Darius Jones gets spacey, Outrageous Cherry noodles
The Oversoul Manual
In perhaps one of the boldest musical departures of the year, the celebrated NYC saxophonist Darius Jones—bandleader, member of the blistering, deceptively named group Little Women and collaborator with modern jazz heavyweights such as Oliver Lake and Matthew Shipp—has released an album with no saxophone playing at all.
Instead, The Oversoul Manual—the fourth installment in Jones’ Man’ish Boy saga—is an a cappella album that features an all-woman vocal quartet called The Elizabeth-Caroline Unit (Amirtha Kidambi, Sarah Martin, Jean-Carla Rodea and Kristin Slipp). Jones isn’t in over his head here—as a young adult in Virginia, he served as the gospel choir director at his church—but fans of his masterfully expressive saxophone playing may be rightfully confused by this turn of events.
The Oversoul Manual, as the epic goes, is a 15-song sacred text written in the ancient language “oe∫” intended to be sung by three or more humanoids in a birthing ritual to generate sufficient energy to create a new soul-child, on the planet Or’gen.
Ironically, this unusual, incomprehensible album was born from Jones’ struggle to overcome communication barriers and be understood; this writer gets the feeling that Jones was successful in articulating and translating the offbeat ideas and motifs in his head and that a strange idea will have the essence of strangeness no matter how it’s presented.
It’s foreign but not in a way that directly brings a specific culture to mind—like, say, Bulgarian women’s choirs—although the trained, precisely modulating voices are like those typically only heard in opera and choral music. It can be solemn, eerie and scampering at various times, with occasional dissonance among the sustained tones, call-and-response sections and even some chanting on the final piece.
Although Darius Jones is a proven sax master, he makes for an intriguing choral director too, but should we consider him a mystical science fiction seer, as well? The Oversoul Manual is an artificial ritual that’s arresting and not so easy to process and absorb; you don’t need to live on this planet, when just a visit may do.
The Digital Age
The Detroit group Outrageous Cherry has been making infectious, nuanced psychedelic garage-pop for over two decades, conceived by front man Matthew Smith, and although the quartet still resides in the indie ghetto, it’s a secret that has no good reason to remain a secret.
Among the group’s fervent fans are the bands The New Pornographers and Saturday Looks Good to Me—both of which have each recorded an EP full of Outrageous Cherry covers—and 2014 has been a good year for the two-guy, two-gal quartet, with the release of the compilation cassette Retrospective: 1993-2010 and the new full-length album The Digital Age, both on Burger Records.
Smith has a healthy level of quality control, so your typical Outrageous Cherry song is going to be good to excellent, although the m.o. is to not exactly take risks or veer into wildly adventurous territory.
There is a spirited racket throughout The Digital Age, like “(You’re a) Vortex” which has a raucous chugging vibe along the lines of “Sister Ray” by the Velvet Underground (and drummer Maria Nuccilli’s style, heavy on the floor-tom, is perhaps a hat-tip to Moe Tucker)—imagine The Strokes in VU-mode but dirtier and looser. The Digital Age will likely be an easy sell to fans of Nuggets-era garage rock-pop, and the group’s psychedelic inflections are subtle here, with perhaps a light flange effect here and some distorted, carefully EQ-ed guitar noodling there.
Smith has a comfortable, friendly pop-oriented voice, and his evident talents are creating irresistible tugs and satisfying melodies, like on “I Think She’s Alright” with girl/boy vocal accents on the title refrain.
With so much music out there, a valid question to ask is, “Do I really need another nostalgic garage-rock-pop album?” But, after listening to The Digital Age, this writer is glad he made the time for it.