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THROWBACK REVIEW: "Mantra Mantra" - Kunto Aji

Updated: Jul 12, 2019

An album like “Mantra Mantra” wears the badge of phrases like “jazz pop” or “R&B” proudly while breaking the mold with its own wondrous narrative and arrangement


It’s easy to gloss over an artist whose musical identity is packaged into a genre already prescribed to them before they can even squeak out their individuality. This is exempliified the whole neo-romantika (New Romantic) movement of the Indonesian music scene, or always elusive words like “folk”. Both examples of genres with a tried and true legacy, whose space is more occupied by imitators than innovators. Kunto Aji’s 2018 album “Mantra Mantra” is a protesting pair of hands pushing through the waves of anyone trying to downsize him as simply “pop”. Genres are descriptors, but like all tools of language they are horrible at accurate definitions. Kunto Aji doesn’t care for that. Although clearly audible in all of his tracks are pop sensibilities meant to charm and calm, this album is decorated by spacious productions, soulful riffs and a vocal performance that is only barely matched in beauty by the lyrics. An album like “Mantra Mantra” wears the badge of phrases like “jazz pop” or “R&B” proudly while breaking the mold with its own wondrous narrative and arrangement. In Rehat, you get a splendid piano coda, bookmarking an already dreamy journey where Kunto Aji reminds you to relax while the universe takes over (Biarkanlah semesta bekerja/Untukmu). The way this song transitions to the complicated loneliness of Jakarta Jakarta is pure medicine. The Yogyakarta singer-songwriter weaves a tale of mental health in this album, specifically on the chaos of overthinking. You hear this in what seems like just another pretty love song like Pilu Membiru, or even more obviously in the frantic paranoia of Topik Semalam. So much of it is quietly heartbreaking whilst being amazingly upbeat. At the heart of this album of self-affirming mantras is a production that travels across moments of jazz, indie, R&B, and pop. Saudade hides a groove beneath its folds, while the spaces between the bass and bright guitar chords in Topik Semalam. Nothing is too clean, nothing ever falls flat. Mantra Mantra deserves all of the accolades it received from Indonesian music critics last year as one of the best albums of 2018. If you need a serene listen that is also introspective without challenging your already tired psyche, made worse by this demanding world, Mantra Mantra is the album for you. RATING: 4.5 / 5 FAV TRACKS: Pilu Membiru, Topik Semalam, Jakarta Jakarta, Rehat

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