There are certain points in the trajectory of artists when mere admiration results in brazen complacency. Influences take shape not as reference points but as templates to be oversimplified and sold. Like a band wanting to be as good as The Beatles by getting mop-top haircuts or a Dali-admiring painter who shapes his moustache flamboyantly, itâ€™s a form of dumbing down that has far too often received commendations in the local art, music and entertainment industry.
â€śWhy canâ€™t we just support local music without being too critical?â€ť goes the usual rebuttal against claims of outright plagiarism and artistic guano. Because leniency is an insult that breeds substandard contentment.
The indie band Angsa dan Serigala (Geese and Wolves) from Bandung probably doesnâ€™t know this. Or it does but has shrewdly comprehended the shoddy standards placed upon artists in this country. Either way, it is treading very close to leaning fully on other peopleâ€™s sound.
To be fair, not every song on the bandâ€™s newly released self-titled album takes its aesthetic from a certain Canadian artsy rock band I wonâ€™t bother mentioning.
Although I will mention the hearts-on-fire, brass-heavy nuance on this album does rub noses with acts such as the Decemberists, Wolf Parade, and Frog Eyes, but Angsa dan Serigala is much lighter and has more conventional Indonesian pop leanings. The result sounds like a band aiming for The Divine Comedy but sounds like local superstars Nidji imitating Coldplay imitating late-period U2.
Angsa dan Serigala channels a mix of baroque pop and indie rock that was in vogue a few short years ago. The seven-member band dons its array of less-conventional â€śrock bandâ€ť instruments including violins, cellos, glockenspiel and ukulele with a glee whose excessive use lends a charmingly haphazard quality to the whole experience.
One track, â€śInspirasiâ€ť (â€śInspirationâ€ť), builds itself around the heart-on-fire aesthetic immediately, easily provoking spirited clapping and eyes-closed emoting. â€śDua Sisiâ€ť (â€śTwo Sidesâ€ť) relies on a similar trick, offering a feisty vocal interplay between the bandâ€™s male and female singers that lends itself well to a crescendo, which the band relies on plentifully.
But these arrangements canâ€™t downplay the vigor-less melodies, rendering the intended verve of the arrangements somehow moot.
Songs like â€śLangit Senjaâ€ť (â€śTwilight Skyâ€ť) and the first single â€śHitam Putihâ€ť (â€śBlack Whiteâ€ť) showcase this better than most. Between pounding rhythms and strings, the band canâ€™t muster up something equally brisk in the melody department. Most songs sound like they originate from another nondescript alterna-pop act eager to look â€śindieâ€ť cool but eager for the commercial limelight with its quivering, sappy quality.
â€śBernyanyiâ€ť (â€śSingingâ€ť) again aims for that celebratory tone with a pseudo-country tinge and mass sing-along, but sounds non-festively stale. The band seems to mistake sounding chipper and sprightly with being energetic, resulting in a very unspontaneous party song. The issue plagues even the best tracks, like â€śBersamakuâ€ť (â€śWith Meâ€ť), which clumsily opens with a forceless â€śhey,â€ť before burying its forgivable melodies with overwrought brass and strings that sounds closer to the ersatz-Irish pop of The Corrs than it does Lee Hazelwood.
â€śMuda, Tangguh, dan Perkasaâ€ť (â€śYoung, Tough, and Mightyâ€ť) highlights the clash between the bandâ€™s aim for buoyancy with their knack for melancholy Indonesian pop. While the arrangement screams for power, the vocals and lyrics serve up tooth-aching turns and new-age â€śbe all you can beâ€ť philosophy that is both redundant and too lame to offer any form of tangible artistic energy. â€śSenyumâ€ť (â€śSmileâ€ť), for instance, goes for chestnut wisdoms such as â€śSmile/ Laugh/ Let the world give color.â€ť This triteness bogs down whatever tiny momentum the arrangement attains and becomes an over-utilized mantra throughout the record.
Angsa dan Serigala has a lot of potential to be a multimillion-record selling band. They certainly encompass all the right ingredients for local success. Their aesthetic might scream â€śhipster indie rock,â€ť but their credentials shout â€śfilm soundtracks and product advertisements.â€ť It will just take time for the band to comprehend that.