Tagged: electronic music

Double Review: Peter Cetera’s First Two Albums – Part One: Peter Cetera (1981)

If you have been following my blogs for quite a while (chances are you haven’t), you would know that I’m a big fan of the band Chicago. Yes, that Chicago that used to be rock with horns badasses then turned into a middle-of-the-road rock champion, and then an AOR ballad band, and then a band too persistent to quit (still touring after all these years). Out of all the former and current members of Chicago, only Peter Cetera and Robert Lamm maintain solo careers (and also Bill Champlin, if we consider that The Sons of Champlin is his band, and not actually a collective of musicians who reunited after Champlin left Chicago) that can be considered rather existing yet hardly consistent. Lamm, however, is still in Chicago and his outputs over the years were rather sparse since he is busy touring. Cetera, on the other hand, left Chicago in 1985 largely because he was too busy touring with Chicago and didn’t have time to spend with his family and solo material.

Peter Cetera (1981)

 

When Chicago was on hiatus after the catastrophic failure of their XIV album (1980), Cetera (I’ll call him PC too in this review) had already been working on his eponymous solo album. As the band was moving to a new label, Full Moon/Warner Bros., Cetera had to buy the rights for his own album from Chicago’s old label (Columbia) to continue working and later release it under Chicago’s new label. He eventually completed the album with the help of session musicians. No original Chicago members were involved in making the album. The only involvement from Chicago’s side was Chris Pinnick’s, who played guitar on most of the tracks in the album; Pinnick was Chicago’s guitar player at that time, but was never considered an official member. Another notable contribution is from Carl Wilson, the Beach Boys’ guitarist, who co-wrote and played guitar on one song.

The album was released in 1981 with almost no fanfare. Warner Bros. refused to promote the album. Up to that point, Cetera’s prominence in the band had become evident in terms of songwriting and musical direction, and his expertise in writing ballads certainly sat in well with the label and producer David Foster (yes, that David Foster, the hit man), who radically changed the sound of the band and certainly called for another smashing hit in the form of a Cetera ballad, which he did previously with “If You Leave Me Now”, “Baby, What a Big Surprise”, and to a certain extent “No Tell Lover”. Warner was afraid that Cetera would get very successful on his own, thus jeopardizing the fate of the Chicago album in the works. As a result, the album did not sell well due to lack of promotion and it remained a somewhat obscure release. Outside of the US, particularly in Indonesia, the album is even more unknown. I only found out about the album in the early 2000s, in the form of an imported cassette tape which I didn’t buy because it was ridiculously expensive and marked rare.

The album itself is actually musically very good and is often an underrated output in Cetera’s catalog. Although still a product of its time, the album’s sound holds up very well. It is overall more well thought of than the half-baked Chicago XIV and despite strands of similarities, it is still quite refreshingly different from Chicago 16 that comes after it. To my surprise (and perhaps to the surprise of everyone familiar with Cetera’s work in Chicago and after), this is not an album of saccharine ballads. The first song and the lone single from the album, “Livin’ in the Limelight”, is a straightforward hard-hitting guitar-distortion-and-synth rock anthem, with sarcastic lyrics on fame and excesses. The awesome pyrotechnical guitar solo was contributed by none other than Steve Lukather of Toto, who was also in the studio to record some of his guitar work for the upcoming Chicago 16. The song happened because Pete wanted to rock sometimes, and this is a logical and more fully realized continuation of his half-baked (did I use this adjective earlier for the XIV album?) “Hold On” in XIV. The song peaked at number six on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, and for that one moment in his life, Peter Cetera was a mainstream rockstar! Nevertheless, the lack of promotion for the album meant that was it and no further singles were released from the album.

The subsequent songs are not as hard-hitting as the first, but they are very competently written and recorded. The rock ballad co-written by Carl Wilson, “I Can Feel It” is certainly not the most exciting song in the album, but it certainly is very slick and is a great change of pace from “Livin’ in the Limelight”. The album also shows that Cetera could work well in a rather original way without Chicago and the elements that he experimented with in Chicago do work better in a solo career setting. “Livin’ in the Limelight” is one example, while his P.C. Moblee voice is another. As strange as it sounds, P.C. Moblee was a persona that Peter Cetera created when he sang songs in the lower register of his voice, mainly for Chicago XIII. This “experiment” resulted in perhaps the cringiest moments in the nearly cringe-worthy Latin-discoish album, with Moblee’s voice sounding either very inadequately restrained or very wrongly sexually charged like cheap cool jazz music accompanying adult movies. However, this album shows that Moblee could work! Use it on a New Wave/white reggae-ish song (“How Many Times”), and it’s done! Use it rather sparingly in a song that’s bombastic and unabashedly sensual, and you got “Holy Moly”!” Both songs are well done, and they show that PC could make good use of his whole vocal range with the right melody and arrangements.

