First impressions can be deceiving. Between the abstract cover art and high-concept album title, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Gulf Of Meru’s debut ‘Tethered Expression Of Mortal Progress’ would be a po-faced slab of dark and hard-edged electronics. That actually couldn’t be further from the truth: while it’s certainly not music that you’d play to a peaking room of club-goers, it’s not nearly as severe it might seem at first glance.
Instead of pummelling the listener into submission, Jakarta-based producer F.A. Poetra Tiardha’s debut is an approachable, immersive album that hides some impressive tricks behind ostensibly restrained electronic music.
While the Gulf Of Meru project itself is relatively young, with only a single and an EP released in 2018 and 2019 respectively before ‘Tethered Expression’, Poetra Tiardha is no rookie. He’s worked with artists as varied as Indonesian jazz icon Indra Lesmana, indie legends Rumahsakit, and post-rock quintet The Trees & the Wild, whose guitarist Remedy Waloni also co-produced the album.
It’s this association with The Trees & the Wild that’s particularly pertinent to ‘Tethered Expression’. The band’s predilection for moody, cinematic post-rock is something the album shares, and its measured build-ups and big climaxes are taken straight from the post-rock playbook. But what impresses about ‘Tethered Expression’, though, is how Poetra Tiardha marries his evident love of grand post-rock gestures with little micro-details all throughout the album.
‘Wrong Medium’ combines an off-beat percussion line with steady 4/4 kicks and an is-it-or-isn’t-it-in-time piano line, lending the first half of the song a slightly askew bounciness that’s tempered by a moody, low-key melodicism. It sits half-way between, say, the dancefloor-inflected “post-club” stylings of Indonesian label Dead Pepaya’s ‘Moda Ekuator’ compilation from last year – one of the definite electronic music highlights from the region – and Gulf Of Meru’s more cinematic tendencies. It opens up into an epic synth workout towards the end, complete with the sort of synth waterfalls that Messrs Stein and Dixon (of Stranger Things fame, of course) would be proud of.
Fourth track ‘Pi’ is the highlight of the bunch, with its methodically layered synths and stuttering, oddly timed, and melancholic lead synth line gently flowing and percolating like an abstracted, electronic take on kraut- and post-rock. As with ‘Wrong Medium’, it eventually reaches a radiant climax with some particularly excellent synth work. Closer ‘Chronics’ is the most overtly post-rock song of the bunch, especially with its 65daysofstatic-inspired propulsion and subtle guitar work. The final release, with its wall-of-sound guitar and in-your-face drumming, wouldn’t sound out of place on a bona fide post-rock release (and an above-average one at that).
In between the central tracks, subdued interlude songs ‘Overwhelming’ and ‘308’ help sustain the album’s mood and serve as bridges between the other tracks’ subtly different approaches. They lend a cohesiveness to ‘Tethered Expression’ that can sometimes be lacking in electronic music full-lengths. It’s easy to see this as an example of how the post-rock influences – and, it must be remembered, Remedy Waloni’s co-production – guided the album’s construction as a whole.
If there’s a notable flaw on ‘Tethered Expression’, it’s that the thrill of the big, climactic releases on the album does tend to fade away relatively quickly on repeated listens. One can only experience these gestures so often before they lose their lustre and what made them feel so vital in the first place. It’s not a deal-breaker, but on a relatively brief album such as this, it does drag the experience down ever so slightly.
That said, Gulf Of Meru’s debut is still a compelling and worthwhile listen. While the big gestures make for a striking first impression, it’s the little details and methodically established moods that will stay long in the memory. It’s not quite a modern classic, but it’s still a noteworthy debut full-length that heralds the emergence of a new, and unique, voice in Indonesia’s strong electronic music scene.
- Release date: January 1
- Record label: Blank Orb Recordings