Afternoon Talk – Self Titled EP
Globalization has brought with it a whole load of changes in every aspect of our lives and at no other point in the history of human kind have we been so connected to each other. Economically and politically, nothing and no one stands on its own. An economic meltdown in Greece, and even the nice people of Vanuatu will feel its repercussion. And culturally? Well, if you’re reading this you’re probably aware that a vast musical vault is just a click away. Any genre, any era, any artist, any album, any song. One slight movement of the fingertip is all you need.
What does this have to do with a review of a debut EP that consists of five tracks? To put it bluntly, everything. For one,Afternoon Talk is a band from Lampung, Sumatra. A sign that the rest of Indonesia is starting to escape Java’s dominance? I very much hope so. They certainly are as good if not better than countless other bands that hail from Jakarta or Bandung and the easy access to music and films and all forms of pop culture brought by globalization has certainly played its part.
Stylistically the band mainly dabbles in folky acoustic pop songs with simple arrangements that also features ukulele and glockenspiel. The band’s main attraction though, is undoubtedly singer Sofia, who coquettes her way through the EP with a mixture of innocence and melancholy. Blessed with Etta James’ or Billie Holiday’s vocal chords she certainly is not, and at some places her voice does sound a bit thin, but her naïve and almost casual way of singing, added by a few interesting phrasing here and there enables her to impose her persona on the songs. And while running the risk of becoming a bit too one-dimensional, every now and then she managed to show a glimpse of assertiveness that forces you to reassess your opinion of her . In “There’s One Thing You Should Know”, for example, she boldly states “In the middle of the war, I’ll be wearing what you wore (sic)” and in “So Far Away” she endearingly admitted her urges to “punch you in the face for thousand times”.
Of course, a band isn’t a band if it’s not more than the sum of its parts. Despite being somewhat relegated to the role of faceless sidekicks, big kudos to the other two members who have quite obviously mastered the time honored skill of knowing that it’s not what you add, but what you leave out that could make or break a song. Furthermore, they managed to keep the glockenspiel and ukulele flourishes to a minimal and thus maximizing their effect, a feat that sounds much more simple that it actually is, especially considering the fact that these two are instruments that are actually quite limited and, in the wrong hands, could be amazingly annoying.
So far so good. Indeed, the five tracks featured here are all well crafted songs you’ll catch yourself humming along in no time. But it’s not actually something we’ve never heard before either. In fact it sounds almost too familiar. And herein lies another problem that the mighty globalization has brought upon us. Aspiring to a certain musical style is certainly no sin, and even Keith Richards once admitted that everything he did was basically recycled from other artists. However, there is the risk that pop culture will get homogenized and this thought ran through my mind every time I listened to this EP. The fact that the band declared on their facebook page that they “incorporate and is inspired by the tropical sound of traditional Indonesian culture“ also rankles a bit, because as ignorant as I am about Lampung’s or even Sumatra’s undoubtedly magnificent cultural heritage, all I can hear when I play their songs are the Velvet Underground or the Moldy Peaches.
Now, I’m not saying that every indonesian band should have a full gamelan orchestra on every single song they make. And there will be some of you who thinks that this is a case of pot calling the kettle black since the criteria I use myself are arguably very western pop culture oriented. I just happen to think that it is time to make our own standards and carve our own identity instead of just contentedly doing what others did before. And as far as potential goes, Afternoon Talk certainly has them by the buckets.