Albums of the week

Guitar-led rock still a force in Singapore independent music scene

Home-grown rock band Cashew Chemists (above) will perform at the Laneway music festival on Jan 30.
Home-grown rock band Cashew Chemists (above) will perform at the Laneway music festival on Jan 30.PHOTO: CASHEW CHEMISTS

Cashew Chemists, Stopgap and No Pantz deliver solid home-grown releases

The big news in the music world in the past week might be The Beatles' hallowed discography finally being made available on streaming services.

The fact that their classics are generating millions of streams in the first couple of days alone proves that guitar groups have definitely never been on the way out.

Here we are half a century later: Guitar-led rock is still a formidable force, especially in the home-grown independent music scene.

Cashew Chemists, who are among the three Singapore acts set to perform on Jan 30 at indie music festival Laneway at Gardens by the Bay, are back with an expanded line-up and a new EP.

  • ROCK 'N' ROLL/POWER POP

    PREVIOUSLY ON... CASHEW CHEMISTS

    Cashew Chemists

    Self-released

    4/5 stars

  • INDIE ROCK

    TOTEMS

    Stopgap

    Self-released

    3.5/5 stars

  • PUNK ROCK/GARAGE ROCK

    NO PANTZ

    No Pantz

    Self-released

    3.5/5 stars

Featuring a new guitarist, Ulrich Chia (the band's third), the tunes on Previously On... Cashew Chemists are sprightly and breezy, showcasing their knack for irrepressible melodies and earworm hooks.

So sunny is their music that you tend to overlook the morose lyrics. Behind the sparkly guitars and retro drumbeats, frontman Yuji Kumagai sings of heartbreak and loss. "It's hard to feel amazing/Hard to keep on walking when you're gone," he croons longingly on Feel Amazing.

There are more than a couple of obvious nods to the early Beatles, most noticeably in the multi-part harmonies and melodic progressions found on all four tracks. Cashew Chemists seem to have found the right formula for catchy, classic rock 'n' roll songcraft.

Stopgap, winner of the National Arts Council's Noise Singapore music prize in 2013, also employ the basic guitar-bass-drum formula, albeit in a form that takes inspiration from the past couple of decades. Imagine a less mopey version of the early works of The Strokes, with jangly guitars going up against post-punk grooves and the occasional Afro-pop touches.

Singer Adin Kindermann has a unique and easily distinguishable voice, whether it's in an enthusiastic call-to-arms on Crossing Swords ("Say it now, say it loud, say it like you're proud") or vividly narrating his anxieties on Nervous ("Stage right is scary/I'm afraid it might eat me/Chew me and spit out my bones").

There's a nagging feeling that they are still working to firm up their identity, flirting with different styles throughout their debut album. However, there's hardly time for them to indulge in self-contemplation because the ebullient rhythms are just too bouncy and the energy throughout the nine tracks does not let up.

When it comes to raw, unadulterated rock, all-female punk quartet No Pantz knock it out of the park. Taking the rough-hewn, minimal punk of 1970s era Ramones with Bikini Kill-style, riot grrrl aesthetics from the 1990s, they provide plenty of fists-in-the-air moments and gang chants galore in the three tracks on their debut EP.

The lyrics are often bizarre and idiosyncratic. On HDB Love Song, which features guest vocals from alternative music guru X'ho, main singer Amanda Keisha Ang spouts lines that embody the uniquely Singapore romance: "Hey boy why don't you take the next phase of life with me?/We'll count all the funds we got and go see the HDB/We've been dating for a while so it's only natural/We'll fill out every form, it's gonna be magickal!"

Short, sharp and sweet, No Pantz's off-the-wall offerings released on Christmas Day last week nicely cap an exceptionally prolific year of solid home-grown releases.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2015, with the headline 'Singapore groups rock'. Print Edition | Subscribe