Houg – ‘The Biting Tempo’ review: Disaffected funk-pop wrestling with time and its lessons

The Singaporean musician releases a groovy debut album awash in millennial ennui and affection for shiny ’80s sounds

In his debut studio album ‘The Biting Tempo’, Singaporean musician Houg makes no pretense of his restlessness.

This heady record shifts genres constantly, moving from sparkling funk-pop (‘Excuse Me (What’s The Time?)’) and hypnagogic soul (‘Edwardes’) to sunny indie rock (‘Cleaning Time’) and late-night R&B (‘DXO’). It evokes the image of a musician constantly tinkering with the littlest of details in the studio, indifferent to the very idea of a deadline.

Before this first full-length effort, Houg released a debut EP titled ‘The Oscillation Scene’ in 2020. That project carried a wistful affection for the gloss and glitz of pop music from the past, specifically the ’80s – an era that many contemporary stars, from The Weeknd to Carly Rae Jepsen, and countless bedroom producers, have called back to in their own way. Houg too channelled a wider fondness for the period, allowing it to unfurl in each track with wondrous ease. If he did sound a little too comfortable, he was likely having too much fun to care otherwise.

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Two years later, ‘The Biting Tempo’ arrives almost as a corrective to the immediate pleasure of that past approach. He anxiously reckons with the passage of time, forsaking blind nostalgia and recalling past memories of a life led by regretful choices and missed opportunities.

Houg examines all of that to a nearly claustrophobic degree. The theme is evident from clocks on the album cover to choruses like “There’s nothing I can do for you / The sands of time are low / You know my time is gone” in ‘Jarr’, where Thai funk-pop band Supergoods help to elevate the melancholy with vocals by lead singer Saranthorn Taweerat.

Once again, Houg confidently transplants ’80s pop and funk to the present, though he leaves behind its striking idealism in favour of millennial ennui. These songs pulsate with groove and detail; there are saxophones, drum machines, found sounds, electric guitars, tape noise, and hypnotic bass and synth lines aplenty. It’s not too distant from his past work – or the dreamy and often cynical genre of vaporwave that he occasionally draws upon – but Houg sometimes takes a turn for the confessional.

‘The Biting Tempo’ lets you in on his secrets. On several tracks, Houg deals with themes of alienation, heartbreak and forgiveness. In the sensual ‘Proxy’, he peers into a moment of intimacy he once shared with someone that all comes falling apart in the next track ‘Excuse Me (What’s The Time?)’, where he is forced to face the deterioration of a once-cherished relationship.

Houg has said the album was influenced by his time as an aspiring musician in Melbourne, where his determination was stifled by self-doubt. ‘7 Ain’t Home’ returns to that languishing mental state with silky-smooth synth and spoken word contributions by Japanese producer VIDEOTAPEMUSIC. On ‘DXO’, Houg balances Prince-inspired balladry and new age elegance even as he sings about feeling suspended in routine.

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On ‘Department of Loved’, a collaborative effort with Singaporean vaporwave artist Don Aaron, Houg attempts to make peace with his struggles. He bridges the gap between Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and Jermaine Dupri, where gated drum sounds collide with bright harpsichords, but its hook ultimately falls short of its sonic ambition. By the time you reach closing track ‘Cleaning Time’, Houg is still hung up on the past, but has also come to some firm conclusions. “Tearing up my heart / Your love is a sin,” he declares, over and over again.

Though slow-moving, ‘The Biting Tempo’ occasionally stumbles; though anxious, it’s also vibrant. It reminds listeners that time is a luxury getting more precious by the day – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still luxuriate in it.

Details

Houg Biting Tempo album review
  • Release date: March 4
  • Independent
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