Today I bring you a long post with my first album review. Chris B, the Queen of the underground, was kind enough to mail me this release for my critique. Hopefully this well help those of you with your decision about buying this album.
The UNDERGROUND - #1 Something Alternative
Recorded by: Hisakazu Koya
Recorded at: Mark-1 Music Center and Group Studio
1. The Night Before the Snow Storm - Velvette Vendetta
2. This is Our Rotten Love - Velvette Vendetta
3. Goner - Born to Hula
4. Satellites - Born to Hula
5. Caped Carnival - The Sinister Left
6. The Faux King - The Sinister Left
7. Man Love! - FBI
8. Don't Quit Your Day Job - FBI
9. Broken Carillon - Violent Jokes
10. Glows Like Jellygum - Violent Jokes
11. Let It Roll - Lazy Susans
12. Steel Wall - Lazy Susans
1. Cycle - Tai Tai Alibi
2. Autocrat - Tai Tai Alibi
3. Queen of Diamond Hill - 22 Cats
4. Dickless - 22 Cats
5. Improvisation 01 - Sea Monsters
6. Improvisation 02 - Sea Monsters
7. Come to Me - Forgot
8. Anymore - Forgot
9. Number One - Chochukmo
10. Head to Toe - Chochukmo
Velvette Vendetta1.Night Before The Snow Storm
I seriously had no idea what to expect when I stuck this CD on. It's been quite a while since I've been in the loop of the HK underground bands music scene. Last time I was involved, metal and hardcore were the colour of the flags the bands used to fly. All bands. Which is why I am pleasantly surprised that the tension filled bass intro to Vendetta's snow storm, leads into actual singing, and not bad singing as well. When the chorus of the song breaks through, I instantly think of Muse, which becomes a dominant comparison as the song goes on. It's everything from vocalist Jacky's, Matt Bellamy type melodies, to the driving guitar progressions and overall structure and mood of the song. Is this a good or bad thing? I'll let you decide.
2.This is our rotten love.
With the opening 3 distorted power chords and the vocalists scream, it almost sounds like we are listening to a completely separate band. This one definitely gets the heads moving with its punkier feel and the chorus of screams. However what works well in distinguishing that we are still listening to Velvette Vendetta, are the synth lines that sit just behind the main melodies in the mix. Eventually the juggernaut first half of the song fades into a more down tempo middle section, which is being edged along by a swinging bass line, before kicking back into the mayhem the tune started with. I can detect a hint of Smashing Pumpkins in this tune whether the band are influenced by them or not. Personally this is the better of the two Vendetta tracks on the CD as it gives the band more of a unique voice, as opposed to the strikingly similar Muse type first track. Either way I'm excited to hear what other goodness is on this bad boy.
Born To Hula
Ello Ello, what have we got here? A Brit indie band that actually sound like the singer could be from the land of St. George himself. Twenty seconds into this track and I'm already bouncing to the catchy-ness of the chords and the lyrics “gone and got ourselves in a heap of trouble” “I went to your concert and I didn't feel anything." If there was a checklist for what makes a Brit indie/rock song. Born to Hula are getting ticks in the boxes
Like with Velvette Vendetta, satellites demonstrates the versatility in their song writing. This one has what I think is a cello or double bass, playing the bass line, which instantly sells it. I'm a sucker for a cello in rock songs. The melodies in the start of the song remind of something off of Brand New's The Devil and God are Raging Inside of me album. This surprises me as Brand New are far from the world of Brit indie.The trademark clean guitar chords help bring it back to a recognizable sound which I assume is synonymous with Born to Hula. The line “we became satellites” that makes up the chorus, creates great imagery, not to mention will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. It's funny, the song reminds me of being drunk riding in the front seat of the taxi, head against the window looking at all the lights go by dizzyingly fast. Why? I have no idea.
The Sinister Left5.Caped Carnival
Wow. Thats what went through my head after only 40 seconds of playtime. When reviewing this CD, I usually plug in my headphones, crack open a beer and scribble down notes. When Caped Carnival kicked in, I immediately put the pencil down and lay back, and just simply listened to what The Sinister Left had to offer. I suppose I actually have to talk about what the song/band sound like. It's a unique blend of dreamy delayed guitars, with a rhythm section holding the base of the song together. It has calming, almost whispered singing. Tempo changes, mood changes offbeats and more. Safe to say The Sinister Left know what they are doing. For sure, one of the highlights of this CD.
