A month or so ago, I was trying to find the right score to my headspace when I put on my headphones and heard Force Vomit's new songs. The album made me want to pack up and take off to seek the right landscape to fit the tunes. So there I was, backpack and Walkman in hand, heading for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I was riding past looming checkpoints into blissful dust, heat and palm oil tree-filled highways towards little towns and the smell of inexpensive cigarette smoke.
Meanwhile, Yr Ad Campaigns Empower Me chugged along in my head like a slow train before moving into the garage rock anthem of crazy smiles and fists-in-air lines like "Now we have to spray/This graffiti won't go away/Now we have to pray/These drips will disconnect someday."
It hits me that if I cared enough about end of year statistics and sophisticated choices among music journalists, this would be an undeniable top-notch contender on Top 10 lists. If I cared enough about pegging the local scene and identifying its particular "sound," this would be the quintessential mantra the hypnotic incantation of languid, humid days and too much sweet-hot, oil-drenched food.
This is an album bubbling with foreboding, love and double entendres to boot. Like anti-heroes in books that burn rather than fizzle out, characters jump out of it like ghosts demanding their stories be heard. Whenever I hear Johnny Levitate or Siti I get the weirdest feeling of sadness. They bring up memories of forgotten friends and seemingly insignificant kids who get sucked into the system and can't quite figure a way out.
When I hear lines like, "I sit watching you go/Singing your good-byes/While the big screen shows/While we top the pops" from He's No Longer or (Are You) My Number One with its lines, "Are you the one I am waiting for?/Are you the one who's crying nitely on my stereo?/Are you the one who'll rise from the ashes of a disco?", I think of legendary dead rock stars. The ones that didn't manage to age and offer a sputtering of post mid-life crisis albums before dying quiet deaths in big villas. I wonder what people really mean when they say it's better to burn out than to fade away. Like my journal filled with the beginnings and ends of road trips, the birth and death of too many love affairs and friendships, the songs feel like good byes and welcomes all at once.
I recall some of the Tex-Mex, Mariachi-inspired desert songs of Calexico, or the east LA chicano rock 'n' roll spirit of Los Lobos because like those bands, Force Vomit songs are as "local" as songs can get, made up of cross-border stories, hometown cultural references and love songs for loyal friends. It makes me remember the old hole-in-the-wall jam sessions of the oft unmentioned band "V" (an undoubted influence on FV), with their songs of lust and fury.
Especially when I hear the lines from Aisakos Don't Die: "They don't believe in me/I am a priestess of the mad/They don't see what I see/It's the final fall/We'll set fire to us all." The tunes are chockfull of bopping melodies, sing-along chorus lines and enough punk rock spirit to put punk rock theoreticians to shame. Take the tongue-in-cheek Maintenance, what the songsters call a piss-take on the popular dangdut songs on Malay radio with their cliches of love and heartbreak. But here, the formula is inverted, and the boys wail in frustration and defiance, "Aku bosan dengan mu/Jangan dekat pada ku/Aku tak mahu jadi/Seorang Pengemis hati" ("I'm fed up with you/don't come near me/I don't want to become/a beggar of your heart"). Screw the heartbreak, these boys are moving on and the mat rock references are a deliberate "**** you" to stereotypes that hold fast.
on Auntie Trust: "Insects with angel faces/Call them and they obey/With
transparent wings/and arthritis that would not go away
Trust...." It makes me think of the sad aftermath of mass conformity,
and that powerful Jonathan Richman song Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste.
I'm left with the feeling that funerals can be beginnings and immortality
is in a song, a song Force Vomit are always writing. This is a record
I could not review with the proper writer decorum whatever that
may be because I was happier just being a fan, playing the CD on
repeat in my dying Walkman with a reserve of batteries stashed away in
pockets. Oh yes, album of the year undoubtedly. (9) Vinita
Ramani/Picture by fFurious
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