Pandu Hutomo – Madeleine Of Rogues – Album Review
If you have a memory as long as mine and it works in the same strange ways, hopefully you still recall the name Pandu Hutomo from earlier this year, back at the beginning of summer when I was reviewing his single “Insane” – and lovin’ it, incidentally. Pandu was quite obviously the creative type. That particular cut came from 2019…and ever since I’ve been wondering what that next experience might be like. As it turns out, the response was swift – a whole new album – in fact, one of two apparently…the first half of a double-record that The Batavian Rogue has got planned for the short term to follow.
And then, “after which I’ll be back traveling and not releasing stuff for a while.” I never know what to say to a comment like that to a dude with exceptional talent like this. Okay? I mean…if I had these skills, I know exactly what I’d be doing all day, every day…and I struggle to imagine what could potentially take priority over making music. If I was Pandu Hutomo…I’d only make music, and that’s it. But I’m me, he’s him…and here we are…once again forced to take what we can get like the greedy music sloths we are…or at the very least, I am. And sadly, I am one of those take what I can get like-people. I could yell…I could pound my fists in protest…I could type in all-caps about how much music should stay the focus for Pandu unless there’s a Nobel Peace Prize awaiting him in the future…but I’m just one guy. What would probably help a lot more is if you all kicked & screamed and told Hutomo to keep making music…but as I mentioned in a different review the other day, we’re all so heads-down & busy with what we’re doing, the scene itself is getting overlooked…if we’re not careful, we can lose artists like this.
I’ll take solace in the “for a while” part of Hutomo’s quote and do my best to hold him accountable to it.
The most impressive thing about the opening track “Milk Tea, Hot Babes” is that Pandu managed to keep it to just 1:11 in length – the main hook you’ll find is certainly strong enough to have built an entire song around, and it’s surprising to hear that he didn’t, given that most certainly would have. What it’s not short on, is sound – there is PLENTY for you to enjoy and get excited about, even on the inside of such a small space. “Milk Tea, Hot Babes” might be designed as an intro and passes by as quickly as the role is intended to, but believe me when I say, it’s not a typical intro in the sense that you wouldn’t really notice it – the riotous energy Hutomo slips into this first track is full of LIFE as it springs from your speakers, and still somehow finds time for a kickass breakdown in the middle & plenty of wildly colorful details scattered cleverly throughout the music that any audiophile like myself are guaranteed to dig on.
When Pandu WANTS to go the accessible route with his music – key word being WANTS – he’s got absolutely zero problems finding his way to the heart of hooks that’ll genuinely resonate with ya. Case in-point, “Goddammit, Mary” will give you a huge dose straight off the bat as it starts – I’d probably argue he’s even got more of an anti-chorus goin’ on here, as it’s everything else around it that stands out the most & shines the brightest. Like the bridge that Pandu puts into this cut will pretty much blow your mind (An actually accessible bridge that’s desirable to listen to? What!?!) and the way he crushes this track to the end instrumentally…it’s all truly something. “Goddammit, Mary” makes an instant impact on ya with the Pop/Rock laden sound it starts with…hint of Alt/Electro in there for character – and the way the verse drops in by dropping out the music surrounding Hutomo makes the dynamics of this structure really come alive in our speakers. The thing is…and where it’ll get tougher for a few of ya to follow along with this brilliant musical madman…is that there’s truly a ton involved here – and you’re never gonna get as long as you want with any one specific part. Increasing the repeat-value about 1000% through the methods he employs, Pandu again burns through a whole bunch of hooks you’d think would be entirely separate songs of their own with the strength they possess, and incorporates a bunch of stuff you’re gonna freakin’ love and be desperate to hear more of. Like for me, the opening of this track alone is always worth the price of admission, and I absolutely love hearing how this song snaps together right before it breaks down for that first verse…and equally how stunning it makes the music sound when it all comes back once again. He’s got a bit of a Lifehouse thing goin’ on after the first minute of this cut that works well enough for me, but I’ll admit, makes the flow a bit less smooth as a result of its inclusion; and yep – part of me wonders what this cut could have been if it was just built of the parts surrounding it. Hard to imagine it wouldn’t be an instant hit…and even now, still stands a massive chance of being one of the people’s favorites with the strength of its main hooks…but there is an aspect of the design in “Goddammit, Mary” that also makes you wonder if he’s doing too much, too quickly. Would changing that aspect change who Pandu Hutomo is and how he makes music? I can’t verifiably say for a fact that it wouldn’t…part of the magic here is really in the short bursts we get to experience, even if we’re forced to move on faster than we’d like to…that’s way better than overdoing it overall, you feel me? I’d rather press repeat myself than feel like someone pushed it for me with a song that’s stretched out past its limits trying to stuff its hooks into us – “Goddammit, Mary” is all the proof you need to know that Pandu writes music that’s gonna bring you back time after time for one reason or another, if only just to catch that one snippet of whatever it is you love most before it disappears again.