6.The Faux King
After being thoroughly impressed by Caped Carnival, I had my fingers crossed that the second track from TSL would be just as rewarding. On their myspace, they list their top 5 influences as Radiohead, Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths and Mogwai. Thats handy as if you could stick the five in some form of super music blender, the ending concoction would sound pretty similar to TSL I feel. The Faux King takes you on a mystical journey, instead of sections the song feels like it has movements. One movement consists of Gregorian type chanting. Are you kidding me? Awesome.
Instantly a change in mood from the previous song offered by The Sinister Left. This one has a lighter, more feel good emotion to it, sorta like watching Madagascar 2. It's catchy catchy catchy! and I'm not one to shy away from a catchy melody. On the surface it sounds like a pretty easy song, but after quite a few listens you realise there's quite a lot actually going on in this song. Modulated backing vocals, ska bass lines, dub type drum breaks. It's no doubt a great composition about Man Love! “Not in the gay way baby” we are told right at the end, to each his own FBI. The band's light hearted portrayal and tunes remind me a bit of Smash Mouth, anyone remember them?
8.Don't Quit Your Day Job.
Another catchy dancy little tune from FBI. It occurs to me this band would be great to hire for one of those American college parties you see in the movies. You know the ones I'm talking about, the red cups, the beer bongs, the bongs period. (You should hire FBI for bongs?, won't hear that often) Like the last one, the title of the song is repeated several times throughout all 2 minutes and 20 seconds of it. Ensuring that you will remember the song for hours on end - and FBI for just a little bit longer.
With the fairy like keys intro and the echoy chorus in the female's vocals. I wonder if we're going to hear a goth metal song, similar to something by Nightwish. So I sit and wait for the distortion to kick in. Except it never does. I then realise that the Violent Jokes are an electronica outfit. I thought the production sounded too clean for a goth act! Shadow Kim, who I assume is singing this song, has a very soothing voice, perfect for this kind of music. When the beat arrives 3 minutes in, I am instantly taken back to a restaurant on Chaweng Beach in Koh Samui. The kind with candles and Arabic cushions on the seafront. And thats where I stay for the remainder of this track.
10.Glows Like Jellygum
My little getaway to Thailand is soon interrupted with a more up tempo number from the Violent Jokes. The bass line in this one reminds me of a heist scene. One where classy gadgets and witty dialouge is used to rob some rich smug. Shadow Kim (is the name listed on their myspace) once again shows that she can in fact sing, and sing well with her performance in this one. The music is dark yet dancy, and even through it is an electronic track, The Violent Jokes gives me the impression that they are all skilled at their instrument. Back to the heist.
11.Let it roll
I tap my feet along to the kicks that introduce the song and start to do a little groove (not attractive) as this funky little tune kicks in. I hear the lyrics Lazy Susans, in a song by Lazy Susans and I am sold. For some reason I have always been a fan of bands name dropping themselves in their songs. I hear the lyrics “I want to be a Lazy Susan” Does that mean the lead singer wants to sit cross legged on a table and spin around offering Chinese food? I've obviously missed something here, but my friends will tell you that happens often. Anyway, the song once again is a classic indie tune, it's got distortion, its got hi hats the open and close in the chorus, ooohs' aaaaah's and the pleasant clean guitar jangling. Solid song.
You can tell instantly that this song is going to sound very different to Let It Roll. It's darker and not so bouncy. I have a strong feeling the guitarist is a fan of Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, as I can see similarities in his riffs. I of course could be talking out of my arse. The singing, especially in the chorus of this song, has a 50's ballad feel about it. It contrasts nicely with the 90's rock sound of the music. I feel I have to point out the tremolo guitars, just because it sounds fucking cool.
Tai Tai Alibi.
Hail the grungy/alternative rock band Tai Tai Alibi! Another band which checks the boxes for their genre. I have to celebrate the guitar solo in this one. Its skillful but remains tasteful to the song. I swore I would never use the word tasteful, but it works in this situation so get over it. The Alibi have a great singer, and I wouldn't mind stating that it is the best vocal performance on the compilation. Listen to this song if you like Incubus, Our Lady Peace, 3 doors down. "Do you alwaaaaaaaaysssssssss, Do you alwaysssssss haveeeee to be rightttttttttt?”
