Jackie-O Motherfucker - "In the Willows" (Earth Sound System)
Since 1995 and across more than a dozen releases, Jackie-O Motherfucker has evolved, in a crooked sort of way, from a free-form psych-jazz outfit into a mostly-acoustic Americana-tinged project. As might be expected given the prolific nature of the group, the results haven’t always been consistent, with group leader Tom Greenwood the only constant element, and this restless spirit leads to both wins and losses. At its best, JOMF can take what might be a tired form in other hands, and imbue it with new life through imaginative recombination and new direction. Alas, the new Earth Sound System is a particularly undecided record, offering two disparate approaches that make no attempt to cohere. The caveat "your mileage may vary" has rarely been so applicable.
On the one hand, there are the quiet singsong tunes, primarily acoustic guitar with droning electrics in the background while Greenwood intones hippie poetry atop the proceedings. On the flip side are the two long, freeform pieces, "Raga Joining" and "Raga Separating". Aside from raising the question of whether a raga is whatever you decide to call it, these come across like undirected Nurse With Wound outtakes. Random electronic percussion and blended drone and chaos, they’re not unenjoyable but in the overall context of the album, they feel like an attempted counterbalance to the singsong ditties, as if to say "See, we’re experimental, too!"
The acoustic songs suffer from what feels like a general malaise, as if Greenwood lacked the energy to really care -- they sound like first takes recorded in a couple of hours, then shipped off. The singing is more than uneven, wobbly and uncaring, and when "Bring It To Me" locks into the same lyric over and over and over, the skip button is difficult to resist. Greenwood sounds like he doesn’t really give a damn. Sadly, that leads into "Dedication," which is six minutes of off-key repetition: "This is dedicated to / the person who / is trying to find / the next right thing to do" -- over and over and over and over. The intention might have been a mantra-like hypnotic feel, but it simply doesn’t work. The song is nearly impossible to see through to the end.
Closer "Where We Go" is the pleasant surprise. Someone must have handed Greenwood and the band some caffeine, because this rougher song displays the energy that’s missing elsewhere on the album. It rolls along over a churning rhythm section and cascading fuzzed-out guitar while Greenwood chants and hollers, and the band feel like they finally found something to care about.