Your Turn features 13 tracks, several written solely by Ribot (Cubanos Postizos, John Zorn, Tom Waits) and one by Smith. Others are group efforts by Ribot, Ismaily (Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Jolie Holland, Yoko Ono) and Smith (Xiu Xiu, Good for Cows, Secret Chiefs 3), two of the best young players on the New York/California underground improv/experimental rock scene. One track, “Bread and Roses,” is based on a 1911 poem by James Oppenheim. Perhaps the oddest but most fascinating track is the trio’s enlightening re-imagination of the Paul Desmond-written Dave Brubeck jazz classic “Take Five.”
Ribot, who describes Ceramic Dog as a “free/punk/funk/experimental/psychedelic/post electronica collective,” says that Your Turn was two years in the making. “Second records are notoriously hard to nail down,” he explains. “We tried to make it a few times. Finally we got it right — meaning, we got it to sound wrong, exactly like us.”
In Ismaily and Smith, Ribot has found ideally simpatico compadres. All Music Guide, in its review of the trio’s 2008 debut Party Intellectuals, said, “Shazhad Ismaily and Ches Smith are able to give Ribot just what the songs need whether it’s hazy atmospherics or ferocious rocking and have no problem heading down whichever musical path Ribot chooses.”
Where some bands flounder on their sophomore release, Ceramic Dog coalesces into an even tighter unit on Your Turn. In the years since they first played together, Ribot, Shahzad and Smith have each been down many divergent roads artistically, and when they met up again to record this new set they found they had a renewed purpose and a fine-tuned focus.
“If you listen closely, you can hear the rage, hope, disappointment, ritual excess, love and anarchy that were in our personal and collective airspace during those years,” says Ribot. “There were (and, we hope, will continue to be) several kinds of riots going on (‘Lies My Body Told Me,’ ‘Bread and Roses’). And yes, the CD is ‘political’ (‘Avanti Popolo,’ ‘Ain’t Gonna Let Them Turn Us ‘Round’). But what fun is raging against the machine if you can’t also rage against the bar line and the tonal system (‘Take Five,’ ‘Ritual Slaughter,’ the title track)?”
Adds Shahzad, “I love the songs on this record. Pain is an inevitable part of life. It follows us grimly and attaches. I’m fighting its ability to consume, and making this record was one way of doing that. Listening to it is the other.”
From the opening track, “Lies My Body Told Me,” through the closer, Smith’s “Special Snowflake,” all three perform with a rare intensity and telepathy — with plenty of fuel to power them. In “Masters of the Internet,” Ceramic Dog rails against those who feel entitled to free music, perfectly willing to screw the artists they claim to love: “The masters must be entertained/they hunger for digital content/we must labor night and day for the glory of the masses and the masters of the internet.” And in “The Kid is Back,” love was never quite as brutal as this: “I love you like old Nixon loved his Pat/love you like ol’ Hitler loved his pretty little Eva/I love you like a beater loves his bat/love you like the beast in the jungle loves his fever/c’mon baby let’s just pop the cork.”
One of the indisputable highlights is “Bread and Roses,” which was released last fall to commemorate the first anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. “‘Bread and Roses’ is an old labor song,” comments Ribot, “associated with the IWW Lawrence Massachusetts textile worker’s strike of 1912. The lyrics are based on a poem written by James Oppenheimer. We changed the music, and a few of the lyrics (we figured anarcho/syndicalists wouldn’t mind), but the sentiments are the same.”
Recorded at three different New York-area studios, Your Turn was produced and mixed by Greg Saunier, the drummer of buzzy indie band Deerhoof; Smith suggested that he should produce the record. “I’ve known him and his music since our time in the same Bay Area scene in the late ’90s/early ’00s,” says the drummer. “I was always impressed with his unique approach to composition and recording — how he combines the two — and with his crazy-ass drumming. He’s also a longtime fan of Marc, so he has a valuable vantage point in terms of understanding where Marc’s music had been and where it could go. As far as mixing, I fully agree with Greg’s aesthetic. He has mixed several albums I have played on and written for, and I have always been a fan of his band Deerhoof. This album sounds and feels real to me.”
As it undoubtedly will to anyone fortunate enough to bathe in its glorious racket. “Those searching for rigorously applied formal constraints may have to wait,” says Ribot, and then he channels a bit of Cyndi Lauper: “Ceramic Dogs just wanna have fun.”
Ceramic Dog will appear at le poisson rouge @ 158 Bleecker Street, NYC, 212.505.FISH on May 5th for a CD release party.