Not much to say about this one, except that it is evident that Tai Tai Alibi know exactly how they want to sound, and know exactly how to go about doing that. The chorus in this one definitely is nostalgic for the 90's, I'm going to go ahead and say it reminds me of some Pearl Jam. Rumor has it these dudes come from where I live in Hong Kong, so needless to say, these guys are the shit.
3.Queen of Diamond Hill
In this song, 22 Cats, play what I like to call wtfindierock. Which if at the very least, keeps things interesting. I'm having a hard time detecting the lyrics, but I can definitely hear someone sing “homosexual lions” brilliant. If you like the vibe of certain Modest Mouse songs, you will love 22 Cats.
Who can argue with a song titled Dickless? My canto is none existent so I've switched off listening for gems like homosexual lions, but I have a feeling with 22 Cats, you don't know what is going to come next. The guitars in this one are almost haunting. They could possibly fit into a Tim Burton stop animation. 22 Cats add a very unique vibe to the compilation with what I will describe as their signature sound. Awards for most bizarre to be sent this way.
If it isn't Hong Kong's favourite progressive experimental band. You can tell in the first 10 seconds that we are going to hear some skilled musicianship. With the title being Improvisation, I wonder if the band rocked up at the studio, nailed their instruments for 5 minutes and 11 seconds, sparked a fag then left. I'm going to start spreading that rumor around. Rehearsed or not, there's no denying that there is structure to this piece. The different string players take turns in virtuoso style refrains, before returning back to a central “theme”. Koya's bass parts is something to look out for in this piece. I feel this track needs a better title, so I now here by dub it: LSD Mouse.
This one promises to be the more calm of the two offerings from Sea Monsters. It comes complete with some dreamy female vocals (not to dissimilar from the likes of Violent Jokes' Shadow Kim) I have to draw attention to the great engineering with regards to the atmosphere/keys player. The panning of the sounds has an almost mind washing effect. Not much else I can say about this song except its Sea Monsters doing their thing. I have since checked the album booklet and see that Shadow Kim is indeed part of this song. Go me!
7.Come to me
If anyone is a fan of the band STARS, I strongly suggest listening to Forgot. Come to me has an excellent guy and girl duet going on. In fact you could probably take the vocal tracks and layer them over a pop song and it would sound like one of those love ballads, that are most played on karaoke nights in downtown Makati. Instead what you get with Forgot, is an alternative rock backing, which compliments the vocal melodies surprisingly well. Forgot though, are not to be forgotten.
With the melodic guitars and synth sounds, I was expecting another epic love ballad. Then I hear the lyrics “does playstation annoy you?” and I wonder whats going on? Anymore is sung in English, which I think is brilliant when a band can perform in more than one language. The music in this one is more progressive rock, with flanged guitars and alternative drum beats. You can tell all band members are competent at their instruments. I especially like the guitar on this track and is one of the standout parts on the whole CD. Its not flashy but does the trick. The tone is spot on for the song.
The party has indeed arrived with the fun music of Chochukmo. It's hard to nail them to one particular style of music, as there is so much going on. From Latin guitars, to big band swing, to straight up rock n roll. After hearing this track, I want to see how they do it live as there is so much production going on, which makes this tune absolutely lovable. Chochukmo, are number one.
10.Head to toe
The band had a lot to follow with their previous song. True to form, they deliver another great song once again. The music in this one feels a bit more experimental and remind me a lot of one of my favourite bands called Small Leaks Sink Ships. Chochukmo's vocalist has a distinctive voice, which to me is a huge bonus with bands. If you can easily identify the singer, you will never forget the band. All in all a solid way to end a very impressive collection of local bands.
So here's the deal, if you are in a band, friend's of people in bands, or generally just a fan of homegrown talent (or want to be) Please pick up this CD. Come on, you get 22 tracks from a diverse selection of 11 bands. It's a great reminder that there is actually a local scene that is crying for more attention. Attention that it deserves. Hell, buy this CD if only to throw at someones face when they say there are no good bands in Hong Kong.
Buy this at the next Underground show. Or from Hong Kong Records or CD Warehouse. Alternatively you can order it online here.
You can also go here. To order it from the Underground website.