Revenge of the spoken word

BLITZ REVIEW - Juaniyo Arcellana - The Philippine Star
Revenge of the spoken word
Bands Jack of None and The Brockas are driven by the spoken word as main inspiration for most of their compositions, which can range from frenetic and contrapuntal to slithering shades of downright freeform.

No two bands can be as different and poles apart in their approach as Jack of None and The Brockas. Both are driven by the spoken word as main inspiration for most of their compositions, which can range from frenetic and contrapuntal to slithering shades of downright freeform. Surely, they are the type that can inspire future bands whose members are within lunging reach of musical instruments, but don’t get us started on the age-old debate that yes, it is art, but is it music?

Well, maybe both and wouldn’t hurt their respective druthers, Jack of None for one, composed of three Syjuco siblings who recorded The Purpose of the Moon (Avanti Cesare 2020) during the height of lockdowns a couple of years ago, as they threw ideas and samples, drum loops and bass lines back and forth across oceans and continents, to come up with seven songs just around half an hour and no slouch at all in terms of experimentation and, as mentioned earlier, the art of counterpoint.

AG is the musical wizard at the controls, while Maxine alternately whispers and speaks her verses that weave in and out of the composition’s structure, and Julian, the guitar hero with just enough restraint and rhythmic elan to color proceedings. Maman starts off the program with a gothic framework reminiscent of the opening line of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, “we buried mother today.” But the maman here is an altogether sinister character whom the persona narrator asks about where a body is hidden and “the crow between her legs.” If that’s not weird enough, then hear it at once to be thoroughly spooked. Something you thought happened only in dime novels bought in gleaming airports and the plane never arrives, forcing poor reader to seek comfort in the company of strangers who turn out to have… fangs!

Jack of None is also fond of sampling verses from nursery rhymes and prayers and putting these in another setting or context, juxtapose is an understatement, as in Pirouettes of Night where a line goes “now I lay you down to sleep/ and pray the Lord your soul to keep.”

In Mr Lumpus Decides to Die, the songwriter ventures that the best possible exit is to “disappear without a trace,” as happens Mr Lumpus who is merely declared missing, and death is mere illusion and how can it be possible to die if one never existed in the first place? The perfect disappearing act is to simply fade away without so much as a by your leave. Dark the Star explores further lyric syncopation and could be the most accomplished in terms of clarity in composition, though this is achieved after going through various “dissonances” that defy the natural order. Houdini Whodunit is a playful romp driven along by chunky guitar playing a la Robert Fripp, and could end up pointing to the butler as escape artist after all. The Game of Dying continues its gothic adventures on the far side of meta and we don’t mean Facebook.

Wrapping up is the instrumental Monsieur X, perhaps the shortest piece in the program but certainly it’s most melodic, and gives guitar player ample time to flex chops where less is more. Not a band these days quite like the sound of Jack of None, who persistently grow in their experiments in behalf of their genial progenitors.

Recently on the other side of the spectrum, somewhere around Shangri-La mall in particular the band Brockas provided live musical scoring for the silent horror classic Nosferatu by the early 19th century auteur Murnau, and it’s no accident that the musicians if they can be called such are comprised of leading directors in the independent film industry, Roxlee, Lav Diaz and Khavn dela Cruz.

Dela Cruz is himself no mean pianist, while painter Roxlee is pioneer of the primal scream in beer garden, even as multifaceted Diaz quietly released an acoustic album several years ago that barely made a ripple, except maybe in indie watering holes like Cubao X.

Though was unable to catch the band’s scoring, which they or Khavn alone have done before in past silent film festivals of foreign cultural houses and embassies, their work can be heard on Spotify, just type the word “delubyo” and Brockas for a sample of primal spoken word revenge, where everything and nothing is prohibited.

Parallels can be drawn with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra where anarchy is key, no room to miss member on leave John Torres of his life as a child outside fame. But the Brockas have come a long way and then some, including a showstopping gig in the last quarter in a tent in Czech Republic, light years away from when Khavn was rambling solo on acoustic guitar in a nearly empty now burned down Faculty Center conference hall in UP Diliman, about his private part that had fallen off…  (smiling emoji and fadeout).

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