Review of Chris Ho’s Adventures in YinYao EP
by JOSEPH THAM
Very often, in his own creative sphere of producing his own music, Chris Ho took to some of the music genres which he loved. Two of his albums from a decade ago, Singapura Uber Alles and Lucifugous, his collaborative album with ARCN TEMPL (comprising Leslie Low and Vivian Wang, the founders of local avant rock group, The Observatory) are cases in point here. Perhaps tapping into specific musical genres which are often associated formalistically or historically with resistance, otherness and anti-authoritarianism, such as free jazz, punk, extreme metal, industrial and the myriad subgenres germinated from rave culture, he infused the angry, fluid and restless characteristics of these musical forms into his works. Chris Ho’ politically and socially conscious song lyrics and demeanor are well served by the musical vehicles he chose. He was, however, no mere imitator of such foreign musical styles; his instantly recognizable vocal quality, the calmly sardonic tone he sang or spoke with, and the seamless blend with the music gave many of his songs a unique whiff and vibe.
It might not be easy for some to ease into (or maybe gingerly immerse in, depending on one’s proclivity to the more unorthodox musical forms s/he is not accustomed to) his songs or albums, but it will be rewarding for those who dare to venture into the treacherous musical adventures he and his collaborators had concocted. His last release, with Everafter, the “collective/group” (if you go to their Bandcamp page, you can find that Eddy Wolf seems to be the main man with assorted personnel coming in and out when needed) might not be as soul scraping, palpitation inducing or ear annihilating as Singapura Uber Alles and Lucifugous. With only four tracks (it is an extended play or EP in short), I will argue that it is like an inch-perfect and potent dose of musical acupuncture needle: hit where it should.
Entitled Adventures in YinYao or 阴耀历险记 in Chinese, which can be further interpreted as “a glorious journey in the underworld/netherworld”, one could almost view the EP as Chris Ho’s equivalent to David Bowie’s last album ★ or Blackstar. One part acceptance of what life has meted out, and one part prideful deviance of mortality and what it entails, it is Chris Ho insisting on having the last words on the world. A perpetual in-between state of existence and atrophy, the EP is telling us that Chris Ho might have left us but, in many ways, he is still here with us.
The EP kicks off with “Connectin’”, an almost digital phone-like chime leading in the track before Chris Ho came in with his always well enunciated words, “A simple hello…”, oscillating between singing and speaking, while the music courses through neurotic electronic percussive flourishes and mildly angular bleeps and ululations. An apt opener about human interaction perhaps, of this supposedly well-connected contemporary world via technology but yet, are we really as connected as we wished? My take on it anyway.
“So Much Missin” swerves like a Coil influenced modern day Latin American tune, tipping his hat to one of Ho’s heroes, Chris Sleazy Christopherson of Throbbing Gristle and Coil, circa Twenty Jazz Funk Greats and Musick To Play In The Dark. With sprinkling keyboard passages and toe-tapping electronic beats providing the drive of the track, Chris Ho’s singing traverses through cracks and sighs of loss – it is 3 minutes and 45 seconds of his most sublime moments. And with that lingering sentiment, the third track segues in with an odd turn of lyrical and mood swing to that of unsettling queasiness a la Marc Almond circa Soft Cell’s subversive take on synth pop. When he vocalizes the word “kinky” which happens to be the title of the song, it seems as if he is chanting; a busy passage of almost free improvisation undergirding the sleaze and unease that permeates the entirety of the tune.
“One Day At A Time (Missin’ Part 2)” switches the atmospherics with a post-Bop like jazzy rumination while he comes on like a less confrontational Amiri Baraka or Moor Mother with their respective power jazz ensembles of New York Art Quartet (active in the 1960s) for the former and Irreversible Entanglements (active today) of the latter. But it is no less affecting as he chooses a conciliatory coda which brings the listeners down from a pretty emotionally discombobulating trip. Even at the end, Chris Ho is still pushing the limits creatively and has thrown the gauntlet down at our feet, daring us to immerse ourselves in this gem of a modern Singaporean uneasy listening classic.
Joseph Tham is a history educator as well as an independent researcher. His research interests include local and global avantgarde, alternative and underground musics, histories and subcultures. He used to run a record shop, Flux Us, and had organised gigs for local and international experimental and avant-garde artists.