Rockin’ Malaysia

While I was in Kuala Lumpur at the end of a long day on a work trip, I met up with my friend Joe Kidd for beers. I had first met Joe many years ago, through the zine thing I did at the turn of the century, and we meet up when we get the opportunity. Joe is the guitarist for Carburetor Dung, a longstanding DIY punk band and one of the godfathers of the scene. They’ve got a great website, and the band has made a compilation “Still Pissed Off After All These Years” free to download (oddly enough, a band called the Kodgers have put a CD with the same name). Yes, the band is named after the famous Lester Bangs book, although I didn’t clue in to this right away. Talking to Joe, I realised that I hadn’t even listened to the album, even though I downloaded it many months ago, so I made a mental note to check it out as soon as I got back to Singapore (and I did). Some fanboy I am…

While I was in KL, I visited Joe’s record shop Ricecooker and picked up two CDs, one by folkers the Pips, and the compilation “Radio Demokratika” to support political awareness about Malaysia’s constitution. Here are some thoughts on those albumes.

CD reviews:

Carburetor Dung Still Pissed Off After All These Years.

Carburetor Dung "Still Pissed Off After All These Years".

Carburetor Dung, “Still Pissed Off After All These Years” – A great compilation from the band that they put together in 2007 for their tour of the Philippines, carrying them from 1992 to 2007. The songs appear on the album in reverse chronological order: the first two are for an unreleased album called “Ingin Ku Rejam Raksasa Kejam”, which means “I Wanna Destroy the Heartless Leviathan”; there is one song from the “Radio Malaya” compilation of 2006, one song from “The Dude Puked On My Lap” compilation of 2005, five songs from the 1999 mini-album “The Allure of Manure”, three songs from the 1998 soundtrack for “Dari Jemapoh Ke Manchestee“, and six songs from the 1993 album “Songs For Friends.” The band has a very heavy frantic screaming sound that, in my mind, makes them more similar to Corrosion of Conformity than anyone else I’m familiar with. They play around with their sound – “Mari Mtyanyi Menjilit” has some funky sax in it, and “Johnny” has some spoken lyrics before all of the screaming begins. Songs from “The Allure of Manure” are a bit more singalong, in particular “Our Voice”, “The Line” and “Payday.” Buzzing. “Wide Awake” has a chilling intro, then gets hot, while “Do Nothing” is a pretty anthemic tune. “Happy” sounds a bit thin, but “Oppression”, with its metallic opening, is good fun and buzzes along. “Boo Hoo Clapping Song” is a scratchy, squeak anthem that is probably the band’s best-loved song, given the number of YouTube videos of it that are available. “Don’t Know” has, at the same time, a surf rock riff as well as the unrelenting drive of a Suicidal Tendencies song. I like this track. “Carburetor Dance” is similarly heavy, but the vocals are also a bit thin. “Song For A Friend” is short, hyper and snotty, a great little punk number full of hope and spirit. “Liar” is melodic and snotty, and is a long, loud complaint about a liar. “I’ve had enough of you, my friend.” “Labour of Hate” is an acoustic song; acoustic songs don’t seem to be Carburetor Dung’s forte, but it’s nice of them to include one here. It has a slow electric solo, and in some ways sounds like a Spitz song, kinda… sorta… “Farewell” is a rambling rocker with a noodly, bleating guitar ramble.

Here’s a video from a recent Carburator Dung show in Manila:

carburetor dung – do nothing from sannee crapsalad on Vimeo.

The Pips, Tug of War

The Pips, "Tug of War"

The Pips, “Tug of War” – When I was in the Rice Cooker shop, the clerk asked me dozens of seemingly random questions, including “do you like folk music?” I said yes, thinking of Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, etc. So he recommended the Pips, a side project of punk band Pusher’s lead singer Alak. The Pips sing twee sweet acoustic-inspired songs a la all those hundreds of Japanese girl bands, but they sing in English and Bahasa Malaya. The album is short, eight songs over only 22 minutes, meaning that songs are only two or three minutes long. “Dungeon” is a sassy rant against hypocrites, that just sort of floats along in a melodic way. “Blasphemous” is dark and a bit jazzy. “Ashes in the Wind” is a song to Altantuya, a beautiful Mongolian woman who was savagely murdered in Malaysia in 2006. “Getaway” is a lazy sentimental tune that sort of drifts around, beautifully, in the air. “Hukum Rimba” is rather electric, and moves along at a nice, fast pace. It is sung in Bahasa Malaya and sounds quite edgy. I like it. “Change” is a simple song, and sounds like someone conjugating verbs, it has a slight Violent Femmes vibe to it. But for all of its simplicity, the political anger is profound: “Time we change insincere bastards/ that lie, depress and oppress.” The booklet leaves out the lyrics to “Introvert Whore”, but that’s okay – it’s easy to follow along this funky little number that has a lot of sass. The final track “Perempuan Merdeka” means… I don’t know what it means. But it’s a cool, edgy song with nice melodies, and cool acoustic pairings.

Radio Demokratika

Radio Demokratika

“Radio Demokratika”, by Various Artists – “Radio Demokratika” is a fund- and awareness-raising CD by various artists that support the MyConstitution Campaign to raise awareness of the Malaysian Federal Constitution by the Constitutional Law Committee of the Bar Council, which comprises lawyers, academics, students, media personnel, and civil society activists. Whew! Joe Kidd and Bullet from Carburetor Dung recorded and produced the album, and Joe did the album inlay and CD design. Good one, guys.

