Tagged: review

What I Miss, pt. 1

I have been away from Bandung, my hometown, for almost two years now. Within the last three months, I have been having the most serious homesickness I have ever had. I’ll tell you what I am missing.


This area around the city square

This is not exactly the city square, which is a sight of fake plastic grass and a smell of a million naked feet. The street next to it, the Dalem Kaum street, is my favorite weekdays destination but also my least favorite weekend destination. Go here on a free Tuesday; parking is a breeze, street food carts reduced to those whose snacks are actually delectable and affordable, and shops empty (although some were no more because of a great fire two years ago).


Warung Tegal (Warteg) is a national institution. It is a simple, very affordable food stall with seats for very few number of people; you can find a warteg in almost every metropolitan city in Java and some other islands. The namesake comes from the small city of Tegal in Central Java, known for their people who venture into other areas of Indonesia to introduce and establish their culinary heritage. It sells a variety of traditional and signature Javanese dishes, lots of saucy curry-style dishes and deep-fried goodness, to be served alongside steamed rice. My favorite dish that is almost always available in every warteg is salt-cured skipjack tuna fillet cooked in red chili pepper sauce. This particular Braga Jaya Warung Tegal is located in downtown Bandung; its pricing is on the more expensive side but still affordable for people from almost every walk of life.


S.14: this warm and cozy library and events venue

S.14 is an emerging intellectual institution in my city. It is an independent library and event space, often hosting talks and tiny acoustic concerts, such as the one pictured above, my buddy Oscar Lolang’s first ever concert featuring the amazing Jon Kastela (sitting, left)’s soothing voice. S.14 is currently on hiatus as the owners, spouses Aminuddin Siregar (a.k.a. Ucok) and Herra Pahlasari, are in the Netherlands where Ucok is taking his Ph.D. at the University of Leiden.


Kupat Tahu, my go-to breakfast dish.

This particular one is from a stall in the neighborhood market, about 15 minutes walk from home. The dish originated from the regency of Tasikmalaya, about 110 kms to the southeast of Bandung; most people selling the dish throughout Indonesia hailed from the very same town where the dish was first concocted. The dish consists of slices (or dices) of a dense rice cake (the kupat) and pieces of flash-fried succulent yellow tofu (the tahu); mung bean sprouts are typically added before everything is doused in watery peanut sauce and sweet soy sauce. Another popular variation of the dish is tahu petis, which is similar to kupat tahu with the only difference being the addition of petis (smooth fermented shrimp paste) into the peanut sauce. This dish is particularly a breakfast fare, and most stalls or carts that sell this dish close down shop before noon.


This second breakfast of chocolate milk and local doughnuts

Sometimes the kupat tahu just doesn’t cut it and when you’re in downtown area around 9 am, you feel like having a quick and sweet second breakfast. People on Java in general are not particularly fond of dairy products thus finding fresh dairy products is generally tricky. Luckily the dairy stalls downtown, just about a five-minute walk from the city square, serve fresh whole milk every morning delivered from Pangalengan, a small town just outside of my city known for its fresh milk and dairy products. The chocolate milk in the picture does not come flavored, and flavored syrups are added to the fresh milk right before it is served. Popular flavors include chocolate, strawberry, mocha, and vanilla. These stalls also serve cookies, cakes, and pastries, whose ingredients include the very same kind of milk they serve fresh. My favorites are the doughnuts, which are smaller yet denser than American-style doughnuts, with toppings and glazing that are not as sweet as their American counterparts.


This particularly filling dessert called Pisang Ijo

Pisang Ijo (lit. Green Banana) comes from the province of South Sulawesi, but it is getting more popular in Java in the recent years. It is mainly a dessert, but it can also be quite filling considering the ingredients. The titular green banana is made with a particularly soft and sweet variety of banana, encased in a pancake-like dough made of rice flour colored green from pandan leaves extract. What gives the dessert its unique combination of flavor is the creamy and rich custard sauce. Sometimes sweet syrup is added, although the custard itself is already sweet enough, as well as chocolate sprinkles and crushed peanuts. It is served cold with ice cubes or shaved ice.


