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Album review: Barasuara sets eyes on stage with new LP

Stanley Widianto

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Wed, March 13, 2019  /  05:00 pm
Album review: Barasuara sets eyes on stage with new LP

Come dream with us: After four years, alternative rock band Barasuara releases a new LP, 'Pikiran dan Perjalanan' (Thoughts and Travels). (Courtesy of Barasuara/-)

Alternative rock band Barasuara from Jakarta has forced Indonesia’s independent music scene to reckon with itself. Manned by gifted musicians, all daring to dream, they have always been natural on stage.

The band’s 2015 LP Taifun (Typhoon) was not received with the same esteem as its stage presence — electric and, sometimes, acrobatic.

Indonesia’s independent music scene remains vibrant, albeit with a lack of groundbreaking turnover. Talk of regeneration comes and goes.

Barasuara fits right in that picture. Guitarist and vocalist Iga Massardi, bassist Gerald Situmorang, guitarist TJ Kusuma, drummer Marco Steffiano and vocalists Asteriska and Puti Chitara have maintained a fanbase and steady employment.

The only flak Barasuara has had to take is that they’re not exactly chameleonic. The band's fervor for the stage doesn’t translate well onto tape. And that’s the impression you might get from listening to its second LP, Pikiran dan Perjalanan (Thoughts and Travels, out through Darlin’ Records).

Second LP: Most of the songs on Barasuara's new LP seem to be created with a prog-rock intent.Second LP: Most of the songs on Barasuara's new LP seem to be created with a prog-rock intent. (Courtesy of Barasuara/-)

The album is the product of a band that has road-tested its songs many times. It’s as if the six don’t want to get off the stage.

Barasuara’s music has always been of the anthemic type, as though the band wanted the audience to clamor with them, instead of for them. This has invited both derision and warmth. So Pikiran dan Perjalanan is an album full of that energy; it’s highly doubtful that the album will turn in new converts.

Most of the songs here were created with a prog-rock intent in mind: key changes abound. The only thing less exciting about this idea is its execution.

Take “Tentukan Arah” (Decide Your Paths). After charging head-on with Barasuara’s signature alt-rock brand, the song morphs into a slower acoustic track, with Iga singing over soft guitar twinkles. The song is emblematic of the album’s problem: It merely hints at Barasuara’s creative restlessness.

It opens that way, too. The LP’s opener “Seribu Racun” (A Thousand Poisons), which highlights TJ and Iga’s dueling guitarwork, is Barasuara at its most comfortable. And it segues nicely into the title track. By the time you get to title track, which brims with spirited group vocals and even an “oh yeah!” scream, you’ll wish you were listening to a different album than Taifun.

The LP’s single, “Guna Manusia” (Mankind’s Purpose), a comment on climate change, fares worse than its concept. With twinkling synth-based flourishes, the song comes off as cloying, preachy. There’s a spoken-word bit about water levels in flood-ridden areas of Jakarta. Subtlety would temper Barasuara’s world views, and it might help with the music, too.

Temporary reprieve manifests in “Pancarona” (Multiple Hues), a slow burner led by Asteriska and Puti. Their vocals have always countered Iga’s monotone singing.

Lyrically, the album is competent. At times, it can be cloying. “Haluan” (Directions) has Iga, Puti and Asteriska sing of diversity: “Oh bersulang di lautan keragaman / matahari, manusia, langit yang sama” (Let’s toast to the sea of diversity / the same sun, people and sky). Similarly, “Guna Manusia” feels empty.

One exciting song on Pikiran dan Perjalanan is “Masa Mesias Mesias” (The Messiahs’ Time). There are wind instruments, there are guitar freakouts — it’s Barasuara at its most unrestrained and its least methodical. It allows the band to fully showcase its God-given talents.

Marco, with his propulsive drumming, provides breadth in Barasuara’s songs; Gerald, with his unbridled guitar skills, is as exciting as always as the bassist.

Barasuara’s second home is the stage, and these songs are the perfect addition to that setlist. They have the quality of an anthem, a sing-along. It’s unfortunate that Pikiran dan Perjalanan ends up amounting to emptiness by the song’s end, “Tirai Cahaya” (Curtain of Light), is exciting enough to close an otherwise unexciting album. Your love of Barasuara goes only so far, and Pikiran dan Perjalanan merely consolidates it. (ste)

 

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