budokan, I think this is an ancient temple that hosts rock concerts in Japan. The all time famous bands who had played here before are Cheap Trick and Kiss.

You can send your fan mail to them @ Scrawl P.O. Box 82058 Columbus, Ohio 43202 or @ WWW.SCRAWL.NET.

Curbing Ned’s Atomic Dustbin

One of the most buzz-worthy bands 1992 Ned’s Atomic Dustbin might just win your hearts and your ears over.

By: Vanessa Uy

Here’s a band that professed to prefer to be heard live every time this certain question crops up in their interviews. As a fellow musician, I agree that live gigs are a good place in which to start a fan base.

Ned’s Atomic Dustbin’s debut album “God Fodder” to me, is more than a mere consolation to their fans who likely might never see and hear them perform live. To me, their moniker is somewhat of a misnomer. After seeing this cassette tape copy of their album almost given away for free in a garage sale, I thought that Ned’s Atomic Dustbin is a 1950’s sounding rockabilly band like the Brian Setzer Orchestra in homage to the “Nuclear Age.” Instead Ned’s Atomic Dustbin are a very interesting mix of punk rock and genteel British new wave with progressive metal drumming thrown in on the blisteringly fast tempo tracks. I’ll bet their drummer will be perfect for my band, he perfectly compliments my guitar playing skills.

While two guitar player bands are somewhat dime a dozen. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin’s line up is unique as typical rock bands go even until now because they have two bass players namely Alex and Mat. The only other bands I know who utilize this two- bassist configuration are Cop Shoot Cop and Girls Against Boys. I’ve heard them all and thank God they’re not copying each other’s style. Regular subscribers of Bass Player magazine whose subscription extends back to 1992 should not confuse Ned’s Atomic Dustbin with Cop Shoot Cop (also a perennial favorite of mine), just because those two bands are the subject of the magazine’s cover story back then. And also they are literally poles apart.

Despite having the fuzz pedal of their lone guitarist Rat being set at a quite aggressive level and Dan’s frenzy paced drumming on most of the songs. The mood on “God Fodder” is quite cheerful when compared to their Seattle Grunge contemporaries.
Ned’s Atomic Dustbin as a band, are surely aiming for originality whichever way they can.

To me, this album’s cover art, sleeve note designs, and songs seem to cater the “college radio” crowd of the early nineties. But at this time, Seattle Grunge was on the rise and the growing perception of Ned’s potential “American College Radio” fans is that their pseudo Manchester (or is that Madchester) sound is becoming pretty staid even though their only competitors for air time are MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice. This is probably why they haven’t gained superstar status.

Generally, this is quite a great album. I really like the way the two bassists and their lone guitarist go about their business in this album. They all seemed like joined in the hip somehow. But what strikes me as odd is that the pretty sounding reverb in their slower tempo songs like “Selfish” disappears when the beat shifts into high gear like on “Throwing Things” and “What Gives My Son?” Also, I tend to dislike rock bands that sing with a British accent. It’s ok if you’re a traditional English folk band using period instruments. If The Beatles or Johnny Rotten didn’t sing with one, it doesn’t mean that you should.

I’ve learned from my research that Ned’s Atomic Dustbin released a second album, but they seem to slip slowly out of the limelight after this time.

Partying With Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

In this post September 11, 2001 world, it’s quite refreshing to know that there are still people out there who try their best to foster understanding between Islam and the West.

By: Vanessa Uy

Despite of Pakistan being in the limelight of recent geopolitical events, I only know of two Pakistani musicians namely the rock band: Junoon and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to me is probably one of the most unique musical performers who gained crossover stardom that’s mostly centered at the “College Radio Alternative Rock Community.” Even though he passed away on August 1997 at age 48, his worldwide fan base is still growing on a daily basis. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is probably one of the most exotic sounding musician who had gained reverence of the Western MTV generation.

Khan performed Islamic devotional music or “qawwali” exclusively. Drawing from a thousand-year-old tradition of Sufi poetry like the works of Bhulle Shah, Shams Tabrez, Shah Hussain, and the great Sufi poet and scholar, Amir Khursrav.

During the start of the 1990’s, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s music began to gain serious inroads into the United States. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, and Joan Osborne are said to have been inspired by Khan’s music. Probably in an effort to increase their creativity.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Party’s “The Supreme Collection, Volume 1” is the CD which I am currently listening. Qawwali is primarily an Islamic devotional music with the inclusion of carnal metaphors. This is somewhat similar to what Ray Charles had done to Southern Baptist spiritual music thus creating R&B. A qawwali- performing group is called a “party.” Khan’s “Supreme Collection” CD is an example of a traditional Pakistani qawwali performance where the principal or lead vocalist is backed by harmonium, tabla, handclaps, and choir. Traditionally qawwali “songs” are usually 2 hours long, repeating the lines as to make their meaning melt into clarity. As a common practice when recorded, the songs are shortened to more or less 20 minutes. I think the intended message the “songs” are trying to convey remained intact in this truncated form basing on my very basic colloquial Urdu.