This amazing hand-pulled noodles from Singapore

Okay, this is another food item not originally from my city, but this is the closest thing to having easy access to hand-pulled noodles whenever you want it. (And I always want it.) Mie Tarik King is a Singaporean chain that specializes in making their noodles hand-pulled and fresh on the counter. They offer a variety of soups and stir-fried noodles; all of which are good, but my favorite is the one pictured, which is the sweet-ish soy-sauce-based chicken broth with sweet stir-fried chicken, fried wonton bits, and kangkung (water spinach), an always welcome vegetable addition to any Chinese-style noodle soup. Kangkung may or may not be illegal in the US; if it is really illegal, then it is a crime committed to Southeast Asian Chinese food lovers in the US, who miss out on a vegetable that may be as addictive as weed.


This simple yet delectable fried rice with crackers and pickled cucumbers (not pickles!)

Okay, this is not even in my city, but in Jatinangor, the college town where I worked in. This fried rice stall opens late in the afternoon and stays open well into the wee hours of the morning. It cannot get simpler than this: rice, pre-prepared spice mix (which the owners spend all morning mixing), scrambled eggs, and tiny pieces of pulled chicken. The wok taste, the smokiness is what makes the simplicity so delicious.


This Tegal soto, which is my go-to sick dish

As mentioned above, Warung Tegal is a national institution, but few Warung Tegals actually serve the Tegal variety of soto, a national dish which invariably consists of a meat-based broth with rich spices, which includes at least one kind of meat, be it chicken, beef, or mutton. The Tegal soto is usually a chicken soto, with also a chicken-based broth enriched by thick coconut milk. The Tegal soto is perhaps comparable in appearance to the Jakartan Betawi soto, but the Betawi soto usually lacks turmeric; the Tegal soto is exactly characterized by its turmeric smell and taste which go hand-in-hand with the rich coconut milk. This particular Tegal soto from Jatinangor includes a healthy amount of pulled, stewed chicken, potato cubes, fresh scallions, and emping crackers. In this picture, it is served alongside a plate of steamed rice sprinkled with fried shallots and a piece of deep-fried tempe. Any kind of soto is typically comfort food, and the Tegal soto is one for when I feel a little under the weather.

As we roam further from my city, in part 2 I’ll include more things that I miss that do not come from or are not available in my city!






















Lagu Minggu Ini: “Aku Tak Berdosa” (Favourite’s Group)

Minggu lalu dan minggu ini saya rindu sekali pada satu lagu yang dulu sering saya dengarkan waktu saya masih kecil; saking sukanya saya pada lagu itu, ketika alm. bapak merekam suara saya untuk pertama kali, saya nyanyikan lagu itu. Dengan kekuatan YouTube, akhirnya saya temukan lagu yang saya rindukan itu, bahkan sekaligus dalam album orisinalnya yang ditransfer dari piringan hitam dengan cermat oleh bung John Kwa Indonesia, yang sebelumnya dikenal telah pula mengunggah diskografi lengkap Koes Bersaudara dan Koes Plus. Lagu yang saya kangeni adalah lagu pertama di album bertajuk Favourite’s Group Vol(ume) 4, yang dirilis sekitar tahun 1974 (umumnya album-album pop Indonesia pada masa itu tidak berangka tahun).


Seingat saya, lagu ini pertama kali saya dengar bukan dari Volume 4, tapi dari kaset kompilasi bertajuk The Very Best of Favourite’s Group. Almarhum bapak membeli kaset itu karena seleksi lagunya sangat bagus dan lebih banyak berfokus pada formasi klasik Favourite’s Group (dijelaskan sedikit di bawah), formasi yang paling ia suka. Saya mulai ikut-ikutan memutar kaset itu dan menyukai banyak lagu di dalamnya, di antaranya lagu “Aku Tak Berdosa” ini, “Ma Onah”, “Cinta Monyet”, dan “Cari Kawan Lain”.

Jadi, siapa saja sebenarnya anggota formasi klasik Favourite’s Group? Favourite’s Group pertama didirikan pada tahun 1972 atas cetusan A. Riyanto, pencipta lagu, pemain kibor, dan produser veteran yang telah menulis banyak lagu sukses pada 1960an dan awal 1970an dan mengiringi beberapa penyanyi di studio rekaman bersama band-nya 4 Nada; beberapa penyanyi yang paling sukses ditanganinya adalah Tetty Kadi dan Arie Koesmiran. Formasi pertama Favourite’s Group bisa dikatakan adalah 4 Nada yang berganti nama, dan ditambah Mus Mulyadi sebagai penyanyi utama (walau A. Riyanto ikut pula bernyanyi beberapa lagu). Formasi pertama hanya bertahan sampai album pertama mereka usai direkam. Is Haryanto (dram) dan Harry Toos (gitar) bergabung untuk rekaman album kedua, dan Mus Mulyadi mengisi posisi gitar bas, instrumen yang ia mainkan sewaktu masih bergabung dengan band Ariesta Birawa. Tommy WS (bas) bergabung untuk album ketiga dan seterusnya, dan lengkaplah formasi klasik Favourite’s Group. Formasi ini awalnya hanya merekam dua album, Volume 3 dan 4, sebelum Mus Mulyadi memutuskan untuk fokus bersolo karir. Formasi ini kemudian bereuni pada tahun 1978 dan merilis beberapa album hingga pengunduran diri Harry Toos pada tahun 1989.

