My last two entries
have been about records that are considered "classics" in some sense or other of the word, but this week, Eat Your Vegetables take a turn for the contemporary. Portland improv/folk/psych/rock/etc. group Jackie-O Motherfucker is one of those acts that's really better described as a "collective" than a band.
Despite the importance that various members have had - currently Kranky records artist Honey Owens, previously vocalist Eve Salens, saxophonist Nester Bucket, etc.- the group's center of creative gravity and sole permanent member is guitarist Tom Greenwood, who draws musicians into his orbit and then sends them spinning off into the distance.
This band is a fixture of the subsection of experimental music that lies between post-rock and creative improvised music. I know that sounds like academic hair-splitting, but it really means something - start investigating this band and you're headed down a rabbit hole of not-very-well-known bands that play a particular type of music that isn't jazz, isn't noise, is too tonal to be true creative improv but too formless to be true post-rock. Ever heard of Inca Ore
? Eternal Tapestry
? The Spiral Joy Band
? If so, then you're probably either a long-term KTRU DJ or a Sound Exchange employee, or you have too much free time and should probably be writing this column instead of me.
|JOMF's latest LP, The Blood of Life|
I procured JOMF's albums WOW
and The Magick Fire Music
, both of which came out around the turn of the century. They're available as a double CD from Touch and Go. I was surprised to discover that, despite the Tipper-Gore's-nightmare of a band name - let's just take a moment to appreciate the number of times the mother (ha!) of all obscenities will be used in this post - Jackie-O Motherfucker is not a particularly confrontational band.
The Magick Fire Music
is pretty relaxing, and despite the improv is not hard to file as straight-up post-rock. WOW
is more clearly improvisational, and splits its 49 minutes into only three tracks, which makes it a little harder to digest, but not to listen to. These records are very chill, and strike a convincing balance between pleasant sounds and structural invention.
And yet I have to be honest, I'm really not sure what to make of this band. What is it that makes Jackie-O Motherfucker unique, aside from the fact that they've been around since 1994? There are post-rock/experimental rock bands that have a distinctive style- Tortoise, Calexico, Grails, Charalambides, even Do Make Say Think - but does that make them more noteworthy, or just more accessible? Is JOMF a lesser band because I couldn't pick them up out of a lineup? Or is that even a real impression?
Maybe if you put this band next to three others that play the same kind of music, there really is something that stands out. Or maybe JOMF sounds generic because they invented the form. Like I said, this is a band, and a type of music, that seems to invoke the rabbit hole.
"Good Morning Kaptain" - sadly, not a Slint cover - live in Japan
45%. JOMF is pretty important to the particular scene they inhabit, and pretty well-known in the world of independent music more generally - they're an alum of multiple All Tomorrow's Parties events, and a staple of both the college-radio stations that still play this stuff and the magazines that cover it - but I'm not sure that there's anything particularly important about these recordings. And because it's hard to pin down the stylistic signature of the band, it's hard to trace its influence.
in particular is very interesting, and TMFM
displays an impressive amount of variety. Listening to both of these gives a pretty good overview of what improvised post-rock is capable of. They're challenging without being difficult to get through, although hitting both of these at once takes a while - The Magick Fire Music
is more than 70 minutes long.
30%. That said, there is not a moment of pop on these records, and they aren't going to help keep you awake on a long drive. Casual improv fans will likely enjoy JOMF most as - here comes the blasphemy - background music. Keep in mind you'll have to lie to your mom about the band name if you pop it on during Thanksgiving dinner though.
55%. These two are pretty restrained, but it is still experimental improv.
Part of a balanced breakfast?
Ain't gonna kill ya.