After releasing a bunch of glitchy, vaporwave-inspired teasers over the past few weeks, Kuala Lumpur-based experimental electronic duo Pastel Lite made a return to the local music scene on 27 July ’17 with their first full-length album, Balada. A labour of love that began in late 2015, Balada is the culmination of months spent working tirelessly in studios and collaborating with other homegrown producers and musicians to produce the band’s latest project. Their debut album release is packed with tracks that mark a departure from the musical styles favoured by the duo in the past; Pastel Lite in 2017 have taken on a much more sentimental approach with their music, executing it with the same clean-cut, accessible tones that have garnered the duo a loyal following throughout their career.
Clocking in at 38 minutes with ten tracks, Balada is built around narratives detailing the fragile nature of human relationships, and Pastel Lite handle their subject matter as delicately as they do with their songs. Kicking off with the acerbic lyrics on ‘Damsel’, Eff Hakim’s vocals tell the story of an emotionally toxic relationship between a man and the eponymous damsel, all against the backdrop of Mohd Faliq’s production of balmy synths and reverberating electric guitars.
A move away from the darker sounds in their previous EP ETCETERA, Pastel Lite have gone with a softer, more mellow approach with this release. Hard-hitting bass and electronic snares have been replaced by dreamy reverbs and syrupy, sad-girl lyrics throughout ‘Balada’, particularly on the appropriately-named track, ‘Caramel’. The transition is a nod to the band’s earlier expeditions through their soundscape (like with the lovelorn track ‘Have Me’), all while staying true to the experimental electronic roots of their music.
Pastel Lite have also combined both electronic and organic elements of music in Balada, seeking the talent of sitar player Keeran Raj to perform on their recording for ‘Sunny’. The sitar meshes with the underwater guitar lines to produce a perplexing hybrid of sounds; it’s an amiable meeting between tradition and modernity, and a promising signal of harmony between the old and the new as the local music scene continues to push itself beyond its boundaries.
Pastel Lite refrain from straying too far from the sounds of the first few tracks; by the time the lulling synths in ‘Masa Kita’ kick in, the songs within Balada have lost themselves in one prolonged stretch of indiscernible electronica. There are a few stand-out numbers that set themselves apart from the lot; ‘People’ is a witty, festival-ready anthem with unapologetic lyrics lamenting the trials and complexity of social interactions, while ‘Sunny’ is a minimalist, downtempo tune that truly allows Eff’s vocals to come through in its call for better, brighter days.
I won’t lie, by the time I’d given the album a few spins, I was left longing for one or two heart-pumping tracks à la ETCETERA, which would have provided a nice balance to the heavy sentiment laced throughout Balada. Nevertheless, the album still displays a prominent sense of dedicated craftsmanship and a healthy dose of dreamy, electronic sounds. If anything, the unrelenting stylistic consistency in this release only leaves its listeners hungry for more experimental sounds to come from Pastel Lite.
Give Balada a listen below and see what you think.