Agency – Resist

Album Rating: 9.0 – History repeats itself

Photo: Courtesy of Independent Music Promotions

Resist is the follow up record of Agency’s critically acclaimed debut album, Identity. Agency, who keeps a low profile online, hit the spotlight by winning two Indaba Music Contests. Resist was released back in August 24th and is largely inspired by the current political climate of the US.

“Well, I don’t now what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop” are the opening lines of Agency’s first track “What’s Going On (Right now)?” Taking off with a recording of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, Agency sets the tone of his record as a political and social stance as well as reminder of human rights. It is powerful opening that reminds the listeners how inequality issues considered as “history” are as vivid as they were in today’s society.

“How could anyone be human / If he takes another man’s soul?” questions Agency in “Till & Marrow” where he reflects on the morality and inhuman actions. Switching from smooth croons to introspective monologue, Agency draws his listeners from the ambient flow of his soundscape into his mind. The following track, “Rumours,” starts off with ominous piano taps where Agency builds up the tension and atmosphere with an intricate flair. “The devil used to be in the details,” he chants. The same kind of gloominess is found in cover of Jimi Hendrix’ “Machine Gun,” where Agency mostly uses strings to create the dark and evocative ambience. It exposes the self-destructiveness of weapons and wars where “evil men” manipulate people into killing each other as well as themselves.

The highlight of the record is “Backwards” where Agency goes back to referring the past, but this time he stresses the sadness and frustration of seeing society going towards the opposite direction of progress. Built on fizzling synths and swishing rhythm, “Backwards” is a delicate piece where Agency voices out the dilemma that haunt his generations. “Instead we’re moving backwards” he sings.

With the recent sexual harassment allegations finally coming into light, gender inequality issue has become one of the most discussed topics. Oddly enough, artists either fall into one extreme end of the spectrum: either they speak out openly or remain mute. Agency falls in the former. In “Desire,” he jettisons into the controversial topic with a recording of Gloria Steinem’s speech. “Sex and race because they are easy and visible differences have been the primary ways of organizing human beings into superior and inferior groups and into the cheap labor on which this system still depends.” Agency then slips into a soft, bluesy anthem where the syncopated rhythm carries its listeners from religious to political perceptions of genders.

The most folksy/pop moment of the album is the cover of Sinead O’Connor’s “Black Boys on Mopeds” where Agency takes out his guitar strings and starts untangling the complexities that have surrounded (and still remains) racism in America. Throughout the record, Agency hybridizes various genres in unexpected ways. In “March On Babylon,” he fuses hip-hop and jazz elements to rhythmically resemble the marching staccato vibe. And just as you find yourself with your adrenalines, he abruptly tunes it down with the following track “Senses of Insecurity.” This transition is a bit disorienting at first, but the flowing piano taps and Agency’s crispy croons immediately draws you into the fluidity of it.

In “Ice Cold,” Agency takes you to the disintegration and tyranny of his country with a kooky, slow-burning melody. This track can be a hit or miss to the listener – it feels offbeat in some instances, but the mismatch between the tune and lyrics is what makes it an intriguing piece. Similar to “Senses of Insecurity,” the track “Red To The Moon” has an irresistible fluidity to it where Agency dissects the idea of hero.

The last three songs of the albums are bonus materials where Agency seems to take a backseat and experiment with different elements to see his listeners’ reactions. The track with the grooviest beginning is “Let The Woman Roar (Rumours, Part 2)” where it starts off with female voices that provide an unexpected break from a male artist’s record. Constructed with tinkling and dripping synths, it displays an ambitious eccentricity in its cadence. Agency further stretches your mind in “Lord! You Know!” where he throws in a banjo and megaphoned voice that transports you into the past. The exiting song, “Resist March (Outro),” Agency comes back with a single message: “March.” With stuttering percussions and tinging sounds, it is a simple and exquisite wrap-up where Agency delivers his message for the last time.

Resist does not only showcase Agency’s artful mastery in incorporating speeches into his genre-hybridized sound, but also his dexterity in tapping into complex issues by translating emotions and thoughts through melody. What he cannot fully address, he lets the historical speeches do it for him. What he doesn’t have space to lyrically describe, he lets his beats set the mood and deliver the message intuitively. Resist is a rich and purposeful record of a generation that has been exhausted by outdated institutions and strives for change.

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