In the Dungeons and Dragons game of life, we all know Arrington de Dionyso, the bearded lion frontman of Old Time Relijun. We’ve been incanted by his swamptastic booty-beats before, but Arrington as angelic philosopher-alchemist is an understated secret weapon. No party may expect to surmount dragons on the brute force of barbarians and broadswords alone. I See Beyond the Black Sun, as well as his contributions to Melted Mailbox (The True Folk Sound of Arrington de Dionyso) are both good introductions to this side of his work. Within this, one might see Arrington the alchemist, spinning the very golden hair of his lion’s beard from straw, as a shaman might don a mask to transform from contemplative village elder into exorcist or oracle.
On Malaikat dan Singa (“Angels and Lions” in Indonesian), Mr. de Dionyso effectively presents both his lion and angel within as equals. Fusing together the kraut-rocking, beastly beats he is known for with his apothecary of extended techniques (Tuvan throat singing, anyone?) creates an assault of psychedelic rock that is unparalleled in brains, brawn, and sentience. Arrington’s strengths as a dynamic performer have never been captured so well on record as they are here. His voice is commanding and uninhibited. He puts his whole body behind his roarings, as would a lion, but retains a sensitive command to resonance and vibration. The entire release is sung in Indonesian, which alone takes brains and brawn. That being said, the music is not ‘world music’ but rather other-world music. It is evocative of indigenous music, but it is as if he aims to recreate that feeling of discovery rather than mastering the discovered.
One of the few benchmarks in the last decade’s canonical pop culture that makes me proud to be a baby-boomer’s baby is in the way that exoticism has become a bit less of a dirty word. If you look at singles like Kelis’ pan-tribal “Milkshake,” M.I.A.’s reggaeton-tinged Tamil fight song “Galang,” or even to a degree Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” the aughts showed a penchant for global sounds without falling into the trappings of eclecticism (jam band, new age), nor unwittingly lampooned authenticity (Buena Vista Social Club, flavor-of-the-month electronica). The key to this was a healthy deconstructionist’s sense of information-aged global citizenship, which for my two cents was a tacit reaction to Bush-era foreign policy in addition to the newly-forged digital diaspora. Contemporary country music having so ‘touchingly’ co-opted the protest song post-9/11 in the form of opportunist elegies (thanks Toby Keith and Alan Jackson) and for fear of imitating our parents, what else could the left-of-center youth rally behind than a tip of the hat to all things across the moat from our sparkling ivory towers?
To draw the decade of cultural alienation and detachment to a close, Arrington de Dionyso throws his hat into the ring of ‘deconstructionist globo-pop’ and puts the others to shame with his ‘single’ “Mani Malaikat.” (I say single, because in addition to being a standout, there is a nifty video for the track on YouTube.) It opens with an explosive and animated rolling of the “Rs,” and if you find this dismissively laughable, then I would imagine you also giggle at boobies in National Geographic. It is the sound of our cultural divides ripping asunder like a zipper. Here the Indonesian language shines strongest as an instrument in Arrington’s hands. The throaty delivery against the stark accompaniment begs a comparison to Michael McClure’s “Ghost Tantras,” as included in Jerome Rothenberg’s definitive Ethnopoetics compendium Technicians of the Sacred. Further driving the Ethnopoetics connection home, the lyrics were culled from his own translations of The Zohar, as well as prophetic writings of that original anarcho-shaman and renaissance man, Mr. William “you-probably-know-me-as-a-poet” Blake. Take that Western scientific materialism!
I have noted in the past that K releases recorded at Dub Narcotic tend to sound surprisingly punk-rock flat. Given the ethos and the arsenal of funky, old equipment, I am often surprised that they don’t sound more like McCartney’s McCartney: warm, in your face, and snappy. Karl Blau behind the controls at Dub Narcotic is a very welcome turn of course, and his self-proclaimed afro-envy can only have aided in his sympathetic contributions to this very much alive-sounding record. Much of the otherworldly feel owes itself to production techniques, from swirling echoplex saturations to subtly dub-like, distant guitars.
Finally, for posterity, I took a look at Phil Freeman’s review of Malaikat dan Singa for The Wire. My heart sank straight into my pants. I got the same feeling from watching Glenn Beck attribute all of contemporary American ails to Saul Alinsky, or the Washington Post play into the hysteria of Obama’s ‘failed presidency.’ Freeman, like a true pop fundamentalist, essentially describes this record as self-indulgent to a fault. I normally wouldn’t take offense, being that we must all be guilty of self-indulgence to some degree in order to follow our muses down unknown corridors. However, Arrington de Dionyso presents both the contemplative and the kinetic sides of his work here in earnest, which is not to say this music is merely a compromise between the eccentric and the accessible. Mr. de Dionyso proves here that one needn’t suspend the intellect in order to bang the drum nor pass the peace pipe of primitivism. If only donkeys and elephants worked together as well as angels and lions.