Malaysia may seem an odd breeding ground for post punk, a genre born in the post industrial towns of late 70s Britain. Killeur Calcalateur are a band that defies this though (and spell check) by hailing from the sunny climes of Kuala Lumpur. Taking their cues from the past but sounding vital and relevant for a modern era of confusion, anger and hypocrisy, they released their debut album, Book Of Flags in 2014.
The main touchstones are the dry, physical funk of Gang Of Four and the harsh geometric lines of Wire. On top of this are daubs of Sonic Youth and hardcore punk. The rhythm section is rock solid: the drums are a dry and crisp, with an almost disco propulsion and the bass is ominous, lithe and ready for war. The guitars are pure post punk: shards that glisten and chime; both jagged and iridescent. Yet they are also a buzzsaw band of brigands, punks who revel in noise and aggravation.
The vocals may be a sticking point for some, comprising yells, shout and screams. However, this is no metal I’m-angry-at-dad monotony, more a bundle of rambunctious energy and a punk quest to poke at boundaries. Multiple vocals working against each other gives a Slits sense of playground anarchy. This is a style that may be off-putting though.
Let’s look at some of the highlights:
‘Red Marquee’ rolls the album out in style with a staccato call to arms of a military unit run by James Brown in a fighting mood. This culminates in rhythms more compulsively twitchy than realising you have scarab beetles burrowing under your flesh. Television (the band, not the drug of the nation) twangs of quicksilver guitars flutter at you. Then those vocals; braying catcalls from a feral gang of street roughs, this ushers in a Sonic Youth assault of guitar shredding that hits with the same effect as a sandstorm.
‘Funk Facts’ does what it says on the tin with guitar lines dancing around each other, not a million miles away from A Certain Ratio’s ‘Shack Up’. If you like your riffs gleaming then this is for you, feeling like a lost 80s post punk smash. Make no mistake, despite the rough edges and yelling, this is heady, stoked dance music.
‘Mess History’ (now that is a Gang Of Four title if you ever heard one) is a straight out ruckus between the guitars and the rhythm section, a song pulling in separate directions and eager for your attention. The vocals scream from the center of this debacle, like a ring master who has lost control of the circus. A swirling, expanding bundle of mayhem.
Meanwhile, ‘Ghost Of Regret’ offers a slower and more introspective outlook that slowly grows increasingly fraught and angry. ‘Ta’ is a Fugazi-esque display of disciplined aggression, backed with interlocked switch blade guitars. ‘The Suit’ (no relation to the Public Image song) offers a fascinating combo of noise and plaintiff guitar with the two vocalists seemingly having an argument. ‘Good Things Don’t Last For Ever’ ends the album with jangling Sonic Youth guitars and tag team vocals.
Killeur Calcalateur may be influenced by bands of the past but this album is no hazy, rose-tinted nostalgia trip. It is a resolutely harsh and powerful album. The mixture of moods and tones is one of its key successes: both aggressive and playful, both physical and thoughtful. They have managed to blend post punk’s schizoid leanings towards arty intellectualism and the desire to interact with sweaty rock ‘n’ roll. When you factor in punk agitprop what is left is an album stimulating to both the body and the mind. But maybe best of all, Book Of Flags is a fun album, whist hard as nails, the band’s dedication to brutal funk leads to the potential for a hellacious time on the dance-floor. An excellent release.