Archive for May, 2007

Bjorn again and again

Monday, May 14th, 2007

Kind of sort of a strange week. On Wednesday I had some good news – I passed 80,000 words in my novel, the benchmark of minimum wordcount to even be a novel. Hooray! Besides regular work, I went to a conference held by a big investment bank in town. Most of the sessions were not for me, but one was and I met some cool people. Thursday the bank held a private party and allowed media. The guy who invited me asked me to promise not to write something negative about it, or describe exploits of investment bankers gone wild (can you imagine?) , or a flop of a party if it didn’t work out. Well, sure enough it was a great party, and I saw more good looking young bankers than I ever knew existed! For musical entertainment they flew in Bjorn Again, the Australian troupe of Abba imitators. Good fun, with “Benny” and “Bjorn” playing actual instruments, and “Frida” and “Agneta” doing a good job singing, although looking a little fleshy in the thighs. They played “S.O.S.” and had at the end the refrain from “Message in a bottle” (sending out an S.O.S., sending out an S.O.S., etc.) that I thought was quite clever. Also played “Living on a Prayer,” just in case people were getting a bit too comfortable with their Abba songs, although I wish they’d picked something a bit more clever. Oh well. After Bjorn Again it was… Bananarama! Not as interesting as Bjorn Again, if simply for the fact that it was only the two ladies with two male dancers, no band so I guess they were singing (or lip-syncing!) to cassette tapes like they did when they just started. And by that time I’d had a few martinis. But somehow I was a bit surprised that I knew so many Bananarama songs – the set was almost as familiar as the one from Abba/Bjorn Again! How odd… “Cruel Summer,” “I Heard A Rumour,” “Love in the First Degree”, “Na na na na hey hey hey hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” “Robert DeNiro’s Waiting,” and of course “Venus.” Good fun.

Bananarama – and then there were two…

Friday was a regular tough day, with me going early to the conference to hear an interview with a former U.S. central banker, but the silmulcast that we were supposed to get in the media room was not connected because at the last minute we found out that media could not listen to the show! So it was a waste of time. Then there was me running around taking care of errands, picking up my new glasses, and going to my Japanese class. Saturday was a fun/difficult day. I took Zen downtown to buy a backpack, since desperately wanted a Spider-man bag. I bought him a small one, even though he badly wanted a more expensive one that seemed much too big for him. But he seemed so unhappy and cried so much that I went back and got him the big one anyway. No sense to have him dislike his new bag because papa thought another one was much better than the one he wanted with no one happy in the end. Then we went off to Swee Lee Music to buy a guitar effects pedal for my guitar. I got a DigiTech Distortion Factory Pedal, which seems really cool. I can make all sorts of warped, distorted sounds now, and maybe play songs that sound a wee bit Black Sabbath-y.


After that, we went home, ate curry, and slept. In the evening, went out for some food, had a nice time. Wow. Sunday was a chillout day, I took Zen swimming in the morning, then for a haircut and some grocery shopping, walking in the rain, ate lunch, Zen slept, then did some cleaning in the house, Zen woke up, I took him to swimming lesson, we went to watch the Malaysia train, I bought a bottle of wine, Naoko and I chilled out and drank wine, we called Nicole because it was Mother’s Day and her birthday too, called mom because it was Mother’s Day, aaaahhh… Interesting thing – Naoko had a massage at home in the afternoon, a Thai lady came over and gave her a massage for two hours. Nice lady, but certainly the tallest Thai woman I’ve ever seen.

I saw two unusual things this past week. One was a guy walking and watching TV at the same time. The other was a tattoed/pierced guy. I’ve seen tattooed/pierced guys before, but what was unusual about this guy was that, in addition to plenty of regular tattoos he also had his whole left arm tattooed black.

Here’s a picture of Zen and my new haircut – check out my new glasses as well!

