Eight years. That’s how long iamrain have been away. The Kuala Lumpur band’s last release was a CD single from 2012, during the early years of the so-called emo revival. Looking back, it feels like a different world. Emo revival? Emo hasn’t needed reviving for a good few years now.
The common refrain now is “emo isn’t sad music”, championed by tastemakers such as Washed Up Emo. It’s a valid point. Most, if not all, of the classic Midwest emo albums tried to embody a breadth of human emotions: sometimes conflicting, often confused, but in no way reducible to just one single stereotyped feeling. To their credit, iamrain know this, and ‘Citra’ tries to tread that fine line. Unfortunately, their songwriting lets them down.
The opening title track doesn’t start auspiciously. A combination of half-baked atmospherics and an over-long sampled snippet of conversation makes for a sub-par intro that doesn’t offer much musically or conceptually. Minute-long atmospheric intros are dubious at the best of times, and while this would be unfair nitpicking in most contexts, iamrain make the mistake of leaning too hard on these tropes, using the same formula for the several songs on the record. It doesn’t make for a good first impression, and gives the feeling that the band lack self-awareness.
At seven and six minutes respectively, ‘Benam Matahari’ and ‘Apati’ are both too long, almost as if written under the misguided belief that extending a song’s length makes for musical grandeur. It doesn’t, and the album suffers from having two stodgy tracks sequenced back-to-back so early on. It doesn’t help that these extended runtimes offer more than enough space for the deliberately off-key vocals to start grating as they deliver the sort of faux-poetry that perpetually seems to hobble so many Malay-language bands.
Fortunately, the rest of ‘Citra’ consists of shorter songs. Sadly, most still drag, the songwriting dull and unmemorable. At least the older, pre-hiatus, material has a bit more pep to it: ‘Mudah’, which dates back to at least 2012, is easily the best song on the album. Sadly, it can’t save the record, weighed down as it is by the sub-par opening 15 minutes and all its by-the-numbers crescendos and arpeggiated chords, executed without much in the way of imagination or excitement.
The quartet’s melodic sensibilities are generally annoying, with their one-note attempts at melodicism more tiring than invigorating. There’s nothing disastrously wrong here, but the nearly always strained and keening singing lacks any of the charms or subtleties that made the weepier ’90s emo records bearable. If the songwriting is dull, the vocals, on the other hand, try too hard, attempting to be anthemic with all the finesse of a sledgehammer.
‘Citra’ is earnest but empty, lacking any sort of fire or urgency that would make it worth recommending. Their attempts to create soaring emo anthems fall flat: their lyrics are mediocre at best, and their songwriting fails to impress. All four are competent musicians that seem to know what they want, but they stumble trying to reach their goals. On the whole, ‘Citra’ is an uninspired, and uninspiring, experience.
The most praiseworthy thing about ‘Citra’ is that it doesn’t feel like a cynical exercise in nostalgia. For all of its considerable failings, it does at least feel like iamrain genuinely wanted ‘Citra’ to exist. Sadly, that isn’t enough. In a genre that no longer needs reviving, a comeback album needs more than hints of authenticity and rehashed tropes to justify its existence.
- Release date: July 31 2020
- Record label: Self-released