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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Opinion.

Dina once said to me something like, "I like reading your blog, you write about issues based on your opinion, not just about daily life."

Sadly though, I haven't had a post in which I feel opiniated about something in a pretty long time. So, I've decided to write about two issues happening right now in this world.

Okay. Nothing too serious. First up, American Idol.

I only started watching this season seriously, (as in each performance) since last week. Sure, before that, I did watch several key performances on Youtube, such as David Archuleta's Imagine amongst others.

And to be honest, I had never really heard the phenomenon David Cook that much until recently. And this is where I place my bets on him to be the next Idol. The rocker (oh no, not the rocker jinx again) really brings something else to the show. His amazingly original and bold arrangement and rendition of Mariah Carey's Always Be My Baby was experimental to the fore. And the great thing was, it worked. Everyone knows about his Billie Jean, similar to Chris Cornell's version, which he pulled off extremely well too. And for the record, I prefered Cook's version to Cornell's. Last week's Music of the Night was so amazing in its own way. So subtle, yet so powerful. And this week, Cook performed two lesser known songs by legend Neil Diamond. Yet again, superb.

The other David, (eight years his junior, and the youngest contestant), has also been making waves, especially among the girls. In my opinion, the boy isn't quite ready to win the competition. I'm not being biased towards Cook or anything, but I personally feel although Archuleta has a unique voice, he just isn't as accomplished a performer and in general as a musician, for that matter.

I won't elaborate much on the other male contestant, Jason Castro. In fact, I hope he goes out before the next round. The dude seems totally uninspired during his performances of late. Apparently he has a large fan base and all, but so what? His vocals are pretty normal, but his arrangements are plain and dull. I particularly disliked his performance last week of Memory, from the musical CATS. In fact, I would rather have seen a female singer perform it rather than him.

Then we come to the girls. Syesha Mercado and Brooke White are the only remaining ladies, after Carly's exit last week, which I particularly disagreed with. Neither of these two contestants are among the strong ones left. Both are pretty much extreme opposites. Syesha is probably the contestant who has improved in the last two weeks, whereas Brooke has gotten worse since, from what I remember, her great performance of Let It Be weeks ago. Last week, Brooke forgot the lyrics to her song at the beginning. However, the thing about her is that she manages to convey the message of a song really well. Unfortunately, this week wasn't a strong week for her either. Syesha, meanwhile redeemed herself with her version of One Rock & Roll Too Many last week, which saw her very comfortable. And once again this week she proved she was ready to put the past behind her with performances worthy enough of seeing it out to the next round.

Prediction?

Jason and Brooke in the bottom 2 this week.

Cook to win by a mile.

However, if the voters are aiming to vote based on popularity, there is an extremely high chance for Archuleta to win.

My vote goes to Cook though.

Yeah right, if only I could vote.

***

Next, the English Premier League.

Or football concerning Manchester United, for that matter.

For those who know, I have been a Manchester United for nearly ten years. I do have to admit, this club is definitely extremely commercialised across the globe. Heck, there are even Manchester United biscuits in stores!

But I would like to say, I do not support Manchester United because they are winners. In actual fact, the year I started supporting Man Utd was the year Arsenal won the league, though I can't recall exactly which year. Since then, I have never looked back.

And at this very point in time, Man Utd are on Cloud 9. Barely 18 hours ago, Paul Scholes fired them into the UEFA Champions League final for the first time since the 98/99 season in which they won the treble. Scholes' goal against Barcelona has set up an all-English final with either rivals Liverpool or Chelsea, who happen to be hot on Man Utd's heels in the Premier League.

Which brings me to the main topic.

Man Utd play brilliant attacking football. This season, the triangle of footballing genius, Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney have struck up a magical formula which has seen Man Utd showcase some amazing football, really. Ronaldo in particular has been in the form of his life. Apart from being voted the PFA Player of the Year, he has scored 28 goals in the league and 38 in all competitions. With six more he would equal Ruud van Nistelrooy's all-time record of 44 in a season.

Nevertheless, equalling or outdoing that record should not and I'm pretty sure will not be the Portugese winger's priority, going into the final two matches. Man Utd only lead the table on goal difference ahead of Chelsea, who taught them a lesson last Saturday, by beating them 2-1 at Stamford Bridge. With the Red Devils' next match against bogey team West Ham, Sir Alex Ferguson's men will have to be on their toes throughout to secure a win.

