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Koes Plus "Dheg Dheg Plas & Volume 2"

Koes Plus, Indonesia's most beloved pop music treasure, has an incredibly interesting history. Aside from the fact that this is a 70's Indonesian band unmistakably influenced by the British Invasion and that they were successful and popular enough to record over 40 albums during the 70s alone and spawn dozens of tribute bands over the years while remaining largely unknown throughout the rest of the world (piqued your interest yet?), the group's tale is somewhat legendary. Politics, rebellion, arrests, destroyed recordings, plane crashes… it's all very well documented in the liner notes to this smart package from Sublime Frequencies that collects the band's first two records (1969's "Dheg Dheg Plas" and 1970's "Volume 2") following its reformation from the ashes of the all-brother Koes Bersaudara band. But as interesting as all that stuff is, it's really not the point of Koes Plus. The point is that this record is a damned good time.

The first half ("Dheg Dheg Plas") features a straight-ahead early Beatles approach. Songs like "Kelelewar" and "Awan Hitam" are stone-hits complete with snappy, highly danceable/sampleable backbeats and delicious four-part vocal harmonies. But even when the band is at its easiest to draw the Beatles comparison, the group adds its own little eccentricities…something just a little bit off, slightly obscured with the fusion of traditional Indonesian melodies and forms, not to mention the band's native language in the lyrics. In this way, the legacy of Koes Plus seems not unlike Caetano Veloso and the Tropicália movement during same time period in Brazil. Sometimes these eccentricities are just bizarre, like the completely random drum solo during the slow and sweet "Tiba Tiba Aku Menangis" (seriously, when's the last time you heard a drum solo during a ballad?). "Volume 2" showcases the Koes Plus as a different beast altogether, incorporating a multitude of different styles from ska rhythms to raucous punk and even a hint of Sabbath that comes as a hilarious and awesome surprise. The playful, Ray Davies-like nature of the songwriting makes this second half a little better, if also a lot weirder. Yes, there's boring stuff here, too…ballads. Lots of them. Safe, 60s-prom slow dance numbers that might have become more traditional, cherished love songs to the band's audience—these songs feel more functional than they do fun. But overall, this window into the wondrous world of Koes Plus shows the band was so much more than a mere carbon copy of Western influences, taking brave chances in experimenting with different styles and instruments within its geographical heritage to subsequently have a massive impact on what the indigenous music of Indonesia would become. They were also often just a brilliant band of completely talented musicians and gifted songwriters. The whole super-intriguing ethnomusicology thing is the icing on the cake. 7/10 -- Crawford Philleo (11 August, 2010)

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