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Relaxer - Coconut Grove Music Album Reviews

Relaxer - Coconut Grove Music Album Reviews After years of kicking against dance music’s strictures, Daniel Martin-McCormick delivers something close to a pure techno album. A product of turmoil, it’s a satisfyingly confident statement.
Daniel Martin-McCormick’s past always seems to dominate the conversation about his present. No matter how many new groups he’s formed or new aliases he’s tried on for size, his music continues to be evaluated through the lens of his earliest projects. Since 2002, Martin-McCormick has logged lengthy stints in groups like Black Eyes and Mi Ami and recorded solo as Sex Worker and Ital. (Full disclosure: he’s also an occasional contributor to Pitchfork.) Launched in 2016 with a series of five self-released EPs, Relaxer is the New York producer’s latest undertaking, and his new album, Coconut Grove, potentially represents a final, complete break from his noisy post-hardcore roots.

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jaimie branch - FLY or DIE II: bird dogs of paradise Music Album Reviews

The New York trumpeter and bandleader’s second album is darker, denser, and more experimental than its predecessor, but no less resonant.

On November 6, 2018, trumpeter Jaimie Branch was onstage in Paris, France, screeching out the blues with her quartet. The music was more somber than the jam-based jazz that marked the New York native’s impressive debut album, 2017’s Fly or Die. At the same time, voters in the United States shuttled to the polls for midterm elections. The music was a plea for them to do the right thing. “The blues we played was far from where it got to on the album,” Branch writes in the liner notes of her second record, Fly or Die II: bird dogs of paradise. “But the sentiment remained: It’s a prayer for amerikkka…” In its finished form, the 11-minute “prayer for amerikkka pt 1 & 2”—positioned near the beginning of Fly or Die II—is the album’s centerpiece; its plodding rhythm and searing real talk sets a forceful tone. “We got a bunch of wide-eyed racists!” Branch declares in the song’s first segment, “and they think they run this shit.”


With thunderous trumpet wails and airy, sometimes deconstructed arrangements, Fly or Die introduced Branch as a powerful bandleader in the New York and Chicago avant-jazz scenes. Released through International Anthem (the same label that’s put out stellar projects from Makaya McCraven, Irreversible Entanglements, Damon Locks’ Black Monument Ensemble, Angel Bat Dawid, and Ben LaMar Gay), Fly or Die arrived seemingly out of nowhere and became one of 2017’s most acclaimed jazz albums. Centered on triumphant, hard-charging backbeats that oscillated between Chicago- and New Orleans-style jazz, it was a far brighter album than this one. While Fly or Die II is darker, denser, and more experimental than its predecessor, it’s no less resonant.

Branch sings on this record—on “prayer for amerikkka pt 1 & 2” and “love song”—marking the first time she’s used her actual voice on her solo music. Don’t expect her to start singing old Nancy Wilson covers; her voice—part raspy alto, part full-throated wail—is best suited for punk rock and takes some getting used to. She’s a gifted trumpet player who doesn’t need vocals to convey strong emotions, and to fans of her previous work, a track like “love song,” which concludes Fly or Die II, can feel weird on first pass. In keeping with the album’s theme, its sarcastic ode to “assholes and clowns” appears aimed at apathetic politicians, though Branch keeps the lyrics open-ended enough to apply to pretty much anyone worthy of such distinction.

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Fly or Die II is expressly influenced by the political climate. In the second half of “prayer for amerikkka,” after the beat quickens to a stampeding mix of Spanish jazz, Branch tells the story of a teenaged Central American girl who seeks asylum in the United States. Liner notes detail her journey: She’s separated from her family at the border and deported to El Salvador, where she’s beaten and sexually assaulted. Three years later, she seeks asylum in the U.S. once again, only to be held in a cage in Texas. “She was only 19, they crossed over at dawn,” Branch sings. “Now her mother and brothers are safe in Chicago and she’s all alone.” Coupled with a surging instrumental—courtesy of Branch, cellist Lester St. Louis, double bassist Jason Ajemian, and drummer Chad Taylor—the song lumbers toward you, as if the border agents were coming for you next.

The theme continues on “twenty-three n me, jupiter redux,” a moody, shape-shifting composition that conjures doom and panic through dark synth chords, crashing cymbals, and sporadic trumpet blasts. A pronounced marching beat breaks down into frenetic free jazz, churning up an urgent blend of drum taps and loud horns—the sound of the sky falling. Yet Fly or Die II grows more optimistic as it plays, and by the time “nuevo roquero estéreo” rolls around, the album veers to a festive style of Chicago jazz, where the beat locks into a two-stepping rhythm as Branch’s horn soars above it. The eight-minute “nuevo” is the album’s most pop-focused track, a bright spot peering through the overcast. This isn’t the album you play if things are going well; Fly or Die II leans into the exasperation of life in a country that elevates assholes, clowns, and wide-eyed racists to positions of power.


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