Wednesday, 12 February 2014


From Sinatra to Staples, here are 21 of the world’s most broodingest baritones who have burrowed their way into our hearts.
Here at the Scenester we like to spare a thought for the lovelorn, especially in the lead up to Valentine’s Day. After all, without the despair and despondency of heartbreak, where would half of our musical catalogue come from? It is in this spirit of solidarity, that we turn with fondness to the men who through the years have loved misery and given us company in moments of solitary sadness. May their brooding, baritone voices offer warmth to those who find themselves in a similar state in this supposedly festive season. Frank Sinatra, One for My Baby (1958) 
Sinatra is credited with inventing the brooding ballad format. From the album Only the Lonely, recorded during his break-up with Ava Gardner, the song One for My Baby exposes the Chairman at his most vulnerable, and shows us how a brooder deals with the torch of unrequited or lost love during one of his nocturnal journeys.

Johnny Cash, Ring of Fire (1963)
The original “Man in Black” whose fusion of rock and roll, rockabilly, blues, folk and gospel coupled with his stoic, bass-baritone voice popularised this song co-written by his wife June Carter. In it, love is compared to a “burnin’ ring of fire.” 

Neil Diamond, Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon (1967)
Dedicated to his adoring female fans, the man who sang “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” with Barbra Streisand in the 70s, gained new followers when a cover of this track was incorporated in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction in the 90s. The song speaks of forbidden, star-crossed love.

Jim Morrison (The Doors), Love Street (1968)

We don’t normally associate The Doors with baroque pop, but Love Street demonstrates Morrison’s capacity to perform it. Originally written as a poem for Pamela Courson, with whom he had a polyamorous relationship, in reference to the street where they lived in the Laurel Canyon of Los Angeles, California., the song features some of Morrison’s spoken word. 

Serge Gainsbourg (with Jane Birkin) Je t’aime… Moi Non Plus (1969) No Valentine’s Day tribute to brooding male vocalists would be complete without Serge Gainsbourg, the French singer, songwriter, poet, composer, artist, actor and director. Originally composed for and performed with Brigitte Bardot, the song Je t’aime… moi non plus (trans. “I love you… me neither”) was first released with English singer and actress Jane Birkin. I wonder what daughter Charlotte makes of all this.

Scott Walker, If You Go Away (1969) Originally part of the Walker Brothers trio, the man who perhaps best epitomises the brooding baritone voice in the world of pop and whose unconventional, idiosyncratic lyrics have inspired the likes of David Bowie and Jarvis Cocker to follow in his footsteps, launched his solo career with a trilogy of self-titled albums. This tour de force comes to an end with this classic farewell song.

Leonard Cohen, Love Calls You By Your Name (1970) The Montreal-based singer-songwriter, musician, poet and novelist has had a prolific career straddling both literary and musical worlds. His songs, which speak of desire, regret, suffering, love, and hope, demonstrate his unique storytelling ability. They have been covered by everyone from Johnny Cash to Tori Amos, which says something of the enduring, influential quality of his work.
Lou Reed, Perfect Day (1972)
Sangria in the park, a trip to the zoo, a movie and then home. Reed’s sombre delivery keep one guessing whether he is simply being nostalgic or hiding a deeper subtext about something dark and painful, like drug addiction, which is perhaps why it was used in the 1996 film Trainspotting. But for purposes of this article, let us just think of it as a remembrance of things past.
Tom Waits, Blue Valentines (1978)
This poet, songwriter, singer and actor incorporates his growling voice with blues, jazz and vaudeville to create the atmospherics of a smoke-filled, seedy nightclub scene. His half-spoken, half-sung vocals is performed along with a desolate arrangement of electric guitar and nothing else on this track.

Ian Curtis (Joy Division), Love Will Tear Us Apart (1980)

A progenitor of the post-punk movement, lyricist and vocalist Ian Curtis of Joy Division spoke of emotional isolation, death and alienation. In this ominous, almost prescient ode to love, he expresses bereavement at the chasm that often and inevitably creeps in between people who live in close quarters.

Morrissey (The Smiths) Please, please, please let me get what I want (1984)
The enigmatic frontman of the Smiths has had a very distinguished and influential career as a brooder of the highest order, finding innovative ways to portray the world through the eyes of a moper to dramatic effect. Here he is pining away in an oft-covered, oft-featured classic.

David Sylvian, Nostalgia (1984)

Sylvian explores the dense and often treacherous terrain of past memories like only the former frontman of Japan can. Although much of his work can be described as uplifting, there is no doubting where it comes from. His unique ability to find beauty in gloom comes from investigating the deep, dark recesses of a melancholic mind.

