Monday, May 07, 2018

CD Review: Ceramic Dog - YRU Still Here?

Ceramic Dog
YRU Still Here?
(Northern Spy)

One of guitarist Marc Ribot's strongest qualities is the diversity of his work. As a sideman, his unique sense of melody and dry tone can bring life to a session. As a leader, his catalog includes delicate solo performances, self-indulgent noodling, faithful-but-brand-new takes on everything from disco classics to John Coltrane and Albert Ayler (to name few) and avant-rock that might touch on all of the above.

Ceramic Dog could be considered his punk, or perhaps no wave, band. Their third album is built on the fury of current times and Ribot spits out bile upon leaving the gate. Considering both the state of our union and the guitarist's activism with musician's rights and streaming, one should expect nothing less than fury. Feeling that way is, tragically, pretty easy. The challenge lies in channeling that into convincing music.

"Muslim Jewish Resistance" is built largely on a call and response lyric - "Muslim Jewish/ resistance/ we say never again/ we mean it!" While it gets repetitive, Briggan Krauss' screaming alto saxophone break keeps the energy from waning. "Fuck La Migra" tackles the immigration subject with lyrics that nearly fly by too rapidly over the thrash noise. One line sticks out in shining glory, though: "I think the President is dumber than an artichoke." It offers proof that Ribot, bassist Shahzad Ismaily and drummer Ches Smith make a better punk band than most punk bands.

Sandwiched between those two tracks, the trio seems conscious of their weight of their words. The eight-minute "Shut the Kid Up" forgoes lyrics in favor of a mind-melting instrumental of slow power chords that build to a psychedelic crescendo. It couldn't have come at a better moment and it helps provide additional evidence of the group's skills.

That track also adds direction to a set that doesn't always have it in the first half.  In "Personal Nancy," Ribot opens the album by barking, among other rights, "I got a right to say, 'fuck you,'" but simply saying isn't always enough. "Pennsylvania 6 6666" blends a slinky jazz groove with a lyric about brutal treatment in the state, where "everybody is white." The song's back story, pulled from the album's press release, explains that Ismaily was a victim of racist attacks in the commonwealth. (Shazad, on behalf of my state, I want to apologize and let you know you're always welcome in Pittsburgh.) Without that info, however, the six-minute track just drags without really expanding on the concept.

YRU Still Here picks up energy as it goes. The second half also includes "Orthodoxy," an Eastern European-style instrumental and "Freak Freak Freak on the Peripherique," a rubbery funk romp with juvenile lyrics that still sound funny thanks to their distorted delivery. Ceramic Dog changes style with nearly every track by then, giving the album plenty of scope. Now if only they could be experienced in a nearby dive bar or DIY space. That would bring this music to life.

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