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Thursday, August 5, 2021

The Emma Goldman Bust-Out Brigade – s/t (Nomad Eel, 2021) ***½

By Nick Ostrum

It seems many of my punk rock idols have taken the plunge into fusion-based improvisational music. There are the obvious shifts of members of the Ex and Penny Rimbaud from Crass, who have shown longstanding interest in clangorous improvised music. More recently and more sonically in line with The Emma Goldman Bust-Out Brigade, Brendan Canty and Joe Lally (Fugazi, et al.) joined guitarist Anthony Pirog in the Messthetics, a group that almost perfectly marries my continued affection for the Dischord of my youth with my later turn to free jazz. The Rollins Band, moreover, sported Melvin Gibbs on bass for a couple of albums (Weight, Come in and Burn), including the jam sessions with Charles Gayle and Rashied Ali that would only be released in 2003 as Weighting. OK, so maybe I should not be surprised that Mike Watt, celebrated bassist of the Minutemen, fIREHOSE, and the recent A Love Supreme Electric project, has been dipping his toes in these waters, as well.

Watt was my entry point. On The Emma Goldman Bust-Out Brigade, he joins bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Joe Berardi. That is right. The Brigade consists of two electric bassist and a drummer. Berardi, it seems, has roots in folk and country, and Hoff has played everything from jazz to free jazz to indie to folk and country. I am sure some form of punk and its descendants should be thrown in there, too.

The result is a post-punk infused journey into a slowly churning jam-based avant-rock. I love the duo lead and rhythm bass, the lack of a six-string, the bare-bones nature of the project. Despite that DIY, play-with-what-you-got-and-make-it-weird aesthetic, the music has some steady progressive elements. The songs develop in a clear direction and frequently involve some staggered, heavy funk bass dancing atop active but spare drumming. When it works, as it does in 'No Dream No Life', the dual basses engage in a slithering and entrancing dialog. 'Healed Up' is another strong number, a straightforward heavy funk, wherein Watt, Hoff and Berardi not only click in fits and spurts, but follow the improvisation through a satisfying run. 'Inspired Minorities Chant for Maria Nikiforova' is likewise a standout and balances drive, earwig melodic repetition, meandering but compelling development, mantric chanting, and a convincing end. Frequently, however, the pieces rely on catchy hooks that do not quite come to fruition and an entanglement of basses that never fully detangle, merge, or combust. In other words, much of the pieces fell like interesting interludes or promising outtakes that stop short of their destinations. Then again, at its best, The Emma Goldman Bust-Out Brigade vines its way into the listeners ears and just refuses to let go. For that, and maybe even for 'Inspired Minorities', alone, this album is worth a few spins.