It took me a long time to figure out A Glass of What Reminds Me of Lovesick Potions by Sleaze. There are so many elements in the 11-track album that I am still discovering new insights on each new listen. When I discuss this album with fellow music enthusiasts, their interpretations of the album can be vastly different from mine. Some saw the album as fierce and immediate like hardcore. Some saw it as epic and indulgent like stoner rock. Some saw it as sensitive and sentimental like mandarin pop. There seems to be multiple layers to this seemingly straightforward album.
Since the album’s release in September 2012, I had multiple “batches” of listens to the album and I found different details each time that intrigued me.
When I first listened to the album, I was stuck by the flow of album. There are crests and crescendos like a story told in real time.
The album starts with a mournful wail and then launches into a barrage of fierce songs with rock-heavy riffs. Epic insanely cool rock riffs can be found littered throughout, infusing the album with energy. Most songs have their own “storytelling tempo” with crests and crescendos – creating that link with the overall album pace. There is a hypnotic quality to the longer epic songs. Repetitive hooks and swirling effects pull the listener into a trance. 夢中夢中夢 is one good example of such allure.
After an extreme headbangingly fun riffing session in the 31 seconds 喬, the album takes a tempo shift midway and introduces reggae elements. The slower dub beat pulled me into the album and hinted at the complexities beneath this textured album. The saxophone solo by Jun Nemoto 根本 潤 was mindblowing good and amazingly appropriate on A Glass of What Reminds Me of Lovesick Potions (the title track). Most Taiwanese audience might be most familiar with Jun as the mad-on-stage-but-supremely-gifted saxophonist on the recent Mouse on the Keys tour.
The closing tracks to the album have a finishing quality to them – like they are the conclusion of a story that Sleaze has just narrated. 妖魔世界 suggests a decent into frenzied madness from passion. The lead guitar work in 這一生中最壞事件只會有一次 then invokes an image of the protagonist standing on a lonesome rock by a raging sea having undergone a personal journey of passion and discovery, coming out wiser and ready to move on.
While this album is not quite a rock opera per se, there is enough commonality in the themes of the tracks and enough storytelling techniques to warrant such a comparison. Sleaze seems to be telling a story of love and frenzied passion. While the harder musical style (distortion-heavy guitars, screaming vocals, etc) might turn off some listeners more used to mellower songs, there is a sensitive storytelling quality to Sleaze’s compositions. One would have to listen beyond one’s initial impressions.
There was something that lurked in the back of my mind when I listened to the album during the second batch of listens. There was a familiarity to the album – almost a sense of nostalgia. There was something that harked back to music from earlier periods of my life.
Then one (rare) sunny morning, I was humming a tune from my childhood. It was a song that was popular with my mother while I was a wee toddler. Then it struck me on the thematic similarities.
我從山中來帶著蘭花草 － 劉文正
我住在山中 不了解城市人的憂愁 － Sleaze
劉文正 (Steven Liu) was a very popular male singer from the 70s and 80s. His songs are sentimental and innocent. They paint a perfect picture of romance and idyllic state of the world. While the two lyrical lines contain a reference to the hills, Sleaze seems to have bought 劉文正 into today’s chaotic and angry state of the world. 劉文正 sings about flowers. Sleaze sings about worries of urbanites.
When I looked closely at the lyrics, they are remarkably sensitive and thoughtful. They are infused with a poet’s soul. They hark back to meaningful thoughtful lyrics of olden years (劉文正-like) but brought to modernity in theme and relevance. I should have guessed Sleaze’s intent. The album title is the first clue – it alludes to a popular 劉德華 (Andy Lau) song/album from the 90s. However, the full title also suggests that it merely “looks” like 忘情水 without suggesting that it is.
Everyone stands on the shoulders of giants. Sleaze is no exception in using references and influences. The nod to Chinese pop culture can be subtle and would take a bit of groundwork to dig out. Fortunately the process of digging is fun. There are definitely more layers of innuendo and inferences to be uncovered. Sleaze is that cheeky of a band.
Third (and most recent) Batch
I started paying attention to the vocals and instrumentations on my recent third batch of listens.
The vocals on A Glass of What Reminds Me of Lovesick Potions (the album) are lamenting and haunting. It hints at a tortured soul. On one hand, it reminds me of the protagonist of sad mandarin pop songs of unrequited love and longing. On the other, there is menace and a “turn to the dark side”. 妖魔世界 suggests that a tortured soul when pushed too hard can break. The vocals gel well with storytelling from a wrecked being’s point of view.
One might think that the soulful lament is buried by the anger displayed in the screaming vocals, heavy riffs and aggressive beats. However, if you listen carefully, that lament is still present in the lyrics. The detached urgency in the guitar leads suggests a devil lurking in the protagonist's head, ready to pounce in any moment of weakness. The interplay between the leads and the vocals hints at the struggle within a man trying to hold on to his reason and not give in completely to his passions.
So there you have it - A Glass of What Reminds Me of Lovesick Potions is an onion. The more you peel off its multiple layers, the more you are moved to tears. The alchemy of different genres and eras of music, mixed with masterful storytelling, creates a uniquely beautiful Taiwanese voice in the local music scene. Do not dismiss this release as simply an aggressive riff-heavy screaming stoner rock album. Else, you will miss out on one of the most complex, intricate and sensitive albums created by a thoughtful Taiwanese indie band.
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