Monday, March 18, 2013

Here's to a Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence

Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence

I've never watched the movie. Nor do I plan to watch it anytime soon. 
But I know the premise of it which is set in the World War 2, Japanese occupation period. Amongst the more interesting facts of the movie was that it starred David Bowie (Mr Ziggy Stardust himself) and a composer known as Ryuichi Sakamoto. 

Impressively, Mr Sakamoto is also an activist, a composer, a record producer, a writer, a singer, a pianist, and an actor. From my reading of wikipedia over his achievements, I understand that he is pretty experimental in music as well. 

He composed the theme for the movie Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence entitled "Forbidden Colours". Over time, the title of the song eventually became Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence

When I first heard the song, I thought it was one of the most beautiful oriental pieces ever written. It is a mellow tune, where the intro starts of rather softly, the same 3 notes over and over a few bars until the melody begins. There is much variation to it but the same continues until it reaches the bridge, where you get the same melodic sequence but in a heightened and climatic fashion. 

Now I'm not too fond of the original score with David Sylvian in vocals. I very much preferred the song without the lyrics sung. So I shall not post the same herein. 

But here is perhaps the original score in the movie. And yes, the young Japanese bloke in it is Mr Sakamoto himself. 

Now this is the lone piano version of the song which is also beautiful in its way. 

And this is another beautiful version of the same, played by Ryuichi Sakamoto himself and Everton Nelson on violin and Jacques Morelenbaum on cello. Equally as beautiful. 

The song would not be complete without a guitar version of it. And the best guitar version I was able to find on the internet is the one below. Sakamoto on piano, but only playing a supporting role and Kaori Muraji (a finger-style guitar artiste in her own right) on guitars. I am still trying my hand to play the song, but I'm stuck in the intro. Perhaps with great will and might, I 'might' be able to play the song one day. But below is the beautiful guitar version of it. 

And just when you thought that the song already has its share of versions, then there is the pop version. Utada Hikaru mixes it up with some pop sensibilities and makes the song sound good in an RnB fashion. I like it. It's not usual for me to like remixes, but this is far from a remix and may stand as an RnB song on it's own right. 

So by now, you would probably guess that in writing this blogpost, I would looped all the above versions of Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. Bored do I get? I assure you not. I'm in love with this song, and perhaps I will keep looking for the different variations of this song. 

In case you are fed up of this song already, Ryuichi Sakamoto was also the composer for The Last Emperor. I remember as a kid, I found the movie to be slow and boring, but had a good impression of the music in the movie. Of course when I watched The Last Emperor much later in life, I found the movie to be a beautifully directed movie by Bernardo Bertolucci and it's victory as the best movie of 1987 was quite fitting. My impression of the music however was further fortified. 

So Ieave you with two haunting tracks from The Last Emperor perhaps evidencing the brilliance of Mr Sakamoto as a musician. Take the time to listen to these beautiful tracks. I keep saying beautiful, because that's as plain as it can get. Beautiful.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I Dare You to Move

Sure, Switchfoot plays really melodic tunes and sometimes hinge on the emo-rock / pop rock genre.Nevertheless Switchfoot continues to write positive and affirming lyrics and their songs are pretty down to earth, resonating on every day issues that the everyday man (or woman) encounters. They are a band of Christians, and not a Christian band and thus their music appeals even to the secular market to which people from all walks of faith could enjoy. They are a great live act as well.
And it is this song that I share today, is a song which has been held closely in my heart for many years, ever since I first heard it and fell in love with it.

It is not just an anthemic tune, but a song of hope, a song of encouragement. To lift our spirits and challenge us to rise above the obstacles ahead of us. I'm pretty sure that the lyrics have some connotations on faith and with God, we know all things are possible and we can overcome them. But for that assistance, we must perhaps take the first step towards recognizing it and from that recognition, to move towards His assistance to overcome the everyday obstacles which are constantly ahead of us.

We all have our own disappointments. Because we live in a world so full of diversity and a world of choices, we are sometimes left feeling disappointed when our expectations are not met due to the actions or choices of the people around us. As much as there is beauty in diversity and choice, therein lies too the tensions it creates and this is also very real to us. 

