When you listen to YRU Still Here? (Northern Spy), the militant new album by guitarist Marc Ribot and his long-running trio Ceramic Dog, practically the first thing you notice is Ribot’s sneering anger. On the opening track, “Personal Nancy,” he shrieks with almost strangulated fury, “I got a right to say fuck you!”—which seems to break the dam on a flood of invective directed at the Trump administration. At first the band’s wrath feels as indiscriminate as machine gun fire, but soon it becomes clear that Ribot and his partners—drummer Ches Smith and bassist Shahzad Ismaily—are directing their ire at deep-seated racism, discrimination, and anti-immigrant politics.
The musicians borrow the aggression of punk, but they operate at a much higher level than your garden-variety hardcore band—and though they vary their attack constantly, the sense of righteous indignation never diminishes. In that regard the album takes me back to the early days of American hardcore, when bands made a rallying cry out of condemning the jingoistic abuses of the Reagan administration. Trump is at least as bad, and may turn out to be even more destructive and destabilizing.
The simmering Latin groove of “Pennsylvania 6 6666” recalls another of Ribot’s bands, Los Cubanos Postizos—and though its title tweaks the anodyne Glenn Miller swing hit “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” its lyrics excoriate the racism Ismaily faced growing up in Danville as the son of Muslim Pakistani immigrants. “Muslim Jewish Resistance” is a brutish protest song that underlines how both religious groups have been targeted (and ought to fight together under the progressive banner), in the process name-checking anti-justice crusaders such as Benjamin Netanyahu, Steve Bannon, and Jeff Sessions. “Fuck la Migra” borrows Latinx slang for the ICE officers tearing families apart in the U.S., railing against profiling and deportations over jackhammer punk—and the song’s taut post-Famous Flames breakdown gets an extra boost from Ribot’s trademark guitar stabs and skronk by guest saxophonist Doug Wieselman. Some of the songs are strictly instrumental, such as the churning “Shut That Kid Up” (a bonus track on the CD and download versions), which you can hear below. But just because there aren’t any words doesn’t mean it sounds less angry.
Jeff Snyder, Sunspots (Carrier)
Quilt, Plaza (Mexican Summer)
David Garland, Verdancy (Tall Owl Audio)
Von Freeman Quartet, Lester Leaps In (Steeplechase)
Michael Pisaro, Shades of Eternal Night (Gravity Wave)