What would it sound like if Neu! and Sonic Youth teamed up to rock out? It might sound a little bit like "Onlookers," a new track by Chants, a new project spearheaded by Jordan Cohen of the boisterous funk-and-jazz group Mama Digdown's Brass Band.
Cohen plays the bass drum for Mama Digdown's, but Chants is focused on rhythms and beats more generally, particularly in the context of electronic music. "Onlookers," on an album of the same name, grew out of Cohen's desire to explore rhythm in a straight-ahead rock song with a bit of a pop feel to it.
The song begins with an infectious rhythm banged out on something metallic -- a counter, a pipe or a mailbox, perhaps -- and a smattering of birdlike electronic chirps. Pretty soon, a driving, Neu!-style beat emerges, as well as an epic guitar solo, lending the tune a vibe that's both rocking and transcendent.
"Usually I'm thinking about beats when making music for Chants, but in this case, I had been listening to Neu! and Sonic Youth and wanted to try something more straightforward and rocking," he says. "This is the only track on the album with an actual chorus or solo section."
Though Cohen didn't team up with Thurston Moore or Klaus Dinger to create the tune, he recruited some talented Madison-area friends -- guitarist Louka Patenaude, bassist Scott Lamps and vocalist Brandon Beebe -- to make "Onlookers" pop.
Cohen says Patenaude's solo was so jaw-dropping that he decided not to edit it when piecing the song together.
"I didn't have to touch this solo, despite the fact that it's nearly two minutes long," Cohen says. "It's probably not what most people are accustomed to hearing from Louka stylistically, but I think he absolutely slayed it."
Meanwhile, bringing the act to the stage may be a bit trickier, especially this Friday, the date of its first live performance. Cohen says he's a bit freaked out about not being able to tweak and re-tweak the songs onstage like he can at home, but he's confident they'll come together.
"In general, with Chants, I get all the time I want to be a control freak, experiment with sounds and play with a track until it feels right," he explains. "What I'm most excited about is recording the next album; I want to go way further out with sounds and textures but also use a lot more vocals."
In other words, don't just be an onlooker; be an outlooker. It sounds like Chants has some great songs on the horizon.
Listen to an MP3 of "Onlookers" in the related files at right. More Chants songs are available on the project's MySpace page and blog. Catch Cohen's first live performance of "Onlookers" and other songs from his new album during the Monsters of Poetry benefit at the Frequency on Friday, September 17.
MadTracks highlights and provides MP3s of songs performed by local musicians. All tracks here are provided with permission of the artist. If you are a musician based in the Madison metro area and are interested in sharing your work as a MadTrack, please send a message.