pianica lessons

Last night was The Observatory's launch of their 2nd album Blank Walls with a performance at the Esplanade's recital studio. Sitting on the teal-coloured lecture hall chairs while the band played sure made for a strange concert experience.

But since I am no music reviewer, maybe I will start with The Pianica.

Ah, the pianica! This must be what makes The Observatory a local band... As with the recorder, every kid has to go through these pianica lessons when they are in Primary school - didn't you? The pianica doesn't make a very pleasant sound - especially when it is being played by forty 9-year olds together, badly. It lets out flat and plasticky notes, like an accordian on a leash - the notes yanked back before they are completely played. But I remember clearly 2 songs during the concert when the pianica was played. Amidst the lush layers of guitars, drums, keyboards and some lovely ambient sounds, the plastic pianica first carved out its own strangely plastic, magical space - and then invited these other music to join in.

Wheyface thinks their lyrics are "naff" (you can sample a snippet from their first album here). And I cannot help but agree, remembering too what had kept me away for a long time from their previous album at first. The first-person angst and melancholy, thin in its expression and vocabulary, often seems lacking in variety, humour, wit and allusions of any kind (yes, rather cringe-worthy even). This was made all the more obvious when the band ended the night with a cover of David Bowie's Ashes to Ashes- what a contrast!

But what's true about the pianica, I think is also true for Leslie Low's lyrics. Against the lush layers of music they've created, the lyrics stand out in their almost-embarrassing immediacy and nakedness - and offer an obvious space to enjoy the busy and intricate sounds.

I like The Observatory, so maybe I am making excuses for them. But if, like me, you've once been subjected to learning the pianica, then check out Blank Walls and the band's blog.


wheyface said…
i like their second album more than the first one - they're sounding less ethereal, less school-idealistic. the opening track reminds me of "the kings of convenience"; but my favourite is "seas of doubt".
as for the pianica, i see it as our homegrown equivalent to the enthusiastic jingling and jangling of the tambourine in one of leonard cohen's songs, either "so long marianne" or "the sisters of mercy" (or perhaps it's both!)
ampulets said…
oh so long marianne, it's time we began - to laugh - and cry - and laugh - and cry about it all again
(with swinging fiddles, jangly guitars + enthusiastic girl choir backup singers...but no tambourines on my version leh)

they touched both my eyes and I touched the dew on their hands...
(distant clanging cymbals, and some funny vibraphone-type ringing...hmm, more like a toy piano. no tambourines.)

I wonder if the canadians pulled off that literature nobel prize nomination for leonard cohen?
eh, i think you will like The Blue Nile. check them out.

Pianica maybe because they can't play the accordian? haha! i know - evil. Stu wasn't very impressed with the lyrics as well...

anyway, i was going to do a review myself, but now, i can't be bothered. maybe another day...

and, we have to do chicken wings. tues or thurs right? but for now, i happy cos got to eat bedok bbq chicken wings with W & K on Sat.
Anonymous said…
aiya, wan watch observatory but cannot get the tickets leh :(
heh i played the pianica in my school ensemble eons ago but threw it away when the blow tube went green with algae. :p

ampulets said…
cal, your saliva can nurture algae...wah.
Anonymous said…
forgot to dry it lor and then after 长年累月的酝酿 summore. anyway, was wtching the at17 concert and veronica lee(one half of material girls) was playing the pianica (but they called it the melodica). it actually sounded quite exquisite, in some ways, like the accordion. nothing like the blaring expressionless noise i remembered it by. guess the teachers taught us to play it the wrong way :p

Anonymous said…
haha. why throw the instrument away? can change the mouthpiece tubing alone rite? That's what they always do when it pass it around in school? anyway, i hv 1 pianica sitting around at home from some over donations from friends. who wants? :) -AL

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