Martin Bisi – Feral Myths (Black Freighter Records) – Now what do we have here? Actually I have no idea what we have here? I know whatever it is, this is damn good! “Feral Myths are tales of a wild state, of New York heroes and villains over the years, and random paranormal encounters”. A new Martin Bisi album, and right now with little more than a day of exploring it and playing it on repeat since it was opened it up here at our end, right now I’m figuring this is going to be featuring way up near the top in our end of year best things lists (unlike most, we like to wait until the year has actually ended, we’re seeing lists published already, I do love a list, but hell! There’s still great albums being released, this one came out this week!).
So Martin Bisi, respected New York musician, performer and record producer, someone who has been at a crossroads of indie/punk, experimental, and electronic music since early 80’s. At BC Studio in Brooklyn, “he has realized albums” by Sonic Youth, Material/Bill Laswell, John Zorn, Swans, Afrika Bambaataa, Herbie Hancock’s Rockit, Unsabe, Cop Shoot Cop, Boredoms, Foetus, Helmet, White Zombie, Dresden Dolls, Serena Maneesh and more and from what we see of Martin on line, he’s a big big active part of the scene over there. I’ll not bluff it here, I know the name, indeed I’ve seen a lot of posts on social media feeds, seems we share a lot, but until today I hadn’t really dug that deep in to anything in Terms of Martin. And now I check, I see his name on the sleeves of a lot of albums that are treasured around here, yes, his art, his music, his work has crossed our paths before but until today we hadn’t really paid full attention (or at least I hadn’t)…
Now what do we actually have here? been playing this album on repeat pretty much most of the day, wanted to go to an art show tonight but no, had to get this nailed while it was all buzzing around my head. This architecture is going to take some serious dancing around, thankfully this is 2022 and not 1991 so we don’t have to spend ages figuring out what the hell to say about it like we had to back in the days of broken typewriters and photocopiers. All we need to say here in December 2022 is that this is utterly brilliant, That this is loaded with so so much, this is alive, that this is different, that this is forward looking high-end batshit goodness and here’s the Bandcamp so cut to the chase, quit reading my fractured words and our unpunctuated nonsense and just go get your ears around it for yourself. Go listen, give it at least three goes though, give it the proper listen it deserves, the respect it demands and if it doesn’t grab you in the best of ways then really, what the hell are you doing on these pages? Hey, if this doesn’t grab you with all that almost-operatic post-punk other rock and the flipping from one subway line to another then just go read the NME or Pitchbloodyfork and go get excited about bloody Razorlight making a come back and threatening us with another awful record. That bit of Feral Myths, that bit right there there about six minutes into The Great Trap is why we do this Organ thing and why we’ve bloody-mindedly stuck to doing this damn thing for way way longer than we should have done. And that bit right at the start of Avian Invasions, indeed the whole of Avian Invasions, wow!
Feral Myths is, at times, New York pissed, well no, but there is an energy, a drive, a threat maybe? Actually yes, it really is New York pissed and yes, some of it is New York art, all of it is – some of it is way way over there, all of it good, every single last tiny bit of it is so damn good – the detail, the layers, the arrows, the axes, the whole trap, yes it is feral and yes, every time I play it I hear soemthing I missed last time around – “The initial story of the Feral Myths dates back to a UK tour in 2016, where some elements of the closing title, ‘The Great Trap In The Creek’ rose out of a jam, accompanied by Diego Ferri (baritone guitar), Oliver Rivera Drew (drums) and Genevieve Fernworthy (viola, vocals). “It was rare to have these three artists in one place”, recalls Martin, pointing out to the diversity of fragments of a forthcoming collage”. The voice and Viola of Genevieve Fernworthy does bring rather a lot of extra colour to the whole already alive with so much colour thing, that closing track is epic. Hey look, now this is obscure I know, but with that closing track, we can get to namedrop Webcore at their live at Club Dog, or at their Stonehenge benefit at the Clarendon very very best full-flow best here, and if you know then you know that is high high praise indeed. And yes, as this is very New York yes we could talk of Carpet Crawlers and Imperial Aerosol Kings, we are talking that level of envelope pushing or at least aural reward, actually the kick off and The Octave Bridge is more Rikki Nadir than Rael, and the whole thing is way more New York new wave art punk than prog rock concept album but it is there, right up there – This really is feral, this is a very real album, this is brilliant!