From this disappointment, what then do we do? Do we continue to wallow in self pity and blame the rest of the world for our circumstances? Or do we dare ourselves to rise above the occasion and prove our detractors wrong?

Only recently I have encountered events that were painful and disappointing afflicted no less by the people around me, some of whom I had the pleasure of working for and some who were as close to me as brothers come. 

From conversations with a friend of mine, I came to understood that I was a 'marked man' in my old workplace, something which perhaps denote a more sinister and negative remark as an employee. The firm which I have toiled day and night, made me a marked man some time ago only confirming my suspicions of the treatment I perhaps have received during those times. And they were only confirmed by an outsider after I had decided to leave the firm. I resigned.

And also recently, despite several on going discussions with a good friend of mine and getting my hopes up on starting afresh, certain issues couldn't be 'resolved'. This fresh start that I had hoped for didn't work out. Finding out the reasons of why it 'may' not work out made it even more painful. Due to choices which were made. Due to the diversity of expectations from the both of us. I understood his points and respected them. Nevertheless, the painful feeling of disappointment was very much as real and was never any less.

I decided that despite all these happenings, no bridges need be burned. In fact, it would be wise not to burn any bridges, for there will come a day where we would cross them once more. But for now, I understood that there won't be any crossings. Not for the interim period. 

Despite all these recent disappointments in life, the only way out of it, is to pick myself up and continue this journey. Afterall, these are merely bumps ahead of a long journey ahead. 

These are the many disappointments that you and I will perhaps encounter. Rejection from the powers that be. 
The hurtful actions of the people who are close to you. 
Perhaps unrequited affection towards another. 
Or issues that we knew needed to be dealt with at some point of time but were not dealt with due to the fear of failure.
Or that we sometimes think we are any less worthy in the eyes of other people. 

I believe we can overcome these disappointments or hurdles if we allow ourselves to. 

We will always be in the scrutinizing of eyes of people. 
We will always be judged by people unfairly whether we like it or not. 
But we can always choose to rise above these judgments and disappointments .
And for that to happen, we first need to move. 
To pick ourselves up. Like today never happened. 

And the song I share today, shall be a challenge to readers out there who need to take that step. Enjoy the lyrics and perhaps let it sink it. 

I dare you to move. As I dared myself to move.


Welcome to the Planet
Welcome to existence
Everyone's here
Everyone's here
Everybody's watching you now
Everybody waits for you now

What happens next
What happens next

I dare you to move
I dare you to move
I dare you to lift youself up off the floor
I dare you to move
I dare you to move 
Like today never happened
Today never happened before

Welcome to the fallout
Welcome to resistance
The tension is here
The tension is here
Between who you are and who you could be
Between how it is and how it should be

I dare you to move
I dare you to move
I dare you to lift yourself up off the floor
I dare you to move
I dare you to move 
Like today never happened
Today never happened before

Maybe redemption has stories to tell
Maybe forgiveness is right where you fell
Where can you run to escape from yourself?
Where you gonna go? Where you gonna go? 
Salvation is here

I dare you to move
I dare you to move
I dare you to lift yourself up off the floor
I dare you to move
I dare you to move 
Like today never happened
Today never happened
Today never happened
Today never happened before.

The follies of our youth

We were once young and foolish....

These days, we are just foolish.......

Pax Automata - Progressively Great

This is has been long overdue. At least for me.
In the never-ending search for great Malaysian music (and I don't mean the likes of Siti Nurhaliza or Search), I have noted some in an old post of mine. Click here for results. 

Tempered Mental is perhaps my favourite Malaysian band. 
Their EP or their debut was mind blowing as for the first time, I witness a bass playing lady with the ability to scale and run the bass while keeping melody with her singing. It is already difficult for me to sing while plucking the guitar, what more the scaling the bass the way she does? The EP cemented their credibility as Malaysia's most exciting band, in my books. 

