No Context by Zach Baron: Social Registry Summer Fest

This week, Zach Baron reports back from this past weekend's Social Registry Festival in Brooklyn.

No Context

By Zach Baron

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Psychic Ills, "January Rain" (MP3)

No surprise that Artanker Convoy have tracked down the Greenpoint, BK music/aesthetic endgame—just to the left of dentist office jazz, right of most real jazz, straw hats, beards, sunglasses, middle age. At the Social Registry's Summer Festival, word was they were "going experimental,” which meant that sax man Jake Oas got to project a few more degrees of anti-charisma, and took longer solos. Cozy Endings has not just sax butter but scatting, afro-beat rhythm, tambourine shaking, trebly funk bass and cowbells; live in Gowanus they did it out in the sunshine, and didn’t blink once. AC are the triumph of Brooklyn slave morality, an elevation of the despicable and weak to virtue—smooth jazz as avant garde, and somehow the claim's not crazy.

Did not realize until I got there that the Yard, the stated venue for SR’s two day victory lap, was the same yard as the now temporarily itinerant Issue Project Room—doomed to wander and raise huge amounts of cash due to, at least according to Suzanne Fiol, opportunistic real estate developers. In the summertime, the place has more green on the trees and more pollution off the canal, and the boat I saw plowed into the ground was instead tethered right offshore.

Jah Division smirk in the other direction, hyper-competent dub as played by white punk rockers, and whose diminutive front man not only dresses like he’s down from Connecticut for the weekend —white trousers, blue collared shirt, green t-shirt-as-sweater slung around his shoulders—but also frantically smokes weed stage left until his band gets going. If the loose concept (i.e., reggae versions of Joy Division songs, e.g. “Dub Will Tear Us Apart”) that put this band together still exists, you can't hear it. And yet, like AC, they figure out a thing or three gently bending their genre (smooth jazz, dub reggae) out of shape. Jah Division, with Oneida's Kid Millions trading strikes with an auxiliary drummer, the maybe too-lazy guitar and delay stuff propped up by the teflon drumming and their toasted and screaming WASP frontman, hold down with a kind of hyper-focus, a tauntness that transcends the provocation.

Psychic Ills take knocks for being such a headspace band, for being demanding vis a vis penetrating the sound slush and the low light and the repetition, but the fact is they do a lot to bring their audience along. For instance, and Nick gets at this here: with night falling on the canal and the audience not five feet from where they stood, they faded into the falling day, curtains of hair, the odd instrument shrug and later, a beam of red light. The way they stood tall but anonymous onstage through; they did more than enough to make you interested.

This is a band that understands bass, that understands that warm spectral organ sound, that understands low-register drum patterns as things they can almost paint with. It’s moody music: you follow the arc and movement, not the details.

They do ask too much though—fail to concentrate and it sounds a blur, a kind of slow-moving cloud that only occasionally lets in light, like they don’t know when they’re doing things right and when they’re doing them wrong. Probably they don’t believe in the difference.

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