By Zim Ahmadi
The name Sounds of Kites, aka Wan Umar Shahid, should already be a mainstay in Malaysia’s singer-songwriter circuit. His distinctive voice and confrontational live performances thrill in the way that Jason Mraz-inspired acoustic pop types can only dream of. When Umar plays, he carries his guitar like a machine gun and walks around untethered by the stage. A trance-like ritual where he is the shaman.
The issue has always been that the qualities present at his live shows aren’t fully represented in his studio recordings. They’re there but with slightly less meat. And so it’s in this context that Sounds of Kites’ second album, Faceless Name, graces our ears.
Faceless Name is a far less gossamer effort than his debut. There are moments where the music leans towards the likes of Bill Callahan and Mark Kozelek, especially on Faceless Name’s more abstract and impressionist tracks. Wan Umar’s guitar is a subtly dissonant, atmospheric accompaniment that often goes against the grain, never falling into place too neatly with his singing.
“Eternally Bare Feet” is a perfect example. Wan Umar’s baritone speak-singing barely holds on as he weaves together one of his most gorgeous visualisations, almost gospel-like in its radiance. The opening track “Tell My Mother/Don’t Forget to Shut the Door” is no less intense, the suspense accentuated by the stutter of broken records and snippets of villainous laughter.
But Faceless Name isn’t all atmospherics and sonic mise-en-scène. Sounds of Kites also embodies the spirit of Iwan Fals and Azmyl Yunor on political cuts like “Kau Hina” and “Tanah Ini Milikmu”. The former is a bonafide anthem, Wan Umar’s impassioned delivery spitting venom at the establishment and its lack of moral fibre.
However, the crowning glory of Faceless Name’s ten tracks has to be “Ipoh/Infinity”. The standout feature is a constantly repeated sample, a voice clip of a kid selling cendol shake; it feels ostentatious at first, but that impression quickly melts away. What’s left is a surreal love letter to the capital of Perak, the looped “cendol shake” sample more akin to a dervish’s mantra than anything else.
Sounds of Kites’ sophomore record spans the many faces of folk. The avant-garde. The troubadour. The serenader. The protester. However, these aren’t always on equal footing. As compelling and deep as Umar’s voice can be, the metaphors don’t always resonate—whether in structure, imagery or some abstract notion of beauty that lingers in my head.
The metaphors might be aided by more purposeful production choices. “Ipoh/Infinity”‘s looped sample succeeds because it engages not just your brain’s lyrical-verbal side but prods something instinctive within you. Unfortunately, not every track gets that same level of care and attention.
That said, Faceless Name‘s victories overshadow its flaws. Wan Umar’s found an even firmer footing as a performer and lyricist here, his skeletal, dusty guitars supporting his tales, both gloomy and joyful. Sounds of Kites possess a nomad’s voice, one that feels at home whether in a desolate bar or on suffocating sidewalks. Even if it doesn’t echo, it still pierces through the noise.
- Country: Malaysia
- Label: Self-released
- Release Date: April 15, 2022