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Jackie-O Motherfucker - Freedomland

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Artist: Jackie-O Motherfucker

Album: Freedomland

Label: Very Friendly

Review date: Oct. 9, 2008

Freedomland documents a series of live performances by the summer 2006 incarnation of Jackie O Motherfucker, an outfit centered around guitarist and turntablist Tom Greenwood, but with a rotating cast of supporting members. This version of JOMF is a particularly incendiary one, jettisoning the gentler folkier experiments of the Theo Angell/Samara Lubielski years, and focusing instead on a noisy, freely improvised clatter and storm.

The impetus for the shift is likely Inca Ore’s Eve Salens, who also sang with JOMF on 2006’s Valley of Fire. She is an extraordinarily volatile presence here, caterwauling and moaning and free-associating through a minefield of explosive sounds. Utterly unconstrained, she has a speaking-in-tongues quality that encourages everyone else in the band to greater levels of cacophony. Consider for instance, the relatively accessible opening track "Devotion" where she chants "You know devotion," over and over at escalating volumes. As she approaches catharsis, the drummer, Danny Sasaki, follows right along with her, his pounding coalescing into an almost continuous barrage of pounding. The guitars, too, erupt into jagged masses of discord, underlining the chaotic crescendo. The lyrics seem almost random. They are delivered in a flat sing-song with odd syllables emphasized. And yet, the excitement is palpable.

The disc really gains heft as it goes along, in a series of extended, fiery improvisations that draw equally on free jazz, improvised rock and folk traditions. "Pull My Daisy," the album’s longest cut, starts in a shivering haze of uncoordinated sounds, odd blurts of wind instruments intersecting with electronic howls and bleeps. It is inchoate but enveloping, a primal soup of undifferentiated experience. Yet, as it moves forward, themes begin to emerge from the miasma, a ghostly vocal moan moving up and down the scale, eastern-toned guitars droning out an ethnic riff, the surge and ebb of percussion in slow moving, non-linear patterns. You reach, if not an understanding, at least an intuition of structure and spiritual underpinnings. "Ghost Ride,” arguably the disc’s strongest track, is more direct. It brings the guitar up front, allowing a distorted, serpentine series of notes that give the cut a ‘60s psychedelic feel. Behind this facade, however, you can glimpse a whole palimpsest of other textures: a distant, thunderous drumming; a set of spectral vocals; the hint of saxophone. Familiar, almost accessible guitar sounds are the breadcrumb trail you follow through the cut’s darkest, most chaotic corners.

With the final cut, "Ghost of the Underpass," Salens takes center stage again, her high witchy keening cutting through the haze of drums and electronic sounds. Again, her willing to go where the spirit takes her – right off the cliff if necessary – seems to catalyze the rest of the band into its most fractious, fertile dissonances.

The sound quality on these tracks is a bit rough. You always feel that you are missing a good third to a half of whatever is going on. You can hear the audience from time to time, hooting and applauding and, perhaps, talking on their cells. And yet, while Freedomland has all the weakness of live albums, it compensates with one main critical strength: It documents a living, breathing experience of music, improvised on the spot, moved by strong, ineffable currents, never to be repeated again. It’s not like being there, but it’s a reasonably good approximation.

By Jennifer Kelly

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