If there’s a single archetype embodied by Arrington de Dionyso and his imprint of caustic bacchanalia, it’s the rock musician as modern-day shaman. Listening through Open The Crown, it swiftly becomes palpable that he and his troupe of hired eccentrics are jockeying for the position of 21st-century witchdoctors, of intermediaries between an emasculated populace and the creative energies that have been juiced out of it by a repressive materialism. Yet if we as a race of demoralized omnivores are skeptical of all would-be liberators, then so too is Dionyso, and despite the largely effusive tenor of his latest catharsis, its conniptions are sporadically infiltrated by an ominous pessimism.
At the album’s inception, however, there’s no intimation of anything less than optimism. “I Feel The Quickening” barrels out of the silence in a jostle of springy guitar and recoiling percussion, the iterating riff serving as the bedrock for Dionyso’s corybantic whoops and hollers, which gushingly proclaim his verve for penetrating into our submerged dynamisms and potentialities (“I feel the quickening through everything that lives”). No doubt his intention is to manumit these latencies, and cuts such as “I Create in The Face of Destruction” and the title track develop this theme of impending deliverance, where the entrenched dogma and discipline that conspires in our daily subjugation is razed by a splenetic uproar of plummeting drums, scabrous Fenders, and unfettered horns, not to mention Dionyso’s trademark throat-singing (now spread almost equally between Indonesian and English).
This attempted unhinging of a customarily bound audience is also effected by the composition and structure inherent to most of the LP. Nearly half of its songs (including the aforementioned “Open the Crown”) instantiate an almost hypnotically repetitive undercurrent, over which some focal point — be it a voice, a sax, or the pings of a guitar — waxes freely and erratically. This ploy is essentially a reproduction of the modus operandi attaching to the traditional shamanistic rite (local variations notwithstanding), in which the trance-inducing uniformity of a drumbeat or chant has the function of severing the individual’s consciousness from the need to oversee and regulate her basic movements, consequently enabling her to project the bulk of her attention and focus on the volutions of musical play traced by a volatile larynx or nickel-wound string. By recreating this phenomenon, Dionyso and Co. effectively disarm and dissolve the mechanisms of a forbidding self-consciousness, thereby permitting our “true” selves and desires to reemerge into the light through their tribal post-punk.
That is at least in theory, for on occasion the music of Open the Crown lacks the kind of wanton energy and raucous abandon that would consistently realize the band’s objectives of reintroducing us to our own élan. Despite the presence of irresistible sprees like “Halilintar (Versi Jatilan),” which hurtle through skittish high-register pluckings and trilled ravings, there are also detours like ‘Tak Terbatas (Versi Iblis),” which overwork a single metronomic and understated figure only fleetingly resuscitated by Dionyso’s throated incantations and the mischievous fanfare of the accompanying brass.
Yet there is a larger obstacle to the album’s rekindling of forgotten spirits and cosmic justice, one that stems from the shortcomings and falsity of (rock) music itself. For while our beloved medium admittedly provides an enervated individual with the occasion to burn some calories and accelerate his metabolism, it’s more often than not the case that this “rediscovered” vitality and zeal is simply diffused on site into the ether, with none of it ever being channeled into the primary flow of his life, into the practices and structures that actually determine his socioeconomic existence. Thus rock ‘n’ roll/shamanism becomes a kind of subterfuge through which any drive or impetus that might reform our institutions is wastefully discharged and squandered, a seductive trap that pre-emptively diverts and hobbles anyone who could’ve proven themselves antagonistic to the status quo.
And it seems that Dionyso is wise to this defeatist observation, hinting at so much with ‘The Akedah (The Moon is Full).” Here, over staccato serrations and hammered snares, he pays lip-service to the possibility that music is as sacrificial as it is constructive, with the lyric “Prepare the wood/ Prepare the fire/ A lamb will be provided” insinuating that we’re all being buried a little deeper into what disenfranchises us every time we press the play button on our portable brains or enter a concert venue. Neither is this the only doom-laden outpouring on the album: “There Will Be No Survivors” shares a similar fatalism, although one that doesn’t quite reach the same heights of thickening portent.
Even with these nods to the vanity of musical escape, Open the Crown is, on the whole, a rampant 44 minutes, and despite the intermittent slump, it predominantly moves with fervor and disinhibition, more so than its predecessor Suara Naga. And while we could easily discount it for the charmingly naïve shape of its liberationist ideals, it would be a tad churlish to do so, not so much because it’s delusional to expect inspiration and salvation from music and art, but because responsibility for the improvement of the quotidian resides at bottom with you, not some musicians from Washington. So put down your headphones, step outside, and go fight for something that might actually make a tangible difference to your subsistence, and enjoy Open the Crown not because it’s a mythical surrogate for political/economical/social empowerment, but because it’s as screwy as your incontinent grandpa performing a naked rain dance.