Senyawa-Brønshøj (Puncak): Album Review

Senyawa is the duo project of vocalist Rully Shabara and instrumentalist Wkir Suryadi.  Based out of Indonesia, the group taps into the Javanese aesthetic, while also drawing inspiration from drone music, gothic rock, and even a bit of improvised sounds.  With a pocket of inspirations this wide, it’s certain that the group has crafted a rather unique sound, but this also makes for a level of inaccessibility.  Nonetheless, their ability to develop melodies and give their droning instrumentals a sense of life, makes for a capturing musical experience.  Their latest album, Brønshøj (Puncak), is perhaps more a collection of songs than a completely cohesive project, however, the meditative quality that stands at the foundation of each of these long-form tunes envelopes the witness throughout.

Each song crafts some sort of pulse.  On “Brønshøj 1,” Suryadi’s underlying vocals breathe, swell, and dissipate at a consistent clip, allowing the instrumentals above them to interact with a more stagnant rhythmic structure.  At first, Shabara’s instrumentals are enveloped by the vocal drones, but slowly as the track moves forward, they start to separate themselves.  Screeching strings wrench their way out of the abyss before more textured plucks come together later.  Slowly, the vocals further themselves from the foreground, eventually yielding all of the focus to Shabara.  “Brønshøj 2” again jumps into a methodical pulse, but here the stringed instrument—which according to the group’s bandcamp page is homemade—immediately takes a central role.  A repeated phrase of four or five notes echoes obsessively before each repetition, resulting in a really vivid sound.  Suryadi’s vocals are really spacey on this track and they stick relatively around the same range, until the end where a few shocking high notes really bring the piece full circle.

The third track of the album is where we start to see a bit less cohesion from track to track; it’s completely electronic and feels a bit out of place.  This comes through on the next track as well even though it’s back in the acoustic space.  The bright and uplifting marimba part carries none of the emotional undertones of the previous three tracks and the electronics that precede it never return to the record.  What’s interesting is even though the album is a bit aesthetically inconsistent, the song structures are almost overly consistent.  “Brønshøj 3” and four both operate around the same tempo with some sort of melodic component offering contrasting ideas on top of the pulsing foundation.  It would be nice to hear a bit more of structural variation on later efforts.

Besides some structural issues, these tracks remain successful as individual pieces, particularly in number 4, where we see the brilliance with which Shabara incorporates looping into his instrumentals.  At the beginning, a bowed string melody continuously repeats a rhythmic motive with slight variations in melody.  Eventually a piece of this gets looped, but Shabara continues the same rough idea, adding a new layer in a really subtle manner.  With these two ideas going on, Shabara starts a slower one to emphasize a particular beat, before finishing the track of with some heart-wrenching lines that cut through all of the stagnant noise.  By adding these layers ever so slowly the track builds up without the listener really even noticing and by the end, the group has constructed a rather massive wall of sound making the strained melody cut even deeper.

The fifth track is certainly the most intense and finishes the album off nicely with a heavy, distorted version of the string instrumentation that’s been the main voice of the record.  Overall, Brønshøj (Puncak) is a great listen and although the song structures are rather one dimensional, the performances and unique combination of goth and folk sounds and Javanese instrumentation and musical ideas make for an enthralling experience.

-Donovan Burtan




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