Irreversible Entanglements, “Nuclear War” (Red Hot Org)
Irreversible Entanglements are a vital component of the 21st-century's jazz renaissance. Fiery, spiritual, combative, they're fronted by poet/musician Camae Ayewa (aka Moor Mother), whose seemingly every breath seeks justice for centuries of Black people's oppression. Her righteous, defiantly delivered verses roar over disciplined free-jazz workouts that seethe with tension.
So it makes perfect sense that the Red Hot Organization tapped IE to participate in its first of many proposed tribute albums to avant-jazz innovator Sun Ra. This first album in the series focuses on interpretations of the Sun Ra Arkestra's 1982 single “Nuclear War,” one of his most popular and oddly accessible works—even indie-rock mainstays Yo La Tengo have covered it.
The original's a minimalist, call-and-response song with slack, quasi-funky beats in which Ra and the Arkestra muse about the mutations and radiation and other awful things that'll ensue “if they push that button.” On Red Hot + Ra (out May 26), the formidable Angel Bat Dawid, Georgia Anne Muldrow, and Malcolm Jiyane Tree-O join IE in exploring the plenitude of melodic, vocal, and rhythmic transformations that “Nuclear War” offers.
Irreversible Entanglements—who also include double bassist Luke Stewart, drummer Tcheser Holmes, alto saxophonist Keir Neuringer, and trumpeter Aquiles Navarro—allow themselves 18 minutes to reconfigure “Nuclear War.” They begin sparsely, with myriad metallic percussion, muted sax and trumpet cries, bass drone, and chants building an ominous mood. Ayewa quickly asserts her presence, authoritatively conveying the terminal crisis of nuclear war. She could be a drill sergeant if she ever gets tired of music.
As Ayewa declaims Ra's lyrics, the group summons cataclysmic turbulence that evokes John Coltrane and Albert Ayler at their most agitated. The track then evolves through several permutations, each one a compelling extrapolation of Ra's adventurous spirit.
But IE understand that the apocalypse goes down better if Holmes can get funky as hell on the drums, which he does often. This decision not to forgo the pleasure principle while contemplating the end of the world is a godsend. Like nuclear war itself, this version is a motherfucker.
Bit Graves, “pluck2” (self-released)
Seattle electronic musicians Ben Roth and Matt Collins—aka Bit Graves—cordially sidled into my inbox recently, proffering info about and links to their new album, Murmur (out June 2). The absolute professionalism of their presentation set off alarm bells; were these tech bros whose slick promotion game would inevitably outshine their music? Bit Graves even link to Github on their Bandcamp—first time I've ever seen that. But, mercifully, Roth and Collins buck the odds and deliver interesting sounds that made me eagerly catch up with the material that they've been releasing since 2017.
Early EPs such as 2017's Recovery Sequence and 2018's Entropic Stare venture into abrasive, Korg-tastic abstraction. On these recordings, Bit Graves conjure electrical storms in space, rocket engine malfunctions, the urgent spurts of fried circuitry, Emergency Alert System warnings on Uranus—you know, the essential, fucked-up stuff of nightmares.
The duo's second album, Murmur, begins with “baikal,” a writhing cluster of angry, saw-tooth drones that'll weed out all but the most headstrong listeners. “Bigfish” enters with bulging, bass-y tones that strangely hark back to Earth's classic drone-metal album, Earth 2—a somewhat shocking turn of events. “Murmur” growls and bloops with a controlled fury, its low-frequency ripples vividly palpable. “Lighthouse” and “unicorn” also engage in exhilaratingly nerve-shredding timbres. Bit Graves' palette may be somewhat monochromatic, but they're utter masters of their dystopian domain.
So it's a bit surprising that they've chosen “pluck2” as the first emphasis track off Murmur. Here, Bit Graves let in some light and get cosmically expansive, easing back on the rest of the album's prevailing doomsday vibes. Roth and Collins excel at suspense-building dynamics and creating a sense of perpetual ascension. If Carl Sagan's 1980 TV show Cosmos were still around, “pluck2” would've been a perfect fit for its soundtrack. Highest praise.