My personal favorite of this album is the fifth track, “Mona Mona”, whose more organic and fluid movement seem to contrast the contemporary (early 80’s) electronic sounding previous four tracks. It is a fun and short, no-nonsense upbeat pop gem. It sounds like something that Chicago could’ve done back in the day, but it could also have been a song that Chicago rejected for sounding too fun. The horn arrangements here are minimal but effective, and the sax solo is nothing short of amazingly fitting; the song shows that PC could do horns too, and it’s a shame that this fun song never made it into Chicago’s repertoire. Chicago did perform “Livin’ in the Limelight” during their 1982 tour for Chicago 16 for good measure, but that was it.

The sixth track, “On the Line” sounds really familiar to me when I first listened to it; it was released as the B-side to “Glory of Love” later in 1986 (more on this later), so it might have had some radio airplay back in the day when I was still a toddler. Both “On the Line” and the following track “Not Afraid To Cry” show that PC still loved country music, as these two were thinly veiled attempts at creating country-ish songs. PC’s love for country music was most evident in his early songs with Chicago, such as “Where Do We Go From Here”, “What Else Can I Say”, and “In Terms of Two”. “On the Line” was more refreshing in terms of musical exploration; it closes with a guitar solo that erupts somewhat surprisingly into a speedy synthesizer run. The prog-ish side of PC continues with the “Evil Eye”/”Practical Man”. I put a slash between the two songs because they are actually a two-part suite. It starts out as a Cetera rocker (“Evil Eye”) with an excellent Cetera bridge that segues into a short Cetera acapella choir (excellent vocal arrangement), which then breaks down into a slow drawn-out intro of “Practical Man” which is a staple proggy move. The break down parts interchange with the faster singing parts. The suite doesn’t take itself very seriously (which is a good thing), and it ends with an interplay between festive horns (in the fashion of “Mona Mona”) and fat synthesizer solo. It is a great short suite that showcases the gamut of PC’s musical exploration. The album ends with “Ivy Covered Walls”, a relaxing ballad that really does not do much, but it is excellent in its minimalism. It is a great cooling down move after the busy pace that starts with the outro of “On the Line”.

Peter Cetera’s first album is an excellent album, one that I would perhaps call one of his best solo albums. The songwriting and arrangements, mostly done by PC himself, are excellent. The album itself seems to be divided into two parts; if you want big 80s AOR (adult-oriented rock) sound, go with the first four tracks, but if you want more organic, band-oriented and fluid sound, go with the rest of the album. I myself prefer the second part, but the first part is well done and was, at the time, the more commercial draw of the album. Too bad the album wasn’t promoted enough by the record label, presumably in fear of PC hitting it big by himself, and it was almost totally eclipsed by PC’s sophomore effort five year later.

If you are a self-confessed lover of Peter Cetera’s music but you missed this album for whatever reason, you should listen to this album; you might end up not liking the album too much for its too early-80s sound (particularly the first four tracks) or the lack of uplifting ballads PC was later known for, but you will surely acknowledge that he was a very inventive songwriter and a damn fine rock singer. If you do not like Peter Cetera’s music in general for its saccharine and AORish content, this album might not change your mind, but it might refresh you with some interesting things that Cetera did at the very beginning of his solo career. Speaking of AORish, the second part of this review will deal with Cetera’s second, and more successful, solo album, Solitude/Solitaire. See you then!

 

 

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Senandung Damba Smaradhana

Selamat Hari Musik Nasional (walaupun agak terlambat)!

Dalam rangka merayakan Hari Musik Nasional 2017, saya mengunggah sebuah lagu berjudul “Senandung Damba Smaradhana.” Sila dengarkan lagu ini dengan meng-klik tombol play pada kotak Soundcloud di bawah ini:

Bagi saya (sebagai pemain musik dan pencipta lagu paruh waktu), tidak ada cara yang lebih pantas untuk merayakan Hari Musik Nasional selain dengan menghormati para tokoh musik yang memengaruhi saya dalam menggubah musik. “Senandung Damba Smaradhana” adalah lagu yang saya tulis sebagai upaya penghormatan tersebut.

