"2016 has been a bad, bad, bad year because…"
That's how most year-end write-ups began. You already know the story—2016 really, really sucked—so we're going to spare you more of the same. (Plus it's already 2017, so shouldn't you be a bit more positive by now?) Instead, we're going to list off some of the music we loved in 2016—in case you missed it, or in case you just like the validation of seeing your own opinions reflected back at you. Either way, we've got you covered.
So, here's our list of the best local music from the last year. And by "local" we mean Indonesia (duh) and (at times) the rest of Southeast Asia. If you're looking for a list of the best international music from 2016, fear not, our friends at Noisey already published that list a few days ago.
Here at VICE Indonesia, we're not going to limit this list to full-length albums only. We're also going to include singles (a relatively new format in Indonesia), EPs, and music videos. So, without further ado, here's our list:
Our Favorite Local Albums of 2016
Fromhell – March On Gravitation
No extreme metal band had more balls this year than Fromhell. The band started their second album March on Gravitation with "A Million Castor & Stellar Space"—a massive 22-minute opening track. The song is a masterpiece, with each transition executed perfectly as the band plows through influences that include Ihsahn, Devin Townsend, Fen and of course, Indonesian weirdo-metal heroes Kekal (before they turned all electronic. Ulver anyone?). And that's just the first song. But even if Fromhell stopped there, March On Gravitation would still be my favorite album of the year.
The rest of the album is five more tracks of sci-fi themed metal that's as fun as it is heavy. It's all refreshing as hell (Especially since we haven't a forward-thinking metal band since Kekal moved to Canada and turned into a collective). — Abdul Manan Rasudi
Senyawa - Brønshøj (Puncak)
Senyawa is a difficult band to listen to. They're not exactly accessible, even to those of us who listen to "extreme music" like hardcore or metal. But this is all part of the appeal. This Yogyakarta-based duo have managed to make experimental music that sounds fresh and original thanks, in no small part, to Wukir Suryadi's ability to turn nearly anything (bamboo, spoons, etcetera) into a homemade instrument. Vocalist Rully Shabara compliments Wukir perfectly with a vocal range that goes from low, wild, manic screams to calm and serene in a matter of seconds.
With Puncak, Senyawa shows why they are masters of dark, moody, and atmospheric music. The opener "Brønshøj 1" sounds like the soundtrack for an intense horror film, while "Brønshøj 2," "Brønshøj 4," and "Brønshøj 5" use delay pedals, loops, and heaping amounts of fuzz to create a more mystical, and dare I say "laid back" sound. Puncak sounds significantly more calm than Senyawa's last album Menjadi—which was all aggressive and intimidating. If you're a fan of Swans, than Puncak is right up your alley. —Yudhistira Agato
Rajasinga – III
If grindcore was a religion, Rajasinga would be devout adherents. The trio play fast and vicious grindcore with lyrics that focus on Indonesia's social ills. I'm not exactly the biggest fan of the genre, but that's why I think Rajasinga's III is so good. The album is accessible to people outside Napalm Death's fanbase, or fans of today's "pig squeal" variant of grindcore. Don't believe me? Give songs like "Pancasila (Negrijuana Version)," "Orang Gila," and "Weekend Rocker" a listen. You'll find a short sampling of fun lyrics—like a crazed rambling version of Indonesia's founding constitution—mixed with a riff lifted from "Smells Like Teen Spirit," random blues guitar licks. These are songs that make you smile—laugh even—while still ruminating on how fucked up Indonesia can be (especially recently). — Abdul Manan Rasudi
Joe Million - Vulgar
Critics heralded 2016 as the year Indonesia's hip-hop scene finally broke. But while the likes of Young Lex and Rich Chigga grabbed all the attention here and abroad, it takes more than a hot remix or a viral music video to topple Joe Million from the throne. This Papuan MC's album Vulgar is an all-out assault of braggadocio and politics—with much to be said of the Indonesian government's long and troubled history in Papua. Joe Million touches on these themes of repression and discrimination in "Katamorgana," the strongest track on the album, rapping "Melihatku mendekatimu mendadak kau risau/serentet kalimat terarah kau pilih pistol." (Seeing me getting closer gets you anxious / instead of spitting out well thought-out sentences, you go for the gun). His lyricism is only enriched by a liberal use of the local Papuan language and dialect, that add a level of mature authenticity to his songs. —Ardyan M.E
