Yes, I realize that this album is indeed the fifth full-length release by Jackie-O Motherfucker. I'm aware that this release also came out nearly half a year ago and as usual I'm still finding interesting music well into the year after it was actually released. It's not as if this collective from around Portland is burning up the charts, but it was finally time enough for me to see what all the fuss was about after reading several positive reviews of their last two releases. Like anyone who has reviewed their music has found, it's not exactly easy to simply plop them into a neatly defined genre.
One could say post rock, free-jazz, avant garde with a touch of folk, and that's just touching on the different influences that the group pulls together into this slice of timeless music. With eleven different musicians, it's easy to imagine them as sort of a motley, cobbled-together marching band, starting out with a couple people and gaining random players as they pass by them sitting on the curb. At some points the group is a swelling mass of people banging on instruments, and at other times it's only a couple members keeping up a subtle melody or arrangement. Much of the time tracks don't even feel like they have a true beginning or an end, instead simply feeling like you've stumbled into the middle of something and listen for awhile before going your seperate ways.
The opening track on the album is one that will probably test the patience of most, simply because it has many of the qualities above. "Peace On Earth" clangs and rumbles along over the course of 10 minute, never really catching any sort of melody or anything else. Percussion, guitars, and all kinds of other bits of instrumentation just sort of drift in and out, creating a somewhat serene, somewhat maddening environment. Fortunately, the second track "Ray-O-Graph" focuses a bit more, combining some dingy guitars with a simple drum machine and a beautiful violin for something that sounds not unlike the Dirty Three of the Hungry Ghosts. At almost 14 minutes, it may run a smidge long, but this group is obviously never in a hurry to get anywhere.
The centerpiece of the album is the almost 20-minute track "In Between." Wandering all over for the first third, it musters up some strength for the middle section, slowly building until the feverish, blistering end section in which percussion thunders, horns squeal, and chimes get the absolute crap chimed out of them. It's definitely a slow-burner, but works quite well. Just when you think that the group is all about the long avant, though, they toss in the off-kilter, country-rock "Something On Your Mind" (that sounds downright normal in comparison to most of the other tracks).
Musically, the group could be somewhat compared to the Canadian collective of Set Fire To Flames, or even the Chicago-based collective of the Boxhead Ensemble. Like these two groups, Jackie-O Motherfucker seems to revel in stringing along the listener with drawn-out instrumentals that often times don't have a huge crescendo or release. Instead of being music about reaching some resolution or conclusion, this is music for the middle journey, where there's nothing but flat land either way you look. It might drive some people bonkers, but for some reason I can't get enough of this stuff.