Is there enough good local music to fill a quota on radio? Yes, say industry folk

Home-grown band Monster Cat's (from left) Psycho Cat, Hentai Cat and and Meta Cat. Nominated Member of Parliament Janice Koh's recent call for the authorities to set a broadcast quota for airtime play of Singapore music on local radio is not new
Home-grown band Monster Cat's (from left) Psycho Cat, Hentai Cat and and Meta Cat. Nominated Member of Parliament Janice Koh's recent call for the authorities to set a broadcast quota for airtime play of Singapore music on local radio is not new. Proponents of the home-grown music industry have called for similar initiatives in the past few years. -- ST FILE PHOTO: DESMOND LIM 

Nominated Member of Parliament Janice Koh's recent call for the authorities to set a broadcast quota for airtime play of Singapore music on local radio is not new. Proponents of the home-grown music industry have called for similar initiatives in the past few years.

Neither is it new to hear critics of the quota idea say there is not enough good local content to fill airtime.

A listen of the recent acclaimed releases by home-grown acts Monster Cat, Pleasantry, Atlas, The Observatory and The Pinholes will lay to rest that argument.

Monster Cat's debut album, for instance, has generated both critical and fan acclaim. The first single off the release, Take Me To Love, shot to the top spot in iTunes' Singapore sales charts in February, beating international heavyweights such as Pharrell Williams and Christina Aguilera.

Mr Shahid Isahak, vice-president of The Music Society, Singapore, says the non-profit organisation has seen "a sizeable number of Singapore-made recordings that meets broadcast standards".

The 31-year-old adds: "We attribute it largely to upgrades our music community has undertaken, with access to studios and engineers in and outside of Singapore. And I find this to be only improving."

Veteran music producer Leonard Soosay - who has worked with Monster Cat, Pleasantry, Atlas as well as other local acts such as The Great Spy Experiment - has seen a vast improvement in the quality of songwriting and song arrangements in recent releases by home-grown bands. "The younger bands these days are more well-versed not just in songwriting but also in the use of their equipment."

Soosay, who runs recording studio Snakeweed Studios and is a mentor to budding bands in the Esplanade's Baybeats music festival this year, adds: "We've seen more youth picking up instruments and taking their music more seriously rather than just as hobbyists."

Mr Jamie Meldrum, senior programme director of radio stations Kiss92 and HOT FM91.3, says: "It's not that there aren't any talented musicians here. Right now, we have more local Top 40 artists with genuine hits than we've ever had. Trick, Ming Bridges, J. Clement, Gentle Bones and Kevin Lester are all on HOT FM and being voted for by Singaporeans in the Hot30 Countdown on a daily basis.

"But radio stations have specific target audiences and formats, so not every local artist is going to be suitable. If we're forced to play tracks which can't stand up between Justin Timberlake and Beyonce's latest, then I think that portrays our local artists in a negative light."

THE VIOLET HOUR

Monster Cat

KittyWu Records

3.5 stars

Monster Cat take a giant leap into the great unknown with The Violet Hour.

Like the bakeneko, a feline with superpowers in Japanese folklore, after which they are named, the Singapore band aren't content to sit pretty and purr.

They scratch, they bite, they cuddle, they slip away.

Produced by Tim Carr (Flea, Jay-Z) and recorded in Sydney, the album is tricksy and shadowy, full of dark corners and trapdoors.

Oft-labelled as alternative folk- rock, they are now a stadium-ready indie-rock act. Louder moments such as Mother and Take Me To Love are sinewy, if a bit claustrophobic.

Sign of true growth: A quieter tune like Circle flips and changes chords, bluesy one moment, and the next, alt-country, without once losing a beat.

BRING BACK THE VIBE

The Pinholes

Self-released

3.5 stars

Stroll back to the good ol' 1960s as The Pinholes (far right) invoke innocent times. But wait. This isn't mimicry. In Bring Back The Vibe, a ramshackle ode to early rock 'n' roll, they get everything just right, without seeming try-hard.

Singer-guitarist Famie Suliman mumbles like a local boy version of, say, Swedish troubadour Jens Lekman. They both croon with a twinkle in the eye. Retro shindigs such as Shake N Bake and I Can't Wait have the everything-is-possible air about them.

They surf the fine line between gentle satire and heart-on-sleeve, nostalgia and modernity, with panache. Your brow arches when you hear a sly allusion to Supergrass' 1995 Britpop hit Alright in You'll Never Gonna Take My Life. Smart kids.

INHABIT

Pleasantry

Self-released

4 stars

Pleasantry's newest EP is a rare crystalline jewel.

So lambent are their melodies, you'll marvel at how everything shines.

Vocalist Samantha Teng sounds so bewitched, everyone will fall under her spell.

The first track, the insanely catchy Habit, is the best Sundays song the English indie rockers The Sundays had not written.

Owls rides on an easy dream-folk groove, with the singer's stellar, multi-tracked voice woven into it.

Whether upping the tempo, as in the jaunty Near And Dark, or casting fairy dust in the time-stopping Spent, the band never lose that magical air about them.

If only all dreams are soundtracked by Pleasantry.

HERE BE DRAGONS

Atlas

Self-released

4 stars

Singapore post-rock/math/"put your adjective" band Atlas show admirable range and ambition in their debut album.

They remind me of Atlas Sound, the side-project of American indie iconoclast Bradford Cox from Deerhunter. Aside from a similar moniker, both acts take sonic risks.

From the martial synths and riffs of 42/24 to the splendid drum intro of We Edge Closer To The Start, Atlas chart their own narrative path to God-knows-where.

In Seven, lead singer Catherine Yeo begins sweetly then cuts through like stentorian heroine Florence Welch, cascades of gently plucked guitars giving way to an electric storm.

Tread Softly In The Half-Light, their fantastic first single, shows they can ride over tight math-rock chords and cut loose when needed.

BEHIND THE EYES: THE CATACOMB

REMIXES

The Observatory

Self-released

4 stars

The Observatory's (above) relentless march into darkness reaches its apogee with 2012's Catacombs. It isn't for everyone, and rightly so.

Behind The Eyes, a full-album remix of that album, meddles with the songs to spectacular effect. Eleven musicians from Thailand, Japan, Norway, China and Singapore happily rewire the band's DNA and show potential growth areas.

There is light at the end of the tunnel (what of, we can't ascertain).

DJ Mentor scatters white noise, some gongs and a chill-out groove over Anger And Futility and even makes X'Ho's dulcet tones gruffer.

George Chua reconstitutes Accidentagram, elements clapping and clattering, with Leslie Low's mantra draped over like a veil.

Lasse Marhaug exorcises any regular beat by amplifying the gnarled menace in Ends To No Means, like cross-wires zapping one another.

Overall, it's a rabbit hole to somewhere riskier and more exciting.