Arsenal are the team yet again left without a trophy this season. At one point, things were looking so bright for Arsene Wenger's side. Cesc Fabregas was rated as Europe's top midfielder, while Emmanuel Adebayor was doing a good job of filling in the shoes of departed striker Thierry Henry to Barcelona. The Gunners even led the league for the majority of the season, while Man Utd and Chelsea crept up behind them steadily.

Jose Mourinho shocked the world of English football when he left the club (sacked or left on his account, I'm still unsure) after a home draw with Rosenborg in the Champions League group stage, early on in the season. Avram Grant took over the reigns, but Chelsea did not look like potential champions at all. Needless to say, they have all the right in the world to feel proud with the fact that they are very much in contention right now to steal the title away from Man Utd.

One big problem for Man Utd has been consistency. In relation to that as well, complacency. The two C's have really made it difficult for Man Utd over the past few years. There are games when they play so well, score tons of goals, and there are games in which they concede cheap goals and things just don't go their way, and they end up losing. The complacent side of Man Utd has been displayed many a time in the last decade or so as well.

Prediction?

Ronaldo to just about hit the 40 mark.

Liverpool to knock Chelsea out in the Champions League semis tonight, but to lose out to Man Utd in the final.

The race for the EPL is a really tough one. I'm not gonna put my money on Man Utd, but I really hope and believe that they will pull through and retain the title.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Maybe You Stand for Fear.

I used to think just because I don't get red when I drink, I am alcohol-tolerant.

But once again, I was proved wrong.

Hey, at least I'm typing post without any spelling errors. Not bad, isn't it?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Time Waits for No Man, Or Does It?

Time.

An object of subjectivity.

They say time waits for no man.

I say not necessaraly.

How can it be that it only felt like yesterday when I entered primary school 10 years ago, whereas it felt like an age since I went for my NUS audition, which was actually only slightly more than a month ago?

I can't explain that.

This is what has happened when time successfully manipulates you.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

AN OCEAN BETWEEN US Review



AN OCEAN BETWEEN US
As I Lay Dying
Metal Blade Records

Release date: 21 August 2007

Perhaps one of the more successful metalcore outfits to emerge onto the scene, As I Lay Dying have been touring relentlessly since the very beginning. They have come a long way since adopting a ‘pure’ metalcore sound according to some (similar to Zao) with their first record Beneath the Encasing of Ashes to this slightly more trash-influenced latest effort.

Some may argue that As I Lay Dying have broken into the mainstream since An Ocean Between Us made its debut at number 8 on the Billboard 200, and number 1 on the Top Rock chart, plus the first single Nothing Left was nominated for a Grammy for Best Metal Performance. Still, it has to be said that this quintet remain firmly on the ground when it comes to making new music for the right reasons.

On their last album Shadows Are Security, As I Lay Dying proved all too well they could make their raw sound a lot more refined than before. However, with this album, they went that one step further. For example, guitar solos became an integral part of song structures, while the clean vocals which were rarely utilised on Shadows Are Security, played a pretty significant role in giving the album a better musical outlook with new bassist and back-up vocalist Josh Gilbert replacing Clint Norris. Also, the band included two instrumental tracks which helped give An Ocean Between Us a great musical shape. Overall, a more diverse sound.

The possible reason for the great musical shape as mentioned could have been because renowned Killswitch Engage guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz was co-producer of the album. Apart from the inclusion of the two instrumental tracks, one notable comparison which can be made between this record and the last is that on this one, As I Lay Dying seem to have found a way to indirectly slow things down during songs, with ocassional moments which feature the lead guitar keeping the song going. In short, the quieter moments are more obvious, while the heaviness has gone up a notch or two. The lead guitar riffs are also more complex than on Shadows Are Security, where the lead was mainly played simply as a single flat layer with the rhythm underneath. Not to say the lead riffs were terrible or anything, they still kicked ass, but this time, they seem to intertwine more with the sound as a whole, and are much more noticeable and original as a result.