Jim Reid (Jesus and Mary Chain), Just Like Honey (1985)
Fuzzy, feedback-drenched and dripping with happy-sadness, Reid’s band Jesus and Mary Chain set the stage for the shoegaze movement that followed. The opening track to their debut album Psychocandy was later featured in the closing scene of Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film Lost in Translation. You would think that a song entitled Just Like Honey would be all about sweetness, but the last verse of the song leaves you with a different impression.
Neil Halstead (Slowdive), Here She Comes (1993)
Halstead had the perfect baritone drawl to accompany the hazy, fuzz-tone drenched white noise of Slowdive. In this more laid back, bare bones track stripped down to its essentials, Neil’s reverberating vocals provide all the warmth needed by an introvert at a party despite being “so lonely in this place, so cold, I don’t believe.”

Stuart Staples (Tindersticks), Another Night In (1995) As the frontman of the chamber pop group Tindersticks, Staples equals the cinematic aspect of their oeuvres with the stifled often inchoate tension in his vocals. The indie band has provided the musical score for five films by the French director Claire Denis. Their signature style is perhaps what sets them apart from any other act with similar ambitions that followed.

Nick Cave (and the Bad Seeds), Into My Arms (1997)

A very powerful, deeply personal ballad about love and loss, performed with only a piano and bass accompanying his spiritual, preacher-like vocals, Into My Arms was referred to by Cave in a lecture entitled, The Secret Life of the Love Song given at the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts as one of the songs he is most proud of.
Neil Hannon (Divine Comedy), Everybody Knows That I Love You (Except You) (1997)
Known for his dry wit, the frontman of Divine Comedy has been called “one of the last crooners of the pop landscape”, but Hannon is perhaps best portrayed as the bard, particularly after the release of A Short Album About Love. Here he is performing that role in Everybody Knows That I Love You (Except You).

Jarvis Cocker (Pulp), This is Hardcore (1998)
NME named Pulp’s Common People the number 1 track of the 90s for rising “above the Britpop mire” with its anthemic appeal. Cocker has said that if it was all the band would be remembered for, it wouldn’t be so bad, as “it could be a lot worse.” Nearly impossible to follow, but in the title track to This is Hardcore, Cocker and co deliver a noir-ish masterpiece with the usual wry wit.
Stephin Merritt (Magnetic Fields), I Don’t Want to Get Over You (1999) Talk about obsessing over love, how about releasing a three volume paean to it? That is exactly what the Magnetic Fields did with 69 Love Songs, which contains the often covered Book of Love. Of the concept album, songwriter and frontman Merritt said, “(it) is not remotely an album about love. It's an album about love songs, which are very far away from anything to do with love". We stand corrected.
Jens Lekman, Maple Leaves (2003) Combining a strong pop sensibility with witty, romantic melancholia, Lekman has been compared to the likes of Stephin Merritt and Scott Walker. In this, the title track to his first EP, a reflection on lost love, the singer mistakes a woman’s ennui by thinking she says, “maple leaves” in lieu of “make believe.” Mark Lanegan (and Isobel Campbell), Come Undone  (2010)
With a baritone voice  "as scratchy as a three-day beard yet as supple and pliable as moccasin leather", the former frontman of grunge band Screaming Trees and co-collaborator of numerous artists such as Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs and electronica duo Soulsavers has forged a career as a modern blues singer. Here he is with Isobel Campbell of Belle and Sebastian coming undone.

Monday, 30 December 2013

What makes for a good (indie) pop song?

Pop hooks are the musical equivalent of tweeting.

Image credit: Jarvis Cocker of Pulp courtesy of
They're short and catchy and as the name suggests, they can reel you in to listen to a more substantial piece. Particularly in the dense forest of indie music, it could spell the difference for an obscure talent to gain hits.

As the year comes to a close, many review sites and critics have compiled their top tracks and albums for 2013. It has become a tired old ritual, but is universally practised by curator sites because lists are a good way to generate internet traffic.

People read lists. They've stopped reading in-depth articles. And listing tracks involves the least amount of effort. Films take longer. A pop song requires a tiny snippet of one's time, and it only requires 10 seconds for a listener to become engaged.

So what makes for a good pop song?

Saturday, 7 September 2013

From Gen-X to Gen-Y: a journey in film

In search of  a credible female protagonist from Reality Bites to Frances Ha

Clockwise from top-left: Stills from Reality Bites (1994),
 Kicking and Screaming (1995),
Frances Ha (2012) and Damsels in Distress (2011).

Monday, 24 June 2013

From Gates of Hell to City of God

It may have been a case of poverty porn, but it wasn't. This music video by the four-piece British drum and bass group Rudimental set in Manila, uses a similar narrative to the film, City of God (Cidade de Deus) of two boys growing up amidst the squalor of a large metropolis. It was meant to be inspired by the life of bboy champion Mouse and his older brother.