To me, this is probably one of the most exotic / different / far out sounding music that had entered circulation into the music repertoire of the alternative/ college radio community. Since qawwali has been around for centuries, one could conjecture that it might had influenced Western music long before the birth of rock n’ roll. I think the end of “Neptune” on Gustav Holts’ “The Planets” was probably inspired by qawwali. More recent examples are The Gathering’s space punk song “Liberty Bell” or Veruca Salt’s “Loneliness is Worse” and “Earthcrosser.”

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan might also have influenced a younger generation of Pakistani musicians. The rock band Junoon has been playing their own interpretation of qawwali using the electric guitar, bass, and drum kit set-up with wonderful results.

So far , a terribly large majority in the West only thinks that Islam is about Osama Bin Laden and terrorism. They should seek enlightenment via qawwali.

Will “We7” Save the Music Industry?

Will Peter Gabriel’s “We7” make music downloads equitable for musicians, music lovers and record label executives?

By: Vanessa Uy

Slated to be launched on June 2007, Peter Gabriel – supported “We7” not only promises to please musicians and record label executives but also provide a legal and legitimate music download service that’s free of charge for those who have acquired a taste of Napster’s “poisoned fruit.” The music downloads on “We7” are free in the sense that music lovers and/or fans don’t have to pay a single cent to the site. The site itself uses the revenue created by the adverts on the site itself to pay the musicians and record label executives according to how often their “works” are downloaded. Another “Bolshevist” feature of this site is that users are encouraged to share the music that they downloaded to other music lovers so that they will also “fall in love” with “We7”. To me this is a far better proposition than Digital Rights Management or DRM.

Sound quality issues aside, the downloadable music phenomena on the web has the advantage of worldwide accessibility that is quantum leaps ahead compared to traditional music distribution systems like record stores-even specialist ones. For example: the freak commercial success of Ed McMahon’s “Star Search” alumnus Tracey Spencer during 1989 has been a boon to music lovers everywhere who are into the politically-correct-side-of-altruism message. But a follow up of something similar has been slow in coming. The posthumous success of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to American MTV audiences in 1998 was much delayed due to the slowness of traditional music distribution systems back then. Even though a handful of adventurous music lovers has been enjoying the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in the US since the mid- 1980’s. If you seek to introduce a more adventurous variety to your musical taste, its much easier today via on- line music downloads. The Turkish-German R&B sensation Muhabbet became well known via the Internet. Muhabbet means to talk to each other in Turkish, has gained enough fame for his talent to be noticed. And now, Muhabbet has become UNICEF’s goodwill ambassador. Interested parties can contact Muhabbet at

I just hope that “We7” doesn’t forget the sound quality aspect of their site because as a legal music download site, sound quality can serve as a unique selling point for a site that supports the welfare of hardworking musicians and others in the music biz. As Peter Gabriel is a humanitarian-at-heart, the extent of “We7’s” benefits could put a major dent on extreme poverty. But for now, on line music download services like “We7” provides a level playing field for musicians anywhere in the world who are very talented but still lack the recognition they rightfully deserve.

In Praise of Intruder

For those of you who had lived through the thrash metal era, you might remember Intruder, a band with a take- no- prisoners- level of intensity.

By: Vanessa Uy

By the mid 1980’s, thrash metal a metal music for urban skateboard enthusiasts as opposed to The Beach boys’ surf rock music, was in full bloom. This musical genre which was believed to had begun in San Francisco area hence the term “Bay Area Bangers” which was used to describe bands like Metallica, Testament, and Exodus. It became such a lucrative money- making “investment” to the music biz that some bands began copying the style and sound of their more popular contemporaries like the supposedly mythological case of Metallica versus Testament.

Intruder, somewhat late entrants of the thrash metal trend, tried their best to achieve originality while penning the most righteous thrash metal music ever recorded. By the release of their “A Higher Form of Killing” album, Intruder was touted as one of the best new comers of the 1989 thrash metal scene. Some of the music press at the time described them as a “progressive metal” act and comparing them with Queensrÿche and Fate’s Warning. To me, just because a heavy metal has a vocalist who sounds like he or she is an alumnus of Juilliard School of Music or Berklee; or a clean sounding, well recorded album doesn’t automatically make one a progressive metal act.

One of Intruder’s notable trademarks includes beautifully designed album cover art. Probably “Iron Maiden” influenced. Like the post-apocalyptic war zone with a cyborg soldier scene on “A Higher Form of Killing,” and the Dr. Hannibal Lecter like character on their next album “Psycho Savant.”

Of the two albums I heard so far, my favorite is “Psycho Savant” because it reflected the band’s growth since the release of “A Higher Form of Killing.” My favorite track on the “Psycho Savant” album is NGRI or “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity.” I really love the reverb and the other effects that are engineered into this song. Heavy metal bands of late have acquired disdain for well- recorded albums and effects. Is this just a form of Bolshevism in the metal world or is recording an album with the same level of sound quality, as Intruder’s “Psycho Savant” had become too expensive by present day standards. In terms of musicianship, any guitar player who can play and sound like they had graduated from Juilliard or Berklee. Or whose guitar playing skills is as good (Choose to play good?) or better than mine will always be my instant favorite.