Peter and Zen haircuts

CD Reviews

Sleep: Holy Mountain – If you ever wished that Black Sabbath had released more albums, you need to hear Sleep, which comes pretty close to replicating the sound of Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward as you can imagine, only without the distinctive wail of Ozzy Osbourne. Comes complete with corny doom-laden lyrics, although without the occult imagery. Great grungy heavy slow plodding stuff. Starts off well, but wacked out songs like “Inside the Sun” are a bit corny. “Dragonaut” (Supernaut?) is bluesy and reminds of Clutch. “The Druid” is bluesy and reminds of Clutch. “Evil Gypsy/Solomon’s Theme” is kind of like Sabbath meets Metallica. Breathless and hoarse yelling over primitive heavy riffs. “Some Grass” is a 48-second interlude that sounds like those pretty little medieval things that Tony Iommi put on some albums, although maybe it’s more like Zeppelin than Sabbath. “Holy Mountain” is the real thing – plodding, bottom-heavy, droning, grooving, fun! Lyrically, the band likes to use the word “stoned” a lot. “Look onto the rays of the new stoner sun rising” and “Stoner caravan from deep space arrives.” The band gets pretty wild, saying stuff like “Within the center of the Galaxy, Awway from Earth and all its misery/ Pressin on into the burning sky/ Burning spaceship its time to die,” predicting the whole Heaven’s Gate cult thing somehow… Unfortunately the song itself, “Inside the Sun,” is really irritating with its sound tunnel voice effects…

Pelican: “The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw” – Pelican is an instrumental group, and so much like Isis that you’d think they were the same group. Seems like they’re not, although I’m not quite convinced.


Isis: “In The Absence of Truth” - I’ve become a huge fan of Isis’ earlier album “Oceanic.” This one seems to be a bit less powerful than that release, although I will have to give it a few more listens to be sure. Still, even if it isn’t as good as Oceanic, it’s good to have just a bit more Isis just to really be sure. (time passes) Yep, sure enough, the first listen was “hey, I don’t think I like this as much as ‘Oceanic’”, but after repeated listens in the iPod Shuffle (I put in Pelican, this Isis, and Sleep, fills up only part of the memory) I can say I really love this one too. Difference is more atmospherics – keyboard-like sounds – and gurgly vocal effects. Vocally, most of the sound is Brutal Truth-like scary vocals, although there are also some strange mellow vocals that make the guy sound like Layne Staley from Alice In Chains – not exactly a terrible thing, but it does make you wonder if Layne’s back from the grave or not for a brief moment. Like “Over Root And Thorn,” which is over eight minutes long. Laynevocals kick in at the five minute mark and quickly become scary. Great, powerful shit.

April March
April March: “Triggers” - Is Eleanor Blake enjoying a renaissance now that “Chick Habit” is on the soundtrack of that new Tarantino/Rodriguez film “Grindhouse”? Not sure – or at least that’s not what induced me to buy “Triggers.” Basically I’ve been spending all too much time on allmusic reading reviews of all these bands I like (Iron Maiden! Abba! Electric Church!) for my own good, making a shopping list of CDs I want to get. After some research, there are over 30 CDs on the list! Grief! Orange Goblin! Sunn (0)))! The first Butthole Surfers album! Thrones! Down! Jandek! Mastodon! Monster Magnet! Corrupted! Boris! The Obsessed! Saint Vitus! Swans! Neurosis! Urghhh… April March doesn’t really fall in that list, though, but it’s fun in a geeky, silly way.

DVD review

“The Prisoner” – I had a lot of fun watching this strange series, although nothing could really prepare me for the final, disturbing episode of this series. But watching this has proved to me that the people who produced the series were the real forces behind El Topo, Blade Runner, and much of David Lynch’s world. Also the strange “I… I… I…” Ozzy says at the beginning of “Crazy Train” seems to be yet another Prisoner reference from the world of heavy metal (Iron Maiden sings a few songs about the Prisoner TV series). Another episode, “The Girl Whow Was Death” shows Number Six in swinging London tracking down a female assassin who likes replacing cricket balls with hand grenades. Interesting use of candles – they emit cyanide smoke and will explode if extinquished!?!? He drinks his beer and sees at the bottom of the glass the words “you… have… been… poisoned.” Drinks a shot of everything they have at the bar, “sir, you’ll make yourself sick.” Exactly. Nice rocket – we’ll see that one again in the final episode. Very strange.