Lagu “Aku Tak Berdosa” dari Volume 4 ini mungkin lagu Favourite’s Group’s yang paling (atau mungkin salah satu yang paling) psikedelik dan bergitar. Lagu ini dibuka dengan melodi gitar sederhana yang berulang selama setengah menit yang mendadak dipotong oleh distorsi gitar satu not, diikuti dengan gitar ritem yang terdengar mirip “Hi Ho Silver Lining”-nya Jeff Beck Group. Lagu kemudian berlanjut dengan lirik utama yang dinyanyikan oleh A. Riyanto dan Mus Mulyadi, lirik dan melodi yang membius saya sewaktu saya kelas satu SD dan memutar kaset ini hampir setiap hari sepulang sekolah.  Refrain lagu ini dinyanyikan oleh A. Riyanto yang sepertinya terlalu memaksakan pita suaranya untuk mencapai nada tinggi, tapi menurut saya justru inilah bagian paling krusial sekaligus paling menggelikan dari lagu ini. Bagian refrain lagu ini kemudian mendadak pindah ke bagian bridge yang sangat sepi, dan sangat psikedelik, sebelum kembali lagi ke refrain. Lagu ini diakhiri dengan solo gitar Harry Toos hingga akhirnya menghilang dan selesai. Singkatnya, ini adalah lagu keren dan unik dalam katalog lagu  Favourite’s Group; lagu ini cenderung lebih keras dengan aransemen yang lebih longgar, cukup berbeda dibandingkan lagu-lagu balada mereka yang cenderung simfonik atau lagu-lagu upbeat mereka yang terasa lebih ringan dan umumnya dipengaruhi unsur musik keroncong atau dolanan Jawa.

Selama bertahun-tahun sejak tahun 1989 saya berusaha memahami maksud lirik lagu ini (lihat di bawah), tetapi terlalu banyak interpretasi bermunculan di benak saya. Apakah ini lagu tentang dosa asal (original sin)? Apakah ini lagu tentang kepolosan manusia di tengah alam, dan kemudian membandingkan dirinya dengan kepolosan alam? Apakah lagu ini ungkapan terima kasih pada Tuhan atas anugerah hidup dan penebusan dari dosa? Entahlah. Saat ini saya sebaiknya menikmati saja lagu keren ini.

Aku Tak Berdosa

(A. Riyanto)

Siapa yang berdosa
Tak dapat ku berkata
Siapa yang bersalah
Susah ditelaah
Mari kita
Kita renungkan

(Ulang *)

Refrain 1:
Siapakah harus berdosa?
Siapakah harus dicela
Bila rambut panjang terurai?

Mengapa tidak kau restui?
Mengapa tidak kau hayati
Indah dan bebas dan alam ini?

Pohon lebat daunnya
Begitu pun rambutku
Telah diciptakanNya sejak dahulu

Refrain 2:
Di mana tempatku berdiri
Indahnya alam kunikmati
Syukur pada Tuhan Yang Esa

(Ulang *, Bridge, Refrain 2, dan *)



Indonesian Classic Song of the Week: “Aku Tak Berdosa” by Favourite’s Group

This week I’ve been longing to listen to a song of my childhood, a song I was so fond of that when my father recorded my voice for the first time on our first tape recorder when I was a first grader, it was the voice of me singing this song. With the magic of YouTube, I found somebody had digitally transferred the album the song is on from a very good vinyl copy. The credit goes to John Kwa Indonesia, the uploader. The song is the first track on this album called Favourite’s Group Vol(ume) 4, which was released some time in 1974.


