Musings of a Pandemic Poet: Moor Mother and Olaf Melander's "ANTHOLOGIA 01" Album Review
The public unrest that’s erupted in response to the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others is fresh kindling to the burning demand for the end of police brutality and systematic racial oppression. Such demands for institutional reform, now more than ever, are driven by a conceit which aims to reassess and alter paradigmatic power within the United States. While tactics for projecting such ideals typically take the form of public demonstration and the prolific dissemination of information across various social media platforms, artful tactics of demonstration should be spread with the same fervor. Philadelphia based experimental musician Moor Mother touts a versatile compositional style merging political critique with poetry, employing the mystique of creation to combat the ever hegemonizing influence of mainstream discourse - their discography is a stunning example of art as protest. Lofi production and politically conscious lyrics are the key components which characterize Moor’s sonic landscapes, rendering a stereo collage of oppositional sound grounded in an old century tradition of free form poetics and cosmic aesthetics.
“Anthologia 01” departs from the abrasive Death Grips-esque song styling showcased on previous releases like “Fetish Bone”, opting instead for a 20th Century free jazz sensibility. Self referred to as a “cosmic goddess”, Moor Mother presents listeners a transcendental body of sound and poetry that aims to elate and entrance, while remaining conscious of dire temporal circumstance like the COVID-19 global pandemic; as stated in the liner notes “...we are going to show you dreams, we are going to show you vision, and we are going to show you now…”. Moor is accompanied by an ensemble of musical talent on this record, with Olof Melander serving as a primary collaborative actor. Moor’s metaphysical style evokes transcendental ideals typical of Beatnik poetry and Afrofuturist musicians like Sun Ra. Such influences are welcome in a time when imagination and autonomous thinking are in danger.
Opening track Modecca serves as an evocation. Moor’s swollen vocals envelope the listener as uncomfortably fat bass swallows the foreground. Dynamics are thrown to the wayside to create an acoustic field that sounds like the track was mixed underwater. The potential for a baptismal flame allusion isn’t wasted by Moor, as she cantors “Walked through the fire even though every part of me was being erased”. This is followed by “Ol Time Religion”, featuring guest poet Joy Kmt and Elliot Levin on Flute. Moor’s steady delivery nestles comfortably in a wide and wet ensemble of woodwind, upright bass, and African drums. “Hemlock” makes open reference to Beat poet Bob Kaufman, renowned for surrealistic poems inspired by the rhythmic influence of jazz syncopation; the lyrics recited are accredited to him. Stuttering electronics set an ethereal backdrop to Moor's booming reading, which bears an emphatic tone exceptional from any other performance on the album.
Each track continues with the same structure of processed vocals and polyrhythmic instrumentation. While this formula fits the album’s meditative mood and anthology format, the lack of variety leaves something to be desired. Yet, it’s Moor’s Beat influenced poetic style that colors the album with manic lines like “Insanity, Insanity, Corona For Sale, Corona For Sale” off “Wolfsbane - Gifted” and cryptic allusions to popular musicians like Jimi Hendrix (“Truth is a burning guitar") and aforementioned Sun Ra (“And what is America? A volatile planet we are all trying to land on. Rocket number 9-9-9”.)
As America nose dives into the viscous waters of authoritarian hegemony, “Anthologia 01” stands as a haunting and honest example for how we may realize our humanity through art and sound. With each act of injustice performed by institutions devised to protect and represent, it should become evident that we must turn to ourselves and independent community for ways to transform the ills of life into something beautiful, timeless, and serendipitous. Current mediums for expression, whether artistic, dialectic, or related to discourse, should not be so easily accepted. As portions of the United States economy reopen and public space becomes accessible again, keep Moor in mind and “Breath in your own supply”.