Break On Through

In the future, nostalgia will continue to be hip. Witness Marc Ribot’s latest collective (don’t call it a “project”) Ceramic Dog. It opens with a charged version of the Doors’ “Break On Through,” finds inspiration in the decades-gone downtown New York music scene and, at different times, recalls Zappa, Lou Reed, even Devo. Still, it seems to be its own thing; smart, irreverent, neoteric and loud.

Take that opening number. It’s not so much an invitation as the Doors’ original was, but an insistent demand that uses brain control techniques—shouts, abusive guitar and hypnotic repetition of the title—to cross over. It’s hard to categorize what follows. On his website, Ribot defines Ceramic Dog as “free/punk/experimental/psychedelic/post electronica.” To us, that sound about right.

Ribot’s no stranger to put-ons, irony and embracing nothing in particular (see his quasi-Latin band Los Cubanos Positizos). The disc’s title tune carries some Zapa-esque social satire, blurring the suggestion of bygone leftist politics with scenester self-indulgence (maybe they’re the same thing?).”Todo El Mundo Es Kitsch” is a sultry, tongue-in-cheek look at shiftless, jet-setting pleasures. The snappy “Girlfriend” is narrated by a bored hipster who goes out to restaurants when he isn’t hungry, laments he missed the downtown scene of the 1980s and wants to make it with his girlfriend’s girlfriend. Some guys are never satisfied.

Not everything is done tongue-in-cheek. “For Malena” is a sweet, sorta Latin, sorta reggae beat tune about a single father trying to make a home life for his high school-aged daughter. The instrumental “Bateau” rocks back and forth in a gentle sea against a backdrop of masts and clanging riggings that recall Gamelan gongs. “Digital Handshake” is an electronic gallop through open territory. The moody “When We Were Young and We Were Freaks” is a melancholy tune of lost love, or something like it, with references to blood, black satin sheets, handcuffs and the inability to cry “no more!” Ribot’s guitar playing here is all short-circuit spark and tracer fire against Ches Smith’s wired, schizophrenic percussion. Elsewhere Ribot’s phrasing, in the best punk tradition, is a demented expression of anger and self-conscious insistence though a bit more ambitious—you might say artistic—than what passed as punk.

The molten core of this power trio is bassist Shahzad Ismaily who knows when to riff and when to spike the sound with something stronger. Ismaily adds moog, drummer Smith gets credit for electronics and, at times, the audible impression is of a fuse about to blow. Looking for something tame? This isn’t it. Released June, 2008—Cabbage Rabbit

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