But I remember that I didn’t hear this song for the first time from this particular album, but rather from a compilation album called The Very Best of Favourite’s Group. My father bought the album in 1989 because he loved the selection of songs, which are basically the Favourite Group’s songs that he grew up with. I began playing the album over and over mainly because of two songs, “Ma Onah” (perhaps more on this later) and this song.

So, let’s get things straight first: who were the Favourite’s Group? The Favourite’s Group was somewhat of an early Indonesian pop supergroup of the 1970s. It formed in 1972 out of veteran (even at that time) songwriter, keyboardist, and studio A&R person A. Riyanto’s idea of turning the backing band of his recording studio into an independent, hitmaking pop sensation. The band’s first album was instantly successful due to Riyanto’s presence and immaculate pop songwriting and production, Mus Mulyadi’s strong and unique vocal work, and the band’s high degree of musicianship, owing to the fact that it consisted of experienced session musicians. The original incarnation of the band didn’t stick around for too long, leaving A. Riyanto and Mus Mulyadi to complete the line-up with what is considered the classic Favourite’s Group line-up with Harry Toos on guitar, Is Haryanto on drums, and later Tommy WS on bass guitar by the time their third album rolled. It was unusual for Indonesian bands of the early 1970s to title their album, so each album is only called a volume with a corresponding number, so the Favourite’s Group first album is called Volume 1, second album Volume 2, and so on. The classic line-up recorded Volume 3 and 4 before Mus Mulyadi decided to focus on his solo career.

The song “Aku Tak Berdosa” from Volume 4 is perhaps the Favourite’s Group’s most psychedelic-sounding and guitar-centric song. The song starts with a simple clean electric guitar melody that goes on for about half a minute before getting abruptly cut by a long single note on distorted electric guitar, followed by a rhythm guitar pattern reminiscent of Jeff Beck’s “Hi Ho Silver Lining” and then the main verse of the song, sung in harmony by A. Riyanto and Mus Mulyadi. The melody of this main verse was the melody that captivated me as a kid for whatever reason. The chorus of the song is sung by A. Riyanto attempting to reach a high note and straining his vocal cords, but I always find this part fitting albeit a little cringey. The chorus then breaks down into a quieter middle eight section before coming full force into the chorus with different lyrics. The song ends with a guitar solo that fades out. In short, it was a great and unique song in the Favourite’s Group catalogue; it is an almost all-out rocking psychedelic and somewhat loose track in the band’s usually tight and more symphonic approach to their music arrangements.

And by the way, the lyrics just don’t seem to make sense while the title means “I’m Not Sinful” or “I’m Free of Sins”, or “I’m Innocent”; if you’re new to the Indonesian language, the lyrics will sound even more like random jumbled phrases. Is this a song about a person freed from the original sin? Is this a song about the innocence of man amidst nature or compared to the innocence of nature? Is this a song of gratitude to God for the gift of life and innocence? Was the band on something when they wrote and recorded this song? I don’t know. What’s important is that this song is awesome and brings back good memories.



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!



Bee Gees 1st at its 50th

Bee Gees 1st was released fifty years ago yesterday. Contrary to its own title, it was not the Bee Gees’ first long-play or full-length release. It was titled and marketed as such to mark the then-quintet’s (the three brothers and two other unrelated musicians) first foray into the international music market, following their considerable success in the brothers’ adopted homeland Australia with a string of singles and a couple of long-plays.


As an album released in both the US and the UK in 1967, it was facing stiff creative competition from many great albums also released in the same year (just look at Robert Christgau’s list of influential 1967 albums (https://www.robertchristgau.com/xg/rs/albums1967-07.php); How dare he missed July and not included 1st?), including that little album called Sgt. Pepper and the Lonely Hearts Club Band just released in the preceding month of June. However, the singles persevered and the Bee Gees went on to become pop sensations themselves as the hits kept coming.

1st also marked the Bee Gees’ first taste at international pop stardom, with the singles taken off the album charting highly in many places, including the now-classic “Holiday”, “New York Mining Disaster 1941”, “To Love Somebody”, and “I Can’t See Nobody”. The longevity of these singles and the brothers’ subsequent chart success have somewhat overshadowed the excellence of the rest of the album, which showcases that the brothers were an energetically psychedelic songwriting powerhouse.

