Jackie-O Motherfucker - Biography
In the 1990s, with the advent of the CD-R and the rise of the Internet, musical boundaries exploded. Styles and genres splattered and dripped and leaked all over each other, with no regard for ethnographical distinctions or geographic isolation or hipster quotient or, for that matter, convention of any sort. Jackie-O Motherfucker materialized from this ferment in 1994, and if the name doesn’t make it readily apparent, they’re not looking for placement on the charts, or to swim in even the most remote tributaries of the mainstream. With shambolic, stuttering indifference, Jackie-O stagger through terrain that suggests either post-psychedelic obliviousness or post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s probably both. Ultimately, it’s sufficient to say that they’re a loose-knit collective with a constantly undulating roster (over 40 members and counting), and their modus operandi is a unique brand of free improvisation. The Jackie-O sound is a sprawling, murky swamp in which decomposed genres occasionally bob to the surface, including American folk, English folk, electronic, avant garde, country, noise, trance, industrial, gospel, world music, Krautrock, drone, and more. The best way to describe Jackie-O is to simply acknowledge that they defy description.
In reality, the Portland, Oregon-based group is the project of founding member Tom Greenwood, who remains the only constant member; however referring to Jackie-O in the plural is completely appropriate, given the emphasis Greenwood places on its — ahem, their — collective status. Greenwood is an astute multi-instrumentalist, and he augmented the first version of the group with co-founder Nestor Bucket on sax, although the other “core” member is probably Jef Brown. The first three albums were vinyl-only affairs, riotous indicators of greatness to come: Alchemy... Shit To Gold (1995 Imp Records); Cross Pollinate (1996 Imp Records); Flat Fixed (1998 Imp Records). A fourth title, Wow (1999 Fisheye), has some moments of true power-psyche groove, especially on the stand-out track, “Black Squirrels.” Then, Jackie-O got a prestige bump, with a release on the acclaimed Road Cone label, Fig. 5 (2000 Road Cone). Impressed, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore signed the group to his Ecstatic Peace label for The Magick Fire Music (2001 Ecstatic Peace). From Thurston, Jackie-O received a highly unlikely gig: performing at the internationally revered All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, where the freak flag flew with extended visibility. That same year, there was a return to Road Cone with Liberation (2001 Road Cone), which features some wild, vibraphone ephemera and post-jazz drumming (“Peace on Earth”); however “Something on Your Mind” is the real ear-catcher, as it applies the J-OMF aesthetic to something that warbles with vocals, steel guitar — and is that a saw? — like a highly pixellated adjunct of Neil Young.
Jackie-O proceeded into the ‘aughts, expanding their sound while relying on a number of members, including Honey Owens, Adam Forkner, Danny Sasaski, Nick Binderman, Brooke Crouser, and Josh Diamond. A series of albums seemed to indicate that Greenwood wasn’t satisfied with being intrepid; he was dead-set on being a fearless revolutionary. Allowing the group’s sound to shift from record to record, concert to concert, and even song to song, Greenwood and company established J-OMF as progenitors of the nascent freak-folk scene that included peers such as the No-Neck Blues Band. In 2005, they released the delightfully surprising Flags of the Sacred Harp (1995 ATP Recordings). (Although, how can anything from this ensemble come as a surprise?) As the title and quilted cover suggest, this is a journey into folk Americana, full of lilting guitar, gently soaring pedal steel, and plaintive, enduring vocals. An astonishing change-up pitch came with Ballads of the Revolution (2009 Fire Records). This album encapsulates all of J-OMF’s far-flung strengths as it effortlessly swings from lush and lingering folk ballads to gripping improvisations, to exhilarating, throbbing rockers that variously recall Can, Neu, and/or Ash Ra Temple. In terms of breadth and depth of vision, breathtaking versatility, and bold creativity, these folks have few equals. Jackie-O Motherfucker astound.