(Copyright © 2017 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Machines That Kill People (1983), 7/10
Ennui (1986), 6/10
Albino (2012), 7/10
Diegesis (2014), 6.5/10
Spooks (2015), 6.5/10
Red Summer (2020), 7.5/10

In 1980 Chicago's composer and multi-instrumentalist Michael Grego and poet and performance artist Travis Dobbs launched an agit-prop noise project called Ono (short for "onomatopoeia") that became a trio with multi-instrumentalist Ric Graham and absorbed random collaborators along the way.

The "songs" of Machines That Kill People (Thermidor, 1983) feel closer to the theater of the absurd and performance art than to rock music. The grotesque recitation over tribal chaos of Danger and the theatrical Machines That Kill People are the introductions to their intellectual madness, located somewhere between the Fugs and Pere Ubu. If the bluesy agony of O Jackie O and the psychedelic chant Pyramid Of Drums are relatively cohesive songs, The Model Bride grafts free-form noise onto a theater of multiple voices and ends with a spastic voodoobilly, and that random, irrational and contradictory aesthetic also pervades the 14-minute morality play X-Ray, which sounds like a solemn hybrid of Japanese noh theater, Stravinsky's Histoire du Soldat and Patti Smith's Birdland. But the closest relatives to their intense thriller atmospheres are perhaps Pop Group and Public Enemy.

Ennui (Thermidor, 1986) begins from the expressionist operatic theater of X-Ray with the seven-minute Were You There When They Crucified My Lord / Roll Away / Mass Of The Angels, an improvisational piece for voice and distorted guitar, the first of three "nightmares". Ashley Knight is a surrealistic skit with drum-machine, electronic organ and more guitar feedback. The third nightmare, the eleven-minute OZ, is an atmospheric kammerspiel for multiple voices and industrial hissing. The four "daydreams" of the second side include the magniloquent Ennui and the seven-minute Aloe Cramps, that ends with a spastic sort of Velvet Underground-ian boogie.

In 2007 Travis and Grego reformed the group with new collaborators. Albino (Moniker, 2012) begins with a new personal manifesto, I Been Changed, which proves that they haven't changed: an operatic declamation over a sparse free-form soundscape. The nine-minute Albino is the theatrical tour de force of the album: a visceral mock-heroic recitation in a chaos of distortions. But the album is generally more musical than their 1980s albums. Veil is a delirious dissonant boogie a` la Captain Beefheart. The tribal funk-jazz Calvin is another sinister trip to the end of the (musical) world. The pounding voodoobilly Berlin Cowboy is propelled by the terrifying impetus of Nick Cave's Birthday Party.

Diegesis (Moniker, 2014) is generally more musical. Travis Wax Madonna is a tribal dance with Fall-esque overtones and psychedelic horns reminiscent of Robert Wyatt's Rock Bottom. The possessed blues-rock rave-up of Blackpowermove sounds like a remix of Captain Beefheart's Electricity. Spare harkens back to the acid-rock of the Iron Butterfly era. The nine-minute Oxblood is another delirious and emphatic Nick Cave-esque monologue. They acknowledge their original anarchic agit-prop declamations only in Cqcqcq.

Spooks (Moniker, 2015) augmented the band with Al Jourgensen of Ministry on slide guitar, Cooper Crain on keyboards, Shannon Rose Riley on electronics and concertina, a synth-man, a pianist, two guitarists and two percussionists. The results are a spaced-out jam like Billy The Kid, the frenzied voodoo dance of Snatch, which is almost a parody of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, and the deliciously unfocused romps of Fatima Police and Invocation. The eight-minute rhythmic locomotive Fleur De Lis is de facto a swinging cosmic remix of Rihanna's Pon De Replay.

Your Future Is Metal (American Damage, 2018) is a live recording.

Grego and Travis assembled a new ensemble (Rebecca Pavlatos on vocals and keys, Connor Tomaka on samplers and electronics, Ben Karas and Ben Billington on drums and percussion, Dawei Wang on guitar, Shannon Rose Riley on vocals and saxophone) for the historical concept Red Summer (2020), recorded in 2017, about the racist attacks of 1919 by white-suprematist terrorists that resulted in the killing of several black men, including the lynching and cremation of John Hartfield in Mississippi, the stoning of 17-year-old Eugene Williams in Chicago, the white riots in Washington and the "Elaine Massacre" in Arkansas. The album was released during the "black lives matter" protests of 2020 that followed the killing of unarmed black people by police in several cities. The music reflects the sense of tragedy in an almost apocalyptic tone. The disorienting minimalist trance of 20th August 1619 weaves together like a Moebius strip a folk flute tune and a Renaissance harpsichord dance, and layers on top the Brecht-ian recitation. Coon blends reverbed declamations, shades of African percussion, free jazz. The positively chaotic rant of BLK Skin and the naked, alienated atmosphere of Scab are vehicles of trauma and neurosis, and Sniper, at the intersection of abstract dissonant chamber music and absurdist theater, represents the zenith on that front. Then there are songs that are more frontal attacks against the history of injustice, starting with the post-dub tribal dance and expressionist kammerspiel I Dream Of Sodomy (possibly the album's standout), followed by the stately speech cum syncopated dance beat cum funereal chant Tar Baby that decays into two minutes of demonic industrial pow-wow dance. Syphilis is rap-jazz that soars in a crescendo of possessed and otherworldly voices, and Sycamore Trees resembles an operatic requiem being sung slowly over a solemn soundscape of percussion and choir, with a coda of horn fanfare and psychedelic drums. It's an exhilarating parade of finger-pointing "je accuse" numbers.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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