Back in the Saddle

Sunday, May 6th, 2007

Another decent week, another fun weekend. Last week was a busy one – Monday I went to Bangkok for a day and did four interviews, Tuesday we had a holiday and I took Zen and Naoko to watch Spider-man 3, Wednesday I did a Japanese test, and Friday I went to Japanese lessons again. Whew! Friday my CDs came from Amazon, so I stayed up late listening to the CDs and watching the DVDs that came with them.

Saturday I did stuff near the home and took Zen to the doctor – his persistent runny nose is getting us down. Turns out he didn’t need anything. Went home, slept, wrote in my novel, surfed the internet, read music reviews on, went to Rail Mall, ate a crappy surf ‘n’ turf dinner, watched the train roll by, went home, wrote at my novel till 2:00 AM. Sunday we woke up at 8:00, went to the botanical garden to eat brunch with Ai-Ling, who we haven’t seen for months and months, went to Wheelock Place to buy glasses for me, took a cab home, napped, went to find playmates for Zen, found Nawi, went to see the Malaysia train in her mum’s car, and that was it – the weekend was over.

Had a great day at work today – wrote three articles and got another major task accomplished. I don’t remember the last time I was this productive. Now watch as I write another 1000 words for my novel, ha hah!

Zen and I were playing “pull my finger” and doing farts today. Zen asked me to pull his finger, but there was no sound. Zen said “oh, it is already gone. The fart didn’t listen to me. Fart has no eyes. And a fart has no ears. And a fart has no fingers and hands.” Quite a bizarre conversations.

Zen was really good today. He gave Naoko a sweet kiss and said “mama, I love you so much, I will draw you a book for mother’s day, it has a big heart in it.”

He also suprised me by taking a sudden interest in reading. He’s only five, so his reading’s not the best, although some kids in school are already reading well (while others can’t read a word). I encourage Zen to read easy words in the books I read to him, or give him super-easy books with three-letter words in it to read. He reads very reluctancly, whines that it’s too hard. Tonight at bath time I brought up the subject of reading, he whined again, but when we got to bed time and reading time, he had a complete change of heart and said “papa papa papa, I want to read the difficult book. You can read the easy book.” That was a change. He read, with my help, one of the two pages he set out to do, but seemed to be losing steam. I asked him if he wanted to go to sleep, he said “no, I want to read two pages.” What a hero!

