For me, the best part about college radio was the endless collection of dilapidated cardboard boxes, each a brimming landfill of promo CDs. It was kind of an anti-apocalypse shelter, where humanity's most disposable culture was curated. As we all know, trash + pressure + time = gems, and it was here, amongst the country novelty acts and failed reggae crossovers, that I discovered Secret Mommy.
Secret Mommy, AKA Vancouver's Andy Dixon, is all about process. He gathers a jazzy ensemble in a studio and records countless improvisations. None of the instruments are electric or given amplifiers. The only electricity used while recording is for the recording equipment. Then he makes techno.
Retreating to a laptop, he cuts up each improvisation to make warped dance music—shifting, bending and effecting snippets of guitar into a pulsing drum beat. He takes vocals and reduces them to abrupt sounds, in effect creating a new language of chirps and moans. The result, to steal words from his mouth, is “a remix of phantom songs,” the music is constructed after the music has been 'made.'
You know, just like a Britney Spears single.
This playfulness with his source material is extended to a playfulness with the spectrum of pop music. His process pays homage to the Beastie Boys live sampling techniques circa “Check Your Head” infusing a brash spirit into the relatively staid activity of sitting at a computer for hours editing sound files. He uses horns gleefully, combining styles and eras of brass sections with abandon.
Introspective banger “Dance Studio” dissolves from third-wave ska hup hup huping into a full big band shuffle; Secret Mommy is a restless historian.
Take my favorite track, “Grand About the Mouth” where Dixon combines the acoustic tenderness of Simon and Garfunkel with the anxious flair of Aphex Twin. Sure we've heard these bands before, but who has ever put it together with such curiosity, filling in the gaps with mad guesses and murals of hypothetical life.
Secret Mommy plays at the Healthy Time Fun Club on May 2nd