My careful examination of the lyrics reveals the “politics” of this band. Intruder might be Evangelical Christians like Stryper (the best of their kind and remains unequalled even now though Stryper's "Against the Law" album was criticized by the Evangelical Christian Community for it's Liberation Theology stance), but Intruder are quite subtle about expressing their beliefs in their songs just like what POD is doing as of late. This manifests on the Intruder song “Final Word,” in which their ideology leans toward the pro-life camp. I’m pro-choice for the same reason that I invest in a good security system.

Even though their music is written from a time when the Evangelical powers-that-be still practice rationality. Music wise, I love Intruder. Politically, I’ve always mistrusted the “Evangelical Tribe” because their elder statesmen had been using the errant ramblings of Nostradamus as a basis for formulating the present U.S. Foreign Policy.

Exploring Siphò Gumede

Reviewing an album of South African music via a CD produced by a company who makes hi-fi speakers might sound like a tale you can only hear from a National Geographic Society meeting.

By: Vanessa Uy

Back in 1985, while working on his “Graceland” album. Paul Simon inevitably raised global awareness of the South African music scene. This gave bands like Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the Bundu Boys a chance to play in lucrative U.S. venues like in The Tonight Show With Jay Leno for example.

In Siphó Gumede’s “Down Freedom Avenue,” the album has a very distinct South African flavor especially on the up- tempo songs. Here the percussion style is enough even for the average world music punter to trace Gumede’s stylistic roots.

Even though much of the music in this album has an American jazz influence, I really loved this album’s apparent exoticness. Siphó Gumede using music as a medium has skillfully painted a picture of optimism of post-Apartheid South Africa. I hope B&W’s marketing department will make their South African music catalogues more widely available since I’ve luckily acquired this CD in a garage sale. Even my audio buddies want one. “Down Freedom Avenue” might as well be a good place as any to start your South African music exploration.

Finding Moses Taiwa Molelekwa

Looks like Lady Luck is on my side because I have found another B&W CD of South African music.

By: Vanessa Uy

Moses Taiwa Molelekwa’s “Finding One’s Self” album might be dismissed by some jaded music critic as another work of a South African musician cashing in on the wake of the popularity of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album, but it’s hardly like that at all. Finding One’s Self, is a piano based jazz album whose backing musicians have a distinctively South African flavor especially the “choir’s” breathy vocals.

In this album, the backing musicians are somewhat dominating the proceedings. The interaction or vibe between Molelekwa and his back up reminds me of those 1950’s Southern Baptist Spiritual recordings where the choir and churchgoer’s singing drowns out the pedal steel guitar accompanying them.

Moses Taiwa Molelekwa is at his best during those rare “minimalist” moments where the other musicians take a “back seat.” Although it’s in these parts where, to me at least, he sounds like your typical Juilliard School of Music alumnus jazz pianist living in Brooklyn. It’s somewhat the same problem here in the Philippines when accomplished jazz musicians, tries to find gigs overseas to seek greener pastures. The best of them manage to wind up as session musicians for Sergio Mendes. Fortunate as that may be, their artistry suffers. Their playing is devoid of any Filipino influence whatsoever, no matter how good their musicianship skills are.

This is somewhat the same problem that to me at least; hinder Moses Taiwa Molelekwa from achieving his full creative potential. His style stretches way beyond the confines of his South African country and culture. He sounds less “African” than many of his contemporaries. Nonetheless this is still one enjoyable release from the company who also makes excellent sounding, low cost hi-fi speakers.

Avril Lavigne: The Best Damn Thing Ever?

Did Avril Lavigne inadvertently create an “Edsel” when she set out to write the songs on her third album?

By: Vanessa Uy

The title of this blog would have been “Ten Questions About Avril Lavigne That the Press and Her Fans Were Afraid to Ask”. Those “ten questions” could still crop up as we go along, but first lets take an in-depth view of Avril Lavigne’s third album.

“The Best Damn Thing” (RCA88697 03174-2) is Avril Lavigne’s third and latest release. Also RCA records released her two previous albums – “Let Go” and “Under My Skin” – which I paid full price (I also own a number of rare 7” vinyl of Avril Lavigne’s singles). Luckily I acquired “Best Damn Thing” for free since I won the CD from a local FM radio contest.

Compared to her two previous albums, me – and anyone I knew whose musical tastes more or less mirrors my own – were disappointed by Avril Lavigne’s “Best Damn Thing”. Was it the headline single “Girlfriend”? The answer is a big juicy yes for the reasons not just from the song being overplayed by the local FM stations or the local mall’s P.A. system. To us – especially me – “Girlfriend” has the hallmarks of being a mere “product”, no more or less inspired than a half-decent NBA or NFL halftime show or Britney Spears showing her privates. After the second to third time I heard the song “Girlfriend”, I had a “Road to Damascus Epiphany” on the true meaning of the term bubblegum-pop. Despite the happy “disposition, the “apparently” catchy hooks and lively beats fails to save “Girlfriend” from having the holistic integrity of Avril Lavigne’s “sadder” songs.

