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In the cafe of lost youth

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The long-awaited return of singer Apichai 'Lek' Tragoolpadetgrai sees him pushing the envelope musically while examining his past.

Greasy Cafe/ Technicolor

'I'm not a fan of reading, so I don't have the biggest vocabulary when it comes to composing songs," admitted Apichai "Lek" Tragoolpadetgrai, the Thai singer-songwriter behind Greasy Cafe in an interview with BK Magazine. He then went on to say: "No matter how beautifully you can sing or how well composed your lyrics are, nothing tops actually believing in the songs you sing." Well, if there's anyone who sounds like they actually believe in what they sing, it's him.

From his 2008 debut album Sing Lao Nee to 2012's The Journey Without Maps, Lek's strength has always been the conviction with which he sings. He may not have the biggest vocabulary when it comes to songwriting, but what he does have is the ability to convey maximum emotion by employing the simplest of words. This rare gift is precisely the reason why his five-year absence from the music scene (minus the official soundtrack for The Down documentary in 2015) felt excruciatingly long and why his latest offering, the fourth studio LP Technicolor, is such a joy to hear and behold.

In much the same way movies transitioned from black and white to colour, the album suggests a shift in Greasy Cafe's sonic palette from live instrumentation to the more synthetic. Nowhere is this more evident than the lead single Pa Tid Pa Tor (Collage), a mid-tempo paean to letting go of the painful past that's built around a cacophony of atmospheric sounds. According to the singer, these noises reflect the confusion and emotional turmoil inside of his mind.

In fact, the production of each track corresponds with the message in a well-thought-out manner. The standout here is Yarm Wi Karn (Nighttime), which pairs industrial percussive elements with dusky piano chords and the lyrics with a nocturnal narrative ("The city in motion/ On the night the lights wield their brilliance/ Stars on the streets/ The crowd and I/ Headed in different directions").

Themes of loss, loneliness and memories of his past love reoccur throughout the album. On Wan See Daeng (Red-Colored Day), Siang Nai Film (Original Soundtrack) and the excellent instrumental title track, Lek sings about "the Valentine's Day without the two of us" and "the changing season" over production that recalls the minimal aesthetic of The xx. Elsewhere, Roi Kra Prib Tah (Trace Of An Eye Blink) finds him returning to his indie-rock roots whereas Ra Berd Way Lah (Time Bomb) shows a glimpse of shoegazing and a post-rock tendency we'd like to hear more from him.

At its core, Technicolor is, indeed, a work of seamless transition. Lek has managed to expand his repertoire without alienating his indie/underground fans. And although the songwriting could do with some diversity in its themes, it never once comes across as disingenuous, thanks in part to his relatable, everyday-bloke singing voice.

THE PLAYLIST

Srirajah Rockers/ Term (Fill Up)

Srirajah Rockers' Organix of last year spawned some excellent tracks including the politically inclined Destroy Babylon and the fantastically psychedelic Ya Hai Dey (Don't Cry), a collaboration with molam queen Rasmee Wayrana. To continue that upward trajectory, the Thai dub reggae outfit returns this year with Term (Fill Up). As with most of the band's material, the song is a mellow stoner anthem that benefits from frontman/vocalist Win Chujitarom's super-chill vocals and baroque lyricism that cleverly incorporates elements of philosophy and Buddhism.

Malihini/ Miss

As evidenced by their debut single, Waiting, the duo of Giampaolo Speziale and Federica Caiozzo make ear-turning indie-pop that doesn't rely on the old jangly guitars. Collectively known as Malihini ("Newcomer" in Hawaiian), the London-based pair give us another solid jam titled Miss. The highlights begin with a hypnotic rhythmic loop, then we're treated to lush boy-girl harmonies and, rather unexpectedly, an explosive outro of gnarly guitars and roaring drums.

Phoebe Bridgers/ Motion Sickness

The name Phoebe Bridgers may still be met with a quizzical look, but that doesn't negate the fact that she's one of the most promising singer-songwriters to keep an eye out for. Bridges first emerged in 2015 with seven-inch single Killer, and has gone on to open for established musicians like Conor Oberst. Now, the 22-year-old shares with us Motion Sickness, an understated lead cut taken from her debut studio LP Stranger In The Alps. "I hate you for what you did/And I miss you like a little kid," she sings in the opening verse over gently lapping instrumentation. And even when she continues with the slightly schmaltzy chorus ("I have emotional motion sickness/Somebody roll the windows down"), the earnestness of her voice comes through in the most genuine way.

Jack Johnson/ My Mind Is For Sale

My Mind Is For Sale marks Jack Johnson's first new music since 2013's From Here To Now To You. Lifted from his forthcoming seventh album, All The Light Above It Too, the song sees the beloved surf-rock troubadour serving up a dig about US President Trump over beachy, cheerful groove. Don't be fooled by the track's laid-back vibe, though, for it does pack quite a bite: "I don't care for your paranoid/Us-against-them fearful kind of walls/I don't care for your careless/Me-first, gimme-gimme appetite at all."

Zola Jesus/ Soak

Soak, Zola Jesus's second new track from her forthcoming album Okovi, finds the goth-pop songstress delivering a chilling story about a woman who "lets the killer assist her in suicide, as she gets tossed into the water and slowly drowns". Matching the unsettling tale is the equally menacing production built around industrial synths and harsh percussion. "Take me to the water/Let me soak in slaughter/I will sink into the bed like a stone," she sings with her trademark austerity. "You should know I would never let you down."

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