Ex-Sun City Girls member Alan Bishop and his band Koes Barat will release their self-titled album on Sub Pop for Record Store Day (April 18; the label's other RSD release is Father John Misty's heart-shaped "I Loved You, Honeybee" 7-inch). The 11-track album reflects Bishop's obsession with the popular '60s/'70s Indonesian psych-garage group Koes Bersaudara (aka Koes Plus), who were composed of the Koeswoyos brothers. For Koes Barat, Bishop enlisted Master Musicians of Bukkake members Milky Burgess (guitar), Don McGreevy (drums), Jim Davis (bass), and Randall Dunn (producer) to help him cover these vibrant, insanely catchy, and emotionally resonant tunes with gusto and reverence. This new full-length builds upon the two archival releases that Sublime Frequencies (Bishop's label, with Hisham Mayet) issued in 2010; both are now out of print, but Koes Barat is an excellent portal into Indonesian psych/garage rock's wily charms. You can read more about the project and hear the lead track from it—“Kelelewar (The Bats),” a gate-storming garage rocker in which Bishop channels his inner John Lydon—after the jump.
Koes Bersaudara suffered for their art in the mid '60s when President Sukarno cracked down on Western cultural influences, particularly that of the Beatles, a prime inspiration for the Koeswoyos brothers. The country's chief prosecutor warned them against playing “imperialist” ngak ngik ngok music. Nevertheless, at a party in 1965, Koes Bersaudra covered the Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There" and were hit by rocks thrown by Sukarno loyalists and imprisoned for three months. The group's dedication to their art in the face of suppression just added to their appeal for Bishop.
Bishop—who now spends most of his time in Cairo, Egypt, but makes frequent visits to Seattle, his home of many years—first heard Koes Bersaudara/Koes Plus in 1989; the attractively swaying “Hidup Yang Sepi” (included on Koes Barat) “completely destroyed me," he said in an interview I conducted with him. "Yeah, it’s a ballad (I love ballads), but there was something about the voices, harmonies, and arrangement that made it impossible to forget. Upon investigating their music over the years, I realized there was so much more. There was the beauty of the melodies they wrote—simple yet clever—and their mid-to-late-'60s garage and psych tracks, more great ballads, their two 'Hard Beat' records from the mid '70s, their Indonesian-styled albums (Pop Melayu/Keroncong/ Qasidah/Pop Jawa/Instrumentalia), the diversity of their ideas and relentless recording of albums during their most inspired period from the early 1960s through the late '70s.”
While Bishop is inspired by the Koeswoyo brothers' bravery to create this brand of “forbidden” music while living under an oppressive government, he ultimately returns to Koes Bersaudara's “amazing songs, their longevity in continuing to challenge themselves to continue producing/recording album after album over decades. But it all comes back to the melodies and group harmonies… it's what makes the Beatles, early Bee Gees, and the Kinks songs so powerful. And Tonny Koeswoyo (and eventually Yon, Yok, and Murry) tapped into that elusive ability to write great pop songs with a unique, identifiable style that are timeless."