All of this made me wonder if the artistic quality / merit of Avril Lavigne’s performance demos being sent to RCA back in 2001 or 2002 sounds like her “Best Damn Thing” album. The A & R executives (talent scouts) of RCA would seriously reconsider about signing Avril Lavigne up – to the point of not signing her up.

The saving grace of this album is the torch song (?) “Pieces of My Heart”. But still I wonder if this song’s beauty is the result of Avril Lavigne’s excellent songcraft or the song’s music video - which is in heavy MTV rotation this past few months since the American “Credit Crunch.”

The way I see it, Avril Lavigne – for reasons that still elude me – has sacrificed her artistic integrity in exchange for more money. I mean she’s quite busy since Memorial Day pandering to the Anglo-Saxon Protestant / Evangelical community of America by implying that she’s a viable, kid-safe replacement for Michael Jackson. The way she talks about “God” in her MTV interviews could “Anglo-Saxonify” Jesus Christ to the point of looking like Conan O’Brien.

I mean if Avril Lavigne was around during that crucial period in 1988–1989. Where the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), which was headed by Tipper Gore - wife of Al “An Inconvenient Truth” Gore. Was then reaching out to the teens of America at that time to help them fulfil their core mission of making the REAGANISM of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority a way of life to a whole generation of American teenagers. To me back then, Avril Lavigne would have no choice other than to become a herald of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority’s “Imperial Ambitions” because her “musical” competitions in the pop charts circa 1989 are very weak, which primarily makes Avril very rich. The mediocrity of Milli Vanilli alone would make Avril Lavigne a wholesome, child friendly substitute to Axl Rose. Avril Lavigne would single handedly save PMRC -if only this hypothetical situation can be made real. Except that 99% of her fans don’t even know what PMRC is or if they even care about the time when the game show host Howie Mandel of “Deal or No Deal” was still in “St. Elsewhere”. This makes a good book / novel don’t you think?

But in Avril Lavigne’s defense, living in the “Stepford Wives-ville” that we call Anglo-Saxon America (Sen. John Edward’s “Other America”) had probably made her extremely unhappy. Empty materialism can be such a drag. The way I see it, Avril probably needs the millions of dollars that her “talent” provides, just to achieve the same levels of happiness experienced by pastoral folk like the Kalahari “Bushmen” of Sub-Saharan Africa. If Avril Lavigne does something similar to what The Beatles did with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi back in 1967 maybe by incorporating Sufi or Druse mysticism into her lifestyle. Will this do wonders to her “creative process” without sacrificing the millions of dollars that she earns? I think –at the present Bush / Neo Conservative administration - its way too risky to her preferred charity organization: War Child. Will Avril Lavigne’s artistic appeal be lost amidst the millions of dollars in royalties? Praise Goddess for my way overplayed Paramore “promotional” DVD.

Celebrating the Best of Osibisa

Here’s a band whose mission is to tell everyone there’s more to continental Africa than wars and despotic leaders.

By: Vanessa Uy

For all it’s worth, almost everyone I knew has a certain ignorant-leaning pre-conception about African music. Most of them conjure up sounds and images of 1930’s Johnny Weissmöler –era Tarzan. But lets face it, those of us who are “in the know” knew that it’s more than that.

Recently, all that we seem to hear about Africa is the crisis in the Darfur Region, “conflict diamonds” or what kind of atrocities the Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe has inflicted upon his political rivals. Even one of the most trusted names in journalism, the BBC seems to have a fixation on the ugly facets of Africa. Well, as always, I’ve put it upon myself to explore what might have been to me an artistic expression that extols this continent’s rich cultural heritage: African Music.

The first time I heard “Celebration-The Best of Osibisa”, I was transported into a parallel universe: A universe were the Catholic Church gained enlightenment the same time Michaelangelo finished his paintings on the Sistine Chapel. A Catholic Church that learned the true meaning of “self-determination” and “human rights”; a universe were slavery was resolved in continental Africa without the European and American powers becoming entangled in its evil rigmarole. You know: an Africa whose art and culture was evolved by people who benefited from self-determination. We’re allowed to dream, aren’t we?

Osibisa are one of those bands that helped launch a new style of music back in 1970 called "Afro-Rock." Osibisa’s fusion of African music and Rock laid the groundwork for succeeding generations of African musicians to benefit the growing worldwide interest in African music. Witness the success of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album whose roster of South African musicians gave them global exposure.

Osibisa, whose core members hailed from Ghana in West Africa, were catapulted to stardom on their gig in London back in 1970. Their albums became Afro-Rock classics like “Osibisa”, ”Wo Ya Ya”, ”Heads”, ”Superfly”, ”Welcome Home”, ”Ojah Awake” and “Mystic Energy” which collectively sold over 8 million copies-a feat no other African band has ever came close to.

