Ceramic Dog, legendary guitarist Marc Ribot's new power trio, opens their appropriately titled debut album, Party Intellectuals, with a riotous statement of intent; tearing through a grungy surf-punk take on The Door's "Break on Through," the trio proves they're here to party, political puns notwithstanding.
Ribot's renowned sideman work with Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, The Lounge Lizards and John Zorn (among others) established his singular voice in the nascent Downtown scene two decades ago. A veteran bandleader, Ribot draws from myriad experiences to inform his newest venture. The lyrical irreverence of The Rootless Cosmopolitans, the bone-crushing volume of Shrek and the easygoing Afro-Cuban groove of Los Cubanos Postizos all commingle to make Ceramic Dog Ribot's most diverse and populist band yet.
Joined by bassist Shahzad Ismaily (Laurie Anderson, Secret Chiefs 3) and drummer Ches Smith (Trevor Dunn's Trio Convulsant, Secret Chiefs 3, Xiu Xiu), the trio keeps it loose on a balanced mix of instrumental and vocal numbers, relying on infectious bass ostinatos and buoyant percussive vamps as the foundation for visceral call and response interplay and probing solos.
At their most accessible, the wry travelogue "Todo El Mundo Es Kitsch" and familial ode "For Malena" float on ebullient bass pulses and shimmering Latin rhythms as Ribot invokes his former Los Cubanos band. The trio hearkens back to the oblique deconstructed pop sensibility of early eighties no-wave on the title track and "Never Better," combining danceable rhythms with angular themes and excoriating noise.
In storytelling mode, Ribot narrates a stark paean to youth over glassy shards of undulating feedback and scintillating percussion on "When We Were Young and We Were Freaks," recalling Sonic Youth at their most sinister. The jaunty "Girlfriend" traffics in similar territory, offering a twisted variation on the confessional singer-songwriter aesthetic. A haunting introspective side materializes on the cinematic tone poems "Bateau" and "ShSh ShSh."
Ultimately, Ceramic Dog is a rock band, with "Digital Handshake" and "Midost" the album's epic centerpieces. On the former, Ribot stretches out over a hypnotic bass loop and thunderous drumbeat before the trio peaks in a climactic squall of staccato caterwauling. "Midost" is a menacing anthem that suggests Dick Dale jamming with Black Sabbath as the trio gradually ascends from a churning free-form vortex.
A kaleidoscopic overview of Ribot's career to date, Ceramic Dog encapsulates his diverse interests in one stripped down unit. Funky, edgy and raw, Party Intellectuals is a vivacious effort from one of the Downtown scene's key innovators.
Personnel: Marc Ribot: guitar, vocals; Shahzad Ismaily: bass, vocals, moog; Ches Smith: drums, percussion, electronics, vocals; Janice Cruz: vocals (3); Jenni Quilter: vocals (11); Martin Verajano: percussion (8).