Arrington de Dionyso’s Malaikat dan Singa
Open the Crown
K Records, 2013
Creating in the Broken System
From the inception of Old Time Relijun in the mid ‘90s, Arrington de Dionyso has consistently revealed himself as a restless searcher, a musical chameleon on a singular higher quest. Utilizing elements from various forms of music and spiritual disciplines from every corner of the world, Arrington has relentlessly explored the shamanic spiritual and sexual energies of archaic cultures. On Open the Crown, the third LP credited to Arrington de Dionyso’s Malaikat dan Singa, Arrington combines several disparate stylistic elements from various points in his career, resulting in an album that at times resembles a compilation more than a studio album. Underneath the different representations of form, however, is a connectivity expressed through cohesive lyrical threads and apocalyptic imagery that binds the songs together into a coherent whole.
While early Old Time Relijun received - not necessarily applicable - comparisons to Captain Beefheart, due largely to Arrington’s vocal tics and an ingenue’s understanding of the bass clarinet, Arrington consistently added new tricks to the band’s bag. The La Sirena de Pecera EP, which recast several Old Time Relijun songs in Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian, pointed toward Arrington’s fascination with language and culture. The tinny, pawn shop guitars and four-on-the-floor drumming retained the twisted garage rock stomp of their initial efforts, but each subsequent album added layers to this formula.
Like any decent band, Old Time Relijun also had a constant underlying theme to tether their sonic experimentation to. Arrington’s music and visual art has always suggested a fascination with ritual and spiritual disciplines of cultures lost, and by the Catharsis in Crisis album, the exploration of the dichotomy between the past and present, the spirit and the flesh, was clearly laid out. Using apocalyptic imagery as an allegory for this dissonance in modern society, the trilogy of Lost Light, 2012, and Catharsis in Crisis portrays Arrington as a modern shaman. Though this word, particularly in reference to musicians, has long been sullied by bloated rock stars like Jim Morrison, these final Old Time Relijun albums reclaim the ancient ideals of transformation through music.
To this end, Arrington continued to research extended forms, studying circular breathing and Tuvan throat singing. This amalgam of techniques could have easily construed an undisciplined trainwreck, but Arrington seamlessly integrated everything from free jazz idioms to drones to “world” music to create a singular style.
After disbanding Old Time Relijun, Arrington reappeared a few years later with a new group, dubbed Malaikat dan Singa. Predicated on the interpretation of William Blake poems in an Indonesian tongue, the first Malaikat album manages to avoid the pretensions possible in such a project, instead churning out lurching rhythms that are somehow eminently danceable, even as they remain impenetrable. The second Malaikat dan Singa LP, Suara Naga, expounds on this formula.
On Open the Crown, the first thing one notices is a return to English lyrics. The persistent theme remains one of transformation in the face of destruction, of phoenixing. “There Will Be No Survivors” begins with the warning, “This airplane has no pilots/There will be no survivors/Apocalypse, rain down fire”, then continues on to find the value in tearing down and rebuilding.
“I Create in the Broken System” takes the Bo Diddley beat and turns it into a riotous schoolyard chant of change from within. Organ accents peek through, playing major key triads, which at first seem incongruent with the ominous feel of the insistent pulse, but become the glue between Arrington’s voice and the locked-down rhythm section. As Arrington intones, “I create in the broken system/I create in the broken down system/I create in the face of destruction/I create in the face of oppression”, it becomes clear that Open the Crown is capturing a modern undercurrent in a large segment of society, the fear of imminent collapse and the pushback against it. Just when it feels like things are getting too heavy, however, Arrington reveals the battleplan: “Fix the system with the broken down rhythm”.
At its core, that is what this album is about - rhythm, in its varied presentations, is paramount. Several songs capture the off-kilter feel of the previous Malaikat dan Singa records. Others play successfully off of simple bass and drum patterns, executed both precisely and with commanding feel. The two longer pieces, “Tak Terbatas (versi iblis)”, which is a more muscular reimagining of an earlier Malaikat tune, and “Halilintar (versi Jatilan)”, approach an ecstatic quality through disciplined repetition. The title track plays like a claustrophobic version of mid-period Old Time Relijun, all cacophony and pounding toms. Perhaps the most jarring - and polarizing - cut is the final song, ‘I Manipulate the Form’d and the Formless”, which approximates a new age rap track. This may be the least successful of the myriad forms explored on Open the Crown, but its ambition and out-and-out oddness still makes for a compelling listen.
Accompanying the diversity of styles is a heightened attention to production. Where previous Arrington releases tended to border on audio verite, each track on Open the Crown receives production touches relevant to the music. “There Will Be No Survivors” exhibits a dub vibe, and reverb is used to great effect on the vocals of “I Feel the Quickening”. The drums in particular receive individualized attention from track to track, syncing the sound with the feel. The addition of keyboards and the occasional horn or guitar overdub add to the proceedings without overwhelming the sonic spectrum.
This is an ambitious album that succeeds more often than it fails, and possesses that rare quality wherein failed experimentation still works in the larger context. Taken as a whole, Open the Crown is a grand statement that unifies Arrington de Dionyso’s various pathways to the ecstatic in music, and recasts experimental and global musical forms within the framework of western song.