Folk music from Azmyl YunorBy ZACK YUSOF
From the dusty suburbs of Bangi in Selangor comes a brave lone troubadour on a mission to bring confessional folk music to the rock-fixated local alternative scene. By drawing his influences from the works of Bob Dylan and Neil Young, Azmyl Yunor’s introspective, mainly acoustic musical repertoire sets him apart from the rest of the local alternative rock scene like a sore thumb.
Evoking the down-to-earth, working class folk of his musical heroes, Azmyl has managed to plug into a rich musical lineage that can be traced right back to the Delta Blues, taking in the aesthetics and attitude of punk rock as well as the experimental, lo-fi, country rock stylings of US underground prime movers Sebadoh, Pavement, The Palace Brothers/ Bonny ‘Prince’ Billy and Mellow Gold-era Beck along the way.
Having paid his dues in a host of local alternative musical side projects for several years, including genre-hopping stints in The Maharaja Commission and Ben’s B*****s, and putting out some cassette–only releases, the fiercely independent Azmyl has just released his first solo CD outing, the beguiling, self-funded Tenets EP.
This recording has had fringe local music fans scrambling for favourable comparisons with Meor’s critically acclaimed Itu Padang ... Aku di Sini, a release that caused such a stir in the singer–songwriter circuit back in 2003.
“Meor is excellent. For me, he is the best folk blues player in Malaysia in the same vein as Skip James and Robert Johnson.” Azmyl, 28, enthused, before adding: “I guess singer/ songwriters have always been around in bands for a long time but guys like him, Rafique Rashid and Joe Kidd definitely gave the local acoustic scene a much needed spark by providing it with a forum to grow and evolve.”
Recorded on a shoestring budget and co-produced by multi-talented Furniture guitarist Ronnie Khoo in his bedroom studio, Tenets has a warm, homegrown flavour to it that is hard to resist.
“Tenets is very uncompromising and genuine. Just a guy with his battered guitar – but it has a lot of soul to it. You hear a lot of early Dylan on it, and such rawness is very rare today,” said Hassan Peter Brown, a fellow folk-rock musician on Azmyl’s work.
With the music stripped down to its bare bones (skeletal arrangements of acoustic guitar, harmonica, e-bow, percussion and keyboards tastefully adorn the EP), what stands out from the mix is Azmyl’s emotive, nicotine stained voice, all world weary and weather-beaten, not unlike Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner’s austere baritone.
Essentially, for such intimate, heartfelt soul music, the mournful collection of songs on Tenets like Charity Lane, The Taps in My Shackled Home (are Leakin’) and Seratonin Blues come complete with the required amount of lyrical poignancy and the tunes pack a hefty punch.
Rather than just attempting to appropriate the classic outsider angst of the singer-songwriter, Azmyl dug deep inside his psyche and drew from personal experience in search of relevant subject matter for his songs in order to give them the necessary emotional weight, a move that seems to have paid off judging by the profusion of cleverly worded couplets on the EP.
“The songs on the EP are mainly about distance and loneliness,” explained Azmyl. “A lot of them were written in my mid-20s and inspired by the time I spent busking in Perth, Australia during my university days.
“These songs came out when I was going through some turbulent times and writing and performing them was like therapy for me in a way.
“Rather than tell stories, it was more stream of consciousness stuff that I was coming up with. The songs are very personal and I’ve been living with them for a long time.”
As for settling for a minimalist, acoustic format for his songs, Azmyl commented: “There’s something oblique and mystical about it. It’s not detailed yet there’s a lot going on in the music and the lyrics if you look hard enough.
“It conjures up a lot of images for me, of going home, loneliness, that sort of thing. People always tend to lump acoustic music in with tender ballads but for me, some of the best acoustic music ever made are the angry, protest songs. There are lots you can do with just a guitar.”
With a proper, full-length CD in the pipeline, chances are that the local scene will be hearing more of Azmyl Yunor in the near future. For the time being, the tortured soul of Tenets will do nicely.
Azmyl plays the Starbuck Music Series from June 17-19 in the Klang Valley. Browse www.klue.com.my/ starbucksseries.