New Music: Friday Roll Out! Kiwi Jr., OOIOO, The World/Inferno Friendship Society

Beautiful mornings with a fresh cup of java always make the day better. Driving without a care in the world, making sure I avoid careless drivers creeping up behind and on the sides of my car. The 46 degree weather out in the desert isn’t so bad so I’m able to ride with my window cracked at half-mast enjoying that brisk air for the start of the long weekend. Nothing going on today really, just enjoying the moment as we all should.

When a group vanishes off the face of the earth, rarely are they ever heard from again. Unless they decide to regroup and release a new album. It happens often; a group breaks up or fails to announce its hiatus because, well, let’s be real, it’s probable to believe no one is really going to care at the moment. Where am I going with this? I’ll get to that.

I’m familiar with the World/Inferno Friendship Society, probably a little too familiar. The group began its auspicious career with the 1997 release of The True Story of the Bridgewater Astral League (Gern Blandsten), and while I found myself deep in the catalog of the NJ punk label (Chisel, Van Pelt, Radio 4, Rye Coalition), the World/Inferno threw me off. I didn’t know what to make of them. Their compositions were of my grandfather’s generation although altered with a punk edge. My memory does serve me correctly and I interviewed the band by submitting a list of questions through the label. I received a letter back in the mail from the band but they didn’t contain my questions and were replaced by things that were nonsensical, to me, at the time. I laughed, I remained confused, and it would take me time to catch up to the band but I remained intrigued.

I’ve said so much about the band without offering much at all here as I’ve spent days ingesting the newest All Borders Are Porous To Cats (Alternative Tentacles), the group’s first album in 6 years. And while I always viewed singer/bandleader Jack Terricloth as the demented ringmaster of this World/Inferno, I have to reassess my view and as life takes us into a new frontier. Terricloth is just the misunderstood artist that’s likable, funny, and far from demanding of his audience, all the things I thought he wasn’t. I find his vocal delivery throughout the album enchanting. Far from being pigeonholed as a one-trick pony, Terricloth changes up his delivery to suit the needs of each song. His vocals are accentuated by Aaron Hammes (saxophone, guitar) and Gina Marie Rodriguez (bass) but I’ll go out on a limb here to say Rodriguez compliments his since hers are the only female vocals on display here. Whether it’s on the Latin swing of “Citizen Of Jazz” or the cabaret styling of “Having A Double Life Is So Hard (But Obviously Something You Enjoy),” but I’m intrigued on the frenetic “The Cat in The Hat Has The Right To Sing The Blues” where Rodriguez sings opposite Terricloth, towards the end of the song. It’s quite charming. But I need to backtrack because musically “Having A Double Life…” is pretty clever. An acoustic guitar plays a sick lead, then the violin plays the exact same line, followed by an electric guitar doing the same, and then it’s an organ playing it! It’s perfect.

The band has a lot to offer within the confines of 11 tracks. Three Parts WTF” blends in strings, guitars, piano, and horns together seamlessly, while Terricloth may sound as if doing a Bowie-esque impersonation opening “I’ll Be Your Alibi,” but it actually shows his range over that baritone sax that leads the way. But it’s on “All I Can Do To Help You With Your Nightmares Is Keep You Up Late” where I find myself dancing along where for the first minute Terricloth sings barely raising his voice, here led by Rafael Calderon’s trumpet and Hammes’ sax. It’s beautifully done. I’ve fallen back in line with the ways of the World/Inferno and the closing “Freedom Is A Wilderness Made For You And Me,” with its thick, distorted bassline opening it, keeps me there.

Oh, how the World/Inferno Friendship Society are masters at creating melodies where none should exist. All Borders Are Porous To Cats is proof of that. After 23 years of releasing albums, this is the culmination of all their efforts. All Borders is the band’s perfect album; the perfect storm.

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I have no problem bringing up my ignorance on certain things, and when it comes to Canada and its ilk, I only know a few things: MMA’s GSP, Danko Jones is originally from up north, and so is one of my best friends. Of course, I had to check a Google map for Prince Edward Island, which is off the coast of Nova Scotia (and FYI, that’s where everyone was sent at the end of World War Z.)

