Text Khalid Azizuddin
The debut LP by Malaysian producer VMPRMYTH opens with the bassoon. Three ascending notes followed by three descending. Even at the outset, the production is pristine: each note hangs dense with intent. This heralds perhaps the catchiest riff of the album, a (relatively) jaunty call and response on brass backed by high attack kickdrum and tinkling ride. Other producers with this on their hands would probably introduce complementary and counterpoint instrumentation to the already ornate mix, letting the riff breathe, establishing and dismantling various interlocking rhythmic possibilities. Here however, it is faded down two minutes in and replaced with an unbacked, angsty piano thumping – which gives way to weeping strings, which then gives way to a glitchy bass section that regresses back to the piano thumping. While it is difficult to understand the statement being made, it’s equally clear that one is being made.
‘M. Alice’ is full of malice. A disembodied chorus sings a sombre, unintelligible refrain over purposefully pounded drums. Doomsday horns blare sporadically until mid-song, where a manic sawing of heavy cello strings begins zigzagging through. This is masterful stuff and could easily score screams in cinemas. But instead of the macabre, unsettling sepia of Twin Peaks, it is more the flapping grotesque terror of The Shining. The running time of just over two minutes however seems rather truncated. ‘Sleazus’ is sleazy. A pitch shifted vocal slurs a leery hook; prurient and insolent. One almost feels the need to reach down to check if wallet and money are still intact. It ends with a flurry of sibilant syllables and random stabs of the sampler, a triumph. Perverted poem ‘The Key’ is another standout. The vocals contain enough swaggering bravado (only just!) to sell the smirking elongated enunciation. It could have easily gone the other way. Lazy strings and a thoughtfully plucked guitar provide a welcome foil as the lout recounts a conquest or two. The only electric guitar solo takes place then but rather than the thrusting, sweaty Prince homage one would expect, it is more ‘90s Guns & Roses. ‘Reality Checks’ is a rather more introspective, traditional instrumental hip hop piece. Glitches and squeaks are breaks and beats, warm guitar lines are picked apart and rebuilt; a vocal snippet, full of need, plays sporadically in the periphery. It is a quietly ruminative piece, providing a transitory calm midway through the album – almost Shlohmo.
Clear parallels can be seen between HEROINe and These New Puritans’ seminal 2010 LP, Hidden. It similarly dealt with brass and woodwind arrangements with a strong emphasis on rhythm and movement. It worked because each of the songs was forward-oriented with each instrument inhabiting the space defined by the central groove. A grim restraint ensured that nothing extraneous or superfluous remained. Keeping in mind the possible heights that can be scaled in this micro-genre, the unfulfilled potential contained here is heartbreaking. In the artisanal ‘Rose’, gentle booms of sub-bass are lobbed across the bow while chopped up acoustic strums provide structure. An unhurried tabla beats steadily under the mix. Cue swooping strings and gentle atmospherics hinting at a redemptive, climactic resolution. Before this can happen however, it is all dialled down for a heavy-handed string arrangement (which feels rather pedestrian compared to what came before). While fidgety restlessness allows for innovation, the tendency to stuff compositions with too many ideas prevents a meaningful engagement with even one. Unfortunately this is often the case with HEROINe.
Some records feel so specific to a set of circumstances that they conjure up vivid imagery unbidden. The oppressive tones that paint this one feel overwhelmingly nocturnal, pursued by terrors real and imagined. One pictures the producer stewing in his own doubts, rickety ceiling fan doing little to dislodge the tropical humidity clinging to the walls. The choice of the big band instrumentation on a few tracks is inspired. It has the sonorous heft to convey the malice of the HEROINe and sound organic throughout. Instrumental hip hop it may be, his sound is not in thrall to the heady escapism of the Brainfeeder brand of rippling atmospherics. It is cocksure and full of hard edges. At the first evidence of vulnerability, the cogs and gears are mashed tightly together preventing a glimpse into the depths of the machinery. The ego is refreshing.
LISTEN TO: ‘Naiveté’
IF YOU LIKE THIS YOU’LL DIG: JSTN PWRS
RATING: 3 ½