YOUNGBLOOD BRASS BAND – Is That a Riot?
(2006 Layered Music)
The Youngblood Brass Band’s first album with their new lineup is a powerhouse. Is That a Riot? is a killer artistic statement, brash and bold, featuring an eclectic mix of hip-hop, jazz, funk, soul and all rooted in New-Orleans-brass-band instrumentation. It’s a new direction and sound and it’s a winner.
There are plenty of subtleties to be sure, but when Youngblood puts their collective pedal to the metal, they can pump up the volume past eleven. The band says there is just a different quality to the music when it is played loud, and it often requires D. H. Skogen to vocalize with intensity. This has been misconstrued by some of their fans as an expression of rage but that is seldom the case, though the complexity of the lyrics could lead to different conclusions. “Nuclear Summer,” however, stands up to the best Rage Against the Machine. The difference here is that Youngblood produce this glorious cacophony with just drums, horns and voice. The liner notes for “Nuclear Summer,” which is the first single and is available on 12” vinyl, read: “From the left shoulder of a nation; from skies lacking the mechanisms of death; from the burdened bellies of wrought iron angels we come; we drop; we’re bombs.” “Nuclear Summer” is a battle cry for peace; a bold and graphic reflection of the warring factions that impose their insanity and the response of a youth “at attention and tending towards prose.” “Ignite a new kind of soul fusing father and mother / Here come the heat…nuclear summer.” This is a fantastic track.
The album gets off to a great start with “March,” an infectious blast of horn power that is sure to become a favorite among fans, as “Brooklyn” (from 2003’s center:level:roar) did. Skogen’s love for words is apparent. Just as “March” blends images of stomping armies with the month of spring, “Waiver” begins with the line, “We are waving our arms,” and ends with, “We are waiving our arms.” In between there are “AKs over here…M9s over there.” The tune is sophisticated acid-jazz with saxophonist Joshua Smith shining during the song’s instrumental section.
The percussive sounds on the album are terrific throughout and really come to the fore on “Pala Minima (In Memory of New Orleans),” taking a solo break in the middle section before switching the beat up entirely for the end. The song summons eerie reflections of hurricane Katrina. On “Ake” the rhythm again provides the central aspect of the song, one of the more melodic pieces on the disc.
Youngblood has a slightly different configuration in the studio than it does on tour. Skogen handles all the percussion chores and Jeff Maddern adds a third trumpet. The trumpets have their moment of beauty on “JEM,” a short-but-sweet track written by trumpeter Charley Wagner. Wagner also contributes the title track, a snappy tune, the punctual horns stabbing at the beat.
“Dead Man Stomping” is so avant-garde and ominous it’s impossible to equate the sound with a traditional brass-band configuration. The same is true for “Bone Refinery,” which showcases some incredible rapping from Skogen.
The album’s closer, the instrumental “Thanks,” by Israel and New Breed and arranged by Youngblood’s sousaphonist Kenny Bentley, is nearly a pop song, by far the most straightforward track on the disc.
It’s hard to believe that Is That a Riot? was recorded in the piecemeal manner that the band says it was. They’ve managed to achieve an organic feel, as if everyone had been in the studio simultaneously and this is a testament to the production talents of Skogen as well as the highly technical arranging skills of the band’s nucleus who know exactly what it is they want and how to get it. Some very innovative percussion and found sounds can be heard throughout this disc as well. Is That a Riot? is completely engaging and groundbreaking and finding a more ambitious release than this would be no small task.