DÈTENTION - Youth Detention Program For Reckless Teenagers
DÈTENTION chose a Emma Goldman quote for the sleeve of Youth Detention Program For Reckless Teenagers. The first page of the album sleeve reads "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution." So I could be forgiven for expecting a quick burst of hardcore punk along the lines of early Black Flag or Discharge. But the opener "Urinoir Wisdom" roars to life with thick, dissonant cords not unlike 90s mathcore giants Deadguy and Rorschach. And the chorus on "Nation on Fire" is more My War than Damaged, but band lives up to its promise with the straightforward hardcore ripper "Lollypop Squad Pogo Attack." DÈTENTION's unique sound comes, in part, from the fact that the three piece doesn't have a bassist. Guitarist Perfect Jay turns up to 11 to create a sound that's thin, bright, and raw. Vocalist Farid 'Pelor' Amriansyah, who also sang in a now defunct rock/metal outfit Auman and is now busy running Rimauman Music, still has a lot to say. "Nation On Fire" focuses on the government's inaction over deforestation and annual forest fires. "Act Of Propheteering"criticizes religious people who act "holier than thou," while commodifying religion for profit. But the prevalent theme throughout the album seems to be the importance of thinking for yourself On "Society's Will, Society Kills", Pelor yells "This is society's will/ oh the will that could force you to kill/ They told you how to live/ oh but never taught you how to love." Or for those of you who prefer getting right into the point, 14 second "Fuck Off" should do it, "Kau asik dengan hidupmu/ Jangan usik hidupku!" (Live your own life/ Don't interfere with mine!).—Yudhistira Agato
Dialita - Dunia Milik Kita
Dialita is a choir group made up of survivors and political prisoners of Indonesia's brutal 1965 communist purge. They sing songs—some with Indonesian indie darlings such as Frau or Cholil of Efek Rumah Kaca fame—written by contemporaries who were also targeted during killings. Their songs are distributed for free by one of Indonesia's net labels during a time when the communist scare is still very much alive. Dialita's gigs had to be kept secret out of fear of interruption from government officials. This album, for me, is the most punk thing to come out this year. Nothing else comes close.—Abdul Manan Rasudi
Beast Jesus - In Various States of Disassembly
Post-Internet. Post-Left Anarcho Sass. Shoegrinding. Deep Web Sludge. Dreamo. These are all terms used by Beast Jesus to describe themselves on Facebook. I have to say all of those are pretty spot-on. It's tough trying to classify this Manila-based quartet. It is obvious though that the band's musical diet comes from hardcore/metal/noise labels like Robotic Empire Records, Level Plane Records, and Hydra Head Records. But they're also not afraid to throw some dream pop and shoegaze elements into the mix. On "Scoliosis Backbrace," they sound like Torche jamming with The Blood Brothers. "Corpse Medicine," my favorite track of the album, features early 2000 hardcore/screamo chorus, complete with jazzy bass lines. On the third track, "Double Tuck," Beast Jesus tone down the intensity and start the song with some reverberated swirling guitar action before finally stepping on the distortion pedal, transforming the song into a muscular and energetic shoegaze number. Guitarist Francis Maria—an ex-member of the Philippines' seminal hardcore/screamo band Caitlyn Bailey—said the album is about the experience of dealing with mental illness and the internal dialogue that a depressed person often has to face. With its strong songwriting, unique identity, and ability in adopting different musical influences, In Various States of Disassembly has elevated Beast Jesus to one of the most interesting bands in Southeast Asia right now.—Yudhistira Agato
Mondo Gascaro – Raja Kelana