I’m pretty sure very few people will argue with the fact that Confined, off Shadows Are Security, was a mind-blower of a song, and a brilliant song choice for the first single. But yet again, As I Lay Dying prove they could do one better with one of the best metal songs I have ever heard, Nothing Left. Right from the word go, the superb opening guitar riff accompanied by the pounding drums manages to give the listener the impetus to headbang even before the song really gets into the groove. The band also do well to delay to the first chorus, which displays excellent clean vocals. On this first ‘official’ song (with Separation, the first track and the track before being an instrumental one), a solo appears and does really well to keep the mood up. Then before you know it, the album launches into the title track, which simply hardly ever stops. The speed of which the opening guitar riff is being played is just sublime. There are hardly any points in this song to take a breather, as the intensity is maintained throughout and again, clean vocals with much better range than on the previous album really work well for the band.

Shadows Are Security boasted one of the band’s most melodic songs, The Darkest Nights which was a real highlight to many. With a splendid dual guitar melody causing the hairs of the listener to stand on end, it was clear that As I Lay Dying could do amazing things. While that song was one of the best tracks off Shadows Are Security, Forsaken is arguably the best on An Ocean Between Us. The first minute of this one is instrumental, beginning with a solid, medium-paced melodic guitar riff before the drums blend in. Once vocalist Tim Lambesis comes in with one of his famous screams, the song completely changes colour, as if from white to black. Once again, Josh Gilbert’s clean vocals lead the charge during the chorus to great effect. Breakdowns may be aplenty in this genre, but the one at the two-minute mark on this song is one of those which stands out among the rest. A killer lead riff is accompanied by a heavy, chugging rhythm, giving the song an amazing feel.

Prior to the release of An Ocean Between Us, As I Lay Dying utilised clean vocals pretty much only during choruses. The great thing about this album is that clean vocals are used during other parts of songs, such as during the bridges of Forsaken and I Never Wanted, both of which happen to include some really emotionally meaningful and brilliant lyrics. Based on my knowledge of this band, I have never heard them make a key change in their music, but they did so during the bridge of I Never Wanted.

Back to the topic of solos, the band really ace it them this time around. Comfort Betrays, one of the heaviest songs ever done by the band, in particular, sports a great technical 20-second solo. Along with this, Nothing Left as well as second single The Sound of Truth amongst others, As I Lay Dying seemed to have given the lead guitar that bit more work to do in the solo department. Also, the little dabble with the piano on This Is Who We Are to close up the album was a lot better written than on Repeating Yesterday, off Shadows Are Security.

With An Ocean Between Us, As I Lay Dying have every right to be proud of their achievement as they have struck up a formula which seems to work. While continuing to improve in the many aspects of technicality, the atmosphere on this record is definitely a huge plus point. Despite that, I still feel they can do even more, to turn even more heads. So can they fulfill that, and what do they have in store for us in the near future? We’ll see.

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Meaning In Tragedy.

This is long overdue.

I never knew Andrew Yap Chun Shen. But the day he passed on, I felt something. Really.

I know it's been more than a week since that day, but every now and then I still think about how surreal all this is.

I have struggled to imagine how it would be like for his friends and family. How they could accept it all.

I take my hat off to his close friends who flew back from wherever they were studying just to see him, in that coma. On that hospital bed.

I was watching the video his brother and his friends made for him in memoriam and felt so deeply sad.

What a great loss of a bright youth.

Moral of the story?

You can never be too careful. Especially in the gym.

Rest in peace Andrew.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

SHROUDED DIVINE Review


SHROUDED DIVINE
In Mourning
Aftermath Music

Release date: 2 Jan 2008

It’s incredibly hard to imagine that Shrouded Divine is In Mourning’s debut full-length. Why? Because they simply have such a refined sound. Sure, prior to this release, they did have the experience of five demos, but for this band from Sweden to come up with something so enticing on their first LP is pretty damn amazing.

So what genre do In Mourning fit in? Progressive? Death metal? I’d say, they’re a mix of both. They aren’t exactly a regular progressive band such as say, Between The Buried And Me or Opeth (who they seem to resemble vocals-wise), and neither are they a flat out death metal band. For one thing, their songs don’t span more than ten minutes long, and the guitar riffs and drumming patterns do not always take influence from death metal. Also, they don’t take influence from jazz and folk as Opeth do.