Their full album, The View From Here was a powerful album and it had musical gems like Space and Simple. Crunching riffs, progressive melodies and drumming which is mis-timed to perfection with it's odd time signature. I wouldn't be surprised if they cite Tool, Rush or perhaps even Dream Theatre as their influences. Let's put it this way, this trio of Melina William, Jimmy Tan and Jack Lian are as technicaly gifted as they are melodically. 

I waited with bated breathe for Pax Automata, their latest release. 
With some peeps of mine, we ventured into The Bee in Publika for the release and gig. 
What we witnessed that night was a soundscape of epic proportions. The band started off with Automata which is their first single and it blew our minds. Not only were they tight in composure, the energy was electrifying! The first thing my friend said to me was, "Damn they are tight!"

Well anyway, this posts isn't so much about the gig as I didn't knew the title of the songs, but was drowned in musical awesomeness. It is their album which I will review. I bought the album even before the gig had begun, thus perhaps showing that I trusted that the album would not disappoint. Heck, even if it was disappointing, I'm sure it would have topped any album from any local artist all the same. 
Below is a review of some of the tracks of the album:-

Automata  - The first song introduces the entire mood for the album. With an explosive riff for an intro with technical guitar sensibilities, the tempo of the song remains consistent throughout. This is easily my favourite track of the entire album as we have not 1 guitar solos but 3 guitar solos and a chugging bridge. The chorus is pretty interesting as within the standard 4 bar chorus, the first two bars show a minor progression while the last two bars shifts from minor to a major progression (please correct me if I am wrong). And this is only the first song, setting the progressive rock tone which would be evident throughout the entire album. 

And Stay Out - This song, unlike the former, starts of rather slowly, building to its climax from the pre-chorus to the bridge. Once again the change in progression is noted. By the time the bridge is played towards the ending, it would have seemed like an entire different song altogether. Another chugging bridge to savour. 

Break starts off with a pretty interesting intro, a dual attack of bass and guitar riffs without the usual distortion, which eventually forms the pre-chorus. There is a full guitar attack during the, well, guitar solo. Very Dream Theatre-ish. 

Run is perhaps a rather fun tune. Or starting of as a fun tune, with its drumming which is reminiscent to Paramore's That's What You Get. But that's as friendly as it gets as the song takes a turn for a more sinister melody at the turn of the bridge, before reverting once again to the friendliness of the introductory tune. Radio friendly perhaps, but a great tune nevertheless. 

Matilda - This song starts of strongly with its heavy drumming, guitar riffing and bass pounding. A heavy start which gradually settles to a more sombre verses before building up at the pre-chorus and then finally unleashing an assault of sound at the chorus. This goes on for a good deal of time, before the bridge is played. The bridge sounds somewhat different with its raggae drum beat and running bassline and eventually it ends in the same heavy way as it had started. This would be my 2nd favourite track of all and one that I would love to drum for due to its 4 different parts. This is would be a good example of progressive rock with 4 different parts combined into one rocking song. 

Sleep - Not a favorite track of mine as the songs is relatively straightforward. I only fancied the pre-chorus. Not really a filler, as the track is still a good one. Just not my favourite. 

Be - This is a good example of a song which starts of slow and sombre. And it gradually builds without with steady progression unlike some of the earlier songs and it ends heavily with some melodic chaos. Kind of like Live's Dam At Otter Creek which starts of slow and light and ends heavy. 

Ants is reminiscent to their track from their debut full album, entitled Cold. Also a moody track and perhaps one that is lyrically catchy and perhaps sinister all throughout. The guitar solo at the bridge is one which is chaotic and very Soundgarden-ish. Wait, heavier than Soundgarden's solos I would say. 

Fight is another good song. It starts with a pumped up intro. You will notice the evident bass slapping with its catchy bassline. The song is pretty straight up rock save for the guitar solo which transcends from a drumming beat of 8/4 to a 4/4 beat and then back to it's original 8/4 beat. 

