WESTERN ROCK'S PENCHANT for cultural assimilation has been a mixed blessing at best, and not just for those who feel plundered. From the dubious raga-rock explosion of the Sixties to Korn's squeaky bagpipe histrionics, failed fusion litters the white man's pop landscape like crumpled Fresca cans in a looted necropolis. In the rare instances when eclectica works, its practitioners are themselves bicultural, as with Os Mutantes, Los Lobos, Garmarna, etc. But Athens, Georgia, indie rockers Macha are the happy exception to this rule. Their aptly titled sophomore album, See It Another Way, finds the quartet mining slow-burn grooves familiar to Slint and Fugazi fans, but with world-music instruments: a zither, a hammer dulcimer, organs, and Indonesian gongs.
The playing's the thing here, with six of the album's nine tracks fully instrumental. When Joshua McKay's vocals do surface, they're straight out of the American Analog Set/Joan of Arc/Enemymine school of pretend-I'm-not-here breathiness. McKay seems to choose his words (and nonsense syllables) purely for musicality, and the band is perfectly happy tossing aside the demands of pop songcraft to explore pure sound. But if Macha share this sensibility with fellow Athenians Olivia Tremor Control, they still don't have a sound that could be placed on any map. This might be the seed of a potent mystique, along with their choice of name, which has multiple meanings in various different cultures--the feminine equivalent of macho, the name of an Irish goddess, a green tea popular in Japan. You can easily imagine the group playing a gig at the Star Wars cantina, or a heroin hideaway in Burroughs's Interzone, or even the 400 Bar, where they performed for a nearly empty house back in July. Maybe next time we'll be ready.
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