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Album Review: 'Tembus Pandang' by Frau

Stanley Widianto
Stanley Widianto

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Fri, December 8, 2017 | 08:45 am
Album Review: 'Tembus Pandang' by Frau

Tembus Pandang (See Through) by Frau (Frau/File)

I have in my hands right now a watercolor painting of a man wearing a blood-stained green apron. His head, instead of that of a human’s, is a menacing cut of pork. One of his thumbs is raised, a sign of a job well done. A pig’s head with a dead eye and its pointed snout hang in the top-right corner.

Artist Restu Ratnaningtyas created this painting and Frau, the stage name for musician Leilani “Lani” Hermiasih and her keyboard, Oskar, set this bewildering image to music.

Their collaboration started in April 2015 at a concert series in Yogyakarta called Lelagu, where visual artists and musicians shared and responded to each other’s works.

Restu is known for her prowess in painting with watercolor and Frau, with records and solo concerts to their name, is known for their effervescent piano skills, controlled vocals and quiet ambition.

Tembus Pandang (See Through), Frau’s new release, is the result of the collaboration. Inspired by three of Restu’s paintings, the EP contains four jazz and classical-inflected pop songs.

Outside of Frau’s music, their versatility extends to their fervor for concept. At a Frau concert in Jakarta, dubbed Konser Tentang Rasa (A Concert on Senses),held in January last year, Frau and their team made extensive use of the human senses by tickling all of them. I remember being pulled back into focus after smelling the scent of an Indomie noodle dish. Tembus Pandang is the continuation of this fervor, and a satisfying one, too.

It is safe to say that the EP is not drowned or suffocated by its anchoring concept. In “Sembunyi” (Hide), its first track, Lani’s keyboard sounds fidgety, corresponding well with both the lyrics (“Jangan sampai tampak gugupku” [I hope my jitters don’t show]) and the painting (a person wearing an oversized sweater, their head covered by four hands).

Then, Lani’s fingers get acrobatic, welcoming her listeners to this small world. I also appreciate the (perhaps unintended) call back to the last song on album Happy Coda, called “Whispers,” with its lengthy keyboard-playing.

Remember the painting with the pork-headed figure? Well, it serves as the inspiration behind the one-two punch “Butcher” and “Tukang Jagal” (Butcher). The former is a melancholic cut that is, again, triumphant for its lyrics (“Behind those chunks of meat, and that vicious piece of metal you thrust without fear / and probably even call ‘dear’”). The latter, on the other hand, takes its time with Lani’s keyboard-playing, jumping from ledge to ledge. This time, it reminds me of American jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi — cheerful and adventurous.

The EP ends with the cheekily titled “Ngentropy 5 in E Major.” It is a slow, somber cut in which the narrator implores its partner to slow down a bit. They need to catch their breath and the keyboard gives them time. “Selaraskah nada-nada nafas kita / serasikah warna-warna watak kita,” (are our breaths at the same pace/are our minds alike) she sings.

With Tembus Pandang, Frau’s resting pulse can still be heard. It has been one year since her last mini-LP, Parasite Lottery, and four years since Happy Coda. What Lani and her keyboard have accomplished throughout all these years is a constant reminder that there is always something beneath their music together, and it may be worth your time, too.