Though perhaps a far cry from the early days of d&b and more in keeping with the formula for pop songs these days, the UK chart toppers have produced something that is truly soulful and way better than any of the stuff French DJ David Guetta puts out, with more street cred than anything or the Black Eyed Peas offer.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Note to self

Dear Joe (or Jose)

This is your past self. You know remember me, Joe from the twenty years ago? Yes that’s right, the guy with hair down to his shoulders, earnestly scribbling on his notebook, casually taking a drag from a cigarette, quietly sipping a cup of coffee at the corner café in that bohemian borough you once called home, late in the afternoon, as the dusk clouds slowly drifted overhead.

Remember that guy? Well, I just thought I’d drop you a line to see how you are doing. You might be tucked away in some quiet neighbourhood in suburbia right now with the station wagon in the garage, working your ass off nine-to-five, five days a week at some job that doesn’t pay you enough or recognise you for your talents.

I told you this would happen. Didn’t I warn you not to go down that road? Well, well, well, did you heed the advice? Remember the deal we made back then? You told me to tell you that if this ever happened to you to remind you to go shoot yourself, right? Well, here I am reminding you of that conversation…

So what are you waiting for then? During your suicidal days, didn’t you say you would just stick around for a bit longer to find out if anything “interesting” would happen…and…well…need I say more?

But now you say that you’ve got “responsibilities”: people to look after, who are depending on you. For what? To make a living so that they can go on and have a go, a go at pursuing their dreams, something you never got around to doing. Oh, god! Excuses, excuses. Truth be told, they’d be much more content without having to put up with your miserable self!

So, anyway, I gotta go. In about ten to fifteen years, I’ll check in on you to find out how things turn out. Things better be looking on the up-and-up, otherwise, we’re gonna have to have this conversation again, alright? See ya.

Your former self,

Joe from the past

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Piling up the (Philippine) Indie Landfill?

If Ian Urrutia of the blog site Vandals on the Wall is to be believed, 2012 marked the year in which aspiring tech savvy Filipino musicians discovered and uploaded their music on to Bandcamp. He provides compelling evidence for this by selecting from among them the top ten EPs and top sixty tracks for the year.

Considering the impressive collection assembled, a curious onlooker might conclude that the local independent music scene is vibrant and bursting at the seams. It is not just the volume but the breadth that strikes one when confronted with this cacophony of musical talent. And Ian does a fine job of establishing his hold on the jargon needed to review such work.

There is literally something for everyone’s musical palette and tastes. As the website boasts, whether it’s mainstream or independent, we surely got your music covered. Choice now seems to be endless, when it was not too long ago, that you could count with your fingers the number of acts that were genuinely into this type of music. The scene has indeed come a long way. The problem though is with this much on offer; a listener could get lazy, which perhaps creates a role for curators like Ian. The quality of their work could either help or hinder the cause.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Building Capacities with Armi Millare of Up Dharma Down

Image courtesy of Chico Limjap
ca·pac·i·ty /kəˈpasitē/ n. pl. ca·pac·i·ties
1. The ability to receive, hold, or absorb.
2. The maximum amount that can be contained.
3. a. Ability to perform or produce; capability.
    b. The maximum or optimum amount that can be produced.
4. The power to learn or retain knowledge; mental ability.
5. Innate potential for growth, development, or accomplishment; faculty.
6. The quality of being suitable for or receptive to specified treatment.
7. The position in which one functions; role.

To these definitions, we can now add: title of the soon to be released and much anticipated third album of Up Dharma Down under Terno Recordings.
The Scenester’s chief contributor, Kristo Babbler recently “sat down” with Armi Millare, keyboards and lead vocals for Up Dharma Down to take stock of the band’s evolution to date, their creative process in the lead up to their third outing, and Armi’s personal journey all throughout. A rather revealing exchange ensued.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Cheery Angst

This wasn’t her grandparents’ angst, but Emma Koenig, author of the book F*ck! I’m in My Twenties has accomplished what novelists and poets have done for generations: use existential angst to make a living and improve their love lives.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

And Man Swooned

I've been reading a lot of Jane Austen lately, and the notion of young heroines using their beguiling manners to make a "conquest" which in those days simply meant a young, eligible bachelor falling madly and deeply, head over heels in love has been around since the Victorian era. Proust makes use of the term as well.

The "marriage plot" made popular by Ms Austin's novels was something that the women's movement was supposed to have retired long ago (hat tip to Jeffrey Eugenides). That the whole purpose of a woman's existence was to marry well was supplanted by feminism. Unfortunately, it's not the women who seem hooked on that notion in today's world, but the men. 

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Muttley: poster dog for the post-post-modern age

Here at the Scenester, we always pride ourselves with over-thinking things through to excess. It is, after all, what makes the absurdities of life in the urban jungle a bit more sensible. "Traffic isn't traffic," as one notable person once said, "It's just an illusion." Perhaps that's framing things a little too transcendentally. As the philosopher once famously said, and I am merely paraphrasing him here, "Shit happens." Which is why this discussion is about something a little bit closer to Earth.