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X' with an X and
Banned in Da Singapura

Two CDs from Singapore: X'Ho's X' with an X: Me All Good No Bad and the Boredphucks' Banned in Da Singapura. Upon first spin, I felt a little locked out, especially with X'Ho, who speaks at length about the country he has a love-hate relationship with. I'm an American -- what do I know about the issues in Singapore? I felt as if I should've boned up with a few history books first. But then, for some reason, I put on the Sex Pistols masterpiece Never Mind the Bollocks, and all became clear. Do you really need to be British to feel "Anarchy in the UK" rattling in your bones? Do you need to understand the backstory behind "EMI" or the in-joke of "Sub-Mission"? No.

All this is in aid of recommending X'Ho and the Boredphucks to those who've never been near Singapore. When X'Ho (pronounced "Chris Ho") rants about specific Singaporean stupidities, I'm not really with him on one level, but on the level that counts -- a guy blowing holes in cultural inanities and official hypocrisy -- I can relate to it. And with the Boredphucks, I'd say about 85% of the time I can't decipher the lyrics anyway, but that never stopped me from enjoying American bands whose lyrics I don't understand. The Boredphucks may, for all I know, be dropping any number of snide references that absolutely slay 'em in Singapore and fly right over my head, but at heart the music is about having a balls-out good time and saying "fuck you" to everyone.

Saying "fuck you," in fact, has gotten the Boredphucks in some hot water in Singapore; banned from playing certain gigs, they've been required to mind their language whenever they do a show. Some local critics of the 'Phucks joke that this doesn't leave the band with much of an act. But on their new disc, the Boredphucks show dynamic musical range. Their barnstorming sound would fit right in with KISS, Cheap Trick, or the Ramones. I even hear a little surf-music influence, appropriately, in "Grunge Car," a backhanded homage to a real lemon.

Lead singer/guitarist Sig Lendonn, bassist J-Bob, and drummer Sir Richard Tu Lan (these are all recently adopted pseudonyms to keep their families' names out of the papers whenever the band gets in trouble) are all barely in their twenties; their music has a youthful, eager drive, and despite such titles as "Phuck Da Skool" and "Phuck You" (this one comes in two parts), the Boredphucks aren't snarly and nihilistic, like the Sex Pistols. The music is actually rather bouncy and joyful, though not likely to appeal to self-serious fans of Creed or Limp Bizkit. The album sounds slickly produced -- the band describes itself as quite perfectionistic when laying down tracks -- yet it has the jump and sweat of a garage-band tape. Banned in Da Singapura has the fidgety, irreverent humor of the Pistols at their snarkiest, especially in numbers like the Ben Folds-meets-GG Allin "Battle Over Endor" and the rude comedy skit "St. Pat's Classroom." Girls, sex, cars, the boredom of school, getting drunk -- if this ain't the very stuff of rock and roll, what is?

If Sig Lendonn never met a shriek he didn't like, X'Ho prefers elegant understatement. His spoken-word album X' with an X, which evolved after he'd done some readings from his cultural-comment collection Skew Me You Rebel Meh?, finds the self-described "disgrace to rebel culture" cozying up to the microphone and delivering verbal autopsies in an insinuating purr. X'Ho speaks softly and carries a big stick; sometimes -- although this would surely displease him -- you're tempted to focus solely on his precise inflections at the expense of the content. But X'Ho would be a voice worth listening to even if he sounded like a toilet flushing.

Whether referencing Annabel Chong (subject of a recent documentary), "Asian values," gay rights, or the folly of capitalism/consumerism ("The Money Trilogy"), X'Ho's words drip with the productive contempt of a man who knows his society could be better, and the irony of a commentator who knows he'd have less to talk about if that society were perfect. He shares with the Boredphucks a discomfort with Singapore's apparent preoccupation with projecting a "positive" image at the expense of personal and artistic freedom. He tosses darts not only at the official Singapore but at Singaporeans whose lack of civility irks him, as in "Yellow Trash" and "Why Are We Such Rude Bastards?" Speaking of rude bastards, the Boredphucks (billed as "the Boredpucks") put in a rowdy appearance on "Suck." Turning to music, X'Ho expostulates over driving beats in such tracks as "Lament," "The Three T's," and "Money Culture."

Perhaps the album's highlight is "Singapore You're Not My Country," X'Ho's quietly impassioned reading of Alfian Sa'at's beautifully despairing poem about Singapore's lost soul. In a BigO interview, X'Ho disclosed that this track gave him the most trouble; his first instinct was to give it an angry reading, but after much thought and practice he decided on the more subtle, almost neutral vocal he finally laid down. He does full, moving justice to a work that obviously means a lot to him and, via X'Ho's voice, means a lot to us as well.

In their very different ways -- keg-party riffs and scalpel-edged wit -- the Boredphucks and X'Ho uphold the spirit of punk, only without punk's frequent negative vibe. These artists may be driving in separate vehicles, but they're heading in the same direction. Discovering where they end up, and how they will report on what they find there, will be a major reason for their fellow Singaporeans to stay interested in their work -- and for non-Singaporeans to get interested in it.