Crass humour is often relegated to the margins for its lack of tact in delivery, subject matter, and distasteful language. But if it’s ingrained in the personality of a band such as Shh…Diam!, it’s quite the highlight as the execution is done well on Attack of the Kongketron (even the title alone…) – an album of songs collected over a few years. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise, anyone acquainted with the quartet would know that these queer feminists are an intelligent and articulate bunch – just read their interviews! – in spite of their satirical veneer. There’s a thick, solid layer of silliness and spunk, but as a band who’s constantly dogged by questions about being a “three-women-one-pubescent-boy band” (in their own words, fans would know why) and questions about their gender identity and sexuality, they’ve cleverly utilised satire to express their frustrations in a way that’s true to them. And refreshingly, just like those understandably tired questions, the album doesn’t wholly focus on that, instead it’s more on them as musicians.
The opening song ‘Sivaji Shot a Horse in the Face’ is an example of their far-out sensibilities, it’s as if a surreal dream where they’ve managed to document everything in its lucid entirety. It begins with a battle cry of sorts with bumbling drums and power riffs to carry the quirky story on its way, giving way to an interlude of spoken word storytelling — a recurring motif with most of their songs — which in this case is an innocently sinister nursery rhyme. After an introduction of their humour, the band hints at listeners about living under the scrutiny of society as a queer person with ‘Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That’. In a demonstration of their punk cred, they are dismissive of all the nonsense that anyone from the LGBT community would be familiar with; initially with the expected humour, but then, quite abrasively so, with a prominent rhythmic bass groove and jagged guitar.
Then, ‘Guangzhou Girls’ is a jangly piece of twee indie pop, complete with a stereotypical Chinese instrument (sampled or live?) and even broken English. No offence taken. It’s fun and even reminiscent of the Taiwanese band Wonfu that does a similar thing just as well. Another pop-y track the band ventures into is the ska derivative ‘The Bathroom Song’ that invites a lover to shower together by selling the cleanliness of both the bathroom and themselves. We just can’t stress how funny they are – humour is such a difficult art to pull off, but to set it against music is an even harder feat. Case in point, one of the funniest songs from the album, ‘Don’t Slam The Door’ dramatises a scene that is the basis of many a cheesy pop, r’n’b ballad. The lyric is incredibly hilarious as Faris ruminates in a pained vocal about that damned door. The song even includes tropes such as a rain sample to “put you in the mood,” a choir, blues-y guitar, and a deep male vocal to provide the archetypal male perspective and also a happy ending; “Baby, I’m sorry for all the pain I’ve caused/ Let’s get back together and get a sliding door.”
However, just as with any other artistes, the ability to show range within their work is essential and for Shh…Diam!, it’s in the form of a song called ‘I’m Alright’. The track does away with the usual template of power pop hilarity, instead they attempt writing a song without a punch line. Maybe after becoming so accustomed with their usual spiel, the track feels outright mediocre. It’s amped up and muscular, but the words are unconvincing; it seems that they’re piecing two different songs together incoherently. Shh…Diam! are indubitably great comic writers as they’re able to take humour to deliver serious, weighty matters or otherwise, perhaps that satirical edge should be maintained unerringly. And that’s best illustrated on ‘I Woke Up Gay’, a masterful satire – gut-bustingly so. Once again, they appropriate the romantic guitar strumming while the lead sings in Spanish. The song is steadily paced with alternate bursts of the high-octane statement, “Everybody is gay!” But it takes its time as it laments many instances of the trials and tribulations of “being gay.” As a result, a shift at work has to be skipped, an appetite is squandered, petrol price rises, and the GST (The Gay Sexiness Tax) afflicts the nation.
Shh…Diam!’s got a great shtick and we mean that in every sense of its definition; the band is comical to a point that people would either champion it for all its idiosyncrasies or condemn it for its juvenile humour. The latter is arguably a misperception; their ability to comingle their sense of fun and absurd wit with weighty topics is just as much a testament to their talent as their improved musicality.