Dicta License – ‘Pagbigkas’ review: politically charged band’s long-overdue second LP confronts and comforts

Filipino rockers expand their musical palette and sharpen their lyrical knives on their first album in 16 years

You don’t break 16 years of silence with a whimper – you do it with a bang. And that’s exactly what the gentlemen of Dicta License have accomplished on ‘Pagbigkas’, their long-overdue follow-up to 2005’s ‘Paghilom’ and a lament of ongoing social and political rot.

In their depiction of a decaying Duterte-era Philippines, Dicta License capture not so much a pretty campfire to gaze upon, but a blaze that desperately needs putting out. The knifelike vitriol that permeates ‘Pagbigkas’ is double-edged, aimed at both villains and victims: the former for gross betrayal, the latter for enabling such by keeping mum.

The Filipino word ‘pagbigkas’ has to do with speech, but there’s some hair-splitting needed in the semantics: its meaning goes beyond mere speaking; it’s closer to emphatic enunciation. The record has that same assertive spirit: frontman Pochoy Labog doesn’t trade in empty sloganeering that merely “sounds right”. The discontent is real, not mimed, voiced in lyrics that are reflective and detailed.

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This brand of truth-telling is all over the mercurial ‘Salita’ – both a noun (‘words’) and a verb (‘speak’) – which repeats canned online speech rather than critiquing it, with the aim, it seems, of underlining the fakery of it all. “Tumahimik ka na lang / Ano ba’ng naitulong mo? Akala mo kung sino / Ano ba’ng naambag mo?” Labog mumbles teasingly, as though reading straight off a troll-infested Facebook feed: “Just shut up / What did you ever do to help? / You think you’re such a big shot / What have you ever contributed?

A similar potency characterises the epic ‘Diktador’, a dirge for the nation’s soul. It scrutinises how big concessions are made for small comforts: your own personal peace in the face of human rights abuses, your ability to sing like a lark while the rest croak.

‘Pagbigkas’ is confrontational alright, but sound-wise, also strangely comforting. The record does away with pious Rage Against The Machine theatre, with the fulcrum moving further from aggro rap-rock and tilting towards hip-hop, folk and R&B. There’s even some acid jazz, hints of which dot the chord progressions of a few numbers, most notably the stunning ‘Inosenteng Bala’.

A smattering of familiar Dicta elements, however, remains: bold riffage, whisper-to-howl crescendos and distortion. And while all of that’s dialled down in this record, one realises there’s ultimately no disguising Dicta, a band for whom content has always preceded form.

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There is a sublime quality to bassist Kelley Mangahas’ underplaying, and in numbers where he’s tasked to lay down the groove – ‘Kasama’, ‘HWFF’ – he remains king. Guitarist Boogie Romero, meanwhile, shows a newfound versatility, especially on more laid-back cuts like ‘Elias’. He draws on more colours in his musical palette, a display that gives the tunes more nuance and texture.

On top of all else, Jorel Corpus’ turn in the producer’s chair is transformative. He and co-producer Labog have given arrangement, mixing and soundscape architecture a weightier role, lending the material on ‘Pagbigkas’ a gravitas that’s distinct from ‘Paghilom’.

Ultimately, ‘Pagbigkas’ is a rare intertextual experience that unfolds like good creative nonfiction. Excerpts from Fr. Albert Alejo’s spoken-word performance of ‘Sanayan Lang ang Pagpatay’ and Jose W. Diokno’s speech ‘A Nation For Our Children’ provide sharp commentaries on human rights and nationalism. But more importantly, they strategically frame what Labog, Mangahas, and Romero have to say about the Philippines in the here and now.

In a horrifying climate that has produced masterful music such as Calix and BLKD’s ‘Kolateral’, The Axel Pinpin Propaganda Machine’s ‘Ano ang Aming Kasalanan?’, and The Exsenadors’ ‘Heartlessness And The Systematic Perpetuation Of Despair’, Dicta License’s comeback as sharper, braver elder statesmen is more than welcome – it is a much-needed shot in the arm.

Details

Dicta License Philippines new album Pagbigkas review
  • Release date: April 9
  • Record label: Independent
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