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Album Review: 'Antagonis' by Riani Sovana

Marcel Thee
Marcel Thee

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Fri, September 14, 2018 | 08:28 am

Singer-songwriter Riani Sovana has returned with a new record 14 years after the release of her debut album. Though it has been a while, Antagonis(Antagonist) still resonates with its creator’s characteristic brand of “pop-dark-romantic” songwriting. The only difference is the production and execution, which brims with obvious maturity and confidence. The hooks are more direct, and the arrangements more dynamic, letting Sovana’s vocals take center stage.

Released for the time being only on digital music distribution services, including Spotify and Apple Music, Antagonis was born out of a time of personal anguish and tragedy for Sovana (her professional stage name) and the people around her.

The wife of co-producer Didit Saad, who helped arranged three of the album’s seven songs, died during the recording process. The shock of her passing was still raw when Sovana’s father passed not long after, and then Sovana herself miscarried. Her brother-in-law died soon after.

It’s a wonder that Antagonis was recorded at all, or that its songs aren’t filled mostly with sadness. Instead, it captures a careful lyrical balance between sadness and positivity. So even though Sovana herself said, “I actually have a very dark soul”, she followed that with, “But I also want to be useful to others by writing songs that are healing — and that includes healing the broken-hearted.”

Sovana, who spent the few years between her debut and Antagonis working as an entertainment journalist then book editor, as well as running her father’s business, admitted, “I was living in someone else’s dream, my dad’s dream [...] But I don’t regret it at all. I jumped into it because I saw how many people wanted to learn from my dad. Shouldn’t his own daughter feel the same?”

Having lost her father, whom she referred to as the “fire to my candle”, Sovana relied on her closest friends to pick her up. Soon enough, she began focusing on the album, though it was not without its issues.

For starters, there were too many cooks in the kitchen, and Sovana wanted to please them all. She also realized that she began over-thinking the process, being too self-conscious about listener reactions. It was then that she decided that the best thing was to self-produce the album (with some help here and there).

The album was recorded with the arrangement help of Didit Saad (who has worked with Stars and Rabbit, Oppie Andaresta and Syaharani), Denny Chasmala (J-Rocks, BCL and Reza) and Hendy HS (Bali Shake and Zara-Q), with artwork by Wickana Laksmi Dewi.

“In the past, I would ask people what they thought about my songs, and that made the album constantly feel un-releasable! I realized then that we could never make everybody happy. So for this record, I just wanted to please myself. It came out with this energy of having ‘nothing to lose’ then.”

Aside from the songs itself, Sovana also took care of almost every other aspect of the album; from the arrangement process and the graphics and visuals to the music video. But she was not without help — others were there throughout the entire process, she said, to help her realize the vision she had in her head of what the album should be like.

One decision she felt steered the new album for the better was working toward lyrical efficiency by dropping her previous habit of overstuffing songs with words. Sovana described her new lyrical approach as being “more easy-listening”. In line with that change was the toning down of rock elements, which she said was because “I can no longer scream like I used to”.

Sovana still wants to retain her edge, albeit with the lyrical flourishes that she said came with disturbing elements. The contrast between what she referred to as her romantic songs and her “dark” lyrics is part of what makes her unique. One song title translates literally to “Until When Will You Stay Dead?”, which the singer-songwriter described as being a sorrowful song about losing those we love.

“When someone close to you dies, you will go through a phase of not believing that they are no longer here — and trying to process it and thinking, ‘How long will you stay dead?’ That feeling is real.”

Perhaps with all that darkness, the album needed a healing element, which almost literally — depending on your beliefs in these things — comes in the form of select songs having been recorded in the “healing” frequency of 432 Hz, different from the 440 Hz that is commonly used in popular music.

Other topics in the album are equally serious, including the title track. There, Sovana sings of losing trust in people she had thought were her confidants. They are people who, in her words, “turned their face when I was in a moment of needing help”. The bitterness was more obvious in the song’s working title, which translated as “The Kind-Hearted Antagonist”.

“The running theme of this album is emptiness and loneliness. There are no ‘I love you’s’ or ‘you love me’s’ in the album. It’s either people who are gone, or ex-lovers and former friends, or people I were close to who have gone onto bigger things. This is an album that should be the soundtrack for the lives of single people,” Sovana said, laughing.

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