- Artist: Serenaide
- Year released: 2005 on Fruit Records
- Genre: Indie pop
“Wow, the list could go on and on. Yes, The Smiths definitely! They’re legendary along with The Stone Roses. I’m also into bands like Lightning Seeds, New Order, Franz Ferdinand, Depeche Mode, Stereo MC.. basically, stuff that makes me want to put on my dancing shoes!” – Lead singer Pheyroz on their musical influences and favourite music
This debut from Serenaide was their only album, unfortunately – but it’s a brilliant ode to the music of yesteryear – think innocent, jangly tunes of the C86 scene criss-crossing with the archness of Pulp – and the sexual swing of Suede.
I present to you: The Other Side Of The Receiver!
It all stems back to being 15 years old at the time, and being entranced by a single song that had been playing repetitively on the radio. The fuzzed-up Smithsian riff, waltzing merrily around the thumping drums which floated into a lazy surf guitar line, combined with the fairytale lyrics, “She was the girl from Katong/Magical Marine Parade” brought a childish delight to my ears. I’d never heard any references to Singaporean places in songs on the radio, so this was even more awesome because of that! I remember going frothy-mouthed over this song with my secondary school friend, and we used to gush over the whole thing. I also remember turning her on to The Strokes…but that’s another entire story altogether.
Anyway, as per usual, some facts about the band:
- Serenaide formed in 1999, now consisting of members Mimi (bass), Pheyroz (guitars/vocals), Remy (guitars/backing vocals), Shakir (drums), Natalie (violins) and Eugene (keyboards). They reformed in 2011 and last played at the Mosaic Music Festival in 2013.
- Apparently they were recording their second album back in 2010 (according to their Facebook page) but it hasn’t seen the light of day.
Where I live in Singapore, Singaporean bands were rarely heard on the radio (this wasn’t the case in the 60s and 90s, but a proper discussion would probably require a blog post on its own.) – due to the pervading mindset that homegrown music was second rate at best, and better music was to be found outside of Singapore. Thankfully, due to the timely rise of the Internet, the annual Baybeats Festival and the indie/alternative scene ascending to the mainstream, it’s easier to catch homegrown band gigs now, and listen to their music.
Serenaide’s debut has a rough-hewn beauty that becomes evident with each listen, thanks to producer Kevin Foo – the record sounds more like a breezy jam at a rehearsal session instead of a proper, boring production. Incidentally, The Other End Of The Receiver also manages to bring back sepia-tinted nostalgia of a more naive Singapore in the past, which is the closest to a C86 revival from these guys.
The Girl From Katong features some name-dropping – for the unenlightened the Katong area, located in the east, is the traditional suburban district of the wealthy in Singapore whose families made their fortunes in the late 19th to the early 20th century. Marine Parade, also located in the east, is also the recent neighbourhood of the well-to-do in Singapore – but geologically, it is also near East Coast Park, where an abundance of coconut trees flourish and cycling buffs, dog-walkers and picnicking families lounge on the white sands. It was also a popular place for shy young couples to spend their conventional dates, in the 70s’ and 80s’, due to the picturesque quality of the scenery. So herein lies the romantic element of the “encounter” in The Girl From Katong (“I got her to her feet and then she smiled at me”).
Elsewhere on the album, the nostalgia shifts from the naive 70s’ to the one I am more familiar with as a kid of the 90s : the anonymous appearance of the high-rise HDB flats, where the majority of the Singaporean population dwell. They are the equivalent of the council flat in England, although there is none of the associated stigma with living in government flats – I have to note something here lest you, reader, start throwing stones at me: with prices starting from 100K for a HDB flat, and with scarce land making owning an actual house very expensive, most middle income families have no problem living in these flats.
I would gaze at the opposite block after dinner, where I would watch families having dinner, illuminated under that familiar fluorescent bulb, or washing dishes in their kitchens through their square windows. In all honesty, it’s more gratuitous spying then mere observation. However, the way I was gazing out felt more like I was staring at a TV screen, so it was more of watching a recurring drama about the everyday man and their mundane life. It also feels like what Jarvis Cocker would do, actually.That man’s sneaky, all right.
1900-Confession, a song that starts being outright bold and turns into an apologetic mess, has the familiar sexual ambiguity that harks from Suede’s The Drowners (“Oh how can she turn you on?/ She can’t give you what I’ve got”) and voyeurism (“I have been watching you from afar/ Amidst the glittering lights and the bluest shining star”) set to a lilting surf guitar tune. Furry Animal Fury and Lonely Bedroom Encounters are the anthems of the typical person living that mundane life, either with the occasional cheap thrill of paid sex for the former, and the niggling guilt while staring at your peeling ceiling at 3 am, wondering if you’ve fucked up your relationship again after your girlfriend left in a righteous tiff over some matter for the latter. All this is delivered with pretty surf-esque guitars, or the occassional keyboards on Furry Animal Fury, with a very no-frills drumming – there’s no fancy electronic synth or crunching guitars to overwhelm your ears, or some unnecessarily fancy drum solo for the garnish.
The record’s closing song, Cameo Apperance, is a lush affair – there’s the mournful sigh of the violin and the picked-out guitar line that smells of decay. Pheyroz laments the death of a relationship, while also simultaneously slinging bat shit at the other party (“Oh maybe, just maybe that will teach you/Not to open your legs/So wide apart, anymore”) – but the melancholy violins stop, and the guitars and undisguised vitriol take over, now devoid of all sentiment (“You were so legendary/When you were so on top of the world/But now it’s gone, gone, gone…”)
Look – here’s a sample!