1st is certainly not a very unified and conceptual effort compared to the likes of Sgt. Pepper and the Moody Blues’s Days of Future Passed, but it is a journey through the many creative possibilities that the brothers explored throughout the album. The album opens with “Turn of the Century”, a note on the fascination of the late Victorian era accompanied with a clever orchestration and studio production that imparts an old record sound; Robin Gibb’s trembling voice only strengthens this image. The bleak and haunting yet beautiful melody of “Holiday” soon follows. Just after “Holiday” ends with a cold “dee dee dee dee dee”, a loud drum fill suddenly segues into “Red Chair Fade Away” , a short psychedelic trip, with odd time signatures and far out lyrics. “One Minute Woman” is a sappy ballad that shouldn’t have had any place in the album, but somehow it just works thanks to Barry Gibb’s excellent delivery. This is again contrasted with the following “In My Own Time” which hails back to the garage-y sound they explored in Australia combined with a certain strain of Revolver/Rubber Soul Beatlesque influence. Bringing the contrast game even further, the album continues with the eerie “Every Christian Lion-hearted Man Will Show You” which opens with a haunting Mellotron intro and Barry Gibb singing in Latin in a very low register, resembling a Gregorian chant, which is then broken off by guitar strumming and a clever three-part harmony melody. Up to this point, it is evident that the brothers (particularly Barry and Robin) excelled at any kind of form they experimented in, had two magnificent singers in Barry and Robin (whose unique voice is further explored in “Craise Finton Kirk Royal Academy of Arts”, a Kinks-ish tune), and had a strong three-part harmony (with Maurice giving the ample low end to the two singers) which would soon become their trademark characteristic.

“New York Mining Disaster 1941” continues the bleak but beautiful approach of “Holiday”, and adds an interesting narrative quality through its lyrics of a monologue of a person trapped in a mine shaft, inspired by actual mining disasters. At this point, it can also be concluded that Barry and Robin are lyricists who took very interesting, rather unusual points of view in their often narrative lyrics, which was also evident in the following “Cucumber Castle”, a rather puzzling story of a person and his attachment to his property, accompanied by a dramatic orchestration. “To Love Somebody” and “I Can’t See Nobody” prove that the then-current proto-psychedelic wave wasn’t the Bee Gees’ only influence. These were certainly influenced by that decade’s soul music and R&B, particularly Motown; it is interesting to hear that the former song showcases Barry at his most soulful, while the latter portrays Robin in a very similar light. Between these two is “I Close My Eyes” a very catchy and enjoyable psychedelic romp. “Please Read Me” follows the same vein as “Red Chair” but with the vocal harmony sustained throughout the song. The album ends with the excellent “Close Another Door” which starts out with Robin’s lamenting voice which suddenly burst into a rocking middle, and ends tastefully in orchestration and Robin’s majestic ad-libbed cadenza.

1st is a truly swirling journey from start to end. It is an album I would definitely recommend to people starting to get interested in psychedelic music, people who appreciate crafty songwriting and harmony singing, and even casual Bee Gees listeners who want to find out more than the brothers’ usual One Night Only set. It is also an album from 1967 I would definitely recommend among many other great albums released in that very crowded year in popular music in English.

Berburu CD Musik di Lawrence (bagian 1)

Satu hal yang dulu saya impikan untuk dilakukan di Amerika Serikat dan sekarang sering saya lakukan adalah adalah thrift shopping, berburu barang-barang bekas (dan terkadang baru) dengan harga sangat miring di berbagai tempat. Di Lawrence, Kansas tempat saya tinggal, terdapat beberapa thrift stores, toko-toko yang khusus menjual barang-barang sumbangan dengan harga miring, misalnya jaringan nasional seperti Goodwill dan Salvation Army serta pula toko-toko lokal seperti St. John’s Rummage Shop dan Social Service League. Sebagian hasil penjualan barang-barang ini umumnya disumbangkan untuk program-program kemanusiaan seperti pengentasan kemiskinan dan pencegahan dan penyembuhan penyakit.

Akan tetapi, thrifting tidak hanya berhenti di thrift stores saja. Ada banyak kesempatan untuk berburu barang-barang murah dengan harga sangat miring di tempat-tempat lain, semisal di garage sale yang bisa jadi diadakan oleh perorangan atau komunitas pada akhir pekan. Garage sale jadi semacam kegiatan akhir pekan favorit bagi kami, berkunjung ke garasi tetangga yang menjual sebagian barang yang sudah tidak digunakannya lagi dengan harga sangat murah dan terkadang bisa ditawar.

