Roll over, Sadie Mae, and tell Uncle Charlie the news: Glam-slammin’ Bloomington punk combo John Wilkes Booze has dropped the final installment in their year-long Five Pillars Of Soul EP series. Vol. 5 is dedicated to none other than Yoko Ono — but why?
The first four volumes paid tribute to, respectively, Melvin Van Peebles, Tania (Patty Hearst), Albert Ayler and Marc Bolan, so think of “soul” less in terms of a specific musical style and more as an aesthetic. According to the JWB manifesto printed in the EPs’ inserts (included are photos, a selected discography/filmography and bio notes for each Pillar) the group has “chosen the ones that are either misunderstood or still lacking the appreciation of a wider audience. If the world drank from the same pool as these five, we would be in a better situation.” In that context, the lady who may/may not have broken up the Beatles is a perfect choice.
The music contained on the fifth volume doesn’t necessarily sound like Yoko, though. “Spotlight,” for example, is a pedal-to-the-metal slab of hard-fuh psychedelia, while both “See Through Sound” and “Yoko Saved Rock ’n’ Roll” are pumped-up R&B-tinged garage, the latter’s churning organ, fuzz-guitar and funk beat in particular making for an ace party anthem. Think Blues Explosion, Funkadelic, Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Stooges pureed in a decidedly non-antiseptic blender. Of course, the furiously scraped fretboard noises in “Spotlight” do eerily resemble the lady’s patented Plastic Ono Band-era “screech and awe” approach to singing. Plus, the staccato burst of vocal shrieks that surface in the surreal sonic collage “Until Your Head Is Gone” are either inspired by her — and unleashed by androgynous-throated singer Seth Mahern — or actual samples of Mrs. Ono-Lennon herself. (Speaking of which: in addition to samples of John Sinclair, Max Neuhaus, Lee Hazelwood, Human Scab and the original circa-1965 Dream Syndicate, the band used sounds “collected on the streets at The Dakota, NYC.” Emphasis mine — creepy, no?) And “Wood Piece” no doubt would earn a knowing smirk from Yoko: it’s 16 seconds’ worth of someone slowly tapping on, you guessed it, a piece of wood.
All five volumes, in fact, regard each Pillar more as an inspirational springboard than a strict sonic archetype — how, after all, does Patty Hearst “sound”? This is accomplished, variously, via sampling (interview snippets of Hearst), song titling (“Marc Bolan Makes Me Want To Fuck”), thematic lyrics (funky soul-garage tune “Sweetback’s Gonna Make It” leads off the Van Peebles volume) or subliminal suggestion (The Fugs’ “Seize The Day” is covered on the Ayler trib — at one point both the Fugs and Ayler recorded for the ESP-Disc label).
Artistically daunting and a challenging conceptual stretch, the Five Pillars Of Soul series ultimately succeeds through sheer chutzpah and a nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic. The guys of JWB are Hoosiers, after all, dedicated to being part of the solution and definitely not part of the problem.
Fred Mills writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.