The Meters - Look-Ka Py Py Music Album Reviews

The Meters - Look-Ka Py Py Music Album Reviews
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today we revisit an inimitable document of New Orleans music, home to the deepest grooves and an enormous foundation for funk, rock, and rap.

It is most urgent for me to consistently remind myself that music, most often, didn’t just materialize from nowhere. Most urgent, especially, when confronted with an album or a band that sounds as if they arrived on the wings of some unseen miracle, like someone holy opened their palm somewhere, and out came the Meters, fully formed and already spiraling through a series of immersive grooves, each of them sounding like the birth of a new universe.

But the reality is that someone beat a drum somewhere once. Someone sounded an alarm with a voice that summoned another voice and then another. The reality is that the drums and the voices and the dancing might have taken place in American streets or in American fields, but these traditions were carried over by a people who were forced to be here, forced to work and build and care for land that wasn’t their land, families that were not their families. Their music and celebration was a reaction to that series of ongoing thefts.

And so, in New Orleans during the late-18th century, there were Sundays and Congo Square. For those people enslaved in the Spanish-dominated city, Sunday was treated as a day of rest. Enslaved peoples would take their free afternoon and gather right outside the city, the only place city leaders would allow them to congregate in groups. The space in which they gathered was originally given the name Place des Negres, and then Place Congo, and then Congo Square.

There, hundreds of enslaved Africans could gather to dance, to make music with bamboula drums, bells, gourds, banjos, the instruments of their hands and voice. These gatherings continued well after the Civil War, even when white officials attempted to quell the celebrations, in part by re-naming the area after Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard. But the music and the dancing continued.

These gatherings held together the sounds and traditions of African music, but they also enlivened the ability for improvisation—to grant an improvisor and their audience a doorway to emotional and physical release, or freedom, however brief. For those who know, for those who have ascended to some place—literally or otherwise—with no firm plan on how to descend, improvisation, when aligned with other equally adventurous folks, can be exhilarating. A promise that for each moment you decide to reach your arms out into the air, another set of hands will emerge, ready to pull you along towards whatever is next.

By 1969, the Meters were New Orleans Notorious, a band that you’d heard even if you didn’t know you’d heard them. In their earliest forms, they played as the Neville Sounds: Art Neville (keyboards), his brothers Aaron and Cyril, George Porter Jr. (bass), Leo Nocentelli (guitar), and Ziggy Modeliste (drums). When Aaron and Cyril left, the foursome became the house band for Allen Toussaint at Sansu Studios by day and tore through the New Orleans club circuit by night. It’s always fascinating when a band releases two albums in close proximity, particularly in the same year, and particularly if the two albums are a debut and a so-called sophomore effort. There are those who say you are writing your first book or making your first album your entire life. that everything you’ve lived before the point of creation overflows and pours itself into that first creation. Thus, making any second effort more challenging, with a sometimes shorter timeline, a more shallow well of inspiration to pull from, and so on. But there are moments that feel like an artist is saying, “Well, no. I’m still taming the overflow, and I have learned to do it better than I did the first time, and I can’t wait to show you.”

The self-titled Meters debut was released in May of 1969 and was steered by its opening track, “Cissy Strut,” which was honed for a couple of years as the band’s opening song. While the debut has its brilliant moments, it only suffers (and barely suffers) from what many great debuts suffer from: an attempt to prove everything at once. The Meters wanted to demonstrate the band’s total ability, to show off their immense capabilities in navigating the second line sound of New Orleans and their lack of selfishness, a band so tight that its members didn’t mind sacrificing some time so that another member could chase a melody.

Their second shot, Look-Ka Py Py, was released just seven months later, before the year kicked its last bit of sand down the hourglass. And it is here that the miracle of the Meters flourishes: the band that was on stage tearing the Ivanhoe apart night after night found a way to become that same band on record. It is sort of a reverse effect, their debut album free of pressure, imagined or real. The longest song on the album is three minutes and 18 seconds, and the rest of them barely push past 2:45, each unfurling into what feels like effortless jam sessions, where the band tries to keep up with each other on a quest to find some shared sonic revelation, and then when it is found, the song ends. Take “Funky Miracle,” one of the few songs that doesn’t end with a fade-out, and instead ends with a collision. Modeliste’s drums bump up against the rest of the band, and then a hard stop. Silence before the exit. It is the equivalent of a nod, a gesture. We did it, through the beautiful mess of sound, we found each other.

