B L A C K I E Outdoes Even Himself On Brand-New Remains

B L A C K I E performing at the Moon Tower Inn's 4/20/2015 party.
B L A C K I E performing at the Moon Tower Inn's 4/20/2015 party.
Photo by Stephan Wyatt
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The late jazz giant and Texas native Ornette Coleman once offered his observation on how the individual reveals himself or herself through music: “I mean, if you decided to go out today and get you an instrument and whatever it is that you do, no one can tell you how you’re going to do it but when you do it,” he said.

How right he was.

Today, there exists music without boundaries. Terabytes of digital music lurk in the deep web relatively unnoticed, many of them containing artists who make the instrument or device of expression distinctly theirs. They grind into its essence the remains of themselves. If they see a microphone, and they attempt to emulate MF Doom’s rigid cadences, no matter how hard they try them, their cadences will never match MF Doom’s. What happens instead can be a revelatory experience. They either discover their own voice, or they continue to ignore its manifestation, thus never evolving into anything more than a pale imitation of the artist whom they admire.

B L A C K I E, though, relishes his many artistic metamorphoses. B L A C K I E EP (2005) showcased the La Porte native cutting his teeth as an artist. Tracks like “Windowgazing” and “Pink and White Ice Cream Trucks” bore evidence of a teenager deeply immersed in screw music. What he heard, and ultimately what he contributes to it, resonated with him differently from the artists who continue to pay homage to the genre by directly complimenting it. Except B L A C K I E heard screw’s ambience and noise, adopted the elements that spoke to him and infused them into his music. And he never looked back.

Flash-forward to 2017’s Remains, the guest of honor at Saturday's record-release party at Civic TV Laboratories. B L A C K I E synthesizes his genre-bending foray into free jazz on 2014’s Imagine Yourself in a Free and Natural World with the discordant acoustic instrumentation and primal hip-hop arrangements of 2012's GEN. On Remains, he continues to shape the music to come; however, this time he looks to his own body of work instead of uncharted territories. The result: his best-produced, most unsurpassed arrangements, and most accessible album to date.

First, let me clarify the phrase “most accessible album to date.” Remains does not take on the guise of a crossover album bloated by needless guest spots from Billboard Hot 100 artists. B L A C K I E’s most hardcore fans will notice a contrast with the grimy, soiled production found on albums like Spread Luv and Wilderness of North America. At the same time, do not expect a slick, radio-friendly sheen, either. Instead, B L A C K I E zooms in on tightened arrangements, silence, space and hooks.

Remains' opening salvo, “Numbers Not a Name,” features notes from the piano like wires being violently pulled from its smashed wooden body. Distorted bass rises slowly like a death rattle. He screams, from the pit of his bowels, “Tell me what remains/ Numbers not a name,” producing a bilious dissimilarity to the melodic piano that fugues with a doom-filled bassline. B L A C K I E’s saxophone further provides a succinct counterpoint to his own grating vocals that disassemble at the track’s end only because his body would not permit him to continue.

Within each one of the complexly arranged tracks on Remains are anthemic choruses. “Academy Academy” begins with an AKAI MPC classic drum fill. As the track expands, elements of B L A C K I E’s exploratory guttural sounds explode, somewhat reminiscent of El-P’s saturated, noise-laden “Stepfather Factory.” Momentary silence interrupts his flow. Then his horn blasts through it, following his lyrical lead with notes that stab out a sharp, staccato rhythm. Instants of freedom are illusory. Where waves of noise would sometimes drown out B L A C K I E’s vocals on previous efforts, here he forces the noise to submit to his lyrical flow. He sings memorable melodies before he screams the song’s title. In spite of the long interlude, “Academy Academy” resolves itself – a stark contrast with many of B L A C K I E’s previous efforts, when songs would dissolve into thin air.

Remains’ hard-boiled ethos reflects Black Flag’s disoriented My War and Fugazi’s downtempo tracks found on In on the Kill Taker and Red Medicine, applying bottomless bass rhythms and quiet-loud dynamics. “Run for Desire” leans on dub elements, seamless arrangements, prominent melodica lines, and drones for days. It descends into silence, if only for a second, only to continue its destructive pathway toward a reasonable end. “Rest in my Brain” opens with subdued melodic vocals, and it explodes with a 3/4 drum pattern coupled with a bassline like a defused bomb. Far from a radio single, it harbors the same caustic ingredients found throughout B L A C K I E’s catalog. What distinguishes it from other B L A C K I E tracks, however, is a sense of maturation and spiritual growth. After all, he has been a father now for five years, and he, like many of his contemporaries, struggles with balancing family and work with his artistic pursuits.

The album closes with “I Watch Them Turn You Off,” an ode to paralysis and spiritual entropy. The narrator struggles with the perilous effects of being “stuck in stone,” a fear many artists wrestle with as they grow older. Likewise, B L A C K I E fears being stuck in place. Created by one of the most self-aware, self-evaluating artists the Houston area has produced, Remains pursues a truth within and accomplishes its pursuit without surrendering a shred of artistic integrity.

Go forth and purchase Remains on B L A C K I E's Bandcamp page on Friday, May 12. Moreover, go see him perform at Civic TV (2010 Commerce Unit B) alongside Illustrations and Baby Horse at 9 p.m. Saturday.

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