Pamungkas is possibly at the peak of his popularity. The 29-year-old Indonesian hit paydirt last year when the straightforward, heart-on-sleeve songwriting style showcased on his 2019 song ‘To The Bone’ resonated with lonely and restless TikTok users. Its virality quickly impacted the Spotify charts, earning him new digital milestones. Pamungkas also released two albums over 2020 and 2021: ‘Solipsism’ and ‘Solipsism 0.2’, which presented different sides of the same introspection.
When Pamungkas announced his fourth album ‘Birdy’ earlier this year, he declared: “Things are different now I’m older.” It’s puzzling, then, that ‘Birdy’ mostly retreads the same thoughts and feelings that he’s explored through his discography, but in a less interesting way.
Both Pamungkas’ ‘Solipsism’ albums offered fans – some old, but many of them new – sonic splendour and a varied look at his skills as a multi-instrumentalist and producer. Lyrically, he grappled with feelings toward people who appeared out of reach, not to mention a happiness that seemed almost impossible to achieve.
By the time ‘Solipsism 0.2’ ends with the uplifting ‘Riding The Wave’ (setting aside the bonus track of ‘Hello – Voice Memo’), a sense of hope emerges, leaving listeners with the impression that Pamungkas has attained some sort of growth and openness after indulging his feelings over two albums.
On the languishing ‘Birdy’, unfortunately, Pamungkas is flying in circles.
He plays the troubadour on opening song ‘A Day That Feels Better’, fixated on someone who has the power to brighten his day (“Headline from this day on / you’re all the one I want / And the warmth you bring, it’s glowing on me”), but he also struggles with their absence (“On a day that feels better / I see love as something new”).
These are the same desires that ate Pamungkas up inside on older songs like ‘Still Can’t Call Your Name’, ‘Intentions’, and, yes, ‘To The Bone’. He can’t leave it alone: this heartsickness permeates so many other songs on ‘Birdy’, like ‘I Got To Get You’, ‘Please Baby Please’, and ‘(Beep)’, that it begins to curdle.
Take ‘Happy Birthday To You’, a birthday card best left unread by its recipient. Pamungkas’ attempts at sparking a platonic connection with a former lover are tentative and dispassionate (“I guess I just touch base”, “Hope you’re all rested and OK”), the sincerity saved for self-centered sentiment (“I hope you’ll get that dream for me / Even for a day / So at least I know you’re proud of yourself”). ‘Jealous’ blossoms, satisfyingly, from a simple acoustic number into a full-throated singalong spiked by distorted guitar. It boasts the album’s greatest hook, but its insular lyrics and oscillation between desire and repulsion feel passé coming from a man nearing 30.
Pamungkas does try to explore new lyrical territory. ‘Trust Me With This (Mama)’, a chilled-out acoustic number laced with a timid guitar solo, sees him writing a plea to his mother “to see me, to be me” and “to get you and what you mean”, assuring that her son is “ready for the big game now”. This song is painfully relatable – he simply wants trust from a parent who has yet to give it to him. ‘Purple Sigh’ is warm and beautifully rendered with its country-inspired arrangement, while Pamungkas sings about taking life’s punches and refusing to bow to weakness. But when squeezed between all the songs about heartbreak and rumination, suspended in adolescent angst, the mature posturing falls flat. You wonder if his mum’s reluctance is warranted after all.
The centrepiece of the album is its title track, which reiterates what Pamungkas first wrote on social media: “Things are different now I’m older”. He sings about self-love and forgiveness, focusing on the hard-won lesson of self-preservation – protecting and enlivening the “birdy in my heart”. Unfortunately, this victory lap loses some power when one remembers these lyrics were written and the song quietly rereleased after the original was accused of plagiarising Charles Bukowski.
This album could very well have been titled ‘Solipsism 0.3’, because it takes that word at face value and little else. Pamungkas’ vulnerability is occasionally moving, but ‘Birdy’ ultimately refuses to take off, instead wallowing in its melancholy. After two imaginative pop albums, this one wearies the listener by reexamining, yet again, personal faults and desires. When it tries to explore new ideas, it fails to convince.
By the time Pamungkas closes the album with ‘Begin Again’, he concedes that “everybody knows it’s hard to grow up”, but that he will make an attempt to “begin again”. For the sake of his music, let’s hope so.
- Release date: June 16
- Record label: Mas Pam records