Sexmob w/ Scotty Hard, “King Tang” “Banacek” (Corbett vs. Dempsey)
Led by the world's only slide-trumpeter, Steven Bernstein, New York jazz genre-splicers Sexmob have been shredding purist protocols for 26 years. You can hear their maverick proclivities at work with radically ingenious covers of Nirvana's “About a Girl,” Wings' “Live and Let Die,” Prince's “Sign of the Times,” and Buffalo Springfield's “For What It's Worth.” In the '90s and '00s, Bernstein honed his aesthetics and chops as musical director for John Lurie's Lounge Lizards, zigging when listeners expected zagging and messing around with styles with wit and skill.
All this tinkering with other people's music could put Sex Mob at risk of not having a distinctive identity of their own. But on albums such as 2017's Cultural Capital, Bernstein’s original compositions strut extravagantly in the fascinating intersection of gritty, downtown NYC jazz and brainy funk.
Sexmob's new album, The Hard Way (out May 12), features longtime members Briggan Krauss (alto/baritone saxophones, guitar), Tony Scherr (upright/electric bass, guitar), and Kenny Wollesen (acoustic/electric drums), plus producer Scotty Hard (Harriet Tubman, Ka, Medeski Martin & Wood, etc.). For this record, Hard sent Bernstein loops, beats, or electronic pieces and the latter wrote compositions over them. (No covers this time; sorry!) The results are brash, funky-as-hell pieces that revel in unpredictable dynamics and intriguing melodies, with Hard's electronic treatments making songs hit, uh, harder and with more jagged angles. Miles Davis fans will likely hear the DNA of his 1972 fusion masterpiece On the Corner in Sexmob's grooves and ominous atmospheres.
There's a serious sonic depth to these 10 instrumentals. For example, “King Tang” tumbles out of the gate with exceptionally chunky beats, with Bernstein’s slide-trumpet and Krauss' sax slashing through the slow-mo, On the Corner staccato funk with bravado and Scherr's bass bobbing and weaving with athletic elasticity. “Banacek” trumps everything else, though, with its slide-trumpet and sax fanfares sublimely slurring over a rhythmic shuffle that's as humid and languidly grooving as the dankest cuts on Miles Davis's Get Up With It, with a hint of Shelly Manne's oft-sampled “Infinity” blooping the in background. That the track's probably named after a '70s TV show starring George Peppard as a detective is no coincidence. “Banacek”'s drama and suspense are killing here.
Sexmob perform 6:30 pm and 9:00 pm, February 16 at Royal Room.
Who Is She?, “My My Orca Card” (Father/Daughter Records)
Back in January, Seattle power-pop trio Who Is She? caused some entertaining controversy while performing between periods at a Seattle Kraken hockey game at Climate Pledge Arena. While covering the Le Tigre song “My My Metrocard” (retitled “My My Orca Card” for local flavor), they altered the lyrics in order to rib Amazon's sensitive multi-billionaire CEO, whose company had naming rights to the venue: “Oh no, Jeffrey Bezos/He's such a total jerk/Shut down all the bookstores/Billionaires do not work.”
With a quickness, the Kraken organization dropped Who Is She? from their scheduled three-game residency. (Former Stranger music editor and Tacocat frontwoman Emily Nokes had joined them on backing vocals and keyboards for the gig.) It was a big deal for one news cycle; even UK publications such as NME and The Daily Mail reported on it. Afterward, Who Is She? tweeted:
In an unfortunate turn of events, apparently we are not welcome back at Jeff Bezos’ Climate Pledge Arena for tonight and tomorrow’s hockey games. Glad we got to play our take on this @letigreworld song, we had a blast. Sorry to anyone who was hoping to see us play. Go Kraken! pic.twitter.com/AfX4tfwvm3— Who is She? (@whoissheband) January 27, 2023
The antics may have cost Who Is She? some money in the short run, but the blast of notoriety could ultimately boost their career even more. The band members—Robin Edwards (guitar, lead vocals), Bree McKenna (bass, backup vocals), and Julia Shapiro (drums, backup vocals)—are veterans of Seattle's rock scene, touring and recording with Lisa Prank, Tacocat, Chastity Belt, and Childbirth. They're media-savvy enough to know that stunts can be as crucial to a group's success as high-quality songwriting. And as their 2017 debut album, Seattle Gossip, proves, Who Is She? can craft earworm hooks and engaging, pop-culture-heavy lyrics with great facility.
“My My Orca Card” is a cool, swiftly careening number that aurally captures the rapture of enviro-friendly rapid transit. As an Orca Card-carrying citizen, I relate strongly to the positive vibrations Who Is She? lavish on the local symbol of (literal) green movement. And if you don't think the Bezos dig is justified, you're part of the problem and probably drive a gas-guzzler. (Side note: Rudy Giuliani was the villain of Le Tigre's original 1999 tune, and now he's in even deeper shit.)