Low: “A Lifetime of Temporary Relief” – Nagisa Nite always struck me as such a unique band, I never thought that there’d ever be anybody who’d match their bare, spare, gorgeous songs. Well, Low is as close as it will probably ever come to that band. Sure, Alan Sparhawk’s voice is not as soothing as Shibayama’s, but Mimi Taylor’s makes up for it by being a million times more musical than Masako’s. Same slow drums, mellow acoustic strums, and same juxtapositions of jarring feedback building up from time to time. A Lifetime of Temporary Relief is a fantastic collection – three CDs of great music, and a double-sided DVD with three documentaries and 11 videos. Great. Low’s original songs are all fantatstic, although they might start to sound the same after a while. Looking at the eclectic list of covers that are on offer is also intereting – “I Started A Joke” could be cheezy, but when Mimi does all of the singing she turns it into something really beautiful. Alan sings George Harrison’s “Long Long Long” in falsetto at a snail’s crawl also very nice. There are two covers of band I am not really familiar with – Spaceman 3 and Soul Coughing – so I can’t really comment on these. The John Denver cover “Back Home Again” is, again, sung by Mimi and it’s really beautiful – nearly a capella, as it’s just her voice accompanied by organ. The cover of the Beach Boys’ “Surfer Girl” is also very nice – Alan singing it with Mimi doing harmony. Blowin’ in the Wind is too familiar to sound very good with the Low treatment. The cover of Journey’s “Open Arm” is quite faithful, and unfortunately Alan is no Steve Perry – he does a pretty decent imitation, but warbles a bit at one point and also starts to laugh near the end. A pity – he nearly had it (if that’s what he intended). The Tom T. Hall song “…I Love” is sweet, sung by Mimi, while the cover of a Jandek song is nearly incomprehensible. It’s deliver is, however, terrifying. They also do a cover of “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me,” one of my least favourite Smiths songs, and they don’t really win me over with their spare version, sung by Alan. Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” is a winner, however. But, as Alan notes in the liner notes, it would be hard to do a BAD version of this song. One of the interesting things that they do here is the two “Misfits” songs that they do, which means that they do a Low song in the style of the Misfits, which means horrid recording quality, busted up fast, aggressive, quick 1-2-3-4- intro, and quick fuzzed out chords, with singalong choruses. DVD. The accompanying video is really great. There is a documentary on the recording of Trust, that shows a band doing single tracks, like the bass for “Canada” without any of the backing tracks, for instance. There’s also a documentary for the “In the Fishtank” recording that they did with the Dirty Three that is fun, as well as a one hour fly on the wall video that shows the band at home and on the road. John Waters appears, praising the band. Alan does most of the talking (babbling), with Mimi offering the occasional reluctant statement, and Zack only speaks up once. Alan strikes me as a bit wry, not entirely humorless but overall a bit too serious and quite frustrated overall. Interesting quotes, though: “It’s almost impossible to say ‘I love you’ with just music.” At one pont he says to his French audience “I don’t know any French jokes, but I’ll try,” then proceeds to say 10 words of French, then five words of German. Great version of “You are my Sunshine,” otherwise known as the saddest song ever written. The eleven videos are good, many of them highlight the “minus twenty” feel of some of this Minessota band’s songs. One is frocen and oceanic, one is in a vagina-like pink walled mansion with an “and the band played on” Titanic feeling to it. In another they are playing in a room that is self-destructing! “Looking out for hope” is in memory of Raymond Carver, and may be one of his short stories narrated, I’m not sure. in “Boat to Everest” they finally do what I suspected that they might – take one of their ultra slow songs and film an ultra fast video for it.

Nico the End
Nico: “The End” – I had this album in my iPod and listened to it every day for a week on my commute. I can’t quite figure out exactly what Dave Thompson was writing about at when he wrote a really over-the-top review of the album, but it is a great, strange, surreal, avant garde recording, and it does a strange cover version of “The End.” Hearing Nico on the Velvet Underground album is nice, as is the Chelsea Girl CD, or Elliott Smith’s cover version of Jackson Browne’s “These Days”, which se sang on Chelsea Girl “It Has Not Taken Long” is pure eccentricity, its strange percussion, the droning harmonium, and Nico’s matchlessly creepy voice all paints a freaky picture. “Secret Side” may be the best song on the album, although it is filled with Brian Eno’s strange electronics and keyboards, but Nico’s vocals are, again, superb. “You Forgot to Answer” is supposedly about the last time she saw Jim Morrison, which the review says was on the day he died, but it’s not easy to tell that from the lyrics. “Innocent and Vain” is like listening to Merzbow, except there’s Nico trying to wade through Eno’s noise, sound effects as she finall starts to sing, accompanying her spooky harmonium. “Valley of the King” really focusses on her vocals, although the drone is quite hypnotizing. “We’ve Got the Gold” is a bit same-samey. “The End” is that well-known song by the Doors, and it takes a bit of getting used to. “Das Lied Der Deutschen” is the German national anthem from before 1945, so take that whatever way you like, but she does a pretty version of it. There’s been some dispute over where she was born – some say Hungary, others Germany.

