Ghost Rock is the new album from the Michigan-based collective NOMO. The album, produced by Warn Defever, sheds light on the way forward for a band that has been forging its own vital sound. This is not the Afrobeat of Fela, nor the revivalist funk of a forgotten decade. This record owes as much to Can, Eno, and MIA as it does Kuti, Francis Bebey, and Funkadelic. On Ghost Rock, NOMO arrives in a new place. There's no loss of steam as they incorporate new influences, instead NOMO breaks through with a matured and developed sound that is fully its own.
"World music, jazz, electronica, Afrobeat...I hope that we don't get marginalized by any of these terms. We are an American band, and in our hearts I think we're more of a rock band than anything else, but we do love so many different types of music," says band leader Elliot Bergman. "We have a set of musicians, and we are trying to organize our sounds in a way that represents ourselves. We're not trying to make a record that sounds like it was recorded in the 70's and we're not trying to make anybody think that this was recorded in Nigeria. We're not trying to fool anybody, and especially not ourselves! This is our music. It is full of life, full of emotion. It's funky, danceable, weird, heavy, exuberant, angry, joyous and raucous," he adds.
The band's perpetual grooves are deeper than ever. The horns are set ablaze and analog synths beam an electrified energy into the music. The homemade percussion arsenal is ramped up a notch, and the electric sawblade gamelan brings gong-like overtones into the tangled vine of synthetic and organic strands. The band taps into its full orchestral potentialthe arrangements are filled with timbral variety, as the bubbling textures of the percussion meld with the soaring sounds of the horn section. Bergman describes how NOMO evolved to incorporate the wild looped sounds that can be heard throughout the album (nowhere more noticeably than on the screaming electric tone at the top of the introductory track "Brainwave"), "We toured non-stop for a while, and on down time, I would spend every night in my basement recording hours of loops and synth textures. I was fascinated with early Morton Subotnick records, the percussive parts, and when I ran out of records to buy, I just started making my own Subotnick-like loops. I didn't want the end product to sound like early synth music, but I loved the textures and gong-like tones of Silver Apples, Wild Bull, 4 Butterflies, etc," he says. "Most of the loops were created with the instruments that I've been making, and have amazing variety, perhaps due to my inconsistency as an instrument manufacturer. Some sound amazingly bassy and others have a chime-like ethereal tone. Eno talks about generative music, and creating a system that produces music with little interference. I like that idea, and every night I would try to create as many loops as possible on these instruments without editing. Then I would go back a few weeks later and listen to these bubbling textures that can be heard in so many different ways. Trying to get the band to learn them always sparked heated arguments about where 'the one" is!"
With the loops on Ghost Rock serving as the framework for the compositions the band were freed up to experiment with different ideas and a bigger, more orchestral, sound was born. Helping NOMO achieve this new direction were some heavy rhythmic contributors. Hamid Drake and Adam Rudolph lend their percussive mastery to several tracks with Drake's fiery drumming propelling "All the Stars" to new heights. Josh Abrams fills out the low end on "Rings." What once was a rotating collective is now a tightly knit eight piece band. This is no longer a loose assembly of great players, but a band that relies heavily upon each other, each member playing a distinct role, with a vibrant personality. Dan Bennett's fiery baritone saxophone anchors the horn section. Justin Walter and Ingrid Racine hold down the brass section with contrasting approaches to the trumpet--Walter's lyricism provides a cool counterpart to Racine's raw and brassy punch--dig her wah trumpet solo on 'all the stars.' This record finds the percussion section deeper than ever, with percussionist rotating chairs-Dan Piccolo and Erik Hall play the kit, and Jason Murdy and Quin Kirchner fill in on the Congas. Erik's main role is on guitar, and he and Jamie Register seem to have a deep kinship. Her elegant, but muscular basslines tie in with the guitar work seamlessly.
The album seems to move in many directions at once. It is more electronic, and more natural, it is more exuberant, but darker. More spiritual and hymn like, but also more visceral. The songs are sweet, but they are dirty and distorted. It is as primitive as it is futuristic. While these seemingly divergent themes might sound like some post-modern musical meltdown, it's clear that this is the sound of a band growing into its own collective voice. NOMO pulls from the past, but also points towards a hopeful future. Fans of the band will know that they like to start and end their live shows in the audience, and the opening and closing tracks on Ghost Rock echo this aspect of their performances. "I think that it's really important to participate--as an audience, as a band member, etc. and joining the audience for a song at the beginning or end of a show invites participation," explains Bergman. "On a good night, it feels like everybody is working together. Having a few great dancers in the audience can really drive the band to new levels, and we love to sing together at the end of show. It ends up solidifying the bond between the player and the listener--and it starts to dissolve those typical divisions between active and passive. It helps to make people feel that music is an event; social, spiritual and communal rather than a commodity to be consumed."
The band has toured incessantly since the 2006 release New Tones. That album garnered much critical acclaim and ended up on top 10 lists from NPR, Gilles Peterson, and Global Rhythm. The band has performed over 150 live concerts since the album, touring North America, and Europe including stops at Bumbershoot, Pitchfork Festival, the Montreal Jazz Festival, SXSW, and WOMEX. Able to fit anywhere (literally and figuratively)their sizable lineup hasn't kept them from sharing a stage with everyone from Earth Wind and Fire, to Konono No.1, to Sharon Jones, to Dan Deacon.