Back in the Saddle

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

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