Jackie-O-Motherfucker – Ballads of the Revolution

Jackie-O-Motherfucker - Ballads of the Revolution

Jackie-O-Motherfucker - Ballads of the Revolution

Jackie-O-Motherfucker is a sublime paradox of a musical entity, as evidenced by its long history of great but difficult-to-recollect recordings. It is a band, yet it’s ostensibly the project of Tom Greenwood, and yet it’s composed of a massively rotating cast of characters. Their songs sound there, but not there, simultaneously visceral and haunting. It circles around the periphery of American music like a vulture, but is also right there in the thick of things, picking over the carcasses of dead songs for salvageable material. They are the past as preserved and decoded in some future medium, perhaps compressed a long time ago, lost, and then rediscovered, reconstituted by the best guesses available at some future present like linguists piecing together a dead language based on interrelated but incomplete texts. New album Ballads of the Revolution continues in this tradition, providing a (relatively) concise and definitive run through the different aspects of the JOMF aesthetic.

The rearrangement of traditional public domain tracks that has been the focus of the last few JOMF records continues with first track “Nightingale”, a lullaby which soothes with waves of ethereal pedal steel guitar. This track signals the jettisoning of the slightly more gloomy and droney approach of their recent past for a slightly more pleasant and accessible present. It is followed by another non-original, the much more amorphous “Dark Falcons”, which is a remix/reimagining of a track by the band Lucky Dragons. With many different layers of treated guitar squelching out against a vibrating rhythm track, this track has Honey Owens’s fingerprints all over it, and is all drifting frequencies through fields of potential energy.

The remaining four tracks are all JOMF originals. “The Corner” is easily the strangest of the bunch, with its wah-wahed, dubby stream-of-consciousness acting as a bed for Greenwood’s spaced-out, free-associative ramblings such as “I trust you to keep me drunk,” “If I were an eagle I’d know the meaning of shadow,” and “Fly like a bee sting.” It’s a bold move and a great break in the album between more songwriterly moments. It is preceded by “Skylight”, a straightforward mid-tempo rocker that rides along on multiple guitars, a locked-in groove and Greenwood’s reassuringly average, mildly warbled vocals, hookily repeating “lay down in here, it’s alrigh-eet” before finally stretching in to a long-simmering coda of dirtier, belligerent guitar and the mantra “all the happiness I know”. After “The Corner” comes “The Cryin’ Sea”, which recalls the insistence of early Stereolab with its almost muscular Kraut bass line, one-note vamping, and uptempo drumming. This is the longest track on the album and is the most traditionally psychedelic. The guitar textures splattered all over this album provide a sensuous glue as they bend, unravel, buzz, climb, pulse, squelch, and just generally fog up the background.  Final track “A Mania” shows that the band is capable of tasteful restraint as it plucks along prettily, Greenwood singing an elegy for seasons past and relating how our experience remains embedded in everything that surrounds us, “like the ripples on a tranquil sea, that rise from the deep unseen.” It is one of the most beautiful things the band has released.

So on Ballads of the Revolution we get two ballads, two fairly abstract pieces, one astral slowburner, and one astral barnburner, which is about what you’d expect from JOMF. Still, this works better as a long player than a lot of their other material. The whole thing is brief enough for all of its parts to be memorable. The melancholy glam of the lead guitar work connects all the tracks aesthetically. The refinement of the band’s core strengths without resistance to accessibility makes this their most approachable work. While maintaining committed to their experimental roots, JOMF have embraced the simple pleasures of pleasant songcraft, and in the process created what’s probably their best album to date.

Jackie-O-Motherfucker

Fire Records