Final 3
Final: “3″ – Strange ambient music that has a bit of that gloomy sound that comes from Justin Broadrick’s downtuned guitar. Love this stuff on principle, but not all of the tracks on this release are very interesting, unfortunately…

A3 Power in the Blood
Alabama 3 Power in the Blood
A3/Alabama 3: “Power in the Blood” - the band that is best known for doing the “Woke up this Morning” song for the Sopranos. Called Alabama 3 in their native U.K., had to change their name to A3 in the U.S. when country act Alabama put up resistance. While their first album is a lot of fun, with funky songs like “Mao Tse-tung Said” and “You don’t dance to Techno Any More,” this one is a little less memorable. Nevertheless, some of the songs are well produced and funky. Nearly every other song is a short number that seems to connect “main” songs, and one of them is a rambling version of “Badlands,” which is probably my favourite Bruce Springsteen song. Opening song “Two Heads” is really funny, then it kicks into “Power in the Blood” and all sorts of stompin’ hootenanny. “Year Zero” is under-produced, silky voices, with the lyric “every winner is a villain, every loser is a hero.” Talking tautologies now. Correct pronounciation of Ibiza, but it won’t save “The Devil Went Down To Ibiza.” Hubert Selby Jr. does a spoken word intro to “The Moon Has Lost the Sun,” a so-so song (but nice to hear his voice nonetheless).

Cowboy Junkies
Cowboy Junkies: “Open” -Cowboy Junkies used to be a fairly acoustic band, but on Pale Sun, Crescent Moon they started doing distortion. Now it’s become a pretty regular thing for them. Open was released six or seven years ago, sounds a bit bland. No unusual covers any more. These songs probably go over all right live I’d bet… Nonetheless songs like “Upon Still Waters” do retain some of the magic. Some sort of a strange Velvet Underground vibe happening here. Heavy drums in the mix. Weird organ. “Dark Hole Again” positively electrifyingly gloomy and bluesy. “Thousand Year Prayer” is one of those mellow magical song, yet somehow with its piano it sounds like another band altogether. “Small Swift Birds” is sweet with organ sounds. “Beneath the Gate” also sweet. “Close My Eyes” has more piano. What’s going on?!?

Zen playing with his good buddy Kai
Zen and Kai

Although it is back-lit, this is a pretty interesting picture of me taken by Zen at 111 cm.
Peter by Zen

A great pic of Zen at the gateway of the Botanical Garden in Singapore
Zen in botanical garden

Zen and Naoko at the gateway of the Botanical Garden in Singapore
Zen and Naoko

This might be my favourite picture of myself, taken by Zen at the gateway of the Botanical Garden in Singapore
Peter by Zen

Naoko and Zen and Ai-Ling eating brunch at the Botanical Garden in Singapore. That big brown thing is a roll of paper-thin tossai, a type of Indian pancake
Naoko and Zen and Ai-Ling

Zen, Ai-Ling, and Thomas the Tank Engine
Zen and Ai-Ling

One of Zen’s atmospheric shots of the apartment, taken late afternoon of Sunday, 06 May, 2007
bedroom window, by Zen

Back from Bangkok

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007


Had an interesting week last week, with meetings and other stuff. On Friday night I went out for drinks with some colleagues, which was nice. Nice talk, good music, fun movie chat, music, bands, all sorts of good things. A bit of a hangover the next morning, but no big deal really…
Saturday was fun. Zen and I went downtown along the path I always take to work, which is a bus and a train, and got out at my usual work metro station. Walked over to the rail station for the Malaysia train system to check out trains. I called up my boss, who came out to spend some time with us. He explained various things about the trains, and we got some food and talked about stuff. Nice, chilled out morning, and Zen got to see two trains arrive and one train pull out, as well as some shunting action. Took a cab back and napped. I spent the afternoon chilling out, napping, doing errands, whatever. Sunday I mostly spend preparing for my business trip, some nervousness because I don’t know how it will go.

