A noise-rock band isn’t “supposed” to cover Andrew Hill’s “Smokestack” or Wayne Shorter’s “Juju,” at least not as a serious endeavor. But there would be a lot less valuable music and art if artists and musicians listened to those who tell them “no.” And Plutonium Farmers guitarist/composer/ringleader Jonathan Horne has been told “no” a lot. He’s been told “no” both implicitly and explicitly, even by this writer, and by those who thought that what he was trying to do could (or should) not be done. Namely, that a dyed-in-the-wool improviser shouldn’t write rock songs, or that a predilection towards surf rock, classic jazz and free improvisation was somehow not the right recipe for creating lasting music. But as pianist Muhal Richard Abrams purportedly once said to Sun Ra, “today I’m here to tell you YES.” There is no formula for the Plutonium Farmers, but any entrée to their work features careening, chunky electric guitar and Horne’s lilting vocals, propelled by the fraternal twin engine of drummers Aaron Dugan and Matthew Armistead.
The double LP you have here – Helloha and Index Zero – includes sixteen compositions, of which the two aforementioned 1960s modal jazz covers feature prominently, as well as a tune by Horne’s grandfather Scott Mills, “Land of Sunsets.” The music is often at the tipping point just before chaos ensues, outlined with sensual subtlety but consistently explosive. Horne is a man of pure emotion and rugged excitability, but the Plutonium Farmers’ music is ultimately rather consistent in its id-ful teetering, and has been worked out over years of practice and rehearsal, including a two-year residency at Austin’s Moose Lodge and countless other performing situations. But through poverty and ignorance, the Plutonium Farmers are a well-kept Austin secret. Shades of prime Trance Syndicate noise-rock, SST grungy pop, and the free rock of Storm&Stress or The F and the © figure into their sound, arrived at independent from self-conscious stabs at ‘90s revivalism. Recorded by Steve Albini and mastered by Bob Weston, these two LPs are full and exacting, brimming with joy and their ideas marked by clarity. And while local music might not be keyed into the Plutonium Farmers’ music and that of Jonathan Horne, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a healthy dose of individualism in your rock and roll. After all, Helloha opens with such an entreaty – “It’s For You.” This is your music.
released December 8, 2012