There’s stories hidden within stories to unwrap here, there’s layers to peel back, a whole lot yet to discover, a whole load of collaborations and ingredients here in with the climate change and the gentrification and the survival of the artists and the storms and Ida and the subway stops and as Martin Bisi stresses himself, the of the collaborative aspect of his work is important here: “Sometimes someone’s idea will be better than what I had in mind – for instance, in the choruses of The Octave Bridge, Genevieve had a complicated idea for overlapping background voices – I soon realized that those should be the lead voice”. “The addition of Dave Miller, a well-known jazz drummer helped to get specific shading to the colouring of the whole song, that unites various approaches like a melting pot”.
Yes, it does feel like a melting pot, a New York melting pot, it is coloured so so well, and yes it is painterly. Never the obvious route, this is proper musical adventure, proper art. Lean though, mean you might even say. Never self indulgent, there is a point or purpose to every single note, every brush stroke, every bit of paint applied. And yeah, I’m going to do that quoting the press release thing that annoys some people so much yet again, it does explain, or add something, a bit of depth, a fact or two…
“Prolific producer, Bisi never gives any instructions to his collaborators, leaving space for post-production – later edits and additional arrangements. Martin clarifies his way of converting them into the motifs: “That’s the only time I’ll be very fixed on something – if I really like a moment or an idea – it’s always positive feedback. I feel I get the best results if I let people interpret on their own the very ‘big picture’ that I lay out”.
“A producer’s approach overlaps throughout every stage, keeping the participants in their own context. Four female singers collaborated with Bisi on various songs adding not only musical parts, but specific context. In “Esther Wings Again” Martin explores the narrative of women winning throughout history, while not being a part of the official story: “The first couple verses are about Stormy Daniels, the adult film actor who had a relationship with Trump. Then I go to a woman who was an animist witch. And then I play with the word “history”, turning it into “her story” which is of course “our story”, “your story” and “my story” which goes on in circular fashion”.
Explaining the system of characters on the record, Martin says: “I generally don’t write about myself or my feelings. It’s not very personal music. In the past I’ve written about groups of people or concepts, and any individuals were not really heroes or villains, they were just types of people I thought were interesting and worth considering”.
In the case of “A Storm Called Ida”, referring to the hellish night when Hurricane Ida hit Brooklyn in 2021 with mythic proportions, Martin personifies the storm with female vocals recorded by Sara Fantry. The storm, in Bisi’s storyline is portrayed as a force of nature that is both a destroyer, killer and a member of the community. Lamenting “the people’s dreams were soaked” and warning “as the waters warm, the storms will come”, Martin injects an action that is taken – a friend at the end narrates about trying to escape into the storm.
As an active member of the Brooklyn community, something that often involves protest actions, Martin notices that raw punk rebellion was always a part of him. “It didn’t always have a political agenda. But almost always had a social agenda. Autonomy and inclusion have been important values – these are the things that have guided me”.
Several reminiscences of his artistic stages converged with the imperative to be counter-cultured: “When I moved into hip hop, it was about Black and Hispanic youth to me. It was their rebellion, which was not unfamiliar to me cause I’d previously written graffiti. When I got involved in the scene around Lydia Lunch and Sonic Youth, it felt better to me because it was more female-centered. Then Cop Shoot Cop was anti-corporate”. Being currently involved in land-use activism, Martin thinks that “it’s where the battle for music and art is taking place”, broadening the rebellion-centered ideas of his record: “We are being displaced and dispersed from our cities, which affects the power and quality of what we do”.
