INDONESIA: Los Skut Leboys - Sore
Their first album after their main songwriter left the band, the remaining members of Indonesian outfit Sore seized the opportunity to reinvent their sound
When a band loses its lead songwriter, it can be disastrous, or it can lead to a rebirth. One only need look at The Clash, and how calamitous their final album Cut the Crap ended up being without lead songwriter Mick Jones who was fired, or at Liam Gallagher’s band Beady Eye – essentially Oasis without Noel Gallagher – and as such their music is far worse than their work together, or even Noel’s solo efforts. Contrastingly, though Genesis lost much of the critical acclaim they had earned under the stewardship of Peter Gabriel, under Phil Collins’s leadership the band went from strength to commercial strength, with hits aplenty in the ‘80s and ‘90s. In addition, you have the tragic tales of Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett and the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones. Barrett and Jones both co-founded their respective bands and led them initially, but were soon side-lined by their more successful members. Barrett and Jones both struggled with drug addictions and mental health problems that exacerbated the problems within the band, and both were kicked out. Jones sadly died shortly after his expulsion from the band, and Barrett, after a short solo career, retired and left the public eye, maintaining a strictly private life until his death in 2006. The bands they started, however, cemented their status as rock legends.“ The rawness of the sound is evident, yet they seem to have a Western sensibility despite a lack of involvement from external figures.”
“It feels futuristic and yet in-the-moment, fresh and new, but also looking backward in its influences and often epic in sound. Put simply, they sound all their own.”
The story of Los Skut Leboys is another one of these stories. Sore, a band of all left-handed musicians (Ned Flanders would be proud) found themselves in the unenviable position of their lead songwriter, Ramondo Gascaro, deciding to quit the band to pursue a career as a film composer in 2012. Soon after in 2013, another member left, leaving them as a four-piece. Guitarist and vocalist Ade Paloh is quoted as having said that ‘Mondo’ would write up to 65% of the material for their albums, and as such would come to define their sound. This was the first time they had written songs without the person who had essentially led the band. It’s daunting to think about, and many bands would be tempted to disband entirely, but Sore found themselves eager to experiment.
The unusual album title actually reflects the band themselves and how they approached the album. ‘Los’ is Spanish for ‘the’, 'skut' is an old Indonesian slang term for ‘relax’, and ‘leboys’ is an invented term by the band themselves, meaning guys or kids. Hence, the album means ‘the guys relax’, and the album is definitely more ‘relaxed’ than their previous efforts. Their previous albums Ports of Lima and Centralismo were more experimental efforts, leaning more towards chamber pop than indie rock, using synths and pianos more than rock guitars. And perhaps that’s why I like Los Skut Leboys more, because at my core I love rock music more than any other genre, but also, there’s something hugely inventive about Los Skut Leboys. Wisely, like the successful examples of bands that survived the exit of their former leader, they did not attempt to ape the sound that made them successful, rather they forged their own new way forward.
This record is mainly indie rock, but there is a sliver of experimentalism as well. Their collaboration with Aimee Saras, Al Dusalima, harks back to their chamber pop roots, and on the song R14, dedicated to the actress and friend of the band Ria Irawan who was suffering from cancer at the time; there is a futuristic sound, full of unusual synths and brass, which create a sound that shouldn’t work, but somehow does. Pop Drama is the softest, poppiest song on the album, with a very gentle sound, including a flute solo and a sax solo, to counter some of the rockier elements of the previous songs. That said, it is mostly in the indie rock genre. Songs like There Goes invoke the classic British Invasion pop bands like The Kinks in their dream-like instrumentation, and this is reflected in many songs throughout, but there is an off-kilter aspect to the album as a whole. The vocals from all members of the band have a shoegazing quality, a slowness, a relaxed cadence that defines the sound of this band going forward that is unlike a lot of indie rock. Indie rock usually relies on speed and energy, but they’ve completely reversed that here.
Some songs like Map Biru are more upbeat, and as such the vocals reflect that, but overall, the band appear to be gunning for indie rock anthems, and by and large they succeed, where powerful choruses and memorable riffs are combined with this unusual vocal style. It is often a way of putting the listener on an unsure footing, creating songs that sound like they should be one thing, but often offering up a more complex sound that initially expected. The first song Sunday Dinner Forgotten has a gorgeously soft trumpet sound at the start and soft backing vocals, whereas the following song Gesneriana begins in a more up-tempo manner, but the vocals are once again oneiric, giving the song an ineluctable atmosphere, at times reminiscent of American indie superstars The Flaming Lips, but all their own. It feels futuristic and yet in-the-moment, fresh and new, but also looking backward in its influences and often epic in sound. Put simply, they sound all their own.
It could have been easy for Sore to just give up. But they didn’t and in fact they created their own way forward, which in itself is admirable even if the album wasn’t a success. Merely in the act of trying to continue and do something different, this new incarnation of Sore gained my respect. But more so than just that, the album itself happens to be fantastic. It’s not the sort of great album that whacks you over the head with its sheer genius – think Rachid Taha’s Je Suis Africain, Cesária Évora’s Miss Perfumado or Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s Mustt Mustt – rather, like its name, it takes a slower, more chilled approach, and it slowly wins you over by creating an identifiable atmosphere that is unlike many albums of its genre. Indie rock can often sound like it’s copying something (usually Julian Casablancas and The Strokes, the codifiers of the genre for many) but Sore are happy doing their own thing, combining obvious pop song writing sensibilities with an experimental flair, and a singing style that sets them apart, and that’s what makes this album irresistible.