By Zim Ahmadi
You can’t accuse A. Limin of resting on their laurels. Their 2020 debut Adam was a raw neo-romantic folk album, but the quartet of Limin, Merul, Fai, and Miro have pushed far beyond that with their follow-up sesudah melakar langit. The four challenged themselves to create a more focused and ambitious album, and they’ve succeeded.
Sesudah melakar langit takes Adam‘s intimate and occasionally manic heart and transforms those emotional beats into something of an epic. It’s almost as if they’ve changed from scoring indie flicks to sounding like Payung Teduh composing Lord of the Rings.
When we ask about becoming more conceptual and sophisticated, the band promptly dispels the notion that their music is berat (heavy). “We never want to challenge the listeners. The only people we want to challenge are ourselves,” Merul answers. “We don’t have anything academic to convey; everything is in the feeling. The musicality is the concept”.
There isn’t one single overarching message or theme unifying sesudah melakar langit. The band places adorable proclamations of love (“Kau Ada”) next to stories of warrior journeys fit for parchment paper from the Middle Ages (“Kerala”). It sounds random, but it reflects how Merul and Limin themselves write. “I thought of the place I grew up in, Perlis,” Merul muses, “and how it’s this isolated, relatively backward place. I always envisioned it deserving a medieval theme”, he explains, before going off on a tangent about Kerala meaning “coconut land”.
So there’s an element of chaos to their music, but it’s balanced by an impressionistic aura that emanates from their songs. Whether they’re personal or political, brusque or metaphorical, the folk music of A. Limin is an abstract record masked by a pretty allure, combining a new romantic folk sound with colourful yet cryptic stories. In the realm of gorgeous, maximalist folk-rock symphonies, sesudah melakar langit lies somewhere in between the approaches of Fleet Foxes and Joanna Newsom.
The band splits songwriting duties between them, with each member contributing their own perspective to the mix. Limin is the projector of emotional honesty, whilst Merul finds his magic in technical artistry. “When I’m putting music together, I sometimes get tunnel vision”, Merul explains. “You don’t really see or feel anything until it’s all done”. Limin, on the other hand, admits that he tends to be “more straightforward and dramatic”.
“I remember Adly [Syairi] saying that [our debut] sounded overly familiar, like something from a previous decade … But that got me thinking: ‘we need to do better.'”
Fai, multi-instrumentalist and mixing engineer, adds that “it’s like creating a setting”. And, sometimes, these settings spring to life and end up hitting quite close to home. He talks about a higher octave that emerged out of the blue while playing around with harmonies on the song “Cakera”, almost like a ghost in between the notes.
“It sounds like a duet, and not just with any random person”, Limin adds, a note of awe in his voice. “The voice sounds like the person I was singing about. Like she was singing the words back to me”.
Moments like the one above reframe what it means for the album to be a “collage of personal experiences”. They transcend individual confessions, always affected by some externality. Whilst the debut Adam owes its life to the now-defunct venue Tingkat Dua, sesudah melakar langit is a byproduct of the pandemic. The one year it’s taken for them to finish the album has birthed an album that mixes hope and gloom in equal measure.
“Cinta” arose from the irony of celebrating festivities during a time when most feel trapped instead of joyous. “Our whole apartment block was celebrating”, Merul recalls, adding that “I would hear these classic Tamil songs from our neighbours, which seeped into our music.” The band pays tribute to this influence by featuring esteemed Carnatic singer and musician Santosh Logandran, who’s also played with Nadir and Zee Avi.
The band’s willingness to experiment goes beyond just the sonics. The album title itself is an excerpt from an entire paragraph. “We’re aiming to break a world record with the longest album title ever”, Limin says with a grin before adding, “I called the Guinness Book of Records. They haven’t gotten back to me yet”.
We won’t include the full title here; you’ll have to buy the album to find out. But, to give you a teaser, it’s an almost-apocalyptic stream-of-consciousness manifesto touching on everything from the mouth leading the way and souls being purified, as well as a vast empty firmament and a landscape filled with words.
“We thought about the word mulut (mouth) and about the things that come out of it”, Limin begins. “We thought it was ridiculous to call an album ‘Mulut’, so we got to lelangit (the mouth palate). That langit (sky) is the sky that everyone touches”. Befitting the band’s tangential tendencies, Merul quickly adds that it’s also “a rough translation from this Instagram post about a Taiwanese cult”.
However, self-expression isn’t the only driving force behind sesudah melakar langit. There’s also a strong desire for vindication behind it. Limin recalls that Adly Syairy and Ham (of TAPAUtv’s review segment Review Uncle) weren’t particularly impressed by their debut. “I remember Adly saying that the album sounded overly familiar, like something from a previous decade”, Limin sighs. “But that got me thinking: ‘we need to do better.'”
A. Limin have come a long way from “Adam“, the song that first struck a chord with many (including myself). “Adam” is a song of simple charms, building from Limin thanking a friend for lending their guitar and making the night possible into all-encompassing gratefulness for life and companionship. Sesudah melakar langit is a direct continuation, pushing further into big, widescreen stories. And, now, these are tales told by a band that’s finally found their voice.
Sesudah melakar langit is out now.