Azmyl Yunor’s exploration of “the modern Malay male” is filled to the brim with blues, burns and a dash of punk.
RELEASE DATE: September 16, 2020 [Digital] 26 September 2020 [Physical]
GENRE: FOLK ROCK / FOLK PUNK / SINGER-SONGWRITER / COWPUNK / ROOTS ROCK
Veteran busker and professional film buff Azmyl Yunor return with his latest solo release - a far cry for the people who fell in love with his work with The Sigarettes.
Editor: Some archival gold
It’s always difficult to review a blues album because of the cultural history that comes with it - and with influences ranging from Lynyrd Skynyrd to The Cynics, it’s obvious to see John Bangi Blues borrows quite liberally from the American 60s grassroots scene, what with its open chords, walking basslines and that Foghorn Leghorn accent that seems to come out whenever Azmyl Yunor sings in English.
But the secret sauce to John Bangi Blues is its DIY punk approach, both in production and songwriting. To really appreciate this album, you need to accept that many songs are as raw as the taugeh that comes with your chicken rice. Every note you hear was written over a year and recorded in about the same time it takes to finish Infinity War. So don’t go in expecting even a slither of auto-tune on this thing. It sounds more like Twin Fantasy 2011 than Twin Fantasy 2018.
Not surprisingly then, the musical experience of the album is difficult if not an uneventful one. And in a Hüsker Dü fashion, many songs are pushed forward solely by Azmyl’s crunchy guitar strumming, with the biggest offenders being Kapuk and Lori Hantu. If you find yourself humming to anything in this album, it’s likely Kristopher Chong’s basswork or the moments where Azmyl does a Bob Dylan impression on his harmonica. All of these elements come together to create a sonic palette that sounds as varied as having The White Stripes’s Fell In Love With A Girl stuck in a loop for 33-minutes. But you can argue, that’s kind of the point.
As a punk album, John Bangi Blues lacks the compositional innovation that bands like Big Black or Nick Cave brought back in the day. As a blues album, its commitment to form seems to be its downfall. Nothing is original of course. But at the same time, slapping Malay lyrics on some pentatonic scales is a rather shoddy way to go about songwriting.
The saving grace on this thing however is Azmyl Yunor’s eye of observation and his uncanny ability to churn out stories that are equal parts campy and witty. With lines like “kalau kantoi kat Pudu siapa contact lu?” and “Macam tupai engkau lalai”, Azmyl never seems to run out of quirky metaphors and local pop culture references. There’s also an entire verse in Orang Kita where he just namedrops Malaysian cities - clever or contrived? You decide.
So although long-time Azmyl Yunor fans might be put off by the spiciness of his “riff ganas”, the trade-off for a glittery studio recording is a primal performance. In many instances Azmyl sounds like he needs a glass of water, evoking the same rowdy persona that put Janis Joplin in sold-out arenas.
The album then isn’t so much a musical experience as it is a political one - I’m not talking about the many political easter eggs peppered throughout. Rather, the album forces us to choose between the values we look for in our music –production or performance. Whichever you choose, you cannot deny that Azmyl Yunor has taken a brave step forward.
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