I was never fully sure about how I felt about “Felicia” and it’s Third Eye Blind-like vibes. Ultimately, I don’t see or hear how I couldn’t side with it at the end of the day, it’s still a really solid cut with a bunch of great ideas and lively instrumentation. Lively vocals too for that matter, I just wasn’t entire convinced that they were always the right fit here with how the layers interacted. Sometimes Pandu’s got golden tone goin’ on that’s right where it should be, at other points it’s just slightly wide of the full potential of its sparkle & shine as a result of the combination…but we’re talking really minimal degrees. What you trade for those tiny fractions of the song where you might question the vocal tone a little bit, are multiple highlights for the sweetness & energy you get as well…and it’s like…I mean…it’s just a trade I’m more than willing to make. What I love about “Felicia” is that it’s a highly expressive, sincere, and honest performance that sounds like Pandu singin’ it out loud & proud, just happy to be there & “livin’ it up” – there’s a lot about this cut that creates a significant burst of fun…there are uplifting, easygoing vibes flowing throughout this song that lead it to a natural accessibility & appealing, all-inclusive atmosphere that’s sure to have a whole bunch of people reaching to turn this one UP, and I can’t say I blame them if they do. Could it potentially have been a bit more refined or smoother? Perhaps. And perhaps by doing so we’d have taken the organic charm that comes along with the way Hutomo has performed this right out – and that ain’t a risk I’d say is worth taking when stacked up against the stellar results you hear in his energy here. Solid appearance by Young ill on the mic in the second-half of this track as well…quality-wise, it works – ideas-wise, this whole song completely hits it right outta the park at all times really – it’s just a matter of whether or not the unique twists in the vocals and the song itself go on to keep the people fully onboard – and that might be tougher to predict. In my heart of hearts, I can’t imagine a world where someone wouldn’t give this track their time of day…there’s a ton here to love, and Pandu makes lovin’ it real easy.
Would I trade a thousand copies of “Felicia” for one “Secret Stops?” Personally, I probably would – but I might be the exception in that regard, not the rule. We are pretty much talking about apples and oranges when it comes to the sound & approach – but I’d probably make an argument that there’s not a moment in “Secret Stops” that anyone would dare question, which gives it the edge for me. The combination between Pandu and guest-star Ratnayu Kirana on the mic is absolutely stellar – they have their best moments when they’re together, but individually stand out strong as well. No problem for these two to hold their own and make a genuine impression on ya – “Secret Stops” is just my kind of jam, what can I say? I appreciate the brightness of a vibe like “Felicia” for sure, don’t get it twisted, don’t get me wrong – I’m just sayin’ that on a personal level, a deeper cut like “Secret Stops” are always going to have a better chance of resonating with me when it comes to what I listen to. From the soulfully expressive vocals & stylistic sound of Kirana, to the smart design of the melody & music surrounding her…I mean, this is quality stuff – and when you hear Pandu enter this cut around the 1:25 mark, it’s without question one of the moments where you really hear just how much star quality he really has. STILL more awesomeness to follow, the dude will LIGHT IT UP with a stellar guitar solo as he heads towards the 2:30 mark, and give ya a thirty-second dose of the instrumentation that is always found in abundance in Hutomo’s material, providing a remarkable balance in the way he crafts songs. Nothing not to love here though folks…I think he’s rockin’ with highly unique sound right from the start in the music, that it has the advantage of Ratnayu starting out the song with her beautiful voice providing another different opening to yet another sensory experience, and that when Pandu makes his first major appearance on “Secret Stops,” you can’t help but feel the whole song spring to the next-level.