Soft rock might sound like an odd choice for 2016, but that's exactly what Mondo Gascaro offers on his latest album Raja Kelana. When "A Deacon's Summer" came out in the second half of the year, I had two thoughts: 1) Damn, there is so much detail in this song! It must have taken ages to make. 2) How the hell didn't I notice the Steely Dan influence on Raja Kelana? To be fair, that song was simply an appetizer, a taste of what was about to come. "Oblivion Oblivion" for example, is more vibrant and complex. But, to be fair, it's the ballads that get me, especially "Lamun Ombak" (featuring Aprilia Apsari, of White Shoes and The Couple's Company) and "Butiran Angin." These two tracks makes me realize immediately why Sore—a well established Indonesian indie band Mondo used to sing for—sounds average now and that Raja Kelana is one of Indonesia's best soft rock albums.—Abdul Manan Rasudi
Annie Hall - Saudade EP
Indonesia's shoegaze scene tends to skew heavily toward dream pop, post-rock, and Brit pop. After the demise of Mellow Yellow, I've been waiting for a band who is willing to venture into heavier, more saturated sounds. Thankfully, we now have Annie Hall. This Jogja "supergroup," features ex-members of Talking Coasty, Cloudburst, and Deadly Weapon. None of those bands could even remotely be considered shoegaze, but the genre must have some serious fans in Jogja. On Saudade, Annie Hall offers a more modern, more "metal" version of shoegaze. The production is cold and sterile, with prominent drums and a sound that instantly reminds of Nothing or Cloakroom. The opener "Locked Room" is all soaring guitars and a synth melody that sounds like something Jesu would release. "Hollow," the clear single here, is a strong showing marred only by stereotypical "friendzone" lyrics. But the album's atmosphere, and well-balanced production, more than make up for lackluster lyrics. I'm excited to hear what Annie Hall comes out with next.—Yudhistira Agato
Bin Idris – Bin Idris
As a frontman for Sigmun—one of Indonesia's leading psych rock band—Haikal Azizi often appears one-dimensional: often too formal or too mournful. Haikal's social media persona, however, brings out a side that doesn't get to come out in Sigmun: his wittiness. These hidden qualities are a lot more present in Bin Idris, his debut solo album. On "Temaram," Haikal sounds like a newbie who just find out about Yogyakarta's now defunct dark-folk duo Rabu. While on "Tulang dan Besi," Haikal transforms into a blues troubadour singing an elegy for marginalized people kicked out of their own homes by the government. He can also suddenly turns sweet, like he does on "Rebahan." But for me, "Jalan Bebas Hambatan" is the best song here. Check out these lyrics, which describe the experience of Indonesians traveling for hours or days, back home for Lebaran: "Santai saja engkau menyupir/ Kalau mengantuk tinggal melipir ke rest area/ Beli gorengan 2000 tiga." ("Take it easy on the driving/ When it's hard to stay awake/ Just pull over by the rest area/ Don't forget to buy some gorengan") This has to be wittiest road trip song to come out of Indonesia all year.— Abdul Manan Rasudi
Wormrot - Voices
Grindcore is a difficult genre. it's straight forward, abrasive as hell, and usually pretty one dimensional. It's not a scene that's known for hooks or melodies. But Singapore's Wormrot manages to do something different with grindcore. On Voices, the band manages to keep it varied enough to keep listeners interested without straying too far from the core. On "Hollow Roots' the band opens with dissonant chords that wouldn't sound out of place on a Converge or Cursed album before switching back to a familiar blastbeat formula. "Oblivious Mess" is full of headbanging grooves, "Fallen Into Disuse" is all thrash, and "The 1st World Syndrome" even throws a few catchy guitar licks into the mix. But purists need not worry. Voices still packs in 20 songs in less than 30 minutes.—Yudhistira Agato
More Favorites of 2016
Gaung - "Killing with Virtue"
In 2016, Bandung's Orange Cliff Records put out a new single almost every month—an impressive feat. None were as good as Gaung's "Killing With Virtue." The song is a ton of bricks, a ferocious single with melodic riffs and a huge sound. It was enough to make me stop and say "Holy shit, what's this?" It's apparently just a taste of what's to come. If Gaung's upcoming Karya Menentang Alam is anything like "Killing With a Virtue," then count me in.