Bisnis ritel di Amerika Serikat saat ini melesu dan thrifting menjalar ke toko-toko yang akan bangkrut. Toko-toko yang akan tutup ini umumnya melakukan liquidation sale, menjual semua aset dengan harga sangat miring. Salah satu jaringan department store yang sudah bangkrut di Lawrence adalah Hastings, yang sempat saya kunjungi pada bulan Oktober lalu sebelum tutup selamanya pada bulan November. Yang akan tutup berikutnya sepertinya adalah jaringan toko pakaian JC Penney, yang saat ini sedang melakukan liquidation sale.

Saya berusaha untuk tidak menyia-nyiakan kesempatan thrifting ini dengan mengoleksi musik dalam format CD. Mengapa CD? Tentunya karena CD lebih mudah ditemui di Amerika Serikat daripada kaset, yang banyak saya koleksi di Indonesia. Harga CD di thrift stores pun lebih bersahabat, umumnya berkisar hanya dari 50 sen hingga 2 dolar saja per CD, dan di garage sale bisa jadi malah lebih murah, bahkan untuk album yang bisa dibilang langka, setidaknya langka bagi saya yang tidak pernah menemukan album tersebut di Indonesia. Sebagai pendengar musik rock klasik, tujuan utama saya dalam berburu CD adalah album-album yang rock 60an dan 70an yang kerap dianggap klasik, tetapi saya pun terkadang juga membeli album-album yang menurut saya menarik atau punya nilai emosional dan nostalgik.

Saya pertama kali berburu CD di Hastings, toko yang saya sebut di atas, sekitar sebulan sebelum toko itu tutup. Seluruh koleksi CD diobral dengan harga mulai dari 80 sen saja. Berikut ini adalah beberapa CD yang saya peroleh di Hastings, selain juga beberapa DVD, buku komik, dan pakaian.

Blood, Sweat and Tears – Child Is Father to the Man (1968, versi rilis CD 2000)


Album ini adalah salah satu album yang telah lama masuk ke dalam daftar album yang paling ingin saya miliki, dan saya menemukannya di Hastings dengan harga hanya sedolar saja! Ini adalah album pertama Blood, Sweat and Tears, band yang didirikan oleh Al Kooper yang awalnya populer karena suara organ yang ikonik di single elektrik pertama Bob Dylan, “Like a Rolling Stone”, padahal Al Kooper sendiri awalnya adalah seorang gitaris. Di Indonesia, Blood, Sweat and Tears dikenal pertama kali lewat lagu “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” yang bluesy, single pertama dari album ini. Akan tetapi, album ini lebih dari sekadar blues dan suara organ Hammond. Ini mungkin adalah salah satu album rock paling eksploratif dengan sentuhan orkestra, blues, jazz, aroma psikedelik yang kental, dan seksi tiup yang integral (sebelum Chicago datang setahun kemudian). Ini adalah album yang unik dan mungkin terbaik dalam sejarah Blood, Sweat and Tears, karena setelah ini Al Kooper memilih mundur dari band yang didirikannya dan Blood, Sweat and Tears memilih jalur yang lebih komersial tetapi tidak pernah seinovatif ini.

King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King: An Observation by King Crimson 40th Anniversary Edition (1969, versi rilis CD 2009)


Ia teriak karena disimpan di atas sprei polkadot.


CD 2 dengan foto masing-masing personel di sebelah kanan


CD 1 dengan lanjutan lukisan sampul depan di sebelah kiri

Ketika saya melihat album ini di rak Hastings, saya hampir berteriak, seperti lukisan Barry Godber yang menjadi sampul album ini. In the Court of the Crimson King edisi khusus 40 tahun, 2 CD, baru hanya seharga $1.78 pula! Ini adalah album yang cukup sulit didapat di Indonesia, yang ketika tersedia pun umumnya harganya cukup mahal. Bagi para pendengar rock progresif, ini adalah salah satu album pelopor dalam eksplorasi progresif. Ini adalah album yang tetap segar dan menua dengan sangat baik; putar “21st Century Schizoid Man” dan sulit untuk tidak mengira bahwa Tool, Porcupine Tree, dan Mars Volta terpengaruh oleh band ini. Hasil remix stereo Steven Wilson (ya, Steven Wilson dari Porcupine Tree) di edisi ini membuat album ini terdengar lebih segar dan detil. Bagi yang menginginkan pengalaman yang lebih dekat dengan versi tahun 1969, CD 2 berisi edisi master orisinil yang pernah dirilis sebelumnya pada tahun 2004.