But I’ve educated myself and I now know this is where the Toronto-based band Kiwi Jr. is originally from. I feel guiltless not knowing anything about the group, and that’s ok because I’m sure no one knew anything about the group. Football Money (Mint Records) is the band’s debut release, an album filled with jangly pop gems and indie rocker wet dreams. This is probably what all the kids over 20 – 50 have been waiting for; an assortment of songs that speaks to them without being pretentious. After all, they’re from Canada after all, well, a “maritime province” anyway (see, I continue to learn.) But seriously, those low on time and quick to make comparisons will surely refer to who they believe influence these rockers, but I’m not so obviously fooled. The band opens the album with “Murder In The Cathedral” and they may have a singer whose voice is reminiscent of one Stephen Malkmus and his early band work, but listening closely to the music brings CeeLo Green’s “Fuck You” to mind. While both songs open with similar notes, they’re obviously different and that’s as far as it goes comparing the two. Guitars aren’t distorted over the top, and at moments the jangle seems to take from Johnny Marr’s clever work with the Smiths. But making cheap comparisons to Malkmus and the like isn’t fair to Kiwi Jr. because the band offers up so much more lyrically.

“Leslie” doesn’t go off on tangents lyrically, attempting artsy-fartsy lyricism for art’s sake, instead the band tells a story in this punchy number, filled with harmonies and clean guitar work, while “Salary Man” does the same, speaking to the everyday man that works the 9-5, wishing for more, forgetting to charge your cell phone, while trying to balance work with band life. Fuck yeah! Musically, the band soaks in every ounce of melody it owns and packages it tightly around the lyrics, tossing in just a little feedback for good measure. But then the band shifts gears on “Comeback Baby” with more of that jingle-jangle, allowing this pop-enthused number to find its own way through melody and vocal harmonies. Then the band moves forward with the title track that’s mostly focused on a singular rhythm, but that’s ok! The rhythm section takes control here and the band builds around it with distorted guitars, choppy leads and melodies where you don’t expect them.

Kiwi Jr. has me fascinated with the pop concoctions they created here like on “Swimming Pool,” which moves like it began its conception in the 1960s but is totally rooted in 2020. The band may pull from influences across the ages but there’s no one else doing it they way they do. Football Money is Kiwi Jr. taking their shot. Shots fired! Anyone firing back? Kiwi Jr. has raised the bar at the start of the year. I doubt anyone can compete with the band’s pop brashness.

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Anyone that believes experimental music is better left off to the side and away from the rest of the world is just fearful of experiencing something new and quite unique. It’s not all about noisy feedback and unintelligible vocals; it’s often about finding new ways of directing melody, allowing it to flow freely and allow the music to be unrestrained by standard song structures. This is what OOIOO does every single time.

The band, founded and fronted by Yoshimi P-We, hasn’t released an album since 2013’s Gamei, which was the last release with guitarist/vocalist Kyoko who passed away in 2015.  A 7-year hiatus which no one could blame the band for. With a current lineup of YOSHIMIO, KayaN, AyA, and MISHINA, the band has released its new Nijimusi (Thrill Jockey). The band opens with the noisy fuckfest of the title track in under one minute’s time, with feedback laden guitars clashing against one another before the party really begins. There are songs here but not the kind the average listener may think of. “Nijimu” is repetitive with a frolicking beat that rarely shifts and a bassline heard in the distance. Guitars are added for good measure while keyboards are haunting. Halfway through the band funks things up briefly with ethereal vocals that drift off in the space-time continuum.

There’s an oddness to the music the band creates which adds to its charm. “Tisou” drifts around a few guitar notes as drums seemingly display a random pattern but it isn’t so random. Within the 6.5 minutes of the track, the band changes direction at the drop of a hat. One simply needs to get pass the opening moments of songs like “Asozan5” to appreciate the track itself, with compelling melodies, suited to the band’s own needs. But it’s “Walk For “345” Minutes, While Saying “Ah Yeah!” With A Mountain Book In One Hand…” that I find most compelling. At over the 11-minute mark, the band moves in varying directions without missing a beat and creating lifelines to other dimensions.

I’m not going to question why there hasn’t been more music, I’m just glad they’re back with Nijimusi.

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