Singapore Sling was one of the bands we were most excited to see at Iceland Airwaves in 2016, excited enough to get down to KEX Hostel probably an hour before their set was scheduled to start so we could stake out the best possible spot. How much did we want to see them? Enough to make sure Holly’s watch flashed us an alarm 15 minutes in advance so we could be ready. That’s how much.
We enjoyed Singapore Sling’s last LP, 2015s Psych Fuck, which comes at you like a Lou Reed inspired wall of sound, smothering you over the course of 45 minutes of relentless riffs. And their live show was every bit the same experience, perhaps even more so given that we couldn’t control the volume knob and the Slingers came at us loud, making us physically feel the waves emerging from the speakers that were only a couple of feet away. It was intense and enjoyable, leaving my ears exhausted and my brain crying out for another beer to take the edge off the residual electric buzz in my mind. The below photo summarizes the experience of Singapore Sling witnessed up close and personal.
I’ve had a copy of the band’s latest release Kill, Kill, Kill (Songs About Nothing) on order since before it came out, and after some delays I just heard that it shipped yesterday. Sweet. But man, it was a tough week at work, and Holly and I decided to give the whole week the middle finger so we bought a download of the album so we could rock out to it over some cocktails on Friday night. And I’m glad we did, because it allowed me to sit on the couch and let Singapore Sling smother my senses, like being covered by an aural blanket, blocking out the stresses and anxieties of the week and drowning them in sound (and vodka).
I went back and gave Kill, Kill, Kill another listen in the car this morning, and was a bit surprised to hear a much more nuanced album than the one I’d experienced the evening before. If there was one criticism I offered of Psych Fuck it was that by I got to the last couple of songs I was just plan worn out, my ears overloaded to the point that I couldn’t focus on the music and it became a sort of incessant background buzzing. It had some great songs like “Na Na Now” and “The Underground,” but after listening to three or four of them I was ready to give my ears a change of scenery, much the same way that strong flavors, even when delicious, eventually overwhelm your palette.
The new album finds Singapore Sling broadening their sound, using a wider-ranging sonic arsenal to create more nuanced tracks. Don’t get me wrong – Kill, Kill, Kill is still heavy duty psych from start to finish; it’s not like the gang started dabbling heavily into ambient house or something. But what we have goes beyond the standard rock fare of guitars and drums and keyboards, adding some horns and strings to the mix to bring a sort of horror movie soundtrack vibe in a way that changes the mood of the compositions. The clearest example of this is on “Surrounded by Cunts,” (yes, I said “Surrounded by Cunts”) which uses sharp and abrasive strings to call to mind the part of any great slasher flick when the killer suddenly appears and stabs stabs stabs their victim, like Norman Bates pulling back the shower curtain and going to work on Marion Crane in Psycho. And the horror elements don’t end there. “Riffermania (Kill Kill Kill)” comes out of the gate with a fuzzed out surf rock feel, layered with some deep vocals that are accentuated by the whispered/echoed refrain of “kill kill kill” reminiscent of that haunting “kill kill kill… die die die…” that was sometimes used in 1980s murder movies, soft enough to be almost subliminal. But in “Riffermania” the “kill kill kill” eventually comes to the forefront, lyrically dominating the second half of the song to the point that you almost start thinking to yourself, “you know what, yeah, maybe that’s not such a bad idea after all” until your rational mind grabs the emergency brake and throws you into a 180 right in the middle of the road, leaving you at a dead stop, sweating, adrenaline coursing through your veins like liquid fire and trying to figure out what the hell just happened.
But it’s not all sharp objects and heaviness. “Nothing’s Theme” still uses those scraping strings to great effect, but also some discordant horns that give the whole thing the feel of a snake charmer’s song, the trumpet sneaking out at times to pull you in, swaying, giving in to the music. The acoustic guitar moves to the forefront in “Nothing and Nowhere,” combining with the echoed vocals, some very deliberate and tinkling keyboards, and whistling to create a haunting anti-ballad, an homage to “nothing at all,” while it’s classic blues guitar that sets the stage for dirge that is “Fuck Everything.” But there’s plenty of that classic Singapore Sling feel as well, with solid psych numbers like “Shake Shake Shake” and “Scum Scum Scum.”
The range Singapore Sling show in Kill, Kill, Kill might not be obvious, but it’s there to be heard if you invest some time and actively listen. It’s an evolution of their psych sound, in a more traditionally gradual way as opposed to the punctuated equilibrium of bands that make major changes in direction. Parts of it may also cause you to feel the urge to turn on all the lights and look over your shoulder. But don’t worry, Norman won’t bother you… at least not until you take a shower…