An anthem for the ever-awake, “Esplanade 2AM (No Sleep)” pretty much can’t lose. Take it firsthand from a guy like myself, who’s been putting this very song on in the middle of the wee-hours of night and loving life every time I did throughout this past week in checking out this new Hutomo record. And YES – this is one of those times where I’d recommend just hitting that “repeat-1” option on your playlist and spending a moment or two longer getting lost in the hypnotic bliss you’ll find in action here. I like that it’s got a stunning mix of hazy, dreamlike vibes, and radiantly vibrant, present dynamics that’ll prove Pandu’s in full control of every moment, manipulating us through mesmerizing sound like the musical maestro he really is. While a more laidback & easygoing, mellow & chill vibe will often fool our ears into thinking that what we hear would somehow be theoretically easier to make, I assure you that it’s not – and if you’re listening to the finer details on “Esplanade 2AM (No Sleep) you’ll know exactly what I mean. This is a perfect example of no wasted space – everything you hear makes an impact and leaves an impression on us – a beautiful one at that – and even though it’s less than two full minutes in length, Pandu’s maximized its potential with stunning attention to detail and ensuring this song still has a valid structure that works. Essentially, he’s not just repeating a main hook over & over – there’s an aspect of that, but it’s not the dominant trait – the versatility actually is, and it’s gorgeously well assembled. For a tiny lil’ tune, “Esplanade 2AM (No Sleep)” is a real spellbinding gem that’s as sweet as it is entertaining.
It really does strike me as odd that the comparison to Pandu’s vocals seems to keep reminding me off the gruff-but-gorgeous tone of that dude singing for Lifehouse, given that the kind of music each of the two make are wildly different at the fundamental core. Hutomo will occasionally drift towards a more straightforward degree of accessibility on a track like “Children Of The Moon” – but really when it comes right down to it, I’d be much more inclined to put this artist on the creative-side of music-making as opposed to the easy-to-digest vibes of a band like Lifehouse. Still, not a bad comparison at all in my mind – not just for the accuracy, but because I like the sound as well. “Children Of The Moon” would fall into the deeper-cut part of Hutomo’s catalog, and it’s likely gonna have to battle a bit harder to get its full share of the attention in comparison to how much the rest of these cuts tend to leap out at ya. I really like the appearance of Huong Su to strengthen the song & give it a bit more variation in the vocals, that works great – but really, the main attribute of “Children Of The Moon” is its relentlessly consistent quality. It might not be the song that stands out at first, but it’s one you’ll know you can always rely on.
Listen to a track like “Great Banker Chaebin” if you want a great example of what Pandu Hutomo is capable of, and can do basically like no one else does out there – you cannot – repeat, cannot – teach creativity like this, ya just can’t. What makes “Great Banker Chaebin” pretty much all-out amazing, is not only the fusion of a bunch of flashy styles of sound that range from the heart of the 80s to the modern day, but the fact that a structure as complex & strange as this has NO BUSINESS being as accessible as it truly is. As in, “Great Banker Chaebin” pretty much has the backbone of a Progressive or Experimental structure, yet when it comes to its sound, it’s a song capable of bringing in the Top-40 crowd just as much as it would draw in those that love more involved combinations of art and music. Basically, Pandu’s achieving the impossible with this track, that’s what I’m saying. Not only is it a highly ambitious cut in terms of its composition – but the amount of catchy sound you’ll hear is straight-up staggering. Pandu – you’d be crazy to not get this out there to entice people in with full video support & all that…everything about “Great Banker Chaebin” is single-worthy by every conceivable definition, despite how much Hutomo defies typical convention. Some songs we hear in this lifetime, we know can’t & won’t be denied by anyone – and this is one of those – it might be more involved than the vast majority of single-worthy cuts you’ll find out there in this world, but this is single-worthy, no doubt about it. If you can listen to “Great Banker Chaebin” and somehow resist it, you’re built stronger than I am. I’m just not sure how that would benefit you in the long run – this song is amazing y’all – turn it UP!