The album is best defined by Modeliste and Neville’s tug-of-war. On an album with no spoken language, language is born elsewhere. Out of instrumental gestures, out of silences, out of two sounds crawling atop each other over and over. The Meters do all of this well on Look-Ka Py Py, but Neville and Modeliste do the latter the best. They spend most of “Little Old Money Maker” trying to outpace each other in small bursts while Nocentelli plays a mediator, getting his efficient and measured guitar licks in between the delightful grappling. This interplay works best when the two lead each other toward a room of their own, where they can be at their most adventurous. “This Is My Last Affair” opens—as most tracks on the album do—with Modeliste announcing his entry, but then Neville takes over and soars for nearly three whole minutes.

The Meters were an adventurous band, obsessed with the collective sound over individual accolades. George Porter Jr. is one of the greatest bass players who has ever lived, and what makes him great is his unsung work. Every band of more than two people has to have one member at least somewhat content with doing what they do, doing it like no one else, and doing it to serve the greater good without showing off too much. It’s easy to point to songs on Look-Ka Py Py where members of the band get to show out. “The Mob” sees Nocentelli wading to the front of the line, for example. But the labor of Porter is always there, underneath everything else. Another testament to the fullness of this perfect record, a fullness that is as spectacular as it is labyrinthian. If there is an album worth getting lost and wandering through, let it be this one.

Lately, I’ve been considering this idea of doing work for the greater good, even if it means that people don’t know you by name, by voice, by any single aesthetic. In some ways, the Meters are still what they were in 1969. They’re famous far beyond New Orleans, of course. But they’re still a band that some people certainly have heard without knowing they’ve heard them. At a party a few years back, a DJ flipped Cameo’s “Rigor Mortis” into the Meters song “Rigor Mortis” (admittedly, a thrilling moment for me, specifically) and as the latter reached its final 30 seconds, there were a couple of people I was with who did the thing I sometimes do. The “I know this song…but I don’t know this song” gesture that takes place when a series of familiar but unknown sounds descend.

To say that this is, in part, because the Meters were primarily an instrumental band seems too easy. But maybe the real thing I’m trying to unlock is what happens when a band is so good, and so precise, that they make music that serves as an efficient backdrop to anything and everything. The Meters are so good that they can blend into the atmosphere; they can become the air. This, too, is a miracle—one that does not render the band forgettable in any form. It does, in fact, tie them to that old New Orleans history of a people, otherwise bound by their torturous obligations to a land they didn’t choose to be on, seeking a way to transform the world as they knew it for a couple of hours every Sunday. Until, through their movement, through their sound-making, that corner became a new corner. That is where the sound echoed until it was the only sound.

One of my favorite samples, all time, is Amerie’s “1 Thing,” which borrows from the Look-Ka Py Py song “Oh, Calcutta!”—the nine seconds from 1:41 to 1:50 in the track. The Amerie song fractures and loops those nine seconds and runs them over and over again to craft a beat that never gets exhausting and never feels stale. For the brief second in the loop where Modeliste’s drums vanish, I find myself panicked, aching for them to return, like a child watching their beloved parent cover their face with two hands.

There’s some heartbreak in the way the Meters were sampled and the amount they were sampled, particularly in the late ’80s and early ’90s. “Cissy Strut” alone was sampled 71 different times. Even more familiar was 1970’s “Hand Clapping Song,” with its repetitive chant of clap your hands now, people clap now being sampled in 92 different songs. They never got properly credited or compensated for some of those uses. In a 2008 interview, Gary Porter mentioned that the band had been sampled over 140 times, and only about two-thirds of those were properly paid off, in processes that took years.

And so, the miracle of the Meters is also the miracle of restraint. It isn’t just there in the length of the songs themselves, but also in knowing that every movement in every song could be stretched into an epic, and choosing, instead, to offer a small window into a dazzling moment, and then moving on to something else. Let the legacy of the Meters be a great many things, but at the core, I believe them to be a band invested in wonder, in exuberance. In the kind of delightful childlike awe, of finding a miracle around every corner, and therefore, eternally seeking new corners.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
The Meters - Look-Ka Py Py Music Album Reviews The Meters - Look-Ka Py Py Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on September 26, 2021 Rating: 5


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