REVIEWS

KELVIN TAN
Understanding The Lion [Aporia]
Mortal Songs For Believers [Aporia]
Meta(axis): In Reverse [Aporia]
Remnants From The Cities Of Reason [Aporia]

Out of the blue, Kelvin Tan emails me to inform me that he wants to pass me his "new work." I meet him for a drink, we chat, then just before I have to leave, he whips out a package. "Here, I don't think any artist in Singapore has ever done this before," then promptly hands me four CDs. "I'm releasing four albums at a go."

Yes, folks, you heard right: four albums with more than hours of music. Tan certainly knows a thing or two about commercial suicide — he's a veteran of that fine art. His past albums have tackled subjects from Nico to Nietzsche, genres from folk to free jazz. Diversity, experimentalism and a healthy dose of realism and idealism are already characteristics that listeners have come to expect from Tan.

Understanding The Lion and Mortal Songs For Believers are Tan’s "song-based" albums. Musically, they are closer to his last album, Being; In The Light Of Convergence than to his first two albums, in that he traverses much more varied musical landscapes to proffer his ideas. But they are superior to Being in that here, he’s much more adventurous and successful in the sounds he produces.

Lion has Furnace and Nothingness, two soothing pieces; Orpheus Of Soul, an affective and soulful tribute to Donny Hathaway; Narcissus In Bloom, perhaps Tan’s most rawk-out song; and Crawling, a Black Sabbath riff that slows down into a dirty blues grind.

Some will find Mortal Songs For Believers a depressing album. It really plunges into the darkness of the world, what with songs like Grief, Hurt, Guilt, Terror, Loss and Darkness. The music too reflects the lyrical mood. Then, unsuspectingly, Tan turns in a four-minute performance in vocal gymnastics on Joy. Scatting his way without musical accompaniment, Joy is a true celebration of humanity.

Meta(axis): In Reverse and Remnants From The Cities Of Reason, both instrumental albums, may seem a strange turn to some people, but it isn’t the first time Kelvin has done something like this. He had already played free jazz with Stigmata and we had already heard his first foray into the solo electric guitar on Disembowelling Brecht — the latter reaping exhilarating results.

Following in the spirit and tradition of Naked City, Meta(axis) is 12 tracks of assorted styles, from the oriental-sounding What The Stars Revealed To Ohnedaruth to the horror movie/goth metal farce Infecting The Institution to the jazz-invibed Sketches to the bluesy Modes(1) to the azure-skied Tantric Visions.

Tan explores both tonality and atonality. He also uses heavy reverb on some tracks, using the guitar to create atmospheric textures, like on Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Remnants is the least accessible album of the lot, not least because it consists of only two tracks, Lack and Supplement, the former running 27 mins and the latter, 21 mins. (Lion, Songs and Meta(axis) 8, Remnants 7) — Mark Wong


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