Text Jarrod Sio Jyh Lih
Singaporean duo .gif’s calling-card is ‘godspeed’, a four-minute homage to Singaporean auteur Kelvin Tong’s 1999 film Eating Air. Eschewing the opéra bouffe and scampering pandemonium of their source, Weish and Din appear to shoot for less of an archly decorative style, opting for subtlety instead. Amidst plodding ripples of arpeggios, Weish reaches for gravitas and leads the listener through lead-footed trudges into heavy air and nocturnal thoughts as she anguishes over the question “Where is the boy with the big dreams?” Answering her own rhetoric, she alludes, “Lionheart don’t count when the body is weak.” The single – though not the opening track of their first LP soma – sets the sonic mien of the record perfectly.
soma is an LP that is sombre in tone, an album where the drum machine fetishists with a penchant for ostinato and opaque lyricisms reference a veritable potpourri of literary and emotional touchstones. That they name dropped Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World feels less of an accident than a self-conscious attempt to lure the listener into the environs of the chosen genre – contextualising for the uninitiated, if you may. That said, Din’s categorical adeptness at conjuring up bleeps and sinister, bare-walls sound design assures the listener of the duo’s mettle even during the silent passages; the clinical sterility of the whole musical enterprise more than hints at the phantasmagorical soundscape through which the duo has chosen to regale their listeners and fans. It feels like staring at regnant, tumescent grey clouds that rumble with ominous clangs but never ever rains.
The fact that .gif and their motley crew of collaborators are r’n’b enthusiasts becomes apparent two tracks into the album. They are the sort who has no qualms about wearing their influences on their sleeves. Whether rapping on ‘money’ alongside Mean or having Tim De Cotta on board on ‘sate’, Weish showcases surprisingly lithe rhyme spitting skills over Din’s beats. When juxtaposed against the towering balladry within the immediate template of rapid-plucked viola and lush strings section on ‘Song Six’ (curiously, in fact, the fifth track), Weish’s vocal talent and versatility become clear. ‘sate’, for instance, would not sound out of place on an Ashanti record. On this track, Din again gets up to some added-value production shenanigans by looping what sounds like the familiar grating of an old Panasonic printer masticating yet another piece of A4 paper as it passes through its teeth – with all the malice of industry and the emotional nadir of machinery.
Din is the foil for Weish’s breathy articulations, purveying the requisite milieu within which the vocalist can soar, leap, swim, and play with abandon. How such a young mind can come up with the breadth and depth of sound on this album speaks more for the producer’s skills than anything else. ‘disquiet’ is one of .gif’s close brushes with sexiness. Weish’s come-hither croons amidst quietly chiming synth stabs and coiling bass phatness, coupled with Isa Ong’s frenetic post-punk guitar spikiness, make this sound like a surprising billet-doux for the listener and a pleasant addition to the album. The heavy-lidded sonicry is one which hints at coitus and its panoply of attendant paradoxes – the push and pull of friction and pleasurable earworm. With Weish lulling, nay, demanding that the listener “sleeeeep” at the chorus, it produces the opposite reaction instead – not unlike a midnight boner as the idle, unguarded mind plays the ‘Best Of’ mental film reel of an ex and reminds you of your complete and utter solitude.
Moody as the tracks might be, it is not overly revelatory where they can be positioned relative to similar electronic/synth acts. Can they be placed alongside Pastel Lite’s confessional, experimental, masochistic, and oddly muscular output? How about Tenderfist’s neon arpeggios, minimalistic ideals, and restraint? Would OJ Law’s idée fixe on the airy and discombobulating musical peregrinations on love and relationships be a fair comparison? Or perhaps we have in .gif artistes that – like aforementioned acts – doff their hats to their musical precedents and set out to be as original as the genre allows. Owing to the current fixation on minimalistic song craftsmanship and reductive philosophy overall, perhaps the duo and their band of merry young men and women have essayed outside of mere gimmickry and self-conscious hipness – reaching instead for the diaphanous no man’s land of “finding their sound.” It is this intrepidness that perhaps frees them from the existentialist ballast of craft and purposeful abstraction. Sartre would have approved.