billy woods/Moor Mother - BRASS Music Album Reviews

billy woods/Moor Mother - BRASS Music Album Reviews
On their mesmerizing collaborative album, the gnomic NYC rapper and the avant-garde poet and musician piece together ideas and sounds from history’s jagged shards.

Moor Mother and billy woods are both time travelers of sorts. For Moor Mother, an activist and educator with the Black Quantum Futurism collective, time travel is a way to recover obscured Black pasts and multiply Black futures. Evoking black holes and cosmic hauntings, her music crisscrosses timelines to reveal the illusion of time as progress. For woods, being Black is a form of time travel. The past constantly intrudes on his oblique and often comical narratives of the present, a cosmic context collapse. On BRASS, the pair’s wanderings through space and time reach new heights of detail and imagination, piecing together ideas and sounds from history’s jagged shards. 
The record is an outgrowth of “Furies,” an Adult Swim single from July that appears here as the album’s opener. Produced by Backwoodz Studioz mainstay Willie Green, “Furies” strikes a deft balance between woods’ grim fables and Moor Mother’s spacey prophecies. Though their verses don’t speak directly, they achieve a kind of parallel harmony, their crystal balls tapping into the same frequency. That rapport deepens on BRASS.

As on “Furies,” the production helps woods and Moor Mother speak the same language. Both artists lean toward harsh, dissonant sounds in their solo work, especially Moor Mother, whose free jazz, spoken-word, and noise collages are often confrontational and bracing. Here, the arrangements are softer, more somber, the production a steady fizz of shifting percussion, thick static, fuzzy samples, and flecks of acoustic instruments. At times this backdrop grows outright ominous, as on “Mom’s Gold,” where a snarl of feedback erupts from the already prickly mix, and “Maroons,” where a morose trumpet and prickly synth wail into the abyss. But generally, the mood is calm, almost meditative, keeping woods and Moor Mother’s spirited performances in the foreground. 

The pair works well together, their shared disinterest in meter and linearity giving their songs dazzling shapes. woods is the archaeologist, digging through the rubble of history for absurdities and continuities. A crash course: “Traffic stop, I reached for my slave pass slow” (“Giraffe Hunts”); “Alan Greenspan fucking Ayn Rand/She came, finished him with her hand” (“Rapunzal”); “We waved every day, but good fences makes good neighbors/Like those mountains in Asia (“Blak Forrest”). Moor Mother is the mystic, using history as the jet fuel for her vision quests. Her verses are just as far flung as woods’, but tend to be cheekier, flightier: “Through the air like Kobe Bryant/’08 season, the year after Garnett screaming/Anything is possible” (“Rapunzal”); “You can’t imagine a blacker future than me/Forever young, forever in the zone of the one” (“Tiberius”). Together they treat history as a mass grave and a playground, heeding its horrors yet finding room for dark laughs and cautious hope.

Sometimes they manage both. “Scary Hours” begins with woods narrating a deportation in Wakanda that builds to a reference to the Berlin Conference, the 19th-century European summit that formalized the pillage of Africa. “Sickly white men clad in animal skins/African kings, flies swarm on piles of limbs/Inoculate the babies, inoculate the babies,” he raps, claiming colonizers as African royalty—and suggesting Wakanda is just another evil empire. That sequence would be audacious on its own, but it’s just the prologue: moments after woods’ bleak lament, the sky opens up and John Forte swoops in on a rush of woodwind and horns singing of liberation and escape. Then Moor Mother builds that outburst into a rally cry, gliding over the brass. “Welcome to the party,” she booms, channeling Pop Smoke.

Throughout BRASS, woods and Moor Mother sharpen each other. Though they are individually fond of ellipses and cliffhangers, as a unit they actively seek out ways to riff on each other and expand ideas. On “The Blues Remembers Everything the Country Forgot,” when Moor Mother’s verse ends with a spirited call to arms, rather than matching her indignation, woods lets the tension linger. “We waited and we watched, we waited and we watched,” he chants, showing fury can be as paralyzing as it is galvanizing. Similarly, on “Giraffe Hunts,” the overlapping images from their verses—the bombs, guns, and landmines of a warzone; a leering police sergeant; cobras, rattlesnakes, and bison—create an elegant tapestry. It feels like a shared hallucination.

It’s telling that as the pair zooms through time, they make one explicit stop in 2020, a brisk, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it one-liner from woods. “Hydroxychloroquine unpacked and boxed up again,” he raps on “Rock Cried,” condensing a whole year into the bleak status changes of a medicine. On Moor Mother and billy woods’ looping, geological timescale, this is 2020’s standout episode. Everything else is mundane and indistinct, that regular dystopian shit. BRASS is the rare, mesmerizing album that can throw that kind of gut-punch, land it—and keep moving. It feels like freedom
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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billy woods/Moor Mother - BRASS Music Album Reviews billy woods/Moor Mother - BRASS Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 Rating: 5

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