Style: Psychedelic Rock
Release Date: 8 Feb 2019
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The term 'supergroup' is one of the most overused in rock music. It's got to the point where any band who can claim that every member used to play in a different band is a supergroup and that's nonsense. However, it's always been a relative thing, not just speaking to the importance of the musicians to the world at large but to a particular scene too.
Case in point: Mooner. I hadn't heard of them until now but they have at least one prior album out, called Tabiat. Apparently they're a supergroup, because they number members of The Slave, The SIGIT, Signum and Sarasvati amongst their line up. Now, I haven't heard of any of those bands either and I can't help noticing that every one of their names begins with an S—hey, just like supergroup!—so it all seems a little fishy. The underlying point, though, is that my knowledge about psychedelia in Indonesia is so shallow that I'd struggle to even name another band, so I have absolutely no reason to deny that this is a supergroup.
I should add that The SIGIT, a band co-founded by Mooner's bass player, Rekti Yoewono, is apparently an acronym standing for The Super Insurgent Group of Intemperance Talent, so this isn't the first supergroup for some of them. That's such a supergroup that it says it in its very name!
Mooner, supergroup or not, almost lost me at the very beginning because the brief opening track, Indo, sounds rather like a sitar being tuned up and little more. When Kelana threatened to start in a similar way, I was about to give up on O.M. and try another album in the hopes of finding something interesting, but then they shifted into gear and hooked me just like that. Ten songs later and I felt happy and weird and energised. I can't claim to know much here, but I do know that I like it a lot.
What leaps out first with Mooner is the sweetness of Marshella Safira's vocals. They're soft and cuddly, almost at the level of twee pop but with odd little reminders of other genres. I couldn't be sure halfway through Umara whether her voice was transported in from an Ennio Morricone soundtrack or a Martin Denny album. There's some glorious use of sustain in her voice here whatever influences guided her.
However, the softness of Safara's voice never takes the band down a road like the Cardigans, because the musicians behind her play a lot heavier music. That sweet to heavy bounce is most evident in Ilat, with a return for the sitar, which is wonderful texture in front of a wall of fuzz. It reaches Black Sabbath riffing towards the end, but the interplay between sweet vocals and harsh guitar is almost a conversation.
I'm sure there are Indonesian sounds all over the place here, but I don't have any depth in the local scene to identify them. It's easier for me to groove with the vibrant vocals on Menenggala, soar with the flute and then join in on the joyous scramble towards the end, not knowing whether that's entirely original or a nod to a local style.
I can speak to more general variance. The guitar gets fuzzy on Gasang and ends up duelling with another towards the end above a staccato backing. How does that work with only one guitarist? Maybe they have two now or a guest showed up. Aram gets funky while Renjana is slower and more bluesy. Everything is psychedelic but that trawls in everything from the Beatles to Iron Butterfly and there's definitely range here.
What's odd is that the songs are all short until we get to the last two, which are much longer. Lamun Ombak is almost twice as long as any of the previous nine tracks and it's a peach. M. Absar Lebeh's guitar ventures into the honeyed territory of Safira's voice and it's laid back bliss for a while. Halfway, Safira gets adamant and the track becomes a ritualistic piece, as if commanding us to do something or other. Umara is almost as long and, again there's a lot of depth in there to explore.
This is happy stuff, folks, even when it takes a journey into the sandbox of the blues. It's a frolic into exotic psychedelic territory, presumably best taken after a tab of acid. I highly recommend it and I'm now eager to track down their first album, Tabiat.