See, told you the press release added something (and by the way, Lydia Lunch many times, and that time Cop Shoot Cop played that secret gig in the tiny backroom of the Bull and Gate here in London, things never to be forgotten in the strew of a million gigs we’ve been to). And yes that social conscious runs right through this album, he might be in Brooklyn but we feel it here in our East London bunker, here in Hackney where we’re just about hanging on and expecting that displace and disperse thing to happen to us like it has to so many artists and musicians around here already (and wait a moment, do I need to pull my well thumbed Martha Cooper books off the shelf now?)
Some of it is really gloriously punky, always New York punk, even the operatic bits, actually the operatic bits are really really punky, proper New York new wave no wave post art punk whatever it is – just proper. Just very very proper.
And I could go on and on, i could go on about it even when there’s no place to go with this attempt at a review. Living it, shouting at it, shouting at the Proud Boys, and then there’s the Velvet Underground bits and the Richard Hell bits in there with the Van Der Graaf bits and none of it sounds like any of that and if some old fart like me tries telling you they don’t make great records like they did back in the day then just throw this at them and tell them no, they make better ones! So much good music around at the moment, this my friends, is one of the very best albums made in this or any other year, this is a masterpiece and hopefully you gave up reading this and cut to the actual music ages ago! This is indeed our story. This is very much her story, my story, his story, our story, your story, oh yes, don’t let this one pass you by! (sw)
Feral Myths are tales of a wild state, of New York heroes and villains over the years, and random paranormal encounters. The new LP from Martin Bisi came out on December, 2nd via Black Freighter Records.
And here’s something shot on Halloween 2015 by Byron Mansylla in Gowanus, Brooklyn featuring Martin with Dave Miller: drums – Genevieve Fernworthy: viola, keys, voice. Lots to go back and explore…
And then there’s this from 2020 (I think?) – NYC producer Martin Bisi, releases Solstice, his first solo record in five years. A psychedelic opus through light and dark. (Bronson Recordings). Andd ocheck out that link to the doc about his studio and watch the trailer…
“Solstice is split between Summer Solstice and Winter Solstice sides. Operatic vocals appear throughout. Effects-driven guitar, keyboards, electric viola, and 4 different drummers create landscapes of sound, linking songs that swing between disorienting, peaceful, fearful, hopeful.
Martin Bisi (1961) – producer, engineer, musician, and central figure in New York City’s musical history of the past four decades. BC Studio – the Brooklyn studio Bisi founded in 1979 with friends Brian Eno and Bill Laswell, and still owns and operates to this day. A cavernous space located in an industrial building near Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal, the studio’s idiosyncrasies are undeniably responsible in part for the sounds created there.
At BC Studio, Bisi has personally recorded landmark music by Sonic Youth, Swans, Unsane, Afrika Bambaataa, Herbie Hancock, John Zorn, and so many more. Bisi’s name is synonymous with the New York City underground. Disparate sounds – from hip-hop to noise-rock to the far reaches of the avant-garde – have added up to a logical whole under the umbrella of BC Studio. Bisi was immortalized in the 2014 documentary film, Sound and Chaos: The Story of BC Studio – soundandchaos.vhx.tv – chronicling his life and career. Before coming back with an album under his own name, Bisi worked on the BC35 chronicles. BC35, (Vol.1/Vol.2 – Bronson Recordings). It is a celebration of the 35th anniversary of BC Studio, and serving as a unique document of the New York City underground. BC35 was weekend of performances, recorded live at BC Studio in January 2016 on the 35th anniversary. Consisting of improvised pieces, as well as songs written exclusively for the occasion, the performances comprise an absolute who’s-who of BC Studio alumni – roughly 50 participants, including current and former members of Sonic Youth, Swans, White Hills, Foetus, Cop Shoot Cop, Live Skull, Pop 1280, Violent Femmes, The Dresden Dolls, Alice Donut, Lubricated Goat, and more. Bisi himself played guitar on three of the improvised pieces….”