Kula Shaker – K (1996, edisi CD pertama)


K adalah album yang saya dengar dalam berbagai fase hidup saya sejak saya masih SMP (walaupun pada waktu itu saya masih belum bisa menikmati album ini sepenuhnya) lewat kaset pinjaman dari seorang teman sekelas, tetapi ini juga album yang tidak pernah saya punya dalam format apapun sampai saat ini. Ini adalah album yang masih saya nikmati sampai sekarang, terutama sejak saya membeli CD ini bulan Oktober lalu. Secara musikal, ini adalah rock Inggris (atau Britpop, terserah deh) psikedelik yang sangat bagus dan secara personal, ini adalah album yang penuh nostalgia.

New Kids on the Block – Step by Step (1990, versi rilis CD 2000)


“I really think it’s just a matter of tiiiiimeee… Step by step, ooh baby, you’re always on my mind.”

Akhir tahun 1990 bagi saya adalah serial animasi New Kids on the Block di TPI pada Minggu pagi dan video klip “Step by Step” dan “Tonight” di malam hari. Di antara dua tayangan tersebut, saya biasa menghabiskan waktu bermain dengan teman-teman yang kerap berbaju gombrong ala Danny Wood atau Jordan Knight atau bertopi hitam seperti Donnie Wahlberg. Album pertama yang orang tua saya belikan khusus untuk saya adalah album Step by Step dalam format kaset. Walaupun kegemaran saya akan NKOTB tidak berlanjut hingga saya remaja, Step by Step menurut saya masih salah satu album pop terbaik pada masanya dan album boyband terbaik dari segi musik. Ketika saya menemukan album ini dalam format CD di Hastings, tentunya tidak ada pilihan lain selain membelinya (lagipula harganya hanya sedolar)!

Sampai jumpa di artikel berburu CD musik berikutnya dengan CD-CD yang saya temukan di thrift stores!




Gotye – Making Mirrors: Memandangi Cermin-cermin, Mencerna Ragam

Artis:                     Gotye

Label:                    Sample ‘n’ Seconds Records, Universal Island Records

Produser:            Wally de Becker

Tahun:                  2012

Rekomendasi:    Eyes Wide Open, State of the Art, Smoke and Mirrors

Percaya atau tidak, saya mendengarkan lagu Gotye (dibaca seperti membaca nama Perancis “Gaultier”) “Somebody That I Used To Know” untuk kali pertama di radio di dalam sebuah angkutan kota yang lumayan lowong, sehingga lagu ini terdengar jelas dan lantang. Lagu ini sudah terkenal selama lebih kurang dua bulan pada waktu saya mendengarkannya pertama kali. Tentu saja pada awalnya saya tidak mengenali lagu ini. Intro dan bagian verse-nya justru mengingatkan saya pada lagu-lagu Peter Gabriel pada masa album 3 dan 4 (Security) antara tahun 1980-1982. Ketika sampai pada refrain, barulah saya mengenali lagu ini sebagai lagu yang pada waktu itu sedang banyak dibicarakan dan dinyanyikan kembali oleh banyak orang, tapi tak ayal bagian refrain ini pun mengingatkan saya pada cara Peter Gabriel umumnya mengawali refrain pada lagu-lagunya. Sesi pertama mendengarkan di angkot ini membuat saya penasaran.

Sepertinya saya tidak perlu bercerita lagi mengenai bagaimana “Somebody That I Used To Know” menjadi “modern and instant classic” dan bagaimana Gotye menjadi selebritas YouTube. Saya justru tidak terlena untuk menyaksikan puluhan, mungkin ratusan, versi lain dari “Somebody That I Used To Know” yang bertebaran di YouTube. Saya justru mencari lagu Gotye lain dan mendapati “Eyes Wide Open,” single pendahulu “Somebody That I Used To Know” yang tidak setenar penerusnya. Pada awalnya saya mengharapkan lagu-lagu yang senafas dengan “Somebody That I Used To Know,” tetapi ketika mendengar “Eyes Wide Open,” ternyata Gotye menyuguhkan sesuatu yang berbeda: video yang canggih (tidak seperti video “Somebody That I Used To Know” yang minimalistik) dan tempo cepat dengan irama serta melodi yang terdengar seperti lagu pop 80an tetapi juga pada saat yang sama mengingatkan pada Keane (!).