Sejak saya mulai bisa mengapresiasi musik bertahun-tahun lalu, saya selalu ingin bisa menulis lagu pop seperti yang dihasilkan dan ditampilkan oleh triumvirat Guruh Soekarno Putra – Chrisye – Yockie Suryoprayogo. Tentu triumvirat paling berbahaya dalam sejarah musik Indonesia menurut saya, Eros Djarot – Chrisye – Yockie Suryoprayogo, telah juga memengaruhi saya dan membentuk selera musik saya, tetapi juga ada senyawa kimiawi yang kuat antara Guruh – Chrisye – Yockie. Komposisi Guruh sangat khas; melodi dan irama lagu-lagunya selalu dipengaruhi musik Bali tetapi dengan cara yang halus dan tidak intrusif (tentunya pasca-Guruh Gipsy). Lirik-lirik lagunya pun khas, walaupun cukup sulit diakses karena ia banyak dipengaruhi kosa kata Sansekerta dan bahasa Bali. Ia adalah prototipe Katon Bagaskara di departemen penulisan lirik.

Sejak menyanyikan “Chopin Larung” di album Guruh Gipsy, Chrisye adalah penafsir mumpuni karya-karya Guruh dan kemungkinan besar adalah penyanyi yang paling sering menyanyikan lagu-lagu Guruh. Di setiap era karir Chrisye, kita selalu menemukan satu karya Guruh Soekarno Putra yang menjadi lagu klasik, dari “Kala Sang Surya Tenggelam” di tahun 1970an, “Sendiri” di tahun 1980an, hingga “Kala Cinta Menggoda” di tahun 1990an. Yockie Suryoprayogo sebagai penata musik dan produser Chrisye di masa awal karirnya (1977-1983), menurut saya juga adalah seorang penafsir Guruh yang mumpuni. Karya Guruh yang pertama ia tafsir untuk album solo pertama Chrisye, Sabda Alam, adalah sebuah pertaruhan. Mereka yang familiar dengan Guruh Gipsy akan mafhum bahwa Yockie merombak ulang secara musikal lagu “Smaradhana”, lagu balada pop penutup album Guruh Gipsy, dan menjadikannya lagu hustle upbeat yang lincah, dengan penekanan pada piano. Karena album Sabda Alam lebih sukses secara komersial dan lebih mudah diakses (karena cukup sering dirilis ulang dalam berbagai format), bagi banyak pendengar Chrisye (termasuk saya), “Smaradhana” versi Sabda Alam adalah perkenalan pertama mereka dengan triumvirat Guruh-Chrisye-Yockie.

Menurut saya, “Smaradhana” adalah lagu jatuh cinta yang sempurna. Irama hustle-nya seolah perlambang lonjakan-lonjakan dalam dada. Progresi kordnya rumit tetapi presentasi lagunya terdengar sederhana dan tidak terdengar pretensius, tetapi juga terdengar progresif di saat yang sama. Fokus suara lagu pada denting piano (dengan sentuhan clavinet/harpsichord pada rif pembuka) dan bel (atau segitiga logam) yang dilatari suara gitar lamat-lamat dengan chorus yang jernih, menyediakan kebeningan seperti seorang yang memandang kekasihnya secara langsung. Lirik lagunya seolah tidak meminta untuk dimengerti (kecuali jika anda ingin dan punya waktu untuk membuka kamus dan buku mitologi Hindu Bali), hanya kata asmara dan cinta yang terdengar jelas, seolah menunjukkan betapa njelimetnya mendeskripsikan pengalaman jatuh cinta; ia sulit diungkapkan dengan kata-kata, dan ketika ia diungkapkan, kata-kata terumitlah yang terlintas.

Dalam kekaguman kepada lagu inilah saya menulis “Senandung Damba Smaradhana.” Saat itu tahun 2005, saya baru saja lulus kuliah dan sedang pula jatuh cinta. Saya ingin menulis lagu cinta, tetapi pengetahuan saya tentang menulis lagu pop sungguh kopong. Selama beberapa tahun ketika kuliah, karena pertemanan dan pergaulan saya lebih banyak terlibat dalam musik yang lebih eksperimental. Pada awalnya, “Senandung Damba Smaradhana” adalah sebuah puisi tanpa nada dan irama yang saya tulis setelah membolak-balik buklet lirik lagu album Sabda Alam, sehingga pengaruh terbesar saya dalam menulis lirik lagu ini adalah Guruh Soekarno Putra dan Junaedi Salat. Saya banyak meminjam kata-kata dalam bahasa Sansekerta dan juga meminjam beberapa karakter dari mitologi Hindu.

