Jackie-O Motherfucker is one of those groups that sometimes leaves me beguiled and and at others leaves me feeling a bit frustrated. Originally formed over ten years ago, the group has gone through numerous lineup changes and released a slew of albums, including the highly-acclaimed Fig. 5 and several live albums (their Wow / The Magick Fire Music is still my personal favorite release of theirs). Flags Of The Sacred Harp actually comes after a three-year hiatus from the group, in which they all went their separate ways before convening again for this effort. Member Honey Owens (whose other group is Nudge) and Adam Forkner (Yume Bitsu and many others) also teamed up for the effort.
The title of the new album from the group is a reference to an old hymnal called "The Sacred Harp," and several songs on the release contain re-interpretations and massive shifts of old blues and gospel. The whole album evokes a sort of dusty, worn-groove feeling that the group has long conjured so well, and this may very well be their most focused effort to date. Although the playing on the album is solid as usual, it's the return of Honey Owens that truly helps this album stand out. "Nice One" opens the release with slowly evolving layers of guitars, and three members of the group harmonize on vocals that work like a round. The sum of all the parts adds up to something downright hypnotic, and the track is one that stays with you despite the somewhat broken-down closing section of scraped percussion and guitar feedback.
The group continues the molasses-slow, but highly effective combination of woozy guitars and great vocal harmonies on "Rockaway" and "Mr. Sky." The latter in particular breaks into new group that might even be considered poppy by past standards. I suppose it just wouldn't be a Jackie-O Motherfucker album without some long, free-form tracks, and "Spirits" offers up just that with over sixteen minutes of alternately plucked and storming guitars alongside ramshackle percussion, some random electronics, and one final blast of drums that caps off the whole thing. As a whole, the track is kind of an unwieldy mess, but has a few moments of redemption (namely the end).
From there, the group gets back to weary vocal pieces with "Good Morning Kaptain" and the beautiful "Loud And Mighty," which, in contrast to the title, actually offers up some drifting ambience with disembodied vocals of Owens and sparse reverbed guitars. "The Louder Roared The Sea" closes the release and again Owens takes the center stage vocally as guitars and drums slowly crescendo behind her and eventually dissolve into dust. At seven tracks and almost seventy minutes, Flags Of The Sacred Harp is by no means a breezy little listen, but if you give it a chance, it will definitely work its way into your head.