Although passed over somewhat by the 1990’s World Music phenomenon that catapulted Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to crossover stardom in the MTV circuit and specifically, the ascent to stardom of Siphó Gumede and Moses Taiwa Molelekwa at that time. Osibisa created more than any other band, the groundwork for the entire African Rock Music movement to become the vibrantly flourishing culture today.

“Celebration-The Best of Osibisa” is their greatest hits compilation. For the benefit of those who heard them the first time around, the tracks on this album include: “Everybody Happy”, “Happy Children”, “Wo Ya Ya”, “Welcome Home”, “Right Now”, “Ke Le Le” and others taken from their previous albums. Osibisa’s sound and message, even back in the turbulent times of the 1970’s where most of the African continent is in turmoil, has an optimism that anticipated 1990’s post-Apartheid South Africa. To me, this album is highly recommended to Bob Marley fans so that they may gain a deeper insight into the roots of Reggae and Rastafarian culture.

Hailing Nuclear Valdez

Sound quality aside, it is somewhat still satisfying to explore relatively obscure but talented bands via old garage sale cassette tapes.

By: Vanessa Uy

The group’s moniker reminds me of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker, the one that ran aground in Prince William Sound in 1989. Causing a terrible oil spill. Or the movie “Water World”, where the same oil tanker was resurrected.

Nuclear Valdez is a Miami-based, three-fourths Hispanic group. On their: “Dream Another Dream” album whose cassette tape copy of mine are on its last legs, their musicianship and message still shine through.

In 1992, Guitar World magazine touted Nuclear Valdez as a potent group in today’s rock scene. The band’s personnel are Robert Slade le Mont, Juan Diaz, Jorge Barcala, and vocalist Friolan Sosa. Their signature sound is very guitar driven with early 1990’s eclecticism. That blends seamlessly with the heavy Latino-spiced imagery, which forms as the foundation of their unique music.

“Dream Another Dream” has been declared a superb collection back in its day with songs like “(Share a Little) Shelter,” “I Think I Feel,” and “The Will” gaining critical appeal. Nuclear Valdez wrote songs about post- 1991Gulf War optimism that are neither trite nor hackneyed and surprisingly have that timeless quality inherent in them.

To me, lyric wise the album depends so much on subtle contemporary (1992) imagery to depict the deepest ills of our society, reminiscent of the Tori Amos school of songwriting. And Nuclear Valdez’s songs about optimism and altruism didn’t come out trite or corny. One could be forgiven if you think that the songs are written maybe just a few months ago even though some of them are still topically relevant like global warming issues.

Despite all of this, this is not an album for anyone. Especially those weaned on hard core Latino music like the works of Paquito D’Rivera or Ry Cooder’s Buena Vista Social Club album. In today’s 21st Century music market, Hispanic metal bands that are heavily influenced by Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin are deemed too Anglo or Norteamericano by a growing number of Spanish-speaking listeners even if their songs are sung in Spanish. To me, that’s their loss. Take a listen to Nuclear Valdez, you might want to book for a cruise.

I just hope that I can find a CD copy of this album that’s still in good condition. If anyone has one to sell, please feel free to drop me a line.

Going Native with Joey Ayala

Of all the Filipino bands/musical groups that enjoy airplay in rock-format FM stations, Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad is probably the most unique sounding of all.

By: Vanessa Uy

Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad, a band that spread the message of socio-political consciousness: using their own brand of ethnic-folk fusion music. They’re one of those bands that you can probably play in your hi-fi on a school night using the High-School-Music-Project excuse for those young listeners with excessively strict parents. Even though I only listen to three of Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad albums on a regular basis namely: “Magkabilaan,” “Lumad sa Syudad,” and “Mga Awit ng Tanod-lupa” I know more than enough on what to like about this band.

Joey Ayala has been writing songs since the mid- 1980’s. During the “golden age” of the Pinoy rock music scene (early to mid-1990’s). Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad was probably the only act in regular airplay- at that time- who are not cashing in on the popularity of the alternative rock/grunge/foxcore movement of the 1990’s American music scene. The only other ethnic-folk-rock fusion act that I can compare them with confidence is the Pakistani rock band Junoon, even though it’s a cognitively dissonant comparison.

To me, Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad’s artistic integrity probably survived the rigors of disillusionment brought about by their own and their contemporaries relatively fast rise into stardom during the 1994-95 period. Most of their really talented contemporaries seem to vanish without a trace. The message of their songs has always been to raise awareness of examining our own actions. Whether what we do on a daily basis can cause us to become a pawn, an innocent by-stander or someone who is willing to get their hands dirty like Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel to act upon things to bring change. While their songs go on to philosophize, the lyrics maintain an aesthetic appeal that they are an integral part of the songs rather than mere jingoistic slogans and sound bytes.

Most-if not all-of Joey Ayala’s songs are very enlightening. The song Hithit-Buga from the “Lumad sa Syudad” album was supposedly more than a public-service message in support for the governments anti-smoking campaign. I herd from a radio DJ a few months ago that Joey Ayala was trying to kick the habit at the time when he wrote that song. Little Brown Man is about the hardships faced by Filipinos living in America. This song might also be Joey Ayala’s critique of the runaway “American Disposable Consumerism” and the Filipino-Americans who are victimized by this evil doctrine.

