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Album review: 'Oh Well...Nothing' by Arc Yellow

Marcel Thee

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, July 6, 2018  /  09:14 am
Album review: 'Oh Well...Nothing' by Arc Yellow

‘Oh Well...Nothing’ by Arc Yellow (Depok’s 58 Music studio/File)

The grungy garage rock of Arc Yellow may not be the most original but they are infectious ear candy. Crunchy and melodious, the band’s latest release, Oh Well...Nothing, blends together 1990s alternative rock with a crisp modern production.

Recorded and mixed at Depok’s 58 Music studio by Pandu Fuzztoni of the power-pop group Morfem, the album is an energetic romp that rarely lets up. The underlying grunge factor that pervades every track is colored with other rock music elements, such as in the garage fuzz of “Pink Stripes” and “Ruma”, the 1960s pop of “Loud Louder Soft Softer” and the metallic-shin of “Sleepless”. The balance between the song’s produced immediacy and propulsive beats practically guarantees Arc Yellow a strong stage show.

The band claims that the record is meant to show their live sound, unfiltered.

“Our concept is basically, ‘Don’t expect us to sound any better [sound-wise] on recording as we do onstage’. We definitely played smart while recording this album — just moving the microphones around by feel,” band leader Gilang T. Firdaus says.

Formed four years ago, Arc Yellow — vocalist-guitarist Gilang, bass player Regie Pramana and drummer Rizky Octadinanta — came together through their shared love of legendary grunge band Nirvana, in particular their emotionally raw final album In Utero.

“They were hanging out at my house before we were in a band, playing [customizable Japanese race toy cars]. Tamiya and I began strumming Nirvana’s ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ song on my nylon-string guitar. Rizki paid notice and asked me if I was into Nirvana and whether I wanted to start a band together,” recalls Gilang.

The frontman also finds it easy to describe just why the band, even after infusing other genres into their songwriting, is still focused on grunge — a tag that even its pioneers frowned upon back in the day.

“All of us grew up with this music, ever since we were in elementary school up to our university days. We listened to punk and Britpop too, but it was grunge that had that staying power and convinced us that we should start playing it,” Gilang recalls.  

Rizky concurs and praises grunge’s aesthetics, which were about going against the mainstream flow.

The band members themselves seem satisfied with the album, proclaiming that their favorite song is, “every one of them, because they’re all good”.

“I like ‘Ruam’ because it’s the first Indonesian-lyric song that we have ever done,” says Gilang, adding that he also likes “Fleur” because “it’s great to jump around to onstage”.

Reggie says “Loud Louder Soft Softer” is “catchy but evil”, while “Pink Stripes” shows that even though “we are not a raucous band, we have that raucous side to us”.

“I like the Middle Eastern-style part in ‘Kool’ and ‘Pregnant Simulation’ shows that you can mix groovy beats with heavy metal rhythms,” Rizky says. 

It hasn’t always been easy. The members see themselves as a Depok band, but saw that the underground scene there is permeated by bands that only exist for a few host months before breaking up. This results in a scene that isn’t particularly eventful or growing.

“We’ve always felt a bit like outsiders here, since most bands here play hardcore rock or reggae,” Rizky said.

Many bands in Depok don’t see their town as being cool.

“We saw that around 2005 up to around 2007, there were a lot of bands that were playing active gigs outside of Depok, but when people came over to them after a gig to ask them where they came from, most would not say Depok,” says Gilang.

Arc Yellow themselves are proud of their city, and though they don’t play there as much as they would like to, they’ve become a name that adds some weight to concert posters.

Though they use the instrumental elements of grunge, as band lyricist, Gilang doesn’t focus so much inwards, writing more about topics that points its ears more toward social issues, such as the homogeneous negativity that pervades social media.

Visually, the band references groups such as alternative icons Pavement with its collage graphics.

“We all agreed that we didn’t want something that was too tidy,” Gilang said, adding that they had planned to work on it with artist Agan Harahap, who is known for photoshopping himself into celebrity photos, but that fell through.

The messiness of the visuals and the collage approach, the band suggests, represent their consciousness of borrowing musical elements from their influences. Some of these are obvious techniques (the overall choice of guitar riffs) and some literal borrowings, such as the one note guitar part in “Lambung”, which sounds identical to Nirvana’s version of new wave band Devo’s “Turnaround”.

“We’re just copying and pasting things that are already there,” Gilang half-jokingly says.

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