Teen Improv, Brazilian Dub, Blown-Out Power-Pop
“It’s been a wild ride, motherfuckers!”
Camae Ayewa (aka Moor Mother) opened Irreversible Entanglements’ set with an exclamation. Over a sprawling improvisation that pushed at the edges of the free-jazz band’s ’60s-inspired fire, Ayewa spit without her book of poetry in-hand, shouting and growling about time, isolation, the Sisyphian task of “building wreckage,” survival. Could’ve been about the past five days, five months or 500 years.
This was my first IRL show in 456 days.
It was outdoors at Rhizome, a beloved community center for experimental arts in D.C. that tends to gather the same folks no matter the act; in non-pandemic times, the space also serves a homing beacon for like-minded seekers everywhere. I chatted with friends I hadn’t seen in over a year — Ahmad, Valerie, Marc, Laura — shared a beer with my wife, and felt electricity surge through my being as Tcheser Holmes warmed up the drums on the tented stage. There was a torrential downpour just an hour prior, but mostly let up as the band (minus trumpeter Aquiles Navarro) worked through frenetic drone, New Thing jazz, punk noise and a brief R&B rave-up led by Luke Stewart’s wild-eyed bass line. Keir Neuringer split his time between booming sax and hunched over a suitcase synth, emitting Hendrix-ian feedback with Sun Ra fervor.
Irreversible Entanglements was on a small tour; they weren’t rusty, if anything there was a renewed spark rediscovering its ecstatic groove. Camae Ayewa was, as always, a commanding presence, but (in a first that I’ve seen) took a moment to introduce the band at the end of the set, a smile audible beneath her mask.
After the set was over, my wife and I made our way to the drug store around the corner and bought ice cream sandwiches for the ride home.
Bootlicker, S/T (Neon Taste): Bootlicker makes power-pop that rumbles like a brick in a clothes dryer. I imagine these Vancouver blokes get compared to Chubby and the Gang — likeminded (albeit spit-polished) hardcore-turned-rockers across the Atlantic — but I’ll be danged if Bootlicker’s brusque sense of melody doesn’t come from the Jay Reatard School of Put-Up-Your-Dukes Hooks. The production, too, is heinously blown out, as if to land a leather-gloved punch to the gut with every tallboy-slammed riff.
Felinto, Futuro Antigo Perpétuo (Bokeh Visions): When I used to DJ a experimental music night years ago, I spun what I loosely categorized as mutant dance music, mostly to keep everyday folks buying drinks (I was a bartender’s dream), but also to push the edges of accessibility and weirdness. Felinto offers a psychedelic lime twist on dub, infused with electro-samba beats, space jazz and a minimalist punk ‘tude. It’s like Arthur Russell found himself in an underground São Paulo club, armed with dub records, synths and some friends jumping on the mix. Members of Deafkids and Ratka contribute percussion and guest vocals, which is honestly reason enough to settle into the dank vibe.
Don Cherry’s New Researches, Organic Music Theatre - Festival de jazz de Chateauvallon 1972 (Blank Forms): In addition to a thick book and exhibition about Don & Moki Cherry’s collaborative arts experiment begun in the late ’60s, here’s one of two (!) Don Cherry archival releases out this week from Blank Forms. The Summer House Sessions has display-worthy artwork and is probably closer to the world-melding free-jazz folks know and love, but Organic Music Theatre captures a communal spirit of exploration and education. Don Cherry’s at the piano and harmonium, acting more like a cool-but-overly-enthusiastic camp counselor than a bandleader — he leads the audience (at a jazz festival, no less) in chants and singalongs, gathering the spirits in several languages and rhythms, both removing authorship and extending creation. Children laugh and play in the background, audience members clap and holler — everything is sung, scatted, banged and danced with an overwhelming joy.
My Bloody Sex Party, Vol. 3 (Zoomin’ Night): Four middle schoolers from a Chinese province got together in an office space last year to make free-rock splatter before going to separate high schools. Or at least that’s the story. This is the final volume in a series recorded on mobile phones, and while I hope this “mystery teenage outsider rock band” is real — the label’s description does send up a red flag — it doesn’t really matter. My Bloody Sex Party (that band name!!!) makes music without the idea of music — not Serious Academic Improv, but gleeful, instant discovery. Tuneless guitar drone and aerobic drumming slams into Midwest emo noodling before everything’s overlaid with frenetic zhongruan shred and avant-funk bass… and that’s just one song! Let’s just hope these teens get back together over summer break.
Los Pirañas, Infame Golpazo en Keroxen (Discrepant): I first heard 2011’s Toma Tu Jabon Kapax playing in a Mexico City record store some years ago while on vacation and, in my limited Spanish, I discovered the chopped-up cumbia beats belonged to Los Pirañas. Not many folks know about this Colombian group of psychedelic misfits, so I don’t feel that bad about recommending a best-of album, especially since it revisits and re-records tracks (in a gasoline tank?!) with a horn section equally devoted to Los Pirañas’ gassed-up (sorry) cumbia curveballs.
Amy Cutler, the ends (also end) of (the) earth and variants (Crow Versus Crow): Ghosts roam just beneath the earth, and Amy Cutler has found them. In field recordings from “a naturally resonant mossy chasm,” manipulated chants, record crackle and assorted instrumentation, she plays close attention to the phantasmic shape of the land that was to make sense of what is. The results are doomy, witchy and full of shadows, with contributions by fellow Brit experimentalists in Hawthonn, Bell Lung and Spaceship.
Playlist: Viking’s Roadkill
22 tracks. Opens with “Life in Bed,” my favorite new Starflyer 59 song in a decade, possibly two? Deafheaven was always roséwave. The posthumous life of MF DOOM continues with Your Old Droog. Space Afrika gets an assist from UK drill artist Blackhaine on a string-swoopy slice of downtempo gloom. Now, Now remixes an Owen song into an industrial synth-pop clang. Sofie Birch and Johan Carøe go swimming with synths. The Body and Big Brave have Voltron’d into a heavy Fairport Convention. VIAL’s grungy-surfy punk was made for chokers and clunky shoes. My queen Mariah Carey made an absolute bop with songwriters Jam & Lewis of Janet Jackson fame! Zement’s thumpin’ motorik trance. TALsounds and Matchess team up as Damiana for ethereal Laughing Stock-ish drifts of sound. Soft, Soviet free-jazz via Valentina Goncharova. Witch Mountain’s Kayla Dixon also fronts Dress the Dead, a thrashy power metal band. Cher Strauberry’s lo-fi punk. Throwbacks to Melt-Banana, Eberhard Weber, Don Cherry.
A Brief Programming Note
I’ll be off-grid next week with little access to WiFi and cell service, so pretty much my dream vacation! I’m coming back to some looming deadlines (both at NPR Music and for a side project), so the newsletter might scant for a couple weeks.