My most favorite Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad album in more ways than one is “Mga Awit ng Tanod-lupa.” Maybe this is because it is the most gorgeous-sounding and well recorded of all of their albums. Maybe this is because Joey Ayala’s excellent musicianship is very much highlighted here, or maybe I’m just a natural-born-eco-warrior. Joey Ayala probably single-handedly brought the message of environmental awareness to the mid-1990’s Pinoy rock scene. Mind you, this was 10 years before Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” made environmentalism in vogue for the under-25 crowd.

In the “Mga Awit ng Tanod-lupa” album, one of the member’s of Bagong Lumad namely Bayang Barrios displayed her singing prowess in the song Walang Ibang Sadia. With a talent like this, she deserves a full- length album release.

In more ways than one, Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad is probably one of the best Filipino bands in existence. To me they are the best Filipino band, period. I like the way they use various ethnic-old school-cultural minority- Filipino musical instruments that you can only hear and see most of the time in museums or those boring Music classes in the High-School curricula. The way Joey Ayala and his band combine these instruments with a modern rock drum set. Write music in a rock context where each ethnic instrument’s beauty is allowed to shine through is really ingenious. Basing on the conservative and jaded nature of rock format FM stations, Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad probably lived very charmed lives to be able to get any radio airplay.

These days, jaw-dropping musicianship is no longer enough to impress the powers-that-be in the music industry. In an age where pubescent porn stars are clamoring for legitimacy by entering the music biz. I’m just glad there’s a large body of excellent recorded works out there like the ones made by Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad are still available. These are viable tools for putting any would be Stalinist pseudo-rock stars in their place.

A Tribe Called Fish

The Pinoy music scene had a love affair with a thing called foxcore courtesy of a band called Tribal Fish.

By: Vanessa Uy

For those who remembered, foxcore is a musical movement by women musicians who are into punk rock. This means being less adept at your musical instrument (usually an electric guitar) and being bitchy as the early 1990’s definition apply.

Tribal Fish are Leilani “Toks” Toquero on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Tsin Reyes on lead guitar, Rowena “Taweng” Isidro on bass, and “Bullet” Kondo on drums. I acquired recently from a garage sale a worn out cassette tape of their eponymous album probably from 1994. Despite of the shaky sound quality, their musicianship skills still shine through.

In this article, I interviewed anyone who had seen them perform in the flesh. I’m only confident on the opinions and views of those fans whose musical inclinations are somewhat similar to mine. To them Tribal Fish epitomize the foxcore creed through and through, although they are more skilled than most of their contemporaries in musicianship skills especially playing guitar. One of them remembers their very first gig back in March 10, 1994 in the then center of the hipness universe Club Dredd. They were one of the freshest sounding foxcore bands in the Pinoy music scene at the time. They’re style is a mix of catchy power pop and punk with guitar virtuosity thrown in for good measure.

Another band, which was their contemporary, was Keltscross (a topic for latter review) gave the Pinoy foxcore movement much needed exposure to the denizens of uninitiated teens which at the time only thought that “Original Filipino Music” is this faux “R&B” pre copulation music for spoiled rich folks. Sadly, this is still true in the 21st Century.

Desperate for originality, majority of foxcore bands from the early “1990’s,” prefer a tonally dark sounding Gibson SG electric guitar and Marshall amp/speaker combo as opposed to the all Fender set up of the Sex Pistols circa 1977. In Tribal Fish the basic loud distorted three chord rock n’ roll format still remains, the lyrics are about the darker side of man’s inhumanity to their fellowman, the Philippine culture of politically motivated violence which seems a hang over from the Marcos regime. My favorite song on this album is “Sayaw Lukring.” This song is about a woman dealt with a bad fate being ostracized by everyone around her. I can identify with this, except the people who are presently ostracizing me are peeved by my relatively- charmed-spoiled-white-Jewish-girl kind of life. One of Tribal Fish’s more unconventional songs-lyric wise- is “Wag Kang Baboy” which makes one think that these group of punks are sticklers for good personal hygiene. This topic to me is kind of anathema to anarchist punk I think.

Women in “Pinoy Rock” are not new. For those who still remember or care to, in the 1970’s there was Sampaguita and Lolita Carbon, the lead vocalist of the band Asin. Lolita Carbon also had solo projects since then. Though even until now Filipina rock music performers are still somewhat of a novelty act. One fan recalls a radio interview of Tribal Fish from around November of 1994, which Leilani Toquero says: “It wasn’t our primary intention to form an all girl group.” Maybe there’s something to this “chemistry between band members” thing after all.

Sadly true then as it is now. Being a girl can be a drawback if you play in a band. Compounded by being young and still living with the parents. The same parents, permissive or otherwise, who are expected in Filipino society to frown upon their daughters if they stay up all night to play in a ratty, cigarette-smoke-filled venues with horny and drug-addled adolescent males and girls who are into sexual experimentation. Is “We’re not in Kansas anymore” the apt statement?

