It’s a really great week for music here in Malaysia. We have the out-of-the-blue appearance of new band Sweetass, Altimet’s single about our culture of debt and more from Takahara Suiko’s solo project! Follow our Spotify profile for updates on the latest local tracks!
Luar Biasa – Ismail Izzani, Alif
Ismail Izzani gets a bad rep for some of his divisive statements and scandals, and the fact that he’s a 15-year-old pop singer doesn’t seem to soften the blow he gets from the ‘masses’ (I use the word ‘masses’ lightly, there aren’t any clear statistics regarding how many people care about Ismail Izzani). The comparison from Justin Bieber becomes endless since it doesn’t just apply to his musical style and voice, but also the child-like pride that seems to accompany 80% of adolescent entertainers. His personal life aside however, another similarity that should be noted is that Ismail Izzani is actually a pretty decent performer. His single Sabar last year is one of the best pop ballads on the Malaysian charts of 2017. Luar Biasa showcases his range with a more dance-oriented tune that honestly has really clean productions with electronic top 40’s vibes of the mid 2000s. Rapper, Alif, gives the song a great amount of character that paints over some of the blandness in the track. All of that being said, there is nothing really luar biasa about the single – many of the hooks are pop cliches that are rampant in so many tracks right now – but Ismail Izzani has still shines through with his sleek vocals. It’s the type of heart he puts in his songs that make him different from other people that try to slump him in the same category as Aiman Tino. We’re all really interested to see if he’ll get out of his comfort zone and grow as a performer and singer.
3.2 / 5
Tabah – Aman Ra
Ever since his Kraft days, Aman Ra has always been Malaysia’s ‘deep’ rap icon – whether it’s his rapping voice, his lyricism, or his punchy, guttural flow. He’s always been on top of his game. With Tabah, you see more and more of his lyrical edge standing out. He covers all the bases. It’s not hard to fall into the trap of making heartless, uninspiring songs that are ironically about inspiration and overcoming odds. Aman Ra does NOT fall into this trap. Tabah is filled with so much candor, as he uses his struggles to talk about the need to be strong (Tekanan hidup, menghantui dan menguasai/ Ketika diri miskin, langsung tak dihargai Azamnya hanya, mahu tempah nama di kota/ Harapan berjaya sentiasa berkobar/ Beringat-ingat, mcm tgh cuba hafal /Termenung jauh, teringatkan perkara afdal). Although the production is simple, Aman Ra doesn’t need banger beats to tell a story. It would be nice to have some more innovation in the track, in spite it not adversely affecting any soul that Tabah possesses. May it be Aman Ra’s braggadocio side upping his hometown, or telling you to buck up and stay true – he’s still got it.
Smile – Orang Malaya
Cruising through with that auto-tune R&B bop is Orang Malaya’s Smile. Soothing, romantic, and oddly lonely – Smile does not have that same full sound that his single Light last year, but for good reason. It adds to the solitude, as the song feels like a desperate plea to just be happy. (Baby I just want to smile for no reason). It’s minimal, but emotional, and gets us even more excited to see Orang Malaya’s musical evolution as he moves further and further away from his trap days of Radland Inn EP and getting comfortable in his alternative R&B realm. Also, that moment when he sings mushroom through his auto-tuned falsetto is superb. No other Malaysian artist does that auto-tune any more justice than him.
Bunga – Altimet
There are two things that seem to be a constant in Altimet’s recent discography: 1) Altimet’s penchant for combining traditional ‘caklempong’ sounds with hip hop and 2) acute commentary on a society obsessed with materialism. Bunga feels like the perfect sequel to Amboi, with lyrics on a debt-ridden society with even the Nusantara vibe to keep your head banging, and yet it doesn’t feel derivative or hackneyed. Bunga is a definitively solid Altimet track and it’s not even the best from his latest album. While we’re playing Air on repeat, we’re all waiting for ‘O’ to come out. In the meantime, there is top-notch hard-hitting production on this one that’s hard to miss.
4.1 / 5
Turning Point – Youth Portal
One of Malaysia’s best dream-pop outfit, Youth Portal took us all on a mellow trip with Butter Breakfast last. Well, this year, in anticipation of their upcoming EP, Turning Point is gonna keep us preoccupied for quite a while. Turning Point is cool because the atmosphere of the song changes from verse to chorus (i.e. a literal turning point) from lazy slacker rock to something slightly sinister, as the singer laments a hard day on its way.
