Photo by Jeanne RiceFree Moral Agents Everybody's Favorite Weapon
Ikey Owens is not polite—at least not when it comes to a typically second-banana instrument like the keyboards. At one of the rare live gigs for his latest project, Free Moral Agents—July 3 at Santa Ana's Grand Central Art Station—he dared to make his keyboard not just the center of attention, but to also make it kick and flail like a furiously feedbacking electric guitar. In less-talented hands, this could may have sounded like a self-esteem exercise. With Owens, who plays keys for Mars Volta and a rap sheet of other bands, it was a speed-of-sound plunge into Miles Davis' 1970s jazz funk. And that's just how Owens says hello. Created mostly with his keyboards and a host of studio tricks, Owens' just-released album, Everybody's Favorite Weapon, is packed with the mutant dread that made Detroit techno such an apocalyptic joy. But he laces that aesthetic with bluesy organ and jazzy Sun Ra freak-outs that point the way to something truly unique. The title track sets the tone by drop-kicking convention. There's no effort to hang notes or melodies on the time-honored pop-music formula of verse-chorus-verse. Instead it's a series of movements—up to a volley of Salvation Army Band-style trumpets—leading to the verse of J, the Agents' spoken-word artist. And "Gem From a Broken Rock," a spectral love song featuring fragile-sounding vocals from Mendee Ichikawa, is almost the opposite, settling into a sublime chemical-washed ennui and suddenly scrambling into one of J's jeremiads. So the Agents refuse to be comfortable with one groove—which is as it should be. Because no matter how far they've gotten already, it sounds like there's even more at this mysterious avant-hip-hop party left to discover.
Free Moral Agents perform at Fingerprints CDs & LPs, 4612 E. Second St., Long Beach, (562) 433-4996. Thurs., July 22, 7 p.m. Free. All ages.
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