Koes Plus - "Kelelawar (The Bats)" (Koes Plus Volumes 1 & 2 (1969-1970))
Thanks much to Sublime Frequencies, and a plethora of other exotic revivalist labels, Indonesian music has finally received quality exposure stateside in the past few years. As far as the Western-infused pop music that rooted in the 1960s and ‘70s throughout the 17,508 islands that make up the country (like a weed to the then oppressive government, like a Tree of Life to the youth), no band is more prominent and influential than Koes Plus. An argument could be made for their female counterparts Dara Puspita, but the amazing amount of tribute bands (60-plus on the island of Java alone) is a telling indication of the former’s legacy. The rock quartet recorded more than 40 full-lengths throughout the 1970s, but none are more sought after than the first two: 1969’s Dheg Dheg Plas (commonly referred to as Volume 1) and 1970’s Volume 2. Being the completists they are, Sublime Frequencies has graciously packaged the two rare records together for the general listening public.
Before Koes Plus, there was the Beatles-aping, government-defying Koes Bersaudara. "Bersaudara" translates to "brothers," and four of the Koeswoyo siblings made up the group (older brother Jon quit after their debut 1964 record). Fellow Dusted writer Dustin Drase thoroughly broke down their pre-1969 career in his review of the previous Sublime Frequencies re-release, Koes Bersaudara 1967. When drummer Nomo Koeswoyo quit in 1969, a fellow named Murry, who became the “Plus,” replaced him. This line-up remains today as the band still occasionally performs live to loving audiences. (As Wikipedia so eloquently puts it, "Oldies but goldies [sic?] ... have lost nothing of their freshness and appeal.")
The first album of this set, 1969’s Dheg Dheg Plas, was named the No. 4 "Greatest Indonesian Album of All Time" by Rolling Stone Indonesia (according to a 2007 poll). It picks up where the Koes Bersaudara albums left off: spry, garage-y beat rockers with elastic bass lines, early Beatles-esque melodies and a thickly buzzing electric organ that often takes center stage. Because of the less-than-stellar recording quality and their penchant for slightly psychedelic leanings, the upbeat tunes wouldn’t sound out of line between early Tropicalia albums and a Nuggets compilation. The ballads — "Biar Berlalu (Let it Go)," "Manis Dan Sayang (Sweet and Dear)," and "Tjintamu Telah Berlalu (Your Love Has Passed)" especially — evoke the Fab Four’s clever use of multiple voices and haunting melodies. Then there are the more curious numbers, such as the breathy "Tiba Tiba Aku Menangis (Suddenly I Cried)," which features equally awkward and fascinating vocal harmonies and tics; or the memorable closer, "Lusa Mungkin Kau Datang (Maybe You Will Come the Day After Tomorrow)," which features a guitar melody that sounds infinitely familiar (Gene Clark?) but ultimately implacable.
Volume 2 kicks off with “Lagu Dalam Impian (Song in a Dream),” a song that takes on a ska tone, but twice removed. It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to hypothesize their introduction to the genre via “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” But despite the obligatory Beatles reference, the album only gets more varied from there. “Pent Juri Hati (Heart Stealer)” is vocal cord-wrenching psych-metal, “Djangan Selalu Marah (Don’t Always be Angry)” sounds like yé-yé recorded the morning after a night of heavy drinking, “Hanya Pusaramu (Only Your Grave)” approaches prog territory with latent metal guitar solos and Technicolor organ, and “Mengapa Kau Sedih (Why Were You Sad)” could only be written after the band stumbled across a Donovan record.
Sure, it’s derivative and the influences are easily deciphered, but it’s also obviously a group of talented musicians experimenting with a barrage of radically new musical ideas. Beginning with these two albums, Koes Plus formulated the archetypal Indonesian pop-rock group. It’s not all perfect, but it’s the bedrock of a foundation that is still prominent today. And most importantly, as album after album of established sounds sprinkled with stylistic kinks spread across the islands throughout the 1970s, just think of the eye-opening reaction it must have given the geographically isolated Indonesian youth!