Cocooon - Now this is a pretty interesting tune. It starts of with a dreamy tune, no thanks to it's dreamy lyrics too. Easily one of my favourite tunes. The song picks up at the second verse and is a song with a steady song with clean guitars. However, the best bit is the variation of the bassline at the final verse or stanza of the song. The bassline is very evident and I love that bit of it which highlights the song for me. 

Blindfold  is a song of well, epic proportions with its beautiful acoustic melodies and subsequent strings. Also starts of as a dreamy tune which transcends into a progressive metal tune. Also easily one of my favourite tunes of the entire album. The guitar solo is very Satriani-isque and sounds very spacey. Something of the Satriani guitar scales perhaps. But as one listens to this tune and wonders how a tune can change from a dream pop song to a metal song, we can only accredit it to the technicalities that Tempered Mental brings in music. This song is perhaps an apt ending and an opus for Pax Automata

There ya go. Wow. Nerver knew I enjoyed doing progressive rock reviews. So many parts to review and not your usual run of the mill stuff. So once again, I deemed Tempered Mental as one of the best Malaysian bands ever. This album not only tops the list of best albums I have ever owned but also takes the local music one ante up. Its not a good follow up to The View from Here. It is a GREAT follow up.

This review is done for the love of great music. Now if only Yuna's new album would costs less than RM85.00, then perhaps I could get my hands on one and do a review......

Till then I leave you with Automata. This video is taken from this link which also dissects the album rather aptly. Credit is given to them and I take no credit in this video. 


Friday, March 1, 2013

GE 13. Are we ready?

In a week's time, 5 years would have passed since the 8th March 2008 political tsunami which saw a massive power shift towards the opposition. 10 years ago, this would have been virtually impossible, and many did not see it coming although anticipation was built up leading towards that day.

We Malaysians know that the time for the 13th General Elections (GE) are near. And we also anticipate that this GE promises to be the dirtiest of them all. 

And in between the 5 years, many things had happened. 
We have seen an opposition state fall back into the hands of BN through dubious means. On a positive note, that incident spurred a need for the nation to understand the Federal Constitution and the Malaysian Bar initiated the Malaysian Bar Constitutional Committee. The object of it was to advance awareness and teach the rakyat, the basics....their fundamental rights under the Federal Constitution. Further fundamental political awareness was brought with the inception of the UndiMsia programme lead by Edmund Bon. 

During the last 5 years we have also seen a change of Prime Ministers when Tun Abdullah Badawi handed over his post as the top man to Najib Tun Razak. it was an imminent move and perhaps one that is gleefully relished by the Prime Minister's wife, Datin Rosmah Mansor. And in the last five years, the First Lady of Malaysia was also birthed. 

We have also seen more deaths in custody, but most infamous of them all, the tragic death of Teoh Beng Hock, the political aide to Ean Yong Hian Wah. Not under police this time, but under the custody of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), did this tragic incident occured. Questions poured out; was it suicide or was Teoh Beng Hock beaten, tortured and then subsequently thrown out from the building onto the pavement many floors below? At the inquest, the court gave an open verdict, which was not conclusive, stating it was neither suicide nor homicide. A Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) was subsequently set up and a team led by the Malaysian Bar Council to question the methods of investigation conducted by the MACC. In the end, the RCI concluded that it was suicide due to the intense pressure of interrogation by the MACC.  However, many of us are still unsatisfied with the findings of the RCI and still believe that Teoh Beng Hock couldn't have killed himself. As of now, no one is responsible for his death and this would forever remain a dark mark in the passages of Malaysian history. 
In any event, the inquiry although a tragic episode, was not without it's lighter moments. 
Below is a video of the inquiry. And not how we have bumbling fools acting as the Federal legal counsels. Enjoy. This is cross examination clip of Dr Pornthip, the Thai pathologist involved in the investigations of the cause of death of Teoh Beng Hock.

We have also seen, within 5 years, 3 massive demonstrations. Acts of expression. Bersih 2.0, Bersih 3.0 and the recent coalition gathering which was housed in the Merdeka Stadium (the demonstration with the biggest turn-up thus far). 

