RAKSASA, (real name: Faizal Shahrin), has quite the resume. A trained audio specialist and sound engineer, Faizal has worked with mainstream musicians on some of Malaysian radio’s most impactful records, although he prefers to keep that part of his career under cloak; commercial pop is not where his heart lies.
Over the last five years, Raksasa released two full-length albums, namely jualbeli tanggapan (2011) and jualbeli niat (2014). Both albums established a simple fact: here is a purely experimental entity; one that isn’t bound by assumptions or formulas on music-making.
Heavy on guitars, effects and ambient sound, Raksasa’s music is dark, sometimes hopeless, but compelling. His raspy vocals could end up divisive, but fans of alt-rock should be rewarded with his complex song structures and distinctive, devastated soundscape. Think a thirsty, stream-of-consciousness Helios on acid; or Nine Inch Nails stranded on a desert with an old Apple Macintosh.
As such, it was curious that Raksasa returned in January this year with a new full-length LP titled b.e.a.t.c.h. Forsaking analog instrumentation and his trademark voice, he treads electronic territory in a digital, instrumental project.
b.e.a.t.c.h is a peek into the mind of anarchist. It’s an otherworldly trip designed to pull listeners out of reality, composed of chugging loops and adamant, lo-fi beats. It’s also often child-like, peppered with moments of surprise.
“Dream Works Without Failure” pairs a looped eight-beat melody with pacing drums over a hopeless chord progression. A shrill metallic clang decides to join in the carefully-constructed fun of “Forgotten recipe in luxurious living”. “Fake ideas of propaganda free” develops into a bright 16-bit trip before dissolving ominously into a single pitch. These are examples of the vision which helps b.e.a.t.c.h. transcend background music terrain.
With b.e.a.t.c.h. Raksasa has created something akin to a score; his record is evocative of science fiction and post-PlayStation video games. Along the way, he delves deep into the realm of ambient, synth-powered music — “Principal nod in rhythm” recalls a spaceship being navigated through space, and even features a quiet, short bridge reminiscent of the vastness of the universe.
Elsewhere, “Economic life of orange tale” sounds like a rebellion: four-minutes of drums, mechanical punches and out-of-sync loops crash against each other, volatile. Like the aftermath of a civil unrest, the track ends forlorn, with a piano mournfully paying tribute to remnants of the past.
Raksasa describes b.e.a.t.c.h. as a traditional journey, one which leads to its climax before resolving. His record may lean towards aural storytelling, but its cohesion in sound comes at a price. Despite the interesting ideas scattered throughout his latest studio effort, Raksasa’s soundscapes grow familiar too soon and his frequent, shrill trebles can grate.
Fortunately, they mostly serve a purpose here, whether to realize a complete musical world or challenge the listener’s perception of what constitutes a pleasing melody.
Charting his own course as an artist, Raksasa has only just begun a new leg of his adventure. With his confidence boosted by a bold swap in genre, Raksasa has more reign on his compositions this time around.
And if b.e.a.t.c.h. has gleaned something of its creator, it’s the fact that the guy’s a beast. Keep a close eye on this one, fellas.