Jackie-O Motherfucker Flags of the Sacred Harp

[ATP; 2005]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: free rock, experimental psych-folk, new weird America
Others: Vibracathedral Orchestra, Six Organs of Admittance, GY!BE


Having almost missed the boat entirely with regard to Flags of the Sacred Harp, the new(est) Jackie-O Motherfucker album, it seems near superfluous for this reviewer to comment on the record, as so much has already been said about it. At any rate, Flags of the Sacred Harp is one of those rare records that is both accessible and experimental simultaneously. Though most of these pieces are structured utilizing the traditional folk-rock template, there is enough psychedelia and free-folk drone here to appease those who prefer their Americana to be inclined toward the more experimental side of the genre. It should also be noted that the album is positively sprawling—despite containing only seven songs, Flags of the Sacred Harp clocks in at almost seventy minutes.

Four of the tracks are traditionals; naturally, the Jackie-O Motherfucker originals comprise the more abstract element of the set. The album's centerpiece, the 16-minute "Spirits," one of the Jackie-O originals, is a colossal and epic example of contemporary improvisational psychedelia at its best. Druggy and exhilarating, the track requires repeated listens, despite its length, for the listener to adequately appreciate the subtle nuances, multi-directional changes, and diversity of instrumentation to be found here. But on much of Flags of the Sacred Harp, the band members find themselves taking in a considerably more disciplined, reined-in approach than on previous efforts.

Jackie-O Motherfucker have performed folk traditionals on previous recordings, most notably on 2000's Fig. 5 LP. It would seem that, by including fewer original pieces than traditional songs on Flags, the band have made a conscious effort to deliberately anchor the album, on
the whole, to a roots-based and folkloric compositional structure—hence its relative accessibility. But on Flags of the Sacred Harp, the folk-rock aesthetic is purely cosmetic. Tracks such as "Nice One," the album's leadoff piece, commence in a deceptively simple manner, with nothing more than a solo acoustic guitar and vocals by Tom Greenwood and Honey Owens. Its simplicity soon becomes subverted, as layers upon layers of additional sounds are added to the track—vibraphone, guitar feedback, cymbals, and timpani-like percussion—as if Jackie-O Motherfucker were using Pink Floyd's A Saucerful of Secrets for inspiration. The song then slides off the edge into pure free-form drone territory. Other conventional pieces, such as "Rockaway," however, remain consistently straightforward throughout.

Despite the abstract nature of much of Flags of the Sacred Harp, the album is a mostly melodic, beautifully-executed recording. Even the more improv-laden sections of the album never veer anywhere near the realm of gratuitous wankery. Perhaps Flags of the Sacred Harp represents the next step in the evolution of free-folk towards a more song-based approach.

1. Nice One
2. Rockaway
3. Hey! Mr. Sky
4. Spirits
5. Good Morning Kaptain
6. Loud and Mighty
7. The Louder Roared the Sea

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