Zero One - "Anjing"
Young Lex is a controversial musician. But he's also an eagle eyed entrepreneur. It's the latter that inspired Young Lex to bring Niska and Laze, both bright, young rappers, together for Zero One. With "Anjing," the pair offers up a typical trap track full of bragging swagger and radio-friendly hooks. But it's also a way to showcase Niska's stunning lyricism. Who else can rap about President Jokowi, fashion designer Sebastian Gunawan, Perum Peruri, and the Benoa Bay Reclaimation project in a single breath?
Bars of Death - "Tak Ada Garuda di Dadaku"
"Tak Ada Garuda di Dadaku," the second single off Ucok and Sarkasz's reunion project Bars of Death, offers listeners an education worthy of anything taught in school. The song, which means "No Garuda in My Heart," is a treatise on complicity between the government and big business to steal the land of poor farmers. Ucok asks some big questions about the value of humanity in Indonesia, questions that Bars of Death are never afraid to ask.
Dipha Barus feat. Kallula - "No One Can Stop Us"
Indonesia's electronic music scene has been thriving for the at least three years. But Dipha Barus' latest single "No One Can Stop Us" may just pave the way for other underground EDM stars, like CVX, to enter the mainstream market. This single has become an anthem on dance floors across the country. Never one to sleep, the Jakarta-based producer and DJ also churned out another banger this year: "Lemme Get That" featuring Rinni Wulandari and Teza Sumendra.
Bin Idris - "Jalan Bebas Hambatan"
This song was so good that we felt the need to include it here and name check it above.
Collapse - "Given"
Do you remember Foo Fighters after There is Nothing Left To Run, when Chriss Shiflett had just joined the band and Dave Grohl wasn't yet the next godfather of modern rock n roll? They managed to churn out an excellent guitar-driven album without the ego. "Given", the first single released by Collapse—a solo project by Dika, the guitarist of the Indonesian mathcore band ALICE—is that good.
Jason Ranti - "Bahaya Komunis"
"Bahaya Komunis" might be the funniest folk song of the year. The song highlights Indonesia's unwillingness to let go some of its more outdated phobias (see: 2016's "red scare"). Check out this verse : "Maka pertama kuamankan keluarga dari bahan pangan/ Yang mengandung unsur komunis/ Yang manis-manis/ Yang manis-manis/ Yang marxist-marxist/ Akan kularang/ Itu chinese food/ Itu babi merah/ Itu kolang kaling/ Vodka Rusia dan sayur genjer/ Semua kubredel." Jason Ranti sarcastically sings about saving his family from communism-flavored food ingredients, Marxism, Chinese food, pork, Russian vodka, so on. These are some of the most ridiculous lyrics of 2016.
Randy Pandugo - "I Don't Care"
Indonesia's pop scene has been dominated by singles this year, and Randy Pandugo might be the brightest star so far. He's got the looks, the vocals, and the slick music video production, all good recipes for wide exposure. It's not a walk in the park though. Rizky Febian and Teza Sumandra—his strongest competitors—are ready to battle it out with Randy for the spot as best pop male artist along with Kunto Aji whose hotly anticipated second album is due any month now. Let's see how all well these rising stars hold up when its time to release a full-length album.
Wreck - "O' Heaven, I Am Bored!"
Bandung's post-hardcore quartet Wreck has improved by leaps and bounds with this new track. The band is sounding more like In/Casino/Out era At The Drive-In. But despite the new focus on experimentation, these guys manage to be both modern and old-school at the same time. The band sings about disdain for life and finding their own definition of living: "It's time for living / because life has no meaning", before they finish the song with "There is no exit / but I'm ready to go / Quit." Dramatic? Hell yes. But life often is, and if life always sounded this good, I would be more than willing to join them for the ride.
Rich Chigga - "Dat $tick"
Does this even need an explanation? Sensations like this don't happen often. This song made a huge impact and turned people onto Indonesia's rising hip-hop scene. If 2016 is the year of Indonesian hip-hop, then Rich Chigga is its shining star. Hopefully his light won't fade too soon.