Cabaret – Radiowave
It would be easy to lump Radiowave into the same subset of indie rock as Bittersweet, (especially since they’re both from Ipoh). However, there is a more apparent attempt at incorporating 80s-esque synths and danceable tunes with Radiowave’s music. In fact, Cabaret’s anthemic quality reminds us of bands like Hard-Fi, The Killers or One Night Only – soaring yet grounded, retro yet without the obvious homages to modern psychedelic indie. Heck, even the lyricism has its own edge, giving off some sinister vibes. (There they come all in black/Am I in the dream or the reality?) It’s a great rock tune that puts Radiowave on the map.
4.3 / 5
Postergirl – VIONA
The eclectic world of Venopia keeps on giving, as Viona Vernett (aka Takahara Suiko) gives us Postergirl. It’s not the first time Takahara talks about capitalism and celeb worship, with the song Pelacur Muzik already in the discography. Postergirl however pushes this to another level, both musically and thematically. Production-wise, everything comes together to create a “dark side of Hollywood” ambience – the kinda score that wouldn’t be amiss in a movie about celebrity intrigue or shoddy film producers. From the cameras flickering, to the sinister guitars.
Thematically, VIONA speaks about the act of “selling out”, surrendering yourself to the shackles of fame and capitalism. (i can only see my future in you / tied down by the rope I hold on to /mistaken by the hunter hiding behind the fool /n ow I’m a slave to your money’s muse). It substitutes preachiness with biting sarcasm, as VIONA plays the role of the Postergirl declaring her story of appeasing the masses, lamenting a life where her words cease to become her own. It’s powerful stuff, and VIONA enters into that territory with graceful panache. It speaks to the range of Takahara Suiko when she has two songs that covers roughly the same subject matter but each of them have their own genre to it. One of the best social commentary tracks I’ve heard in a while.
Ragu – VIONA
3 singles down the line, and VIONA shows no sign of stopping these past two weeks. RAGU is a song that belongs in jazz bars, where the singer’s entire persona is seducing the audience, with a cigarette in between their fingers. What is wonderfully odd about RAGU is that the leading instrumentation for this jazzy track is a ukulele, and how many times have you heard a song with a ukulele in it thinking “this is pretty sexy”? Besides that, there’s also the fact that unlike most jazz songs, RAGU is about the inner conflict of a person with closeted sexuality who are afraid of society’s condemnation. It is beautifully written in prose, and definitely holds a lot of emotional resonance to people who undergoing a life of half-truths around their loved ones, incorporating the hateful, black & white rhetoric preached by homophobia and internalizing as a necessary part of survival. (Naluri azali yang merasuk/tindak tandukku yang mencemar duli /dan cemari hati nurani yang diusir / jelata yang lali dengan bisikan hitam dan putih ). Shaheir Jibin’s mixing and mastering in this song is ace and definitely gives it a slightly different than other self-produced VIONA tracks. Unfortunately, this song loses a lot of potential lustre by being too clean for a track that has every ironic potential to be smoky, to add to the sombreness of the storytelling.
4.2 / 5
Dermaga – Sekumpulan Orang Gila
Ready your battle stations, defend your fortress; Sekumpulan Orang Gila has created your fighting anthems for you. Dermaga is hard-hitting, no-holds-barred, no BS, hardcore. Sekumpulan Orang Gila has wow-ed us with interesting production before, with explorations of gamelan sounds, and they’ve also brought us into the more pop-ish side of their music, but this time it’s all-out musical belligerence. Ajim Juxta’s lyrics gives Dermaga the heart it deserves, sounding like a spirited war cry that can shake the earth. This track is only a piece of what else SOG’s album has to offer, so stay tuned for our review of the album, In the meantime, the armada of adrenaline-fueled ships of headbangers has reached the dock!
4.5 / 5
Wa Caya Lu – Sweetass
Grunge came back from the dead, repackaged like our favourite assorted Cap Tangan peanuts and Seinfeld title font. Wa Caya Lu does not try to be anything more than just honest-to-god fuzzy guitars and lyrics about trusting each other and mentadaks(?). It definitely carries forward the sense of humor that became the heart of the grunge scene, when artists didn’t take themselves too seriously and just wanted to play a freaking rock song. Sweetass’s entire 7-track-album is filled with gems like these, but this single stands out as being so bare-bones, and so worth repeating. The fuzzy feedback and distortions in the beginning sounds like a freaking announcement for something bigger.
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