Reviewed by EIJAS ARIFFIN
The past few years has seen a significant shift among the musical tastes of the young Malaysian indie scene. Instead of going to the studios to jam with their bands, kids are making music in their bedrooms with their computers. With the accessibility of the internet these days, we’ve seen the electronic music scene saturated with bedroom DJ’s and producers. A cursory browse through Soundcloud and you will notice that many are merely parroting the “in” sound. Few are true innovators. But KL native Adam Kasturi is one of those few.
Camo opens with “No Info”, a futuristic three minute epic layered with chaotic twists and turns throughout the song. Described by Adam as a “space opera”, the masterful mixing of different effects and sounds coming out of this track really does feel like if our computers and music gears ever became sentient, this is what their orchestra would sound like.
Adam described his last record Amok (2015) as a portrait of “Kaskaesque life in Kolumpo”, which perfectly describes Camo as well. The beats on the tracks often feel make you feel claustrophobic, reflecting the stresses that come with living and coping in modern Kuala Lumpur. Even when the listener finds some breathing space in more minimalist tracks like “Skar”, there are still dark undertones that still keep the listener locked in his hypermodern landscape.
I once read that listening to legendary dubstep pioneer Burial around London at night would provide you with the perfect soundtrack to the city. Similarly, listening to Adam Kasturi on a commute home, after you’ve finished a late night, provides you with the perfect post-apocalyptic soundtrack to Kuala Lumpur.
Johor born duo Juno and Hanna’s debut record Air is a project with beautifully juxtaposed electronic beats and Hanna’s haunting vocals creating an ambient, dream-like soundscape. Dubbed by most critics as a dream-pop band, the band doesn’t really indulge in the cheerful, chill sounds that most bands of the genre have built their names on. If this is dream-pop, then the dreams are those of heartbreak and longing.
While the lo-fi production coupled with Hanna’s delivery makes the lyrics indecipherable in most tracks, this ambiguity adds a sense of surrealism to the record, further reinforcing the duo’s dreamy soundscape. Throughout the record, particularly in songs like “Will I Realize” and the single “So Low”, it feels as if the primary use of Hanna’s vocals are not to deliver words but to become an instrument instead, to add a layer of emotion to the dark instrumental beats of her brother Hanif.
While some of the lyrics (once deciphered) can be slightly clichéd, it doesn’t really matter. The emotion put into the delivery of some the lyrics make up for any cheesiness, ensuring they come off as entirely sincere and fraught with feeling. In “Best Ever Had”, a song about unrequited love, Hanna’s delivery in the refrain “You are the best I’ve never had” amplifies the heartache of having loved someone who doesn’t feel the same. The band is, however, at its best with their lead single “Air”. In this song, Hanna’s vocals shift so deep that they almost sound ghostly. This, combined with the lush chords and rhythm, only adds to the devastating impact of the chorus “But the air weighs me down/ Weighs me down.”
While it’s ironic that Orang has named his album Everyone, the contrast perfectly describes the tension of the album. In Everyone, Orang tries to navigate between both himself and everyone else, including past lovers and society at large, to explore existential questions.
Sonically, Everyone feels familiar, like a patchwork of different influential indie pop bands like Deerhunter, Destroyer and even Animal Collective sometimes. Despite having obvious influences from indie giants of yesteryears, the familiarity also comes from the intimate and charming lyrics (“I relish your relishes in your hotdogs too”) which feel like pages torn from his personal diary rather than songs written for an intended audience.
In “German Cosmic Rock”, Orang grapples with an existential crisis, questioning “What’s my race what’s my gender/What’s your thought on the matter/What’s the point in an argument that I always lose”. Throughout the rest of the album, Orang sings candidly about his relationships, from long distance anxieties to dysfunctional affairs. In the single, “R U Down With It”, Orang captures the essence of being in one sided relationship with the chorus “We were talking bout seeing what you want to/We were talking bout going where you want to”.
Throughout Everyone, Orang is insecure and frustrated. He is constantly questioning himself and frustrated by the relationships around him. Funnily enough, despite singing about these problems throughout the EP, Orang sounds the most self-assured in his opening track, aptly titled “Selfie”. While the song drifts with understated reverb, Orang sings: “Saved my skin and sold my soul/Changed my name and took control”.