In the Frankenstein-producer’s tradition of Can’s ‘Tago Mago’ and Miles Davis’s early electric records, O Emperor have spliced disparate threads together to form ‘Jason’.
But, where Can and Davis shaped their creations through the haze of their times, O Emperor crafted theirs looking through the prism of the 21st century, when neo-soul and disco-resurrections are abundant.
As a result, ‘Jason,’ their third and final album, is a kaleidoscopic glance into the changing of the times.
Where rock pervaded the airwaves and tastes of the 20th century, our age has taken a funkier turn. Mining the seams of funk and soul as David Bowie did on ‘Young Americans.’ It’s that Bowie groove that O Emperor move to on the vocal-less Richard’s Dream. Where the bass drum emphasises its few, regular accents and the bass-line keeps a constant undercurrent flowing beneath the mercurial guitar work.
Michael Karoli’s guitar playing on ‘Tago Mago’ ventured off into the far realms of the cosmos but on Richard’s Dream, the guitar takes a fistful of the universe and brings it to this earth, cradling its ever-shifting form in its palms.
Japan’s whammy bar ducks and dives, calling to mind the adventurism of the mighty Stump, whose guitarist Chris Salmon’s mad, prankster-ish playing evoked images of mischief gods like Loki and Pan. Japan’s vocal, however, is more textural than melodic.
It fulfils a similar, if less gibbering, role to Damo Suzuki’s in Can, where coherency and melodicism were eschewed in favour of laying down an extra inscrutable layer. Another stratum of musical geology that obscured the story beneath its rock.
Make It Rain, on the other hand, carries a more definite vocal, not unlike the voice of Alex Turner’s new cosmic-crooner persona, while, beneath its smoothness, the instruments dance a ritual – flickering and flitting like the end of a flame.
On the following track Chasin’ The Bang, a processed voice intones “I wanna groove with the backbeat”, invoking the spirit of Butthole Surfers’s vocalist Gibby Haynes. O Emperor then flip entirely and blast into a stab of fizzing, distorted lead guitar, once again reminiscent of the Surfers’s satirical take on rock n’ roll sanctities.
Effort carries a slightly dissonant piano line atop its bounce, while the vocals take on that aforementioned textural role, where, rather than dominate the portrait, they are simply a brushstroke, as equal as any of the other instruments and void of any diva-isms or theatrics.
On this record, O Emperor have acknowledged the rulebook but decided that it was a tome of suggestions, rather than requirements. The end result is an album that dares to be thrilling. For every hallowed piety, there should be a joke at its expense and that joke should be as valid, as worthwhile and as intelligent as its butt.
‘Jason’ is that joke. Short, sweet, and smart as the one-liners of Steven Wright or Mitch Hedberg. There is joy and there is craftsmanship in abundance.
The band could have simply waved but O Emperor have made their goodbye a statement, one that says that, no matter how high we build, we should never ascend above piss-pulling.