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Lockdown Blues: The Jakarta Post's Best Albums of 2020

Raka Ibrahim and Dylan Amario

The Jakarta Post

The Jakarta Post  /  Sat, January 2, 2021  /  02:00 pm
Lockdown Blues: The Jakarta Post's Best Albums of 2020

Real time: With just an internet connection, fans can stream songs by their favorite artists the second they are released. (Courtesy of Shutterstock/-)

There's no disputing that 2020 was a terrible year as we had to stay inside, work from home, eat takeouts and mope around all day. Luckily, we had music to entertain us during this devastating pandemic, which helped us tune out the pain and sorrow. Here are 10 of the best records picked by the Post.

10. Raja Kirik – Rampokan

Raja Kirik's masterminds Yennu Ariendra and J Mo'ong Santoso Pribadi were influenced by the Javanese Jaranan and Jathilan rituals, where practitioners would open themselves up to be possessed by spirits. The album's combination of avant-garde textures, industrial beats, and traditional Indonesian instruments makes Rampokan a captivating and entrancing listen, successfully showcasing the connections between Indonesia's traditional and modern cultures.

9. Rollfast – Garatuba

Garatuba is chock full of jazz, electronics, traditional and techno music combined with the Balinese band's hard-rock, bluesy sound. The lyrical content of the album itself presents Bali from a local's point of view – one that has seen years of cheap drama and excess exploitation take a toll on this once pristine island.

It's a captivating listen, with the ability to transport the listener to a curb on the side of the road in one of the island's urban areas, with a full bottle of arak, laughing at the tacky Jakartan tourists whooping nearby.

8. Kuntari – Black Shirt Attracts More Feather

Tesla Manaf's transformation from a jazz icon to an experimental electronic artist known as Kuntari is both swift and remarkable. Known initially for playing a conventional yet virtuoso jazz guitar, he had traded in his guitars for sequencers, effect pedals and synthesizers by 2016, swearing to leave his past behind.

On his debut album as an electronic musician, Kuntari showcases a dark sound through meticulous weaving of breakbeats, atmospheres, industrial-type beats and glitches played akin to the virtuoso style he showcased during his guitar years.

7. Bars of Death – Morbid Funk

Morbid Funk's themes of police brutality and government arrogance emerged appropriately during a year where society, led by its corrupt leaders, degraded further into a cesspool of fanaticism, tackiness and insensibility. It resonates as much now as it did when the album was conceived in 2014.

As former members of the legendary 90s Bandung hip-hop group Homicide, Bars of Death members are experts in exercising a confrontational lyrical style. Musically, they stick to what they know best, with boom-bap style beats of 80s-90s hip hop used alongside gritty old funk and jazz samples. Well-produced and thought-provoking, Morbid Funk is an enthralling listen.

6. Greybox – Melografik

Lush, groovy, smooth and technically proficient. New York/Jakarta based producer Rizky Argadipraja is known for expertly weaving jazz, hip-hop, trip-hop, deep house, and neo-soul into loose, danceable tunes as Greybox.

Melografik is great for dancing by yourself in your bedroom as a remedy to shake off temporary stress.

5. Sajama Cut – Godsigma

After five years in the wilderness, Jakarta's indie-rock royalty returned with a study of contrasts. Lyrically, it's an album of bleak inertia broken by occasional flourishes of splendor. Treatises on urban gloom, racial riots, long working hours, and sexual frustration are tempered by celebrations of family life and eventual sexual breakthroughs.

Sajama Cut swapped its loving worship for 90s indie rock for raw, unabashed stadium rock. Soaring riffs, guitar solos, pub sing-alongs, even a song reminiscent of rock gods Dewa 19. That they took these tropes and still ended up with a new, hip-shaking album is a minor miracle.

4. Monita Tahalea – Di Balik Jendela

Monita Tahalea's latest LP sees the singer shed her jazz roots and usual proclivity for sultry pop melodies. Here, Tahalea opted for a more stripped-back approach, combining soft fingerpicking guitars with lush ambient textures.

Her voice remains as angelic as ever, contrasting beautifully with recurring guest star Ananda Badudu. A warm album for a cold, lonely afternoon.

3. Indra Lesmana – Sleepless Nights

From his status as one of Indonesian living jazz legends to his stint as the hard-to-impress judge on Indonesian Idol, one could forgive Indra Lesmana for feeling the need to flex his musical muscles. However, Sleepless Nights is an exercise in restraint and simplicity. He has transformed jazz standards (and two original compositions) with a cool, lo-fi electronic production, garnished with the occasional saxophone hum or odd keyboard twangs.

Indra later acknowledged that he envisioned an album that his children could listen to "while studying" – and that’s what he has done.

2. Joe Million – Vandal

Joe Million made a career out of announcing his presence to the world repeatedly. After many false starts and temporary breakthroughs, the Jayapura-born rapper finally leaned into his most natural persona: Joe the streetwise urchin, the unreliable narrator, dispensing dubious life advice and petty observations wrapped in chest-pumping braggadocio. Longtime collaborator Mardial laid the groundwork with beats rooted in trap music and sultry R&B.

It's a fine line between groan-inducing and genius, but Joe has tread it masterfully.

1. BAPAK. – Miasma Tahun Asu

An album of raw hurt, fleeting joy, and lessons learned, Miasma Tahun Asu charts the personal journey of band leader Kareem Soenhardjo.

Shedding his obsession with Flying Lotus-style hip hop, Soenhardjo collaborated with rock musicians Alfath (from the band Flower Pit), Kevin (from Whoosah) and Bagas Encek (from Tarrkam) to create an intensely personal experimental rock rollercoaster.
Miasma Tahun Asu, in all its ragged glory, encapsulates the chaos, absurdity and anxiety of being young in a year of total desperation.

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