Our Top Picks this week - featuring a beautiful orchestral version of a St Vincent ballad, a groovy profession of love by resident soul maestro Tim De Cotta, and minimalist guitar sketches from Subsonic Eye leader Daniel Borces.
St Vincent (feat. Yoshiki)
In an unexpected collaboration between St Vincent (AKA Anne Clark) and Yoshiki of X Japan fame, the pair revisit standout track New York off her critically acclaimed 2017 art pop album MASSEDUCTION in a classical orchestral reimagining of the song.
Yoshiki’s takes the idiosyncratic elements of the original song and rearranges it into an extremely befitting orchestral ballad, retaining the song’s most memorable motifs and its emotional core. In stark contrast to the simple keys, synth embellishments and driving bass drum of original, Yoshiki’s take feels more reserved and deliberate, yet a whole lot bigger, introducing pleasantly dynamic piano arrangements paired with swelling strings. Clark’s vocal performance and lyrics still impresses and resonates as well as it did those 3 years ago. An emotional tribute to the loss of David Bowie and Leonard Cohen in 2016, the song can also be interpreted as a beautiful, rousing heartbreak ballad in its own right (“I have lost a hero/ I have lost a friend/ But for you, darling/ I’d do it all again”).
With all her recent collaborations (such as production work on Sleater-Kinney’s The Centre Won’t Hold and a remix album headed by Russian DJ and producer Nina Kraviz), and such an off the wall collaboration with Yoshiki working so well, it’s an exciting thought to wonder who else Clark will collaborate with in the near future.
Listen to "New York" here:
- - by Isaac Yackem
Tim De Cotta (feat. Ghetti)
"When I Met You"
Heart Matter EP
Coming fresh off his first single, the funk-tinted cautionary tale of infidelity Lying Eyes, When I Met You is Tim De Cotta’s second single in anticipation of his upcoming Heart Matter EP. Deceivingly simple and groovy to no end, De Cotta wears his heart on his sleeve in an ode to the love of his life, his wife Joan.
Starting with a contemplative guitar loop on the verse, De Cotta masterfully builds upon it before taking it to a groovy, ethereal chorus. In what almost seems like a hip-hop beatmaker’s approach, De Cotta takes advantage of the track’s minimalist structure to play with creative layers and textures as it goes along. De Cotta weaves in a touchingly earnest and endearing narrative about about love at first sight. (“When I met you/ I knew/ I just knew”)
When I Met You’s understated Dilla-esque drums might seem skeletal at first, but work incredibly well as the track starts to tastefully layer its thumping kick, phaser-laced hi-hats, convivial claps, and minimalist tom fills all together. De Cotta’s renowned bass chops takes the backseat, besides a trippy envelope filtered motif on the second verse, he opts only for a simple groove to drive the chorus that allow his vocals to take centre stage. With De Cotta’s lush production choices, the atmospheric backing vocals also help the song’s chorus to truly soar. Keyboardist NAztyKeys also contributes to the track in the form of a delightful arrangement on the keys prior to Ghetti’s rap outro.
Lyrically, When I Met You doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel and fits squarely into what you’d expect from a love song (“The first time I saw your face/ Was the first time I fell from grace/ The first time I caught your eye/ Never knew I could feel so high”), but De Cotta’s tender vocal performance in a heartfelt testament professing his love makes it just work. Featured rapper Ghetti’s verse towards at the end of the song is an impressive feat of improvisation that adds tons of character to the track, albeit feeling a little disjointed at times due to the inherent nature of freestyle verses.
If Lying Eyes didn’t already get funk and soul fans excited for De Cotta’s Heart Matter EP, a close listen to When I Met You would surely get the job done.
- - by Isaac Yackem
The mastermind behind Subsonic Eye’s shimmering dream pop, Daniel Borces has easily become one of Singapore’s most distinctive songwriters, inspiring legions of soft-boy friendly clones to flourish in their immediate Middle Class Cigars legacy. On this solo effort however, the frontman takes a bite-sized left turn – and unlike fellow bandmate Jared Lim’s radiant electronic forays as jorud, Borces trades in maximalist haze for a stripped down exercise in guitar counterpoint.
It's pretty zen. Here, Borces paints with his Jazzmaster alone, enshrouded by neither pedal chains nor digital splendour. Wiry, dry-signalled riffs are all these five minute-long minimalist sketches contain, but yet even without the reverb, his open voicings ensure a hypnotic dynamism throughout these pieces – most obvious when his pieces indulge in wide chord strokes. “Waking Up” climbs gliding tremolo-bar affectations to a blissful harmonic, while “Passing Of Time”’ revels in its drone-happy progressions, as refreshing hints of dissonance underpin the chiming layers.
Excitingly at times, defined structure also wriggles its way into the sketches. Of these, “Morning Jog” is the most fully formed, with its Sonic Youth-ian energy begging for a Steve Shelley backbeat to anchor it. Playing his lines with a vigorous attack, it sounds itself like a song barely contained within its skeletal shell, ready to break free at the slightest hint of a drum kit. “Yellow Lamp” closes the collection by wandering into emo-esque tonalities – but the midwest noodling doesn’t exactly blend well with the other tracks, nor does it make a piece more engaging than the previous four.
But even with the minor dud, the constant interplay between his guitar figures (benefitted by the raw multi-tracking and a tasteful single-coil tone) ensure that these pieces never fade into the background. “11am to 9pm” is probably the most engaging study of this counterpoint, as carefully picked lines interlock and disengage at alternating turns, with their minor differences between channels unraveling with tension, building, looping and cascading one over another. From a surface level, the sonics of these intersections recall Glenn Branca's minimalist firestorms and Reich-like phasing, but they never reach the towering magnificence or complexity of their works – rather they meander and just stay as pretty guitar exercises.
Ultimately, the pieces that make up Meditations 1 are harmonically interesting studies, but they don’t stay long enough to make a significant impact, something perhaps inevitable with their brief runtimes. Then again, these pieces don’t need to be magnificent. After all, these meditations serve a purpose beyond their being songs – as just a chill side project, yes, but also as templates, snapshots, a journal documenting an evolution in progress.
Perhaps, it’s also foreshadowing. Already amongst Singapore indie rock’s leading lights, these nine minutes might be a dawning hint of a new chapter for Subsonic Eye – one moving away from textured sonic abstraction, to intricately-layered rock immediacy. The idea of a new Subsonic Eye? We can only wait, excited.
- - by JX Soo