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Mi Ami - Watersports

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Artist: Mi Ami

Album: Watersports

Label: Quarterstick

Review date: Mar. 18, 2009


Mi Ami - "New Guitar" (Watersports)


Desperate times call for desperate music. Not to suggest that San Francisco trio Mi Ami offer a hopeless, stymied outlook in the face of global economic tumult. Quite the contrary: Watersports, the group’s debut full-length on the recently downsized Touch and Go subsidiary Quarterstick, channels the desperation, anxiety and fear shared by many during this Great Recession into an urgent, genre-blending brand of punk rock that takes it personal.

Conceived during the final days of a presidency that did more than its fair share to get our country, and the world, into the mess that it’s in, Watersports is filled with hostility – a rabid restlessness conveyed through equal parts rhythm and cacophony. But politics and failing stock markets aren’t the focus here; the political references are oblique enough not to be off-putting, deftly intermingled between private, introspective tirades and spacious jams. Watersports is more of an idiosyncratic exercise in relating to a greater context, searching for one’s proper place in a world that seems to be falling apart.

“I feel your pressure,” shrieks Daniel Martin-McCormick, building tension from troubled whispers and cascading guitar lines that give way to his ferocious, hallmark yelp. Listeners familiar with former D.C. Dischord band Black Eyes will recognize the style: both Martin-McCormick and bassist Jacob Long were among the group’s ranks during their short-lived tenure between 2001 and 2004. While many comparisons can be drawn between the two – the emphasis on percussion, the barbed guitar, the vocals, the intensity – Mi Ami take the volatility of Black Eyes into much different territories, incorporating a wider scope of influence more obsessed with groove and space than jazz and aggression.

Mi Ami’s effortless assimilation of such wide-ranging genres is one of the main aspects that makes the group’s sound so fresh and exciting. Far beyond the dated “post” prefix that could be employed to denote the group’s foundations in punk and hardcore, Mi Ami map out a direction that applies a more globalized approach to modern experimental rock. Damon Palermo’s four-on-floor kick drum and flexible percussion provide several references on their own, most notably a skewed Afro-Cuban swing and techno pulse. At its 6:00 breakdown, “Echononecho” could be mistaken for a Ricardo Villalobos track, as Palermo’s buoyant beat gets peppered by a wonky swarm of guitar plucks, synthesizer, and bass. Just don’t call it “dance punk” – that term soured soon after the Rapture came and went. And don’t try to tag it as “tribal” either; Martin-McCormick has already expressed his discontent with the underlying racism that the label assumes in a past interview.

The comparisons continue from there: “New Guitar” taps into the reckless screech of the James Chance and No Wave, or the Velvets’ “I Heard Her Call My Name; “White Wife” lopes along like a loose-limbed Laddio Bolocko; “The Man In Your House” evokes skewed traces of King Tubby’s dub consistency; the intricacy and fist-pumping emancipation of “Freed From Sin” suggests math-rock’s most funky; and Long’s sparkling notes on “Peacetalks Downer” nod toward West African high life.

The unifying factor is Mi Ami’s live vibrancy. Except for the overdubbed vocals, almost the entirety of Watersports was performed live in the studio, allowing the three musicians to explore texture and space, collapsing their influences into a gripping dialogue on the darker side of human experience that we so often ignore. That notion is solidified by the album’s title – a multi-faceted allusion to sexual deviance, the use of waterboarding as torture, and the “aquatic” sound produced from the band’s exploitation of delay, reverb, and rhythmic fluidity. With Watersports, Mi Ami reconcile these factors in a way that is relevant, terrifying, and – at its end – liberating.

By Cole Goins

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