Ipoh-based art collective Projek Rabak’s debut release is a bright and sunny trip down the 90s but what exactly lies beneath its rocky surface?
Projek Rabak’s debut in the recording industry is here. Simpang Pulai boy Mohd Jayzuan is back with his official sophomore record titled ‘Pop N’ Roll’ and it is due on the 18th of March. His first solo release in almost 8 years, the hype has been building among fans of the Rabak collective, prompting an early release on the group’s website and social media pages.
A little bit of back story: Jayzuan has had his rounds in the music industry. He has built a name for himself from his debut acoustic record ‘Love-Fi’ in 2008, to his appearances under Free Love and Bloodymary. He has also travelled to neighbouring countries to perform his material.
When he’s not writing music, he’s writing books. Jayzuan is quite the prolific author on the side, having published a string of written works over the years. As a pivotal person in Rabak’s pop culture movement, he’s often seen in the foreground of the collective’s venture, providing support.
With ‘Pop N’ Roll’, Jayzuan returns the spotlight onto himself and makes the big leap from acoustic to rock.
Opener “Hey, Jom!” sets the tone for the entire album. Uptempo but casual are keywords of the day as Jayzuan gets through each track with his devil-may-care vocal delivery and an abundance of electric guitars.
‘Pop N’ Roll’ is a collection of eight feel-good rock songs. It’s successes lie in its effectiveness at evoking a specific era in rock as opposed to its technical aspects. Jayzuan himself describes the sound of the record as being “loud sloppy indie rock” and “fuzzy noise pop”.
The sound that is brought back throughout the album is strongly reminiscent of the Malaysian rock scene of the 90s but there is a sense of anarchy in the way some of these songs are produced.
“Ini adalah sebuah tribute untuk bandar tua yang dicinta”, begins Jayzuan on “Ipoh Rock N’ Roll”. The track is an outlier on an otherwise fairly accessible album. It starts off with aggressive guitar riffs and progresses into a fair bit of yelling. The use of dissonance and chaotic sounds make it an odd choice for release as the album’s second single, as announced earlier this year.
By the time downtempo love song “Stellz” is on, the assault of loud sounds and high tempos finally comes to a halt. “Stellz” has the most balanced arrangements of all the tracks on offer and seems to be the “ballad” of the album. The use of high frequency sounds gives it a much needed edge that differentiates it from the rest.
‘Pop N’ Roll’ takes chances with its execution of the rock genre, but feels quite safe in terms of songwriting. This pertains to both its composition and lyrical content. With the exception of aforementioned tribute to the city of Ipoh, most of the tracks have a fairly standard structure and progression.
The lyrics on ‘Pop N’ Roll’ are simple, often at risk of sounding vapid. “Ku takut kau hilang janganlah pergi dariku sayang,” Jayzuan half-pleads on “Stellz”. “Cantik rupawan indah menawan mana mungkin aku tak tertawan,” he confesses on “Di Matamu Ada Hantu”. Despite this, they feel intentional.
Things are similar on “Pujaan Hati”, but the track in particular is a highlight thanks to some clever production ideas. The song starts off with surf guitars and female lead vocals before leading into a typical singalong chorus. There’s even a harmonica at the end.
Vocally, Jayzuan has done a decent job in trying to feature his voice. He delivers lines effectively by relying on attitude rather than vocal prowess and he never tries to do more than he is capable of. Unfortunately, the consequence of this is that doubts concerning his authenticity crop up. How serious is he about all this, anyway?
Jayzuan is one of those modern young folk with hipster haircuts and “peace be upon you” shirts, as depicted in the music video for “Di Matamu Ada Hantu”. Released as a single in 2013, the song marks the end of the album and it’s also the one that sounds most true to the album’s title. However, its relatively higher production value brings to question the decision to record a lo-fi rock album.
Whether or not Jayzuan’s attempt at rock music is ironic or sincere is up for debate, but he does sound like he’s having a lot of fun on ‘Pop N’ Roll’. And for that reason alone, we urge that everyone give it a listen.