Text Jarrod Sio Jyh Lih
Cogent Math Rock
When members of Akta Angkasa and Custom Daisy got together to record a four-minute video, the skies parted and a beast of hitherto unknown origin climbed out of its heathen lair, reared its sulphur-dusted head, and Malaysia as we know it is transubstantiated. Okay, it didn’t quite happen that way. But, judging from Dirgahayu’s loud, nuanced, and sonically trenchant album, it could well have.
Dirgahayu’s genius lies in the way they sonic-pile each song with abandon, architecting one layer of complexity at a time; and right at the event horizon of pretension, pulls the reins back with punk restraint and with much gnashing of teeth. Take the titular track ‘Commemorate!’ for instance. The double tapping segues into a conflagration of hammer-ons and pull-offs before launching into a lacerating Townshend-like guitar riff. Following this is a rapid-fire snare attack by Seikan Sawaki, whose drumming – shifting and stopping in medias res with mischievous intent – is capacious enough in ambition to hold all these ideas in check. More importantly, Sawaki’s drumming creates this swirl of space for Wan Azry, Afifi Rahim, and Zulhezan to play off each other – reverbed guitars, synth jabs, and galloping bass in tow. All these make for a sense of urgency that ratchets the track up to a foaming zenith, and yet, to their everlasting credit and testimony to their individual virtuosity, the cup never quite runneth over.
Some of the songs smoulder – with the effects-driven interludes sounding dilatory – yet still a world away from devolving into a sluggish morass. This model of contrapuntal moodiness is preserved by an undercurrent of echo-pedalling and ambient synth-ing within the soundscape. Even during relatively introspective moments, the songs crash into one another like waves balling into fists, pummelling the shore in increasingly ominous strength. ‘Kyu/Ju Roku’ has the unenviable position of opening the album and true to form, sets about establishing the tone of Commemorate!. The track alludes to the time signature of the track, which means ‘9/16’ in Japanese. Given drummer Seikan Sawaki’s half-Japanese stock, this tribute to his heritage is a sweet gesture. That aside, Tycho-like guitar noodling writhes in luminescence against a background of antediluvian clangour, organic pandemonium, and a delightfully brief if stuttering riff that recalls, among others, Mars Volta’s discursive moments.
‘Bahawasa-nya’ (the song performed in the video referenced earlier) neatly encapsulates the disciplined vigour and leviathan power that belie the paucity of its membership. Utilitarian and divested of sonic fat, the song rushes out of the gates foaming – inveighing against an illusory, bloated nemesis. The central psychological insight here can be seen in their affinity for faux-‘50s Malay lingo (exemplified by their name and song titles). This suggestion of a bygone, tamer age not only excites interest, but stands in stark juxtaposition against the power exerted by tracks such as opener ‘Kyu/Ju Roku’, title track ‘Commemorate!’, the aforementioned ‘Bahawasa-nya’, and ‘Track 6’. Dirgahayu’s “anarchism” is more than a mere subversion of an idealised time of innocence though. Rather, it explores the notion that all of the methodologies used in the science of their craft are limited in scope. And make no mistake, the songs on the album are monuments to Dirgahayu’s exacting, almost scientific attention to detail. What can two guitars, a synth, a bass guitar, and drums do? The answer is; a whole lot.
‘Track 6’ bookends the album, and is the standout track. This song further showcases their virtuosity-to-a-fault worldview, with an actual guitar solo added to the mix. Muted strings, duelling guitars, and sustains linger in mid-air, awaiting collection as the drums drive the whole shebang off the proverbial cliff in a distorted, quick-picking denouement – not for them the logy strains of prog. In spite of this, the melodic ideas are never lost in the fray.
Dirgahayu’s quiet-before-the-storm junctures expose them as probable votary of that totem band for reflective sonicry; Toe. The signposts are there: The winking acoustic guitar lines, the hushed soundscape, and the expansive silvery notes. It is here that the mood turns somewhat sans souci, as if the lads were taking a break from all the machismo to mull over Monet’s water lilies.
Within the span of six songs, the lads of Dirgahayu have made a convincing report of the instrument-driven, no-vocals template and dismantled its initial fustian assumptions. Commemorate! (the album) is not only a tour de force, it is a bedlam, and what a gorgeous one, at that. Suffice it to say, if there were no math rock scene in Malaysia, Commemorate! has certainly made a cogent argument for one.