While there isn’t always a direct link between a band’s sound and their place of origin, it’s often hard to avoid lapsing into cliched notions of how bands “should” sound depending on where they’re from. Initially, it’s hard to square Rollfast’s second album ‘Garatuba’ with the fact that they hail from Bali. The aggressive psychedelic stylings of the album clash with the well-known stereotypes of the island: sun-kissed beaches, popular tourist destinations, and copious bottles of sub-par lager.
But that’s not the Bali Rollfast live in, or at least not entirely. Consider: the grinding chaos of Denpasar; the incessant, brain-numbing 4/4 thud of parties that you’re never invited to; and the relentless exploitation of the island and its resources for profit, which often leaves locals in the lurch. Think about this side of Bali and ‘Garatuba’ slowly starts making sense.
‘Garatuba’’s opening title track is a six-and-a-half minute barnstormer with crosshairs trained squarely on the dog-eat-dog mentality that’s sucking Bali dry. “Gobble it up until the world / Revolves around me / I want more and more,” proclaims vocalist Agha Dhaksa over one hell of a fuzzed-out guitar riff and driving drums. Backing vocals delivered in a kecak-inspired cadence hark back to Bali’s rich musical heritage.
Second track ‘Pajeromon’ continues the assault both musically and lyrically. Over a thunderous drum pattern reminiscent of Indonesian percussion ensembles, guitarists Bayu Krisna and Gungwah Brahmantia weave slashing sustained guitar riffs and pitch-shifted fills. The song’s titular protagonist Pajeromon – a typically Indonesian portmanteau that includes the Mitsubishi Pajero SUV, beloved of Balinese mafia types – can “crystalise his masculine erection’s / Desire for power”, likely a snide reference to the sort of games beloved of both greedy developers and drunk male tourists all across Bali.
“Dance floor jungle law / Kuku bima thirsts for blood” is the song’s closing mantra, a smart couple of lines that refer to both the kuku bima karambit blade and the Indonesian energy drink, both weapons of war in their respective battlefields. The lyrical smarts match the musical adventurousness, making it plain to hear that ‘Garatuba’ isn’t your average stoner’s psych rock album.
The absolute standout on ‘Garatuba’, however, is the fourth track, ‘Grand Theft Atma’. It’s ‘Garatuba’ writ large, every element cranked up to 11 for nine glorious minutes. A bizarre Balinese Grand Theft Auto fever dream, ‘Atma’ opens in full-on math rock mode, all repetitive angular guitar riffs and wailing saxophone. But it eventually blazes through a bizarro take on gamelan, weaves in some noise music, and even gives drummer Ayrton Willem space for some drum pyrotechnics. It settles – relatively speaking – into a mid-paced, doomy Phrygian stomp that slowly disintegrates into nothingness.
The rest of the songs on ‘Garatuba’ might not be as stunning as ‘Grand Theft Atma’, but there’s not a weak track in the bunch. We get everything from krauty guitar noodling and repetition on ‘L.D.R.’ to pounding noise-and-drum workouts on ‘Methanol’. There’s even a convincing, if seemingly deliberately askew, take on a world/pop music hybrid on album closer ‘Ràre’, featuring Indonesian pianist Gardika Gigih.
Not everything Rollfast does on the album is a home run, but that comes with the territory. There are some weaker riffs and the occasional rough patch, but the band’s freewheeling energy carries them through these moments. Despite weaving together a lot of genres and ideas, ‘Garatuba’ never feels like it’s neurotically trying to prove a point. Instead, it’s confident and assured in its approach, the band’s more outré tendencies anchored by an understanding of rock fundamentals. Rollfast have taken a step towards the big leagues with ‘Garatuba’; here’s hoping we won’t have to wait another five years for a follow-up.
- Release date: September 11
- Record label: Lamunai Records