Monday I got up at 4:00 AM, took a taxi at 4:30, got to the budget terminal at 5:00 and checked in. Had some breakfast. I was probably the only business traveler in the whole place, as it was mainly young Singaporean travellers, and the odd hairy Westerner. Flew off to Bangkok, napped on the way, got to the airport early and headed over to the cabs, jumped in. It was 8:00. Got going to my first interview, traffic was slow because it had been raining. Got there at 9:35, five minutes late. But the guy I was interviewing was late too! The rest of the day was a blur – one interview, jump in a cab to the next interview, arrive late, jump in the cab for the next interview, arrive early, jump into the cab for the fourth interview, arrive early. They were all interesting in one way or anther, and I saw a bunch of interesting bank headquarters. One was a gleaming complex, two were gleaming towers, and one was a refurbished classic building. Very nice. One of the spots was near where the Chao Phrya river makes a severe bend like an “S”, creating a sort of peninsula. From the upper floors, I could see the peninsula clearly, it was mainly jungle with a few small structures. Weird to have something like that so close to the city. The bank HQ itself was interesting, flanked on one side by a skeleton of a highrise abandoned in mid-construction in the crash of 1997, and on the other side posh new condo developments. Funny how times change. After the last interview I got a lift to the airport in a nice car, very cozy. Relaxed with some beers and caught the scenery. No traffic, the car zipped along, and I was at the airport at 5:30 for my 8:20 flight. A breeze… Unfortunately, the airline counter hadn’t opened yet, and the long queue was a disaster. 7:10 I got my boarding passes, and had listened through the Isis and Iron Maiden songs that I had packed into my iPod. Torture. Went to the boarding area, had dinner, bought beers, flew back to Singapore, got there a little after schedule – 11:50 instead of 11:30. Got through customs lickety split nonetheless, jumped in a cab, got back at 12:30, turned on the computer and did stuff until 2:30.

Today we got up early and went to the local mall to watch Spiderman 3, it opened in Singapore today. Got there before the gates opened, were among the first to get tickets, watched at 10:15. The movie’s not bad, but not as good as the first two for various reasons. Ate lunch at Burger King, got the Burger King Spiderman 3 toy, then came back home and did errands, fiddled around on the computer, hung out.

IMCD Review: Iron Maiden “A Matter of Life and Death” – I lost track of Iron Maiden some time in the late ’90s with the “Somewhere In Time Album,” but when I read the reviews that the recent album is a return to the classic sound of the “Piece of Mind” album I was entrigued, not to mention the fact that this release comes with a bonus DVD (I’m a sucker for bonus video). Listening to the heavy riffs, the melodic acoustic riffs, the weird squeaky effects of two guitars playing simultaneously but one a half note off from the other (I think this is what they do) is comfortable and familiar and good fun in fact. Not that this album has a song as good as “Flight of Icarus,” nor any cool literary tracks that crack the world of Frank Herbert, Alan Silitoe, or even H.P. Lovecraft, no songs about the Prisoner, no continuation of the Charlotte the Harlot saga, but lots of good clean riffs that remind us that in some worlds it’s still 1984. After this, I got checking out some old Iron Maiden stuff, and found out about a female cover band The Iron Maidens, who cover the songs. Seems like more good, goofy fun. I’ve also been looking into the legend of Eddie the Head stuff through the Wikipedia, as well as the website of Derek Riggs, the guy who created the character and did a bunch of album art for the band. I haven’t checked out the DVD much yet, although the accompanying video for the Reioncarnation of Benjamin Bregg is uninspiring, as is the accompanying photo gallery.
SM3Movie Review: “Spider-man 3″ – We don’t get out to see movies much these days, but when it’s something that Zen can get into we all try to go. May 1st is a national holiday in Singapore, so it was a good thing to do. The film is okay, a bit long, lagging at times with drama. Some sillness, often in inappropriate places (one goofy stunt climaxes at a point of heartbreak for Peter). The movie introduces three villains, but the only one that is dealt with in a satisfactory way is Venom, who’s genuinely scary. For fans of the comic book, it is even more revisionistic than either of the other two, as is made clear by introducing Gwen Stacey. Unfortunately, the character, even in a new form, is not used to its potential, nor is Sandman – interesting points are introduced, but not developed. Another quibble – too much CG! I can’t get used to these computerised sets that look like video games. Like the subway system that Spiderman fights Sandman in looks like the mines of Saruman from the Fellowship of the Ring. Nutty – didn’t know that there was so much space to manoeuver down there.