By Peter Hepburn | 27 May 2009
Earlier this decade, in the little glen of Washington DC, the Black Eyes were borne from a wicked mass of rhythm and screeching. They came together to play legendary-in-their-own-time live shows, to record two fantastic albums for Dischord, and to promptly collapse under the sheer weight of the entropy that they had loosed. Needless to say, they have been dearly missed.
It was, therefore, greatly heartening to hear that two of the band’s five members—Daniel Martin-McCormick and Jacob Long—had found themselves a drummer and were back recording music, this time as yet another difficult-to-google moniker, Mi Ami. Watersports, the band’s debut, is a solid record of dubbed-out punk rock that’s not particularly hard-charging, has no really sharp corners, and isn’t liable to elicit either shocked silence or pleas of mercy. It’s also quite good, and while Black Eyes’ second album, Cough (2004), toyed with the same notions of dub (among many other things), Mi Ami fully commit to it here. In seven songs, over 47 minutes, they explore the inner world of pinging guitars, heavy bass grooves, driving drums, and echo. Delicious echo.
It turns out to still be fertile territory. Long is a competent and entertaining bassist, which is a must for the genre, but it’s Damon Palermo’s drums that are most convincing, never seeming committed to any pattern for more than a few bars, almost always tweaking some element of the rhythm while maintaining syncopation with Long—pay attention to the sheer number of variants he throws in to “Echnoecho,” or dig the cymbal-riding intro on “New Guitar.” And though Martin-McCormick is a terribly grating vocalist, even if he is one of the best yelping frontpersons around, he’s thankfully kept deep in the mix most of the time, tempering his theatrics and rendering him far more palatable. Moreso, his guitar playing remains as adept and wonderful as it ever was, the thick, opaque production allowing those pure tones to bounce around beautifully.
And bounce it does. The band plays with delay throughout, first tightly coiling the bass and guitar on “The Man in Your House” only to let them wobble around on the supremely laid-back “White Wife,” eventually giving them a taste of their own tails on closer “Peacetalks/Downer.” As I’ve implied (and as the dregs of their influential touchstones may suggest) motifs tend to recur and tracks flow into one another pretty much seamlessly (it’s a fantastic album for running), but removed from their context I imagine some of the more drawn-out tracks here getting ponderous, and it’s a credit to the band that that’s never the case on Watersports.
For those hoping for a return to the tight, spastic punk that Black Eyes nailed, Watersports is bound to be something of a disappointment. But consider: Cough came out in 2004 and by that time the band was already finished—five years later I know I find myself less drawn to that aural assault, those pointy edges, those imposing barrages and more apt to witness a half-decade transition. I’m finding these chocolate bar grooves and dark, open spaces in Watersports a pretty nice place to be, and if the guys in Mi Ami have mellowed a bit with age, they haven’t gotten any less interesting or vital, still embroiled with the spirit and verve that supposedly ended at the Black Cat not all that long ago.