9 July 2011 - Bersih 2.0, the people were still living in fear as the government tried to stamp its hard-line tactics to wield it's authority. STREET DEMONSTRATIONS WERE BANNED! ARREST WAS IMMINENT. TROUBLE WAS IMMINENT. And despite all the warnings, people braved the weather and the barricades and turned up all the same. The people wanted change. The same change that happened 5 years ago. It was a success, although not without casualties and the death of a retired soldier. 

28 April 2012 - Bersih 3.0. Street demonstrations were still not the way to go, so says the government. Still the organizer's venue of choice, Dataran Merdeka was not allowed. The people still gathered and the police geared up their tear gas and batons. What seemed to be a peaceful gathering, later turned out to be euphoria due to some unforeseen circumstances. Perhaps, due to the acts of some unruly protestors, it gave the police more reason to react, even if the reasons are of the slightest in nature. 

12 January 2013 - HImpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat. Ok. I wasn't there. I was having a jolly good time in Genting Highlands. However, I received sources from friends who said that the rally was a success. Given that there are at least 80-90 thousand participants gathering in and out of Stadium Merdeka, this is by far the largest rally ever in Malaysia. And my friend also stated that it was the most boring one. Boring is good. Boring means that the rakyat did not have to face police action or brutality. So, boring is good sometimes. 
And during Chinese New Year, 2013 to be exact, our dear Prime Minister, perhaps due to some really really bad Publicity (PR) advisers, decides to go down the 'cool' route to win the hearts of the people. First a mandarin advertisement on air and then another nonsensical advertisement on TV, playing the chinese drums. Anyway, the TV advertisement is reproduced in this blog for your viewing displeasure. Nonsensical I say? You will get what I mean once you view it. Remember, citizens of Malaysia. You paid for this video....
Also the CNY celebrations in Penang, when the BN government decided to pay RM3,000,000 (me thinks) to get PSY (Mr Gangnam Style) to perform 1 song. That's right. 1 song. I mean its good business for PSY and I think he is an awesome chap. It's just that BN are so desperate to be cool, to blend in with pop culture that they decide to go down this route. Of course, nothing is without any consequence. When the people of Penang were asked if they were ready for PSY, they greeted with a resounding YES! 
When the people of Penang were asked if they were ready for BN, they replied with  a resounding NO! Not once, but 3 effing times!! I' It's like Peter denying Christ  times before the rooster crowed. Anyway the video is posted below for laughs. 
Oh yes, and PSY apparently refused to join in the 'lou sang' festivities with the BN Ministers for being apolitical to the situation herein. GOOD FOR HIM! I shall post his video here too for your viewing pleasure. Come on! What is there not to like about Gangnam style eh?

I'm sorry BN. But votes are not based on pop culture references and CNY adverts and other sweeteners such as book vouchers. Votes are determined on the confidence of people that their representatives in power are able to tackle issues such as poverty, security and safety, policies, more job opportunities, cheaper houses and finding solutions to other problems through understanding the need of the people and to have constant communication with the people to find out that need. BN just never learn now, do they. 

And if security is an issue, we have further seen this in the Kampung Tanduo stand-off in Lahad Datu, when 180 militants who claim to be the Royal Sulu Sultanate Army, took control of Kampung Tanduo. Reason being, to reclaim North Borneo to be part of the Sulu islands. 3 weeks of negotiations went by. In the end, there was bloodshed after negotiations failed and the death toll was 11 people including 2 from the VAT 69 forces who defended Malayia's honour. Our government should look into issues like these when it involves security. After all, this is not the first time that Lahad Datu had been trespassed. Once again, we never learn. 
There are many things more which have happened during the last 5 years. But the above are perhaps the more memorable ones for me.
As I conclude my rant, I hope all you who are Malaysian and are reading this, have registered as a voter and will exercise your vote during the upcoming GE 13. Your vote counts. Each and Every one of you count for the country. Don't let anyone else or your own doubts tell you otherwise. As we await the news for the dissolution of Parliament, let me just assure you that there will be more exciting events in the days to come.
I know who I am going to vote. Do you? 
GE 13. Are you ready?