ALBUM REVIEW: 'Murder' - SevenCollar T-Shirt
Malaysian alternative rock veterans stick to the familiar in their fourth album
Release Date: 16 December 2018 Genre: Alternative Rock/ Post Grunge Label: Laguna Music
SevenCollar T-Shirt has been declared local indie icons on several occasions in the past, and rightfully so. They're proper indie veterans, having released their first full-length album, 'Freeway, Dreaming & Broke' in 1999 (there was a demo compilation before that). At a time when hardcore and grunge dominated Malaysia's alternative scene (especially in Greater KL), there was something slightly discerning about the SevenCollar T-Shirt (or SCTS) sound, even from the very beginning. It was with their critically acclaimed sophomore album, Drones, (2004) that SCTS found their trademark symphonic direction - they became a guitar-driven rock band that loved to push their production into melancholic realms packaged in atmospheric overtones (all hail Boohoorah Theory).
Even when the band found its more belligerent streaks with The Great Battle (2009) - evident right from the first track 'TET Offensive' - there were more poignant, melodic moments of restrain such as in the arpeggio, post-rock-ish guitars of 'Fragile' or the acoustic essence of 'The Foreigner' . Epic arrangements and riffs made SCTS the wonderboys of modern Malaysian rock. The guitars on 'December' still gives me the chills. Evidently after all these years, they've made themselves a tough act to follow.
That being said, 'Murder' is an album with a lot of conceptual promise, but in my opinion, falls short in execution. Overall, the album feels like their attempt at dialing it down; at being mellower. There is still an underlying familiarity to SCTS, with atmospheric tones and some cool breakdowns. From the opening track "Lines", you sort of get the overall gist of the album - a romantic, anthemic, alt-rock experience. The operative word here being "anthemic", 'Lines' is one of the few tracks in the album that kill it with its powerful vocal dynamics and spirited vibe. The line "Keep shouting your revival" is a masterpiece.
However, for the most part, the tracks in Murder feels very similar, inoffensive and bland. There's less straying away from the mold in Murder, in comparison to the tracks in The Great Battle or Drones. Arrangements begin to fall tired as the band exhausts as many alternative rock templates as possible to convey their sound. Band comparisons are the death of creativity, but it has to be said that there was a time when SCTS was compared to the idiosyncrasy of Mars Volta or the experimental passion behind Radiohead. Although, production-wise, SCTS still soars above a lot of local rock bands, there isn't anything groundbreaking that renders the album particularly noteworthy.
There are still plenty of positive aspects to 'Murder' that makes it worth checking out (haha that's funny to say). It's not like SCTS suddenly devolved into musical amoeba. They're still talented musicians backed by the production prowess of Jeffrey Little (I wanna take this opportunity to also pay respect to Jeffrey's brother, the legendary producer of many Malaysian independent artistes, Jeremy Little. RIP) There are songs in the tracklist that offer a peek into what could be. One of which, ironically, is "The Flaw". It is the most interesting track when it comes to arrangement and style. I love the spacey keyboard introduction, the staccato robot like vocals as the lead, Saiful, sings emotional lyrics of vulnerability in a world that only loves you when you're at the top, or when you're trapped in incendiary disasters. ("Surprised / They only want to see your flame").
'Chains' is also another standout track, with that thumping bassline and catchy guitar riffs that underpin the pre-chorus. The hard chorus guitar riffs are deliciously heavy, and the lead's Scott Weiland-like (of the Stone Temple Pilots) vocals when he sings "Fell on my head" is so nostalgia-inducing, I feel like I'm chained to a distant memory of grunge MTV. The rhythm switch up from verse to chorus as the band goes to "Change, change what you must change" and the backing vocals that come in at "Make no mistake" is also super satisfying.
The atmospheric drop in Black Rain after the panicky tapping on the hi-hat. The soaring electric guitars in Miracles. When the line "I've been afraid of goodbyes" comes in on the same song in a slightly different key. These are all wonderful testaments to SCTS's knack for drafting bite-sized celestial epics.
All in all, it's a good album with some great tracks, but the inextricable truth is that SCTS has not changed much for the past decade. Sure they do what they're great at, going for sounds they know they can make work, but if you're looking to see genre-defying innovations, or relive the refreshing splash in the face that their past albums gave, you'd be hard-pressed. Fans will definitely find something to love, and will welcome the familiarity. Personally, there's nothing much in here to push the SCTS discography up a notch.
'Murder's physical album is pretty cool to own. I love the HIT LIST pun at the back, because the band members are supposed to be well-dressed assassins/hitmen who also make musical hits on the side. But in a way I believe the album's entire artistic concept sort of affected my expectations of Murder. It's my fault. It doesn't really factor much in my opinions of the music. But the album art, done by Adib Azfar, is cool as heck. It looks violent, digital dystopian and edgy, so I expected that maybe SCTS were going for a harsher noise, a rawer production, or maybe a stronger lyrical storytelling filled with drama and narrative. Or maybe on the other end of the spectrum they would have adopted a more innovative electronic sound. In both approaches they could've still failed badly, but at least it would have been new. Instead, Murder feels like a weaker sequel to The Great Battle, when it could've been an iconic monument to how one of Malaysia's alt-rock mainstay reinvented themselves beyond their musical horizon.
FAV TRACKS: LINES, MIRACLE, CHAINS, THE FLAW WORST TRACKS: KILLING TIME
RATING: ★★★☆☆ All images are sourced from SevenCollar T-Shirt's Facebook except for the picture of the physical album. Order their album from their social media, on Facebook and Instagram Do you agree with our review? Have you listened to the album? What would you rate it? Tell us your feedback. All opinions (except hateful, racist, sexist, homophobic, bigoted ones) are accepted. Comment down below, or hit us up on our social media! We know it's subjective, that's why we don't want to be the only ones talking!