School and day jobs can also take their toll, especially here in our country where music piracy gained it’s present day “Filipiniana” status like Dr. Jose Rizal’s original home or something. Being a rock star just won’t pay the bills, except if you have a really, “REALLY” charmed life. Tribal Fish lost lead guitarist Tsin Reyes to her scholastic obligations. And add to that the perennial hassle of getting parental permission to play in out-of-town gigs. And you’ve got yourself an insurmountable problem that can really stifle your creativity.

In today’s Pinoy music scene, it’s more likely that we will never see and hear a band like Tribal Fish ever again. The band du jour are these bland, coma- inducing faux Parisian Café chanteuses who sound like they’ve taken a wrong turn and are now 12,000 klicks from Havana or something. To me 1994 was Pinoy Rocks “finest hour” as evident on the other bands from this period like Yano, The Youth, and The Teeth.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Restoring Magellan

After hearing them on an old cassette tape copy of their album that’s already on it’s last legs. Magellan can still make me wonder why they never gained superstar status.

By: Vanessa Uy

Back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the “progressive metal label” has been thrown around almost shamelessly. It was used to describe artistic and unconventional heavy metal bands of the time like Queensryche, or to any other metal band heavily influenced by 1970’s “prog rockers” like Yes, Jethro Tull, and Rush.

Magellan’s “Hour of Restoration” album to me is a very fine example of what describes a good progressive metal band. It’s very refreshing to know that good songwriting wasn’t forgotten on this album. Then and now, heavy metal bands (this also includes 1990’s Seattle grunge and punk rock musicians) as a whole are not known for paying much attention to good songwriting. Don’t forget that this is a guitar driven album (aren’t all metal albums) with chops-busting music. It’s quite refreshing to hear a band whose guitar playing skills are better than mine as opposed to this current-crop of young under-25 Billboard chart topping bands whose guitar playing is much like that of a gifted two-year-old.

As metal bands go, creating a mood through the use of “poetic” words is just as valid a lyric-writing technique as telling the story in a literal manner. It seems like this is in fashion back then, in the early 1990’s as epitomized by Tori Amos.

Sadly, the cassette tape copy of this musical masterpiece is in a presently sad state. After being attacked by termites, only a small portion of the liner notes survived. Fortunately, the cassette’s mechanism still survives making it somewhat playable, but I wont call it hi-fi.

I really love the cathedral like reverb of this recording since the primary venue where I listen to live bands is a disused chapel. To anyone who can sell me a CD of Magellan’s “Hour of Restoration” album, please drop me a line.

The Keiji Haino Experience

Even though Japan is much closer here than the United States. The ratio between people who know who is Keiji Haino and those who don’t is probably the same here in the Philippines, as is in the U.S.

By: Vanessa Uy

I’ve read somewhere that Keiji Haino’s albums are only available as very expensive, as far as music formats go for mail order imports. It’s also not released locally here. In our country, it surprises me that even accomplished rock and jazz guitarists I know who have regular gigs in Japan haven’t heard of Keiji Haino.

So far, I’ve listened to Haino’s solo live album titled “A Challenge To Fate,” and from his regular group Fushitsusha via “The Caution Appears” and “Allegorical Misunderstanding” albums. My memory is somewhat hazy about a Keiji Haino live concert laser disc circa 1989 I’ve seen in an electronic store demo a few months ago.

Describing Keiji Haino’s guitar playing sound and technique via journalistic scribbling is akin to a comparison to seeing the aurora borealis first hand and of seeing one on a video monitor. There are things in life that you have to experience for yourself. Even though Haino, either solo or with Fushitsusha might be the most unique sounding performers in the world who use conventional rock instruments like amplified guitars (Marshall stacks, of course) bass guitars and rock music drum kits. They have a Black Sabbath meets John Coltrane style as described by the music journalist who care enough to give them coverage. Although to me, Keiji Haino and Fushitsusha sound like a band who lived in a parallel universe, where aspiring rock bands not only idolize Sabbath but also John Coltrane and Miles Davis. I think Keiji Haino’s very unique style might cause a loss of translation to the uninitiated.

Even though their contribution to the world of electric guitar music remains unknown to the “Billboard Chart” universe. Keiji Haino and the rest of Fushitsusha probably influenced heavy metal bands, especially progressive ones, during the latter half of the 1980’s onwards. I even suspect that Avril Lavigne’s “Under My Skin” album owes it’s Marshall stack feedback sound to Haino’s 1989 period live guitar sound.

I’ve also read somewhere that Keiji Haino savors the mystique surrounding him. That he shuns the limelight. So don’t expect him to be seen hanging out with the likes of Paris Hilton or Britney Spears. Maybe for him, it’s all about the music.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Remembering Lucky Dube

A singer / performer with enough clout to temporarily stop on – going civil conflicts, the world and Reggae fans now mourn the passing of Lucky Dube.

