If a debut album is supposed to capture the youthful zeal and urgent, electric energy of a band in the early throes of their creativity, then Grrrl Gang’s ‘Spunky!’ is a very successful debut album indeed.
The Jakarta-based trio of Angeeta Sentana, Edo Alventa and Akbar Rumandung may come from a place far away from the traditional centres of ’90s indie and punk music, but they have made a home for themselves there in spirit. Joyously spiky guitar riffs and effortlessly cool slacker vocals dominate this 25-minute sprint of an album – but scratch the vibrant, fizzing exterior and you’ll find darker forces within.
Alventa’s muscular, thrusting guitars and searing feedback on ‘Birthday Blues’ and ‘Better Than Life’ set a quick pace, but Sentana’s vocals reveal an inner life rife with existential challenges. “I’m a useless cum dump… I’m neurotic, manic, borderline psychotic,” she sings on the former; on the latter she is “caged in my body” and “flirting with death, just to see what it has to offer”.
Songs like ‘Rude Awakening’ and ‘Cool Girl’ go on to articulate that counterintuitive sense of isolation and anxiety that emerges when you’re trapped in a large crowd of people having fun (“I wanna tear my skin apart/It never glows in the dark,” Sentana sings on the latter). It’s significant that these young up-and-comers, from a country where mental health conversations, according to Sentana, remain taboo, have chosen to openly confront such personal vulnerability.
‘Mother’s Prayer’ simmers with the sardonic, punk poetry cool of ‘Down by the Water’-era PJ Harvey, while the opening of the title track is deliberately muffled, as if ripped from a handheld live recording. The instrumental track ‘Tower Moment’ serves as the record’s tipping point: the highly relatable expressions of alienation and inner turmoil that have come before are finally purged and Alventa’s serrated guitar scrapes away the last shards of self-doubt, making room for glorious redemption.
What follows, ‘Blue Stained Lips’, is Grrrl Gang’s bold shot at indie pop immortality, a sweet and sour melody for the ages boosted by tight, counterpoint backing harmonies. Here, the band evoke Sleater-Kinney or The Vaselines, finally welcoming in the joy that had been knocking at the door from the album’s start. One final major chord victory lap follows in ‘The Star’, and ‘Spunky!’ rides out a spiritual high that has been earned by patient, sensitive storytelling. Grrrl Gang’s music and sound might be direct and uncomplicated, but ‘Spunky!’ is an emotionally sophisticated album that suggests that Indonesia has its hands on some new stars.
- Release date: September 22
- Record label: Green Island Music/Kill Rock Stars/Trapped Animal/Big Romantic