When Alan Bishop becomes obsessed with something, he often goes to great lengths (and travels great distances) to turn that obsession into an essential artifact. Such is the case with his latest group’s Sub Pop debut, Koes Barat, a sincere, gripping tribute to a band of Indonesian brothers—the Koeswoyos—whose instantly catchy garage-rock songs and ridiculously charming ballads caused a sensation in their homeland, Singapore, and Malaysia. They also made their government very uneasy: Basing your look on Western musicians and covering Beatles songs were considered subversive activities in mid-’60s Indonesia.
Back in 2010, Sun City Girls legend Bishop asserted his fandom of Koes Bersaudara (aka Koes Plus) with two archival releases of their music on his and Hisham Mayet’s Sublime Frequencies label. But that noble gesture wasn’t enough to sate Bishop’s appreciation of this music that flourished from the mid ’60s to 1970. He also felt an overwhelming urge to interpret what he felt to be the best Koes tunes. To that end, he enlisted some of his favorite musicians in the Spoils—guitarist Milky Burgess, drummer Don McGreevy, and bassist Jim Davis—all of whom also play or played with Seattle’s Master Musicians Of Bukkake, and producer Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Marisa Nadler) to work the boards. Koes Barat was cut in less than a week of sessions, and the results hit your ears with a revelatory smack. It is the most immediate, fun collection that the prolific Bishop has ever led.
“I just wanted to do it without thinking of it as an album,” Bishop says. I brought rough mixes of the songs to Jakarta and played them on various radio stations and then I played them for Koes Plus. All my Indonesian friends were very supportive (laughing at/charmed by my ‘creative’ pronunciation of the Bahasa lyrics), even the Koeswoyos were amazed how vintage the production sounded.” While Bishop admires and is inspired by the Koeswoyo brothers’ courage to make this kind of “forbidden” music while in the grip of an oppressive government, he ultimately returns to the band’s “amazing songs, their longevity in continuing to challenge themselves to continue producing/recording album after album over decades.”
What does Bishop think 21st-century listeners can gain from this music? “I think this music stands the test of time. Their Indonesian fan base turns over from generation to generation, always increasing in number. They are perhaps the most popular and recognizable Indonesian music group of all time. Whatever can be learned or gained from this music is not my concern. People either get it or they don’t. I love them to death and if this album can turn more people on to the Koes Bersaudara/Koes Plus legacy, even better.”
This album is a Record Store Day 2015 exclusive, limited to 3,800 worldwide.