The sharpest tool in the shade
An early contender for one of this year's best releases, The Dumbs' debut EP delivers profound bedroom pop snugly wrapped in funk-electro fusion
- 27 Jan 2019 at 04:00
- WRITER: CHANUN POOMSAWAI
We're not even a full month into 2019 and it seems like the Thai indie music scene is already readying itself for another year of solid offerings. Leading the pack is none other than The Dumbs, a Winai Kitcharoenjiranont solo project. If that name doesn't ring a bell, Winai is one of the co-founding members of The Charapaabs, an elderly-themed concept band who's bestowed upon us a series of memento mori-inspired cuts like Funeral Party, Annual Check Up and Hello Monday. (Side note: keep an eye out for a review of their long-awaited debut LP, Maha Moradok, coming next Sunday.) He's also the brain behind TypeThai, a popular Facebook page and a YouTube channel that celebrates-slash-satirises Thai idiosyncrasies in all their glory.
As The Dumbs, Winai resorts to the style he's termed "nerd pop": a DIY, no-fuzz sound that doesn't necessarily follow the rules dictated by music theory. Despite the running self-deprecation that extends all the way down to the project's name, he's not kidding around. "Nerd pop", as it turns out, is a playful blend of funk, electro-pop, indie-pop and wonderfully sharp, yet relatable songwriting.
Breezy lead single Kon Lok Lok (Nervous Man) contains half-sung lyrics about how his perpetual nervousness gets in a way of romance ("I wanna change my image/ Trying too hard/ It's only making me more awkward"). This is followed by one of our Top 20 Singles of 2018, Selfie, a disco-leaning jam dedicated to our narcissistic tendencies and self-examination ("Everybody's a narcissist/ It's normal to like yourself/ Sometimes I even love myself/ So I'm reserving my judgement… Don't just take selfies/ Study yourself… Ask yourself/ See through yourself").
Mid-tempo Aab Nam Ron Ma Kon (Been There, Done That) takes its inspiration from the Thai saying beloved of baby boomers who like to think they know better, that they "took a hot bath before" the younger generation. Here, Winai flips the metaphor around, pointing out that "hot water turns cold over time", while alluding to Buddhism's three marks of existence. Meanwhile, slower offerings Million Things and This Too Shall Pass prove that he's also well versed in the more conventional pop songcraft, which is always a bonus.
Quotable lyrics: "Being born, being alive, and dying/ Don't expect anybody to blindly believe what you have to say/ Sometimes I think bath-taking/ Should wash away your ego" (Aab Nam Ron Ma Kon).
Listen to this: Kon Lok Lok, Selfie, Aab Nam Ron Ma Kon.
Priests / The Seduction Of Kansas
Priests' debut album, Nothing Feels Natural, was a pleasant surprise when it came out back in 2017. On that record, the Washington, DC, punk outfit demonstrated their knack for blending elements of funk, jazz and indie rock into a raw, visceral sound. That experimental spirit carries over to The Seduction Of Kansas, lead single/title track from their much-anticipated, John Congleton-produced follow-up of the same name. Inspired by Thomas Frank's 2004 book What's The Matter With Kansas?, the synth-driven song contains a sort of sonic tug of war between vocalist Katie Alice Greer and the rhythm section (which now includes multi-instumentalist Janel Leppin and bassist Alexandra Tyson). The result gives off an energy that feels defiantly DIY and gloriously recalcitrant. "It's you/ I'm the one who loves you/ It's true," Greer proclaims with tongue firmly in cheek. Slated for a release in early April, the album boasts songs with fun titles like Jesus' Son, Control Freak and YouTube Sartre.
Lizzo / Juice
On the funky, synth-driven Juice, Minneapolis rapper/singer Lizzo advocates just the kind of self-care we all should be striving for at the beginning of a new year. "Mirror, mirror on the wall/ Don't say it 'cause I know I'm cute," she announces, slyly dismissing her haters in the process. The real serve, however, arrives in the feel-good chorus where she celebrates her "juice" and how it's instrumental to her winning at life: "It ain't my fault that I'm out here makin' news/ I'm the pudding in the proof/ Gotta blame it on my juice." (Check out the accompanying 80s-flavored music video for a complete experience).
Balthazar / I'm Never Gonna Let You Down Again
Belgian indie mainstays Balthazar usher in the new year with I'm Never Gonna Let You Down Again, the third single from their recently released fourth LP Fever. Built upon supple basslines, this R&B/funk-infused "break-up song with a twist" combines the vocals and songwriting strengths of frontmen Maarten Devoldere and Jinte Deprez. "Girl it's not our time or place anymore/ You just should know I'm never gonna let you down again," the pair sing in delicious falsettos, serving up understated vocal harmonies halfway between the Bee Gees and Fleet Foxes.
Cub Sport / Summer Lover
It's getting close to the end of January, the height of summer in Australia, which is why we're getting an early summer anthem like Cub Sport's Summer Lover. Introduced by swelling synths, the song finds the Brisbane four-piece delivering a slice of slow, deliberate dream pop instead of the twee indie fare they made their name with back in 2016. "Baby, the waves were crashing down on me/ Felt like I forgot how to breathe without you," vocalist Tim Nelson sings in a surprisingly grown up register. "I'm gonna take you to the beach/ I'm gonna take you to the water."
The Regrettes / Don't Stop Me Now
The Regrettes churn out their own rendition of Queen's 1979 classic Don't Stop Me Now, adding to a sudden burst of Queen covers surrounding last year's Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. Here, the LA punk upstarts swap the original's exuberant piano for an all-out punk affair -- a complete 180 transformation that we can wholeheartedly get behind. (Anything other than McFly and Glee Cast's cringeworthy covers are alright by us.) According to the band, the song is apparently "part of a still-secret project". Well, after listening to this gem, we can't say we're not intrigued.