Pamer CD-nya ah… Biar keliatan beli, bukan ngunduh.

Ketika akhirnya saya memutuskan membeli album Making Mirrors, yang saya harapkan adalah menemukan keragaman yang mengisi kutub antara “Somebody That I Used To Know” dan “Eyes Wide Open.” Saya sebenarnya cukup senang karena keragaman itu saya temukan ketika pertama kali mendengarkan CD Making Mirrors. Hanya saja, seperti yang banyak dikatakan ulasan-ulasan sebelumnya, album ini memang kekurangan fokus. Sepertinya, Gotye lebih tertarik untuk bereksperimen di setiap lagu daripada mengikuti sebuah konsep yang ajeg. Alhasil, lagu-lagu dalam album ini beragam, walaupun hampir seluruhnya menunjukkan eksperimentasi bebunyian yang dikumpulkan oleh Gotye, baik yang ia mainkan sendiri, berasal dari sample, dan bahkan berasal dari instrumen yang tidak konvensional seperti Winton Musical Fence, pagar sungguhan yang disetem sedemikian rupa sehingga bisa digunakan untuk bermain musik.

Album dibuka dengan senandung “Making Mirrors” yang minimalis dan singkat (hanya semenit), dilanjutkan dengan “Easy Way Out” yang menohok dan lumayan berenergi. Lagu ini langsung segue (bahasa Indonesianya apa ya) ke “Somebody That I Used To Know” yang menampilkan Kimbra dengan porsi yang sangat pas. Setelah itu ada “Eyes Wide Open” yang sejauh ini merupakan lagu favorit saya dari album ini. Lagu-lagu lain cukup menarik, walaupun arahnya agak sedikit sulit ditentukan. “Smoke and Mirrors” rif Wurlitzer-nya cukup nyangkut dan agak terasa seperti Pink Floyd tahun 80an, tapi “In Your Light” terlalu terdengar seperti musik pop hari ini. “Save Me” terdengar, sekali lagi, seperti Keane (dengan energi dan struktur lagu yang mirip) tapi dengan vokalis yang register suaranya lebih tinggi. Sementara itu, “Bronte” justru ngelangut, dengan suara Gotye yang lamat-lamat. Lagu “I Feel Better” malah menghentak seperti single-single upbeat Motown, walaupun upaya untuk mereplikasi gaya rekayasa dan produksi Motown yang riuh agak meleset, sehingga pada beberapa titik (terutama pada rif brass section) lagu ini terdengar terlalu bising dan beresiko memekakkan telinga apabila didengar dengan volume tinggi.

Banyak yang mengeluhkan “State of the Art” sebagai lagu yang paling tidak berterima dan bahkan lagu terburuk di dalam album ini. Lagu ini memang cukup aneh mengingat di 11 lagu lain, Gotye menjelajahi jangkauan vokal yang luas dengan suara yang menurut saya cukup memincut. Akan tetapi, di lagu ini ia menutupi suaranya dengan berlapis-lapis efek vokal autotune dan vocoder yang ditingkahi irama reggae elektronik ala tahun 80an. Akan tetapi, menurut saya di lagu ini justru Gotye tidak ingin suaranya dianggap terlalu serius. Dengan lirik yang bercerita tentang kemajuan teknologi digital dalam musik (The marriage of music to computers is quite natural), saya menengarai adanya sindiran dan ironi yang disengaja di lagu ini, yang sebenarnya menurut saya cukup brilian: Gotye menyindir kemajuan teknologi digital dalam musik tetapi dia sendiri menggunakannya dengan sadar, bahkan seluruh alat musik dan teknologi yang ia sebutkan di dalam lirik, semuanya digunakan dalam proses perekaman lagu ini(!)! Gila.

Album ini cocok sekali untuk mereka yang mengharapkan gabungan karya-karya yang eklektik yang semuanya berasal dari pikiran seorang Wouter “Wally” De Becker, nama asli Gotye, yang menunjukkan bahwa ia bukan hanya seorang penyanyi, tetapi juga penulis lagu yang versatile, penata musik, dan musisi multi-instrumentalis. Album ini seolah berisi cermin-cermin yang merefleksikan citra Gotye yang berbeda-beda, yang diwakili oleh lagu-lagu yang beragam dengan corak eksperimentasi yang beragam pula. Menarik untuk ditunggu pada cermin (-cermin) manakah Gotye akan berkaca pada album berikutnya. YA!

D-2/7 09152012