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Jackie-O Motherfucker - Wow / The Magick Fire Music

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Artist: Jackie-O Motherfucker

Album: Wow / The Magick Fire Music

Label: ATP

Review date: Nov. 4, 2003

Jackie-O Motherfucker’s career, like their music, has wound about and drizzled from one sound to another so gradually that by the time anything resembling a crescendo was reached, it was only apparent in retrospect. Indeed, while this year’s proper new JOMF recording, Change is certainly excellent in many respects, its droned path noodled too much and relied too heavily on unspectacular vocals to really rank among the band’s “masterpieces,” Fig. 5 and Liberation, released in 2000 and 2001 respectively. The changes that took place between these albums and Change, as well as the process leading up to them, were detectable only via a series of highly limited releases that, oddly enough, have now become more widely available following the gradual dismantling of their label, Road Cone. Among these are a double CD recording of live performances taken from 2002 (Europe 2002, U-Sound 004), most of which oozed along frustratingly and without clear purpose or motive. Somewhat more intriguing and significantly more substantial is ATP Recordings’ double CD reissue of two early JOMF albums, 2000’s Wow and 1999’s The Magick Fire Music. Both albums serve as a Rosetta Stone of sorts, filling in important blanks in the JOMF canon that previously appeared to exist as leaps, and exposing old recordings that hold up as well, if not better, than their proper releases of the same.

Wow contains some of the most beautifully lush and surprisingly straight-forward recordings in JOMF’s short history. Its jammy, rhythm-oriented songs recall the less cinematically pretentious moments of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but without abandoning the droning subtlety at which they excel. On “The Black Squirrels,” Wow’s eight-minute opener, guitarist and founding member Tom Greenwood picks his way through a comfortable and explosive pattern with a frenetic, Hendrix-style guitar freakout. It may at first seem like JOMF-lite, providing hooks and beats to an impatient audience, but the immediate accessibility of the song does not subtract from its overall worth, as a careful listen exposes slight tonal shifts and a textural build that ranks with any of Liberation’s sleepy excitement.

Other moments on Wow find JOMF exploring the space and silence that is attempted on Europe 2002 with a clear-headedness seemingly provided by a studio environment. Here they make the most of their infinitely large and restrained instrumentation, leaving room for only occasional flutters and bursts of low-end interruptions and metallic shimmering before making way for Greenwood’s approximate guitar-based directing.

Lacking the busyness of Wow, but nicely compensating with a Stars of the Lid-like propensity towards minimal steam-rolling, The Magick Fire Music ushers passages of heavy-breathing to a whispering apex. The sound of eight instruments playing a symphony of near-silence has never sounded quite so captivating. Frustrating cacophonies erupt in spurts, but are resolved mysteriously with a retreat to the comfortable emptiness that seems to come so naturally to the band’s shut-eyed improvisation.

Neither recording finds JOMF exploring vastly new territory, but the tone and feel of both Wow and The Magick Fire Music are evidence of a band whose well of tonal talent and sense of space is impressively infinite. During this period from 1999 to 2001, when numberous Godspeed offshoots were grabbing whatever attention there was to be had (Godspeed itself excluded), Jackie-O Motherfucker were quietly and gradually refining a sound and a mood that was head-and-shoulders above their contemporaries. That they did so to such little fanfare is a shame, but this reissue and an accumulating interest in their work (including a recent Wire Magazine cover article) is evidence that justice will be served, gradually and without cinematic fanfare.

By Sam Hunt

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