Indonesia Expat
Arts/Entertainment

More on Mumbles ‘(Masih) Kalah’ Review: The Most Fearless Indonesian Album of 2024 (So Far!)

More on Mumbles '(Masih) Kalah'

Finally – a record that encapsulates what ‘relatable’ music is supposed to sound like.

I always feel a deep cringe (and not in a good way) whenever an artist attempts to make ‘relatable’ music.

Whenever I read press release statements of a new music release or watch an interview of a musician promoting a new record, that dreadful word always comes up in one way or another: ‘relatable’. Pop artists make ballads about being ghosted or mistreated by their romantic partners because they believe such stories are ‘relatable’ in the eyes (and the ears) of their targeted audiences. Musicians of all kinds of genres always put an immense and calculative effort to show that they are one of us. By being one of us, all of us would fall in love and, thus, become their fans.

However, what makes me cringe at such blatant effort in being ‘relatable’ is the cold-hard reality that, when all is said and done, those musicians are not remotely one of us. Once these musicians have a taste of fame and wealth and social rise, their connections with their fans — let alone their audiences — will grow more and more hollow. Their public image is also a factor; the more glamorous they present themselves on stage and social media, the less human they may come across. That is the reason why most music audiences tend to prefer their idol’s early work — because that was when their idol was technically still one of them and not at all catapulted into the glamorous, high-affluent, dating-fellow-celebs sort of sorority.

Such is the cruelty behind the word ‘relatable’. If an artist genuinely wishes to be relatable, the effort should not stop at making ‘relatable’ songs alone. The artist must also bare it all and show the world that their entirety — mind, body, and soul — is ‘relatable’ as well. This, of course, is always easier said than done. Most of the time, an artist would rather be wearing skimpy and revealing outfits on their music videos than being emotionally naked in their music.

More on Mumbles '(Masih) Kalah'But then, once upon a time in May, the Indonesian folk-pop duo More on Mumbles dropped their debut full-length album, (Masih) Kalah. And finally, there is an Indonesian music act who is fearless enough to bare it all — and the result is far from an embarrassment. Just the opposite, in fact. (Masih) Kalah is breathtaking.

To put it in summation, More on Mumbles’ (Masih) Kalah is an investigation of pain. Certainly, pain is not exactly the most original theme for an album to delve into, but what elevates (Masih) Kalah above and beyond all the ‘galau’ and/or ‘bucin’ records out there is More on Mumbles’ unapologetic understanding that pain is never pretty. Pain, in reality, is ugly. It is merciless. It is powerful enough to turn a reasonable human being into a madman. Lucky for us music audiences who may be looking for something more authentic, here in (Masih) Kalah, the duo More on Mumbles are not afraid to look (and sound) like a madman.

The longest and loudest standing ovation should be given to Lintang Larasati, first and foremost, who serves as the vocalist of More on Mumbles. As a singer, she totally grasps the notion that singing is a fluid and elastic form of art. Lintang’s vocals unexpectedly turn breathy and moan-y, exuding the sort of emotional exhaustion as a former flame wishes to talk things out with her in the throbbing bop, “Now You Say You Wanna Talk”. In the dazzling “What A Strange Day”, her frenetic staccato disturbingly (but also seductively) illustrates a woman suffering from pain for so long that she is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. At one point, during the hands-in-the-air anthem “Lagu Lama“, Lintang’s vocals deliberately sound disarranged and guttered — which, ironically, makes the song feel more heartbreaking and resonating.

Still and all, Lintang’s vocal bravado can only be made possible if the songs were boldly constructed. Thank God she has her duo partner, Ikhwan Hastanto, as her equally fearless co-writer. The album’s pièce de résistance, “Aku dan Ingatan”, is a near-perfect example of why pain is more ‘relatable’ when being presented as un-pretty as possible. The single line Memalukan, takkan bisa lupakan is more savage than any of the scornful pop ballads that have ever been released in this decade so far. The album’s closer “Siapa yang Salah” is also another unfiltered display of a very humane bitterness, especially once the song reaches its most biting lyrics: “Aku lihat pesan darimu / Dari awal tidak jelas semua”. The additional fact that the music production of “Siapa yang Salah” is the most pop out of the songs in (Masih) Kalah also feels like the duo’s argumentative statement that pop music can be so much deeper than what it is today.

But perhaps what happens to be More on Mumbles’ most fearless move in (Masih) Kalah is their decision to apply the rarest type of lyrical style in this modern era: a bilingual lyricism akin to a stream of consciousness. Mainstream pop enthusiasts might immediately scorn the fact that most songs in Masih (Kalah) code-switch back and forth between Indonesian and English — a cynicism that even I myself find understandable. Having said that, a lyrical stream of consciousness, just like a human’s train of thoughts, is never as neat as Lang Leav-written poetry. A human’s train of thought, when unfiltered and unedited, is often chaotic and acrimonious. Moreover, if I dare to try and read More on Mumbles’ mind, perhaps there is another, more personal reason why they decided to turn Masih (Kalah) into a bilingual album. After all, I also noticed that only the two final songs in the album are entirely in Indonesian.

More on Mumbles '(Masih) Kalah'

Ultimately, instead of the lyrical style, it is actually the music production that I find the most confusing. Perhaps the producers that are involved — Dimas Wibisana, Yabes Yuniawan, Enrico Octaviano, Ricco, and Lafa Pratomo — decided to apply a more reserved and relatively familiar music production because they believed that the duo’s songwriting and Lintang’s vocals are wild enough to turn Masih (Kalah) into an exemplary record. On the other hand, however, it also feels as if the producers were not totally on the same page as More on Mumbles when it comes to the sonic vision of the album. Or maybe it was More on Mumbles who preferred the production to sound more familiar and headset-friendly so that Masih (Kalah) could still make a splash in pop-focused FYPs and radios. Regardless of what the thinking process was, the music production leaves more questions than reinvigorations. That should be More on Mumbles’ homework for their future records.

Contrary to the title of the album, More on Mumbles’ (Masih) Kalah is a remarkable triumph. Lintang Larasati and Ikhwan Hastanto have proven themselves not only as capable musicians, but also as artists who are clever enough to comprehend that the portrait of pain is the most beautiful when painted truthfully, unapologetically, and uncompromisingly. If the music audiences wish to be coddled and entertained, there are more than plenty of records out there to choose from. But if they wish to be truly seen and understood, then might I suggest More on Mumbles’ (Masih) Kalah? I can assure you — Lintang Larasati and Ikhwan Hastanto are, indeed, one of us.

Photos courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment Indonesia.

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