Saya mendengarkan lagu “Smaradhana” berulang-ulang dan bahkan kemudian menguliknya sebisa saya, dengan perbendaharaan kord yang terbatas. Ketidaktepatan pengulikan lagu inilah yang kemudian justru menjadi dasar progresi kord untuk lagu “Senandung Damba Smaradhana.” Karena saya tidak bisa menyanyi, maka untuk penampilan lagu ini saya meminta bantuan dari Unoy (Chusnul Chotimah, sekarang vokalis unit reggae solid dari Malang, Tropical Forest) untuk menyanyikannya pada acara syukuran kelulusan saya suatu hari di bulan Oktober 2005. Itulah penampilan pertama dan terakhir dari lagu pop pertama saya (yang saya sangka pun akan jadi lagu pop terakhir saya), setidaknya dalam kurun waktu enam tahun.

Setelah bermusik listrik selama beberapa tahun, saya bosan dan ingin kembali menulis lagu pop. Saya kemudian menulis beberapa lagu, dan kemudian mengajak Dhea untuk menyanyikannya dan juga Rayhan untuk merekamnya dan sekaligus membantu saya dengan aransemen, terutama aransemen vokal. Pada saat itulah, saya berpikir untuk merekam “Senandung Damba Smaradhana”, kali ini dengan suara Dhea, sentuhan synthesizer dan aransemen vokal oleh Rayhan. Proses perekaman vokal lagu ini cukup sulit, terutama karena “liukan” progresi kord di awal lagu membentuk melodi dasar yang kurang lazim untuk musik pop kini, menurut Rayhan. Versi yang saya unggah hari ini direkam pada sesi ketiga rekaman DYA, yang merupakan versi campur aduk dari backing track Oktober 2011, synthesizer dan vokal Desember 2011, dan gitar bulan September 2012. Saat ini saya tengah mengerjakan versi yang kemungkinan besar menjadi versi terakhir dari lagu ini dan bersiap melepaskan keintiman saya dengan “Senandung Damba Smaradhana” yang telah berlangsung hampir 12 tahun. Selamat menikmati!

 

 

What I Did with a Guitar When I Was Young

When I was young and my heart was an open book… Okay, that was not it. I never was and never am a guitar player. I picked up guitar back in 2000 and, until today, I never managed to get past basic chords and scales. However, in 2003 and 2004, I had a very strong drive to create some guitar-driven music, which was mainly fueled by the surrounding experimental and noise music scene at that time, which circled around toying with a guitar or guitars, unusual instruments and electronic embellishments. Since I had almost no budget to afford a guitar, I borrowed two guitars on two separate occasions. The first one was borrowed from Dody (Hermayadi Ardisoma), my neighbor and senior at the university, some time in 2003. It was a generic-looking black Samick guitar, whose sound I have taken to like. The second was borrowed from a friend of mine (name classified) during KKN (field work) in 2004. It was a Japan-made ivory Fender Telecaster that had been sitting in his cupboard for almost a year. It was a bit rusty and dirty, but useable.

The recording process was amateurish at best: guitar directly plugged into computer soundcard without external DAC/pre-amp or interface. This accounts for some noise that was later reduced during editing and mixing process. Takes were recorded using SoundForge (back then it was SonicFoundry’s, not yet Sony’s), and synthesizer and drum tracks were created on Fruity Loops (now FL Studio). These were all finally mixed and mastered, if you can call them mixing and mastering, on SoundForge. So, voila, here are six tracks from a person who could not actually play guitar. The seventh track is a bonus track featuring my friend, Andy Dwi (a real guitarist) on guitar with me on piano and drum programming. Pardon the lack of melody and virtuosity. Consider you’ve been warned.

Fanfare for the Self
Sandya Maulana: synthesizer, guitar, drum programming

The Room Re-revisited (including the Madcaps) (2009 remix)
Sandya Maulana: guitar, ballpoint caps, synthesizer

After All
Sandya Maulana: guitars, synthesizer, drum programming

Dinosaurs in D
Sandya Maulana: guitar, vocals, treatment, drum programming
Contains performances of excerpts from “I Know What I Like” by Genesis and samples of “Closer to the Heart” by Rush

Is It?
Sandya Maulana: Synthesizer, TS808, guitar, drum programming

The Room Revisited (including the Schedule)
Sandya Maulana: guitar, treatment, computer keyboard

Self-Indulgent Blues
Sandya Maulana: piano, synthesizer, drum programming
Andy Dwi: guitar