The booklet lays out the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Malaysian constitution over three pages, with links to more information about the constitution. Then, each of the 12 bands gets a page with their song’s lyrics, a picture, and a bit of bio. It’s interesting to read through this sort of a booklet and get a sense of what each band is about, and the different ways that they introduce themselves. It’s also cool to read the lyrics and see which songs are political or issues-based and which ones aren’t.

Opening song “MyConstitution”, by barcode, has a weird “Hotel California” vibe the way it opens with its cheezy keyboard, there are wimpy vocals and a catchy rhythm, with a cool children’s choir-sounding backup vocals; the lyrics are political and righteous, it’s a good song. The members of the band include lawyers, not really a rockin’ bunch, but they do a good job here. “Shine a Light” by Thin Izzy is a bit more of a classic rocker that has a slight Tom Petty vibe to it as it moves breathlessly along. It’s pretty conventional, but the lyrics are meaningful. “Low of the Land” is an acoustic song by Azmyl Yunor that sounds a bit like Steve Earle or Townes van Zandt, maybe a wee bit of Crash Test Dummies. Great song, great picking, great melody. He sings with such a confident voice that you can imagine he writes two or three songs like this a day.

According to the liner notes, Temporary is a band that was only supposed to be temporary, but now they want to be permanent. Right. Anyway, “Shrugs All Around” is a low-energy rock with sandy vocals. I don’t think that is a very descriptive word, but somehow “sandy” is the only one that comes to mind. “Better Than This” by Lord Bobo’s Minions (minions… I love that word) is more “music by lawyers”; it starts off with weird electronics, but eventually goes into full drive and sounds just like a Bob Mould song. The band members run a blog called Loyar Burok that’s full of legal information. “Lip Service” by the Sounders is rocky with female vocals, pretty intense.

An Honest Mistake is the only band in the booklet that had a longer bio than a lyric reprint. They take themselves very seriously, and give plenty of options for the casual listener to find out more about them: three URLs and two email addresses. The descriptive blurb makes a lot of big claims, has a lot of big ideas, and in general is just very BIG! “No other band is as representative of Malaysia’s rising indie scene as An Honest Mistake – inventive, energetic, enthusiastic and colorful,” we learn from this write-up, which is quite hilarious, through mentions that the band is “making waves”, with its brand of “addictive pop-punk with swirls of frenetic screamo”, “they’re here to stay”, with a debut album that “showcases gems” and features “signature sing-alongs that are instantly recognizable” for a band that’s “here to prove the sky’s the limit for Malaysian Music.” According to them, “An Honest Mistake are leading the pack.” I don’t know what the honest mistake was, but I think it was probably getting into music instead of religion or politics; where else do people with God complexes belong? The song is technically not too bad, but it sure sounds like someone in the band is a fan of Evanesence. Apparently, in the studio they made requests to Autotune everything.  Everything! Nice otaku t-shirts, guys – you’ve got the attitude, you’ve got the media pack, now you need to work on the look.

“Moral Bankruptcy” by MC Stiff is okay, if you like hip hop, and the lyrics are political and righteous. “Ugly Ugly, Ugly (So Ugly, We Had To Say It Three Times)” is the Carburetor Dung offering, and it’s an old Shitworkers song (the Shitworkers were Joe, Fendi and Bullet, three of the five current members of Carburetor Dung). The band has a great build up, funky drums, big chords, and slammin’ melodies. It’s a diss, although I’m not sure who’s being dissed. The band get into the spirit of “dung”, presenting themselves as Merde, Excreta, Poo, Manure and Turd, ha ha, are those like mock-Scandinavian black metal stage names? the maharajah commission sings weird droning chanting Jello Biafra/Mike Patton weirdness, with strange bass sounds and guitar shards. Nice. Rules of Rock are, again, a group of rockin’ lawyers, and MyConstitution is a theme song for the disc. The song sounds like a duet between Tom Petty and Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies, the political rocker has some funky country tinges.

“Joget Melayu Liberal” by Panda Head Curry? starts off with what sounds like the Butthole Surfers’ intro to “Sweat Loaf”, but in this case spoken in Behasa Malayu. In case you’re wondering what that looks like, it goes something like this:

Anak: Ayah?
Ayah: Ya, anakku.
Anak: Apakah makna “perlembagaan”?
Ayah: Hmm. Soalan yang amat bagus. Perihal perlembagaan, sebenarnya, anakku, lebih baik kita ADA PERLEMBAGAAN, daripada kita dikejar LEMBEGA yang seram.

Oh ya, bila jumpa ibu kamu hujung minggu ini, jangan lupa beritahu dia, “Syaitan! Syaitan! Syaitan!”.

I’ll have to ask Joe if it’s a faithful translation, or if they mess with it a bit, but it’s definitely a tribute.

The song is sheer goofiness, lots of yummy chanting and barking jungle drums, squealing guitars, and other noodly grooviness, and plenty of backtracking. I love it. The band is the only one that gets two pages in the booklet, since their lyrics go on for so long. And why not, theirs is the longest song on the CD anyway! On the next page there’s a nutso bio, and a picture of the six of them.

(By the way, I bet An Honest Mistake is pissed off that Panda Head Curry? got two pages in the booklet; AHM were probably expecting three for themselves. But hey – Panda Head Curry? is the real deal anyway, right?)

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