By: Vanessa Uy

When the Reggae star Lucky Dube was shot in front of his children on October 19, 2007 after an attempted carjacking, the ongoing epidemic of violent crime in South Africa gained worldwide attention. This incident even casts doubts on South African government’s ability to keep peace and order on the coming 2010 World Cup. Despite meeting an untimely end, Lucky Dube lived a life that’s way more interesting than his death.

With a music career that spans 25 years, Lucky Dube has recorded 20 albums. He sang in Africaan, Zulu and English. Strangely though, he is more famous overseas than in his homeland of South Africa. During the 1980’s Apartheid-era South Africa, Lucky Dube used his music to inspire Black South Africans for a non- violent struggle against Apartheid rule.

Lucky Dube’s finest hour came during the 1990’s when his fame had earned him enough clout to temporarily suspend on-going battles in African conflict zones like Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In June 1999, Lucky Dube performed one of his famed 3-hour long shows in Monrovia, Liberia where the said show allowed a cessation of hostilities between the warring factions. The warring factions are willing to temporarily suspend their fighting just to attend a Lucky Dube concert. These fighters really are dedicated fans. Lucky Dube is also big in the US. He frequently played venues in Miami, Florida and in Atlanta, Georgia.

Despite being regarded as the current “gold standard” when it comes to Reggae music, and Lucky’s fans swear that he’s the spiritual heir of the Reggae legend Bob Marley. Lucky Dube’s allegiance to the Rastafarian faith was more academic than spiritual because in interviews he says he doesn’t use marijuana / cannabis. To the uninitiated, the spiritual side of the Rastafarian faith revolves around Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia (the one deposed from power on September 12, 1974) and the Emperors lineage to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba plus the “Lion of Judah” references.

Ever since releasing his debut album “Rastas Never Die”, Lucky Dube has indeed come a long way. When he played in the Live 8 Concert in Johannesburg, South Africa, Lucky Dube indeed took Reggae music back to Africa – the music’s spiritual homeland. I just hope that his latest album “Soul Taker” won’t be used by Lucky Dube’s fans as an epitaph of his music career but rather a celebration of his artistry and his quest for a better world. The official Lucky Dube Website is at .

Paramore: Getting to the Top the Old Fashion Way?

Ever since the “unforeseen” success of their headlining single “Misery Business” from their album “Riot!”. Is Paramore here to remind us the “good old days” of punk rock and getting famous the old fashion way?

By: Vanessa Uy

Ever since their MTV debut via the single “Misery Business” aired on our local MTV affiliate, I thought that our local MTV Asia affiliate had mistakenly aired a circa 1989 power pop / punk video of a talented young band. I thought good bands like Paramore only exists15 to 20 years ago. Maybe I’m listening to 24 bit 192 KHz sampled Punk Rock reissues for far too long. Now that almost all of the under 25 “punk rockers” already knew them (I just turned 11 and I only discovered Paramore back in August 2007), here’s a much needed refresher course for the uninitiated. Named after a friend of the band mother’s maiden name Paramore is a Pop Punk (Power Pop?) band which hails from Franklin, Tennessee. Also after finding out that Paramore means “secret lover”, the band chose it. The band’s vocalist and primary center of attention is Haley Williams. Their current line-up by this time of writing includes lead guitarist Josh Farro and his brother Zac Farro on drums and bassist Jeremy Davis. Since today’s MTV – based music is primarily a visual medium the other members of Paramore can only be appreciated by ear because of the band’s “hot” vocalist.

Paramore was already busy “paying their dues” in the touring circuit since 2005. By April 2005, the band already signed to a record label. Then Paramore released their debut “All We Know Is Falling” in July 24, 2005 reaching #30 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Chart. Later in that year, Paramore was featured on the Shira Girl Stage of the 2005 Warped Tour. In 2006, Paramore released an EP titled “The Summer Tick”. Their first night on the Main Stage was at their hometown show of Nashville. Paramore’s first US headlining tour began on August 2, 2006 to a sold-out audience with support from This Providence. With this under their belts, Paramore was voted “Best New Band” by the readers’ poll of “Kerrang!” magazine.

By the start of 2007, Paramore was named by NME (is this the same NME circa-1980?) as one of ten bands to watch out for in the magazine’s “New Noise 2007” feature (the band Girlschool used to be on that list back in 1980!). In addition to this accolade, the band played an acoustic set for the grand opening of a “Warped Tour” exhibit at the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame that opened in January. The dress worn by Paramore’s vocalist Haley Williams for the “Emergency” music video was also put into the exhibit (Queer Eye alert!). And by the recording and release of “Riot!” around June 2007, Paramore already mastered the ropes of studio and live- gigs. By December 7, 2007 CNN ran a news feature about next years Grammy nominees lists Paramore as one of the Best New Artists.

To me, it seems like new bands that seek fame and recognition via the old fashion way i.e. “paying their dues” on the touring circuit and in the studio seems to scare the hell out of MTV’s current incarnation – or is this just endemic in MTV’s ASEAN franchise? Aspiring bands should be exposed to young and gifted talents like the band Paramore in order to end this endemic batch of major label crap (and surprisingly young “talent”) that only current “Media Pirates” seem to cherish because they can earn money from it.