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, it’s a form of dumbing down that has far too often received commendations in the local art, music and entertainment industry.
“Why can’t we just support local music without being too critical?” 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 doesn’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 people’s sound.
To be fair, not every song on the band’s newly released self-titled album takes its aesthetic from a certain Canadian artsy rock band I won’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 “rock band” instruments including violins, cellos, glockenspiel and ukulele with a glee whose excessive use lends a charmingly haphazard quality to the whole experience.
One track, “Inspirasi” (“Inspiration”), builds itself around the heart-on-fire aesthetic immediately, easily provoking spirited clapping and eyes-closed emoting. “Dua Sisi” (“Two Sides”) relies on a similar trick, offering a feisty vocal interplay between the band’s male and female singers that lends itself well to a crescendo, which the band relies on plentifully.
But these arrangements can’t downplay the vigor-less melodies, rendering the intended verve of the arrangements somehow moot.
Songs like “Langit Senja” (“Twilight Sky”) and the first single “Hitam Putih” (“Black White”) showcase this better than most. Between pounding rhythms and strings, the band can’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 “indie” cool but eager for the commercial limelight with its quivering, sappy quality.
“Bernyanyi” (“Singing”) 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 “Bersamaku” (“With Me”), which clumsily opens with a forceless “hey,” 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.
“Muda, Tangguh, dan Perkasa” (“Young, Tough, and Mighty”) highlights the clash between the band’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 “be all you can be” philosophy that is both redundant and too lame to offer any form of tangible artistic energy. “Senyum” (“Smile”), for instance, goes for chestnut wisdoms such as “Smile/ Laugh/ Let the world give color.” 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 “hipster indie rock,” but their credentials shout “film soundtracks and product advertisements.” It will just take time for the band to comprehend that.