By Seraah For Brain Arts Org
May 10, 2020
ONO has risen yet again! Their new body of art is called “Red Summer”, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. These creative juggernauts have been serving the people since the 1980s—decades later they still have the perspective and creative means to push the thresholds of thought through discordant soundscapes, evocative lyrics, and grooves that have the gift and persistence of inertia. In an interview with Impose Magazinetravis—ONO’s lead vocalist & a former Vietnam Vet—stated: ”I create every day. Therapy, rooted in an attempt to deconstruct personal vagaries bound by black death, (U.S.) American “Manifest Destiny,” interference and framing. My neighbors are drugged. Defeated. Elderly kept alive as blood banks for pharmaceutical CEOs, military/financial institutions and the bleeding ulcer that is mid-east Wall Street.” This statement, to me, acts as the spinal column of the illusory “American Dream”. Statements such as that can only be made from the depth of one’s lived and observed experience as well as a space of true empathy. The resonance I feel from his quote rides the surface of my skin like condensation hugs the transparency of glass, especially in the wake of a world in crisis.
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Upon hitting play, my ears were met by a bombastic air pressure—this was my introduction to “I Dream of Sodomy”. With this as my gateway into the mind space of “Red Summer” (which finds its conception in its demolition-oriented drum pattern supported by a bass groove) it became apparent to me that this work of art had 3 goals that I could discern: 1. to possess my body, 2. to collapse the ribs protecting my heart, and 3. to reconstruct/confront my understanding of history and its utilitarian nature. ONO’s Dream of Sodomy loaded its ammo in the trenches, and has been shooting methodically through historical timelines, puncturing holes through the space-time continuum since the track boomed out of my speakers.
travis sets the context within the music as he delivers a kaleidoscopic oration, beginning with “I DREAM…I DREEEAAAM…DREEEEAM”, which for me draws a direct line to the lauded MLK’s celebrated “I Have A Dream” speech—except the vision ONO projects quickly turns into a war-torn tapestry littered with searing musket holes when it is revealed that his dream begins with Napoleon, the 19th century military leader and emperor who conquered a large portion of Europe. This “dream” carries on down the path of a vocally driven narcosis as travis states “I Dream of Andrew Jackson,” the notorious slave owning president who is also known for his participation in Native American genocide via the Indian Removal Act, which birthed the tragedy known as the Trail Of Tears. It is here that I begin to feel the psychosis of society that “Red Summer” could be speaking to.
The genius lies in ONO’s clever juxtapositions. Using funk as the anchor, they make heavy hitting statements with as few words as possible—akin to pathworking used in the occult for conjuration of spirits. It becomes glaringly clear that the dream (littered with the presence of the NSA, the Navy, the USS ships, artillery, sodomy, and the buck broken house niggas) is a sort of unhinged quantum observation of human’s relationship to the taboos it has been ensnared in since the dawn of time. Taboos relating to sex, war, enslavement, dominance, and survival by any means necessary, are things that the hominid seems to have a fondness for, even in the sophistication of the 21st century. This “dream” seems to have summoned the worst of ourselves—perhaps in hopes of some sort of alchemical transmutation?
As I continue down the beaten path set out by ONO’s fever dream, I am left with the awareness of the weight of history, and how that weight is used to force false impressions onto the populous. History, as it is told, is used a societal metric. We compare the past to the present to discern our next course of action, but what if a majority of history is filled with half truths, or outright lies?
This brings me to the next single “Tar Baby”. From here I can see the modality Ono has chosen to deliver their transmission.
This project unravels history to display a rare honesty about the bleakness of the African in America, one steeped in a mechanical melancholia.
travis narrates us through a dystopian mental map of our stories in this country, and in the West at large. This is best exemplified through the molasses-like drone of the choir that colors “Tar Baby”. As the beat stumbles forward, we are introduced with the kaleidoscopic re-tellings which includes our friend Napoleon, the new edition of a firing squad, and the Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louvature (which by the way is intense juxtaposition when taking to account who Napoleon was, and what Haiti’s relationship has been with France historically). What excites me about this writing style is what is left to be interpreted. In “Red Summer” it is what isn’t said that is imbued with the most energy. Ono is asking us to take an active part in unraveling the maze they have set out for us.
What catches my attention about “Tar Baby” and even “I Dream of Sodomy” is how texture is implemented in order to create a sonic space that is in support of the narration in these songs. These textures not only act as anchors that allow us to understand the environment we are being thrust into, but also add a musical dynamism that cannot be expressed through sheer notation, again illustrating the genius of Ono. These sounds—the rattling of rounds being fired off in the distance, metallic screeches, ricocheting bullets bouncing off of the walls of our minds—deliberately and cleverly guide us through the past and future simultaneously in a way that is impactful, immediately engaging, and medicinal.
When a collection of songs can function on this level—with a sincere consideration of content, concept, form, and delivery—it becomes quite apparent that we are engaging in the minds of visionaries that are not bound by anything conventional. To me that is the essence not just of true artistry, but also of the source and essence that revolution is created from. Revolution is ugly: it’s confusing, it’s scary and inescapable. But most importantly, it is imaginative much like the world of ONO.
If you value the sonic sorcery of the movement led by the likes of Moor Mother, Dreamcrusher, or the Mourning A BlkStar, then you will without a doubt find solace in the home built during the era of “Red Summer”. And if you don’t, it’s high time to get hip.