Ideas-wise, you’re never gonna find the quality drops on this record, that’s the facts. Does he get the most out of “Madeleine?” Honestly, that part…I’m not entirely sure about that. Part of me suspects there’s still a little more that’s been left on the table here, and opportunities for this track to still find more strength than it has now. As the music started, I was immediately onboard – “Madeline” comes out gunning with enticing sound and a more serious vibe…and ultimately, there wasn’t a point in the song that I felt I’d change anything in that regard. Vocally…I’m not sure if it was the dialed-back mix sunken into the sound, the falsetto of the lead, or just less time & experience with this particular cut, but it felt like there was still more beef that Pandu could potentially bring to this one. Hard to argue against the way it is now, don’t get me wrong – like I said, I think the blueprint and the ingredients are completely here & exist…I guess I just felt like “Madeleine” had the opportunity to become a bit more lively than it is – which is also hard to argue when you hear how ramped up & energetic the finale of this song ends up too. So maybe uneven is the word I’m looking for? I’m laughing on this side of the screen because I’m simply trying to figure out how OTHER people would hear this song – as far as my own ears are concerned, I really don’t have that many issues here at all, and think there are several points where Pandu is nailing it with such precision, passion, and stellar highlights in the vocals that any slight quirks in the melody or tone, are more than fine with me. There’s more of an effort for sensory vibes on this cut than you find in some of the rest, and a different approach to where the vocals sit in the mix – hopefully it doesn’t sound like I’m complaining too much here, because “Madeline” is a really well written tune when it comes right down to it. It’s also got a kind of Post-Punk vibe to it that I dig too.
“Chiang Mai Night Bazaar” – I’m not opposed to its inclusion. I don’t know that I’m gonna sit here and argue it’s essential to this lineup either, but yeah, sure, I’m cool with what I hear. At just over a minute in length, it kinda does what it does, it presents a welcoming & dreamy sound…playful, endearing, and really, really short. I’m not sure where I would have gone next with it, and Pandu’s probably made the right call here by just letting “Chiang Mai Night Bazaar” be what it is without forcing the moment any further. It’s an interlude of sorts…shorter than the opening song even was…but it’s still an appealing track in its own way…a serene moment of delicate reprieve, before we dive into the album’s final song.
When push comes to shove, I’d probably tell ya that “Chiang Mai Night Bazaar” might actually be a bit more suited to this particular lineup of songs than “My Love Has Grey Hair” does at the end. It’s a solid cut – don’t get it twisted – but it is just a bit more amped-up and Rock-laden than the majority of the rest of this record by far, save for pieces that occurred towards its very beginning for the most part. So in a way, it brings back the energy of the beginning back around full circle to a degree – we could argue that…or we could accept that the middle of this record presents a very different vibe from the way it’s bookended by “Milk Tea, Hot Babes” and “My Love Has Grey Hair” at the end – six or one half-dozen of the other, as they say. I like that Pandu sounds a bit closer to the dude from the Gin Blossoms here than he does the guy from Lifehouse, but the song itself sounds closer to Lifehouse than it does the Gin Blossoms. It’s Pandu in Rock’N’Roll mode, scrambling to get in his guitar licks before he gets too old – and hey, right on y’all – you should hopefully have similar goals, right? Whatever it is you do – get out there and kick some ass, and commit to your wildest ideas, just like Pandu does – it’s gotta make life a whole lot more exciting and fun to live, I promise ya that. “My Love Has Grey Hair” gives Madeleine Of Rogues a verifiable highlight ending both through the difference in its overall vibe and Rock-infused energy, and through the performance put in by Pandu as well, which features him at his most intense. When Hutomo hits the peak of his vocals at around the 2:50 mark, it’s a brilliant way to finish this record off in sparkling style, supplying one of the many reasons why we’ll all be highly anticipating that second-half of this set. He sounds focused, but he still sounds like he’s having a damn good time, even despite the fact that time is tickin’ along and passing him by as quickly as it is the rest of us…”My Love Has Grey Hair” proves he’s got tons of time to still kick a whole lotta musical ass out there if he chooses to do so.
Or, of course, he could travel some more instead like he’s planned to…at the tail end of a worldwide pandemic…
Earth calling Pandu Hutomo – you belong making music my brother; it’s safe in the studio – just sayin.’
Find out more about Pandu Hutomo at his official page at Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/BatavianRogue
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