Album reviews: Taufik returns with a bang, Thom Yorke does his own thing

Thom Yorke rolls out his brand of electronica. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF THOM YORKE
Thom Yorke rolls out his brand of electronica. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF THOM YORKE
Taufik Batisah’s latest album, Fique, consists of 13 Malay songs, mostly written by him. -- PHOTO: HYPE RECORDS

Has it really been 10 years since the first Singapore Idol shook up the local singing scene?

Yes, it has, and it has also been a decade since the television show turned a then 23-year-old Taufik Batisah into a household name.

The television show itself seems to be dead and buried and it has been six years since Taufik had a full-length release.

But on his latest and fifth album, the kohl-eyed crooner wants you to know that he is still around and, more importantly, still relevant in the local Malay contemporary music scene.

If Singapore Idol entrenched his reputation as a ballad singer, this is the album in which he breaks out of the crooner mould and expands his creative scope.

Comprising 13 Malay tunes, mostly self-written, Fique is not so much Taufik, 32, reinventing himself as it is him taking the best parts of his past and moulding them into one cohesive work.

It is no coincidence that the title of the album is also the moniker he used to go by before his Idol days, when he was part of R&B/hip-hop/pop duo Bona Fide.

Half of the songs here hark back to those days - Racun is a soulful urban tune, a throwback to turn-of-the-millennium R&B, while Jangan Berubah is a quality funk-lite number that brings to mind pre-op Michael Jackson.

#awakkatmane is a club banger, a bouncing hip-hop tune with a sticky refrain. Taufik half-raps and manoeuvres meandering melodies as he cheekily admonishes a possessive and clingy significant other.

He lets loose and has a little fun on Inginkanmu, a bossa nova-inspired song in which Taufik the ladies' man comes to the fore and on Suka Hati, he goes all electronic dance music, Auto-Tuned vocals and all.

The strongest songs are the ones in which he seems to merge the melancholic ballads he is best known for with street-wise, urban touches - Katakan, for instance, has an oriental melody, moving beats and falsetto vocals.

Kenangan Mengusik Jiwa sees Taufik going even further back, and if you are wondering where he got his melancholic streak from, this song written for his late uncle, veteran Malay pop singer A. Ramlie, will give you a clue. It even features guest vocals from A. Ramlie's former wife, Maria Bachok, a veteran Malay singer in her own right.

The other half of the album is the Taufik many of his fans love - the sentimental ballad singer whose wistful songs seem perfect for Malay television dramas. In fact, three of the tunes are just that - Menakluk Cinta is taken off Suria and TV3 drama Kasih Berbisik, Ikrar Kasih is from Malaysian television station TV9's Luluhnya Sebuah Ikrar while Hanya Kamu is from upcoming Suria telemovie Demi Adriana.

Six years between albums is a long time, but it looks like the man has been using that time well and has come up with a solid collection of songs.

Eddino Abdul Hadi

Right out the gate, one faces a chorus of nays at what some deem as predictably glitchy beats that reside in Tomorrow's Modern Boxes.

Thom Yorke's second proper solo album is the first to be released via peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol BitTorrent using its "pay-gate" feature.

The initial disappointment is understandable.

Whereas 2006's The Eraser, his Mercury Prize-nominated debut solo album, feels simultaneously primeval and even proto-synthesizer, Boxes isn't as immediately likeable.

Has Yorke jumped the shark, so to speak?

The answer is a gently qualified no. Yes, it isn't the startlingly genre-revising sound devotees had hoped for, but tarry those quick to judge.

In a climate where everyone from post-dubstep star James Blake to feted minimalist trio The xx have cribbed the Radiohead's emo-technodesperado template, Yorke has simply ignored what the rest of the folks are up to and just finessed what he's obsessed with.

He still sounds like no one else.

Together with long-time producer Nigel Godrich, the guy is creating a kind of shadow-play, a subterranean soundtrack to the tribe of techconnected homo sapiens running around in this global village.

"Another clown jumps off the ladder/A shallow pool but it doesn't matter," he sings in The Mother Lode, intricately cut-and-looped piano and electronic keys all mixed up until the horror and humour have become one and the same.

His literary equivalent would be someone like Don DeLillo, where you marvel and cry at the absurdity of modern living.

You remember, too, the odd-jerky stickman routine executed by Yorke for his band's 2011 single Lotus Flower and couldn't decide whether it was cool or not.

Perhaps that's the idea too, with this album. Boxes is self-referential and interiorised. It's a pod where anyone can enter and confess and, hell, dance his heart out.

This is Yorke's idea of electronica as a man's secret chamber where feelings echo and ricochet.

The album's first song, A Brain In A Bottle, is fastidiously trippy, scrambled from an artificial intelligence's perception of what a dance track is. Micro beats skitter and skiffle, stop and start again. Mysterious creatures squelch in the background; ambulance sirens filtered through Cher's Auto-Tune machinery, maybe.

"The entity I wrestle to the ground/Look in the eye, look in the eye" is the metatextual moment when Yorke poses the age-old existential dilemma: Who are we and what have we become?

When he quietens, his voice is a beacon to somewhere he'd rather be.

The wonderful Nose Grows Some is adrift in a redemptive wave of fuzz and synth, and Truth Ray, which may or may not be a nod to the brilliant Swedish artist Fever Ray, moves inexorably like a moody glacier towards a sea.

Come to think of it, the latter does sound like a feverish nightmare.

"Oh my god/All my life is sin, sin, sin," he sings, as something bursts and rattles, and the synths, presumably back-masked, close in on themselves.

Is this his tale of the Original Sin, or just gibberish stitched from hearsay? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

Yeow Kai Chai

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.