Vocalist Tobias Netzell is a real highlight on Shrouded Divine. Yes, his vocals do have a certain similarity to that of Opeth’s main man, Mikael Akerfeldt. One slight setback, though is that Tobias doesn’t quite utilise his resources fully. In this case, I am referring his clean vocals. He does so on tracks such as By Others Considered (which boasts a pretty amazing interlude, mainly caused by the great effect of the clean vocals and acoustic guitar with everything else flowing smoothly in between) and The Shrouded Divine, and it is well clear that he has the ability, so why not use it more? On The Black Lodge, which is my personal favourite track, Tobias also features his clean vocal style, although he could have technically touched up on the way it came through for those few moments.

From a guitar point of view, the interesting fact to consider is that In Mourning have three guitarists. What really struck me as inventive is during the verse of the track Amnesia, the guitar sounds pretty much like a keyboard, creating a really airy atmosphere as the chugging rhythm is played as the base. Solos don’t appear as much as expected, but when they happen to appear seemingly out of nowhere at times, they really grip you with what I would call, stylistic emotion. They may not be aiming to display brilliant technique or anything, but in my opinion, it’s the emotion in depth, not simply emotion which can be heard immediately on the surface, that counts. The bass also makes its presence pretty clear, such as on the intro of The Art of a Mourning Kind and during that atmospheric interlude on By Others Considered, at least clearer than a typical metal band, which would usually have the bass playing in synch with the rhythm guitar. Drum-wise, In Mourning don’t do anything too showy, just really precise and perfectly fitting along with the rest of the sound. No blast beats, not too much double bass, just lots of great team play within the band. I particularly enjoyed the drumming pattern during one of the breakdowns on The Shrouded Divine, layered with a great progressive guitar melody and splendid transition of vocal style.

So what else makes these guys so engaging on Shrouded Divine? Perhaps the fact that they have a mix of long and short songs (the longest being just past eight minutes and the shortest only three and a half). As a result, the listener barely gets bored throughout.

And even the longest track, The Black Lodge doesn’t even feel like eight minutes. I would have to say the intro on this one has yet again, so much emotion in depth. Not long after though, the song reverts back to pretty much the main feel of the album during the verse. However, the chorus again displays great emotion, with the lead guitar playing in a very subtle manner but at the same time so powerfully in its own way. Tobias’ transition from death growls to screams is really excellent too. Before you know it, the song moves into a really awesome breakdown, which features interesting guitar sounds (that strangely enough gives the song a somewhat Middle Eastern feel, something which I probably exaggerate a bit on). Just don’t get me started on the superbly crafted, yet not draggy bridge which I can’t seem to get enough of. The rest of this awesome song, is well, history.

Shrouded Divine is the type of album which sounds great the first time, but also needs more than just one listen, to pick up the minor details which count for so much, such as the guitar effects during the verse of The Shrouded Divine and during the bridge of In The Failing Hour and the interesting element of repeating the opening riff of The Black Lodge on the final track Past October Skies (The Black Lodge Revisited), which probably explains the song title. The way In Mourning indirectly tease the listener with that slightly muffled riff momentarily appearing once again really had my attention. The closing stages of the final song exhibit the triple guitar play really well, but sadly, it ends all too abruptly, leaving the listener wanting more.

Nevertheless, Shrouded Divine doesn’t fail to disappoint one bit. Then again, were In Mourning ever under pressure to perform to their maximum on this record? I doubt it. After this though, once more people begin to hear of them more, perhaps. For now, just sit back and enjoy great prog –

No, great death metal –

Nah. Great music.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Mayhem.

So I didn't get into Yong Siew Toh.

Looks like I'll be stuck in HELP for another year or so.

To be honest, I more than half expected to see the line "We regret to inform you..." in the letter I received via post.

I wasn't prepared enough. I wasn't mentally ready enough. I was rushing to meet the date of my audition. I was too stressed in that period of two months.

I felt as if I had no life.

Now though, it remains to be seen whether I will be trying again next year on viola, or violin again. I still haven't made up my mind. I'm suddenly feeling lost, leading up to a concert I'm playing at next week. After the concert, I could make or break it with one small yet extremely important decision.

To switch, or not to switch? To add, or to switch? To switch now, or to wait another year? These questions ring in my head so very often.

For now, all I can do is wait.