Noise From Under – ‘Aliquem Alium Internum’ review: Irony and despair mingle on Jakarta rapper’s Reznorian debut

The rapper/producer Abim harnesses hip-hop and ’90s industrial to soundtrack his journey into a shadowy internal world

‘Aliquem Alium Internum’, Jakarta-based rapper/producer Abim’s first album as Noise From Under, is a complex beast. Take its title, Latin for “a certain other one, within” – an allusion to Abim’s battle with an internal other, a shadowy quasi-antagonist, that dominates the album’s 34-minute runtime. In the process, Abim tackles life’s inherent meaninglessness (‘Limbo’), the “crushing routine” of modern life (‘Nihil’), and his own deep-seated misanthropy (‘Breakdown Comedy’).

Abim delivers razor-sharp observations and lashings of bitter irony – two critical elements, as without them, ‘Aliquem’ would get bogged down in its own self-immolating mix of anger and despair. There’s not a happy or upbeat line on the album, but his penchant for wry humour and wordplay (“not religious because I’m too logical / but not artsy enough because I’m not an atheist” on ‘Nihil’) helps balance out the moments when he gets a bit too lost in his own bitterness (“that which you suffer through is endless / success is just delayed misfortune / that which you believe is meaningless / life is just one big joke” on ‘Limbo’).

That interaction of light(er) and dark, of sardonic wit and all-encompassing despair, plays a big part in making ‘Aliquem Alium Internum’ an engrossing listen. Were the album to offer just one or the other, it’d probably pass by in some sort of haze. Also keeping things interesting is the album’s varied, multi-layered production – handled ably here by Abim and longtime collaborator Studio Oposisi – that creates the perfect foundation for ‘Aliquem Alium Internum’’s explorations of a sinister self.

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‘Aliquem’ covers a lot of stylistic ground over its nine tracks, never truly settling into one particular style or (sub)genre. Despite this, it never feels disjointed or haphazard. There’s an alchemical bent here, too; the basic element is hip-hop, but Abim and Studio Oposisi rope in genres such as grunge, techno, and ’90s industrial to create a set of compelling, intricate songs.

If there’s one obvious reference point for ‘Aliquem’, it’s Nine Inch Nails. The stuttering hi-hats and acid house synth riff on opener ‘Fashion Week’, for example, evoke ‘Pretty Hate Machine’’s slinkier moments. Album highlight ‘Simulacrum’ mines similar territory but goes even further: its clangorous percussion, resonant synth sequences, and layers of guitar and electronics are thoroughly redolent of both ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ and ‘The Fragile’. Atop this melange, Abim embraces his Reznorian side, imploring an unnamed figure (or shadow?) to “take me with you / to sink deeply into a bottomless pit / teach me how to hate”.

Abim and Studio Oposisi never forget their hip-hop roots, though. Tracks such as ‘Paguyuban Swag’ harness a club-ready Neptunes snap to deliver an ironic counterpoint to its dissections of Jakartan youth (“living nouveau riche even though you have it tough, who’s to blame when life leaves you drained?”), while ‘Nihil’’s dank groove comes across like a jazz-rap take on Tricky’s ‘Maxinquaye’.

This melting pot of post-industrial gloom with tried-and-tested hip-hop tricks, and the record’s constant shifts between these two impulses, are a perfect match for Abim’s double-edged lyrical concerns. There’s a unity of sound and concept here; combine that with a strong visual presentation (including an album-length video available on YouTube), and you get one of the most striking rap releases to come out of the region this year.

But for all its qualities, ‘Aliquem Alium Internum’ falls slightly short of five-star excellence. There isn’t a bad song on the album – even the initially out-of-place grunge homage ‘YOLO’ begins to make sense after a few listens – but few scale the same heights of ‘Simulacrum’ or ‘Breakdown Comedy’. Its heavy indebtedness to Trent Reznor and ’90s industrial also deprive it of that style-defining greatness that truly marks the best albums.

Neither is a grave sin, but they hold this record back from the modern classic status that it occasionally flirts with. Nevertheless, ‘Aliquem Alium Internum’ is well worth the many listens it’ll take to unpack everything it has to offer.

Details

Noise From Under Aliquem Alium Internum review
  • Release date: November 5
  • Record label: PreachJa Records
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