Some things should be taken in small doses. Blood-curdling screams and ear piercing guitars, for example. A little variety goes a long way.
But for ex-Black Eyes members Daniel Martin-McCormick and Jacob Long, there are only two types of musical expression: either broken, whispered yelps paired with dreamy guitar loops, or else manic, full-bodied vocal screeches matched with the most incomprehensibly dissonant guitars.
The duo (now based in San Francisco) have joined drummer Damon Palermo to form the abrasive Mi Ami, a band who seem more content with challenging listener expectations than trying to get anyone to listen in the first place. At times, it’s hard to tell if Mi Ami are simply performing tongue-in-cheek just to see how far the hippest of music critics will follow them into annoyingly pretentious waters.
But assuming it’s not all a put-on, Mi Ami’s first full-length, Watersports, can be aptly criticised with the cliched statement “less is more.” Songs range from four to nine minutes, and the song divisions seem arbitrary at best, since each sprawling track is a far cry from the traditional verse/chorus song form. Songs begin and end haphazardly, and it wouldn’t take much to connect all of them together into one track.
As for the music, the rhythm section keeps things grounded throughout most of the album, pounding away at tribal rhythms while reverb laden, delayed guitars try their best to make the listener go into a trance. The only variability in these songs hinges on whether singer and guitarist Martin-McCorkmick decides to be eerie and brooding or piercingly screechy.
In many respects, Mi Ami mirrors The Mars Volta in terms of long-winded musical statements. Both groups take their initial ideas (inspired or not) much too far, losing any of the impact their songs could have had. The powerful punch that many bands can put into a two- or three-minute song is here extended into a masturbatory nine-minute diatribe unconcerned with arrangements, nuances, or tonality.
Because of the delay effects used, at times guitars slip in and out of the rhythms provided by the drums. It brings a sort of Captain Beefheart feel to the proceedings, with a few parts recalling the excessive splendour of Miles Davis‘ Bitches Brew. Mi Ami, however, do not match the audacity of Davis’ cerebral, avant-garde magnum opus (which stands as the Finnegan’s Wake of the Western music canon), despite the fact that they seem to be talented musicians once you get past all the noise.
But if you bang two rocks together enough times, you’ll eventually get a few sparks, and Mi Ami aren’t without their inspiring moments. Bursts of brilliance are few and far between on Watersports, but moments like the five-minute mark of Echononecho cannot be denied their spirited energy. Palermo goes into a Latin type of beat, Long does some nicely placed bass slapping, and Martin-McCormick executes a solo worthy of placement in a Velvet Underground song.
Unfortunately, such small moments of inspiration are only peppered throughout, and they’re not enough to make up for an entire album of ramblings.