Mi Ami Watersports

[Quarterstick; 2009]

A sharp, concise blast of yelps, equal parts "effeminate" and powerful, spraying and asserting in the social and the carnal over boney guitar groans and subdued bass echoes, arranged just so for the painful, playful, and passionate being percussed on tonal cowbells and toms and detuned snares. Mi Ami’s Watersports is a morbid declaration of sonic freedom in the form of seven convulsions, the last two droning out softly into the warm water. This is garbage, this is noise, this is sex, this is religion -- this is not going to make it in the marketplace.

The Black Eyes, the band from which guitarist/vocalist Daniel Martin-McCormick and bassist Jacob Long formed Mi Ami, had an abrasive sound reminiscent of fellow DC players Q And Not U turned inside out. By contrast, San Francisco’s Mi Ami, with added drummer Damon Palermo, have a sound that grabs from a concise few, from Ornette Coleman’s squeaks and Fela Kuti’s ornate rhythms to Steve Reich’s ambient inward polyrhythmic-to-the-point-of-ambient melodies and Lee Perry’s heavy, echoed, and highly tuneful bass lines. They understand the limits of the human ear -- its desire for that certain consonance/dissonance ratio -- push that boundary, and all the while have an understanding of whether or not they want to sound like anyone, who they want to sound like, and when they want to sound like them.

Daniel Martin-McCormick’s voice is noxious and eerie, forcing one to occasionally question its part in the mix. Herein lies the brilliance of this limb: like Miles Davis’ horn in his fusion albums, the mix of this strain with the stoned and airy backdrop only sounds out of plate at first; with further listens, it becomes the most endearing aspect of the music. Martin-McCormick's voice is a voice of desperation, isolation, and fury -- in opener “Echonoecho,” it feels both horny and lazy, only to build, like Mi Ami knows how to do so well, into a swell of tear-stained anger and yelping.

Mi Ami have an ability to execute aural peaks and valleys like few pop groups have ever known how to do. Within each individual song is a crescendo, from the whispered and paranoid panting of Martin-McCormick and subtle metal beating from Palermo, to a racket of all the brutal parts looking each other in the eye and screaming. Just as quickly, though, they can drop it down and develop a groove, usually with the assistance of the bass, that envelops one’s sense of rhythm, all-encompassing.

A brilliant example of this is the two-song assault of “The Man In Your House” and “New Guitar.” “The Man In Your House” begins understated and disconcerting; an effects-laden guitar line covers the track in an odd, quiet blanket. From there, Martin-McCormick’s whispers grow to shouts of sex and sadness, while his guitar screeches and wail. The suspense grows as the track gets louder, and then it immediately segues into “New Guitar,” a jittery, stilted statement of seemingly nothing, carried out with Martin-McCormick’s competent hands manhandling and tearing at his guitar. The song’s beginning is a brilliant resolution to the song before it, and once this primal energy beams out, the trio jumps back four steps and carries out a mid-tempo groove, complete with a bass line rooted in funk and dub.

So much of Watersports’ appeal is in its embrace of the physical, but the album’s final third is a dirge into the mental abyss. Indeed, the album consists almost entirely of the members going ballistic on their respective parts, but this happens so sparingly, if at all, in the final two tracks. “White Wife,” a manifesto towards sincerity and honesty, is quiet, sad, and slow. Here, the trio is exploring their sonic workspace in a very profound way: not through flexing their chops, but through creating space. The song, probably the most cerebral track on the album, dips and undulates until you get to “Peacetalks/Downer,” which, like the best of shoegaze music, creates volume in lines that should be quiet. It all builds without changing, until the album slowly fades into oblivion.

Yet for all the positives, there is so much excess fat begging for a trimming. The aforementioned final third alone has at least five minutes worthy of being shaved off, with meandering middle sections that induce nothing but yawns after you’ve heard the same tones, the same chords, the same sound for the past three minutes -- and the last two minutes aren't particularly refreshing either. For all the jumpy percussive instrumental play going on, you’d think a band with such competent influences would understand the beauty of a chord change, the mental stimulation of time signature fuckaroundery. If Watersports paced itself, if it weren’t afraid to be shorter, if it understood the power of precision, it could have been more awe-inspiring.

1. Echonoecho
2. The Man In Your House
3. New Guitar
4. Pressure.
5. Freed From Sin
6. White Wife
7. Peacetalks/Downer

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