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Jackie-O Motherfucker - Earth Sound System

  by Dominic B. Simpson

published: 5 / 5 / 2011

Jackie-O Motherfucker - Earth Sound System
Label: Fire Records
Format: CD


Erratic and inconclusive latest album from Portland, Oregon-based experimentalists, Jackie O Motherfucker, which lacks the coherence of their previous offerings

Jackie O Motherfucker are a constantly mutating collective from Portland, Oregon, whose music takes in all kinds of strange idioms from American folklore and mutates it with elements of jazz, noise, country, psychedelia, analogue electronics, and freeform experimentation. Led by the band’s one constant, multi-instrumentalist Tim Greenwood, JOMF have been active since as far back as 1994, with a shifting line-up that’s seen almost as many musicians as the Fall. Yet while that description may bring to mind Sunburned Hand of the Man at their very best (or worse, depending on your viewpoint), JOMF’s releases in the last few years have sought to find a middle ground between psych-rock tinged folk songs and the freeform, with conventional structured sections containing lyrics and choruses offset by out-there experimentation. Furthermore, JOMF also sound as if much more thought and work has gone into the recording process compared to many of the spontaneous-sounding 100+ releases that Sunburned have spawned. That’s not to say that JOMF are an easy listen. From the band moniker onwards, their music has never been easily digestible, particularly on early releases such as ‘Wow!/The Magick Fire Music’ and ‘Fig.5’, which were mostly characterised by abstract instrumental jams. Yet even within those albums, there was a luminescent beauty to some of the tracks, such as on the latter’s languid, dream-like ‘Beautiful September’, which featured Honey Owens’ haunting voice. Their masterpiece, 2005’s ‘Flags of the Sacred Harp’, was over a year in the making, and brought Greenwood’s voice and acoustic guitar to the fore, where previously he had remained silent. A luminous mixture of American folklore and sprawling space-rock, the latter particularly on the 16-minute epic ‘Spirits’, the album remains a perfect distillation of the band’s sound past and present. Unfortunately, while the band’s last few releases have successfully explored this middle ground between American mystical folk music and loosely structured experimental freak-outs, ‘Earth Sound System’ feels too erratic and incomplete to be considered amongst their finest work. The album begins promisingly enough with ‘In the Willows’, in which Greenwood intones Biblical evocation over acoustic guitar, wah-wah and swelling instrumentation: “She gathered the sun all in her fist/Gathered the stars all over her feet/In the willows a rain of tears…the clouds are shaped like disasters/My prayers unfold even faster”. ‘Raja Joining’, meanwhile, revisits the band’s austere early material, setting up a contrast with the previous track’s song-based forms. A truly weird sideways amalgamation of horns, turntable samples, Tibetan percussion, and space noise, it sounds like a bad acid trip, and yet feels perfect in the context of JOMF. The following two tracks, ‘Bring It To Me’ and ‘Dedication’, which return to voice and guitar as the central point once again, however, feel like inferior versions of much of what was on ‘Flags…’, with Greenwood’s whine falling flat despite his evocative lyrics in the former about “sometimes I find new places/smells of apples and grass”. For once, the band’s unpolished edge feels less like a charm and more like the result of a rushed, unfocused job, the songs feeing blurry and leaden-footed. ‘Raga Separating’, meanwhile, is simply a retread of the freeform ‘Raja Joining’, extended out to nine a half minutes, and feeling like a slightly inferior version of the aforementioned ‘Spirits’. The last track remains an unexpected curiosity in JOMF’s canon. ‘Where We Go’ sounds like vintage Butthole Surfers meets Dinosaur Jr. more than anything else that the band have hinted at with their other music, with crushing guitars, Greenwood shouting into the microphone, and pounding drums. Yet while it comes as an interesting surprise, it doesn’t quite validate what remains an inconclusive album that never quite coheres together as much as its predecessors have.

Track Listing:-
1 In The Willows
2 Raga Joining
3 Bring It To Me
4 Dedication
5 Raga Separating
6 Where We Go

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