The beginnings of Young Magic’s new album, Still Life, coincided with singer Melati Malay revisiting her own, in her birthplace of Indonesia. Having lost her father the previous year, she returned to the island of Java to reconnect with her family, dig up stories, and begin work on a new collection of music.
“My father had been somewhat of a mystery to me,” Melati says. “How did a boy from the Midwest end up in the jungles of Borneo during the 60s, trading his watch and a carton of cigarettes for the gravestones of the indigenous headhunters?”
The search led Melati deep into her family history. She rented a small shack by the water for a month, and with just a backpack and microphone, began recording – unraveling a past of superstition, black magic, and ties to the Javanese royal family.
“I’ve always felt torn, like some kind of hybrid existing between two worlds,” Melati says. “Born to a Catholic father and a Muslim mother, growing up bilingual, attending an international school in Jakarta where all my friends were from different countries…in a city of 30 million people where the clash between poverty and affluence is extreme.”
Still Life is a deeply personal and idiosyncratic record, somewhere close to the enchanted electronic pop realms occupied by Björk and Broadcast, yet unique to Young Magic. Found sounds and textures feature prominently across Still Life, including the Javanese gamelan, blossoming into ecstatic bursts during the climax of “Lucien.” Melati grounds the textured sonic world with arrows direct to the heart, like the arresting “How Wonderful” where the singer overflows with regret for “all those things I never said.” This is as deeply personal as the group has ever been.
“In a way, Still Life became a kind of antithesis to a world where people tell you who to pray to, what to buy into, and who your enemies should be. It’s my reaction. Still Life is my way to celebrate music from all corners…my home without borders.”
Upon returning to New York, her home of 10 years, Melati put together a group of musicians and began reimagining these new musical works inspired by her personal metamorphosis. She enlisted NYC-based cellist and composer Kelsey Lu McJunkins, Detroit producer Erin Rioux, Bolivian percussionist Daniel Alejandro Siles Mendoza, and Australian producer/songwriter Isaac Emmanuel, her longtime collaborator.
Young Magic met in New York City in 2010 and began collaborating above a speakeasy in Brooklyn. Alongside original member Michael Italia, the trio signed to Carpark Records (Toro Y Moi, Beach House, Dan Deacon) on the strength of one single (Sparkly/You With Air) and a wave of positive press. Touring in Europe and North America began after a series of limited edition 7" releases in 2011. The following year brought new visibility, acclaim, and artistic achievement with the release of the group’s full-length album debut, Melt, which was followed by sophmore album Breathing Statues.
Still Life inhabits a gorgeous, kaleidoscopic world, as delicate and intricate, as it is expansive and immersive. It walks the line between organic and mechanic, where dusty field recordings weave between warm Moogs and Prophets, where jazz breaks bump next to broken drum machines. It’s meticulously crafted outsider pop, made by obsessives, for obsessives.