(Guruguru Brain)


To describe LAIR’s output as “earthy” would be an understatement. The Indonesian six-piece play music not only for the people, but on instruments fashioned from the soil of their hometown, Jatiwangi. The biggest producer of clay tiles in southeast Asia, this “terracotta city” has also been a forest, an outpost for Dutch colonizers, an artistic commune, and more recently the site of a gigantic Nike factory.

With Ngélar, LAIR attempt to make sense of some of the different cycles of the landscape. Their previous album, 2019’s Kiser Kenamaan, was a chronicle of everyday Indonesians living along the coast; fishermen, taxi drivers sweating in traffic jams, the buzz of a crowded street on election day. They continue the thread here, adding various cultural touchstones. Alongside psychedelic and funk elements, they’re on a mission to revive Panturan Tarling, a theatrical folk music style used for storytelling – and their songs are filled with tales of island life. Referencing the sugar plantations which exploited local land for profit, ‘Pesta Rakyat Pabrik Gula’ layers rallying choruses over guttural, urgent-sounding percussion.

The honking horns and lurching basslines of ‘Boa-Boa’ conjure the region’s oppressive heat. They’re also joined by multi-disciplinary artist Monica Hapsari for ‘Setan Dolban’, where she channels the mystery of harvest; her piercing, powerful vocal surely intense enough to coax shoots from arid soil. But overall this music concerns itself with community, rather than spirituality. The word Ngélar refers to troupes of musicians who would tradionally circle the village, playing songs to their neighbours. LAIR are doing much the same thing, even if these days their patch might extend a little further than the factories of Jatiwangi.