If you’ve followed along the musical path of Isa Ong, the music of Claude Glass might come off as a startling left-field turn. The songs of Isekai are rich and unfettered, with only a twinkle of his skilful guitarwork peeking out amidst the startling electronic production that defines this new project.
Ong is best known for bringing his instrumental chops to several Singaporean bands, on and off the stage — in the revered technicality of Amateur Takes Control, the theatrical experimentation of sub:shaman and the infectious pop of Pleasantry. Claude Glass is his outlet for pure studio work. These songs were only made with solitary listening in mind, although he has not ruled out pulling off a live show in the near future.
Glitched-out passages, assertive breaks and melodic vocal lines glide over everything so smoothly, and it’s only the start. Claude Glass joined us to talk about the forward-thinking music that helped nudge some inspiration his way.
Listen to our conversation with him below and read through his picks.
1. Aphex Twin - ‘Flim’
Since hearing this for the first time in my teens (probably 10 years after it came out), I’ve been consistently obsessed with its drum arrangement. It’s just so human, and yet it isn’t, which was mind-blowing to me at the time, as there was so much human-ness in the programming and yet it still had that drum machine quality to it. It’s brutally simple in its instrumentation too — and it’s exactly that combination of drums and those sweet, sincere pianos and synths that makes it so unique. A timeless classic.
2. JPEGMAFIA - ‘Baby I’m Bleeding’
The first time I heard this track, I was amazed by his use of sounds — especially because he was sampling stuff that I would think to be seemingly unusable (or just difficult!) to form the base of a track. In this one, he made an entire track out of “eh’s” and “ah’s”. How cool is that? And it works so well with his vocal performance and style to form this chaotic, f*ck-all energy that’s so infectious.
3. Son Lux - ‘The Fool You Need’
Probably my favourite band for the past two years or so. Their music hits so many spots — technical, emotional and wondrous. What astounds me is how each member has such a unique style and sonic characteristic that’s so distinct (from their own solo projects), and yet, in a band setting, it all comes together perfectly to form something so new — all the while still allowing each of their individual characteristics to shine. It’s so masterful in production, arrangement, songwriting and importantly, on navigating individuality in those aspects.
4. Gabriel Garzón-Montano - ‘Someone, Agüita, Bloom (Medley) | A COLORS SHOW’
I’m cheating a little bit here with the medley. I was floored when I first heard this on COLORS — there was so much freedom in his performance, and what really struck me was how he seemed to defy any need to have a set musical style or genre. He just did whatever he wanted, and that was so freeing and inspiring to me.
5. Nat King Cole - ‘Autumn Leaves’
This is one of my grandfather’s favourite songs. It always takes me back to a very special moment when we both sat down in silence listening to this on vinyl at my parent’s old place in Tampines. I’ve a soft spot for schmaltzy love songs, especially from this era — it’s that sincerity and those idealistic musings in the lyrics and melody.
6. Golden Blonde - ‘We Begin’
Probably only came across this track by sheer luck while surfing through Bandcamp. I particularly love the way they used drums and percussions — that main drum section seems to be composed almost as a riff, and it had such a peculiar yet groovy rhythmic pattern to it. It also had this melodic quality to it, through using different parts of the drum kit. It had an almost lyrical sense to it too.
7. Alva noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto - ‘By This River’
This is a re-imagining of a Brian Eno track. I fell in love with how tactile the entire track is, and its use of glitch in such a controlled, warm and melodic way. Working so closely with the piano chords, the stutter-y glitches throughout the track never once felt intrusive or annoying. Instead, it elevated the emotion in those chords, with the perfect amount of restrained tension.
8. skillkills - ‘Count 2.9’
Heard about this band when sub:shaman was playing a few shows around Japan in 2017. We were working with a Japanese-based live sound engineer, So-san (who also did sound for The Observatory, and also for Boris!), who played some of their songs during a long van ride. This band’s sense of rhythm is so insane — they create these badass, yet quirky and alien-like grooves that I’ve never heard or thought were possible before. It’s like dub on speed. It really has made me rethink what “groove” is and what it could potentially be.
9. Mun Sing - ‘Revenge’
Mun Sing’s one half of Giant Swan. In this track, he created such an immersive world out of just drums and percussions. I fell in love with the track’s texture, chaos and drive, and especially at how intense and hard it got while still preserving intricacy and groove. His re-pitching of percussive elements was also really cool — using that gave so much interest without hammering down a clearcut, on-the-nose melodic hook.
10. Jockstrap - ‘Acid’
I was so enamoured by this track that I had to listen to it several times a day, every day for a few weeks. It captured some of that old school sweetness, while keeping things fresh and unique with its arrangement and choice of instrumentation — from those lilting violins to the vocal treatment and drums. There’s so much good taste behind the songwriting and production of this track I actually teared when I heard it — half from its beauty and half from jealousy. (laughs)