Young Magic – Still Life (Carpark)

A taste of Java in the mouth of New York

Released May 13th, 2016 via Carpark / By Ian Stanley
Young Magic – Still Life (Carpark) When Young Magic released their last album, Breathing Statues (review) the futuristic electronic vibes and digital smears painted a picture of a heavily synth-driven part of New York. This latest offering from the band is a product of that album but pushed into the instruments and historic sounds of lead singer Melati Malay’s return to her birthplace of Indonesia. With its use of traditional instruments set to the forefront of increasingly complex digital landscape Still Life puts a taste of Java in the mouth of New York.

Melati Malay’s trip to Indonesia was in some way forced by the passing of her father the previous year. Returning to her birthplace she hoped to reconnect with her family and past – and with the intention of recording new music. The result, intentional or not, is a quite clear fusion of those two cultures. “I’ve always felt torn, like some kind of hybrid existing between two worlds,” Malay says. “Born to a Catholic father and a Muslim mother, growing up bilingual, attending an international school in Jakarta where all my friends were from different countries…in a city of 30 million people where the clash between poverty and affluence is extreme.”

In ‘Homage’ there is a clear mashing of rapidly tapped sticks and off-kilter electronic dub beats. Malay’s ghostly tender vocal, so distinctive on the first album is used obsessively as a layer. It’s in the background and bedded into the warm and dense percussion and the colder synths. And like Malay coming to realise that division in herself the Indonesian influence on Still Life seems to have just been accentuated from Breathing Statues rather than added.

There is also a loneliness and singularity in the empty segments of this record. Songs like ‘Default Memory’ are simple and with very singular keyboard. These moments show Still Life as a close examination of losing someone close and revisiting the past. Then a Western influence or two jumps in, the violins on ‘Held’ and the beats and bells on ‘Lucien’ take swathes from trip-hop artists like Bonobo. But it is all smoothly fitted together. There is a richness to the musicianship, and you can almost feel the humidity in some of this tracks from the overdub. Indeed a hollering melodious chorus on ‘IWY’ adds density to the sliding violins making the song a slow-motion flight downstream for the ears.

The search for this album led Melati Malay into her family history and on the trail of her youth and her father’s. However, this Young Magic LP is very much a present album. The electronics jigged around with traditional instruments make it modern. It’s instantly recognisable as a Young Magic album, but slightly different. It is one for lovers of trip hop, and admirers of a culture mix. It’s not instantly distinguishable and it’s soft rather than abrasive in its differences. But looking deeper, it is an odd mix and a hot, humid album of electronics placed carefully into New York.