As a member of Mission:, which morphed into Crown City Rockers, Ethan Parsonage has been on top of his game not only as a producer, but as their bassist. The Headnodic moniker has kept his foot placed firmly in hip-hop, as a means to let people know he can make the kind of music that will make the head nod. While that in itself describes primarily hip-hop, it covers any form of music that will make you move, but often is used to describe the emotions feel when one listens to soul, funk, jazz, or any hybrid of these. All of his previous projects have never shied away from being hip-hop, but for The Iguana (Ropeadope), Headnodic leaves his assumed comfort zone to find himself in a place where he sounds quite comfortable.
If the album title is any indication, perhaps Headnodic seems himself as an iguana shedding its skin to reveal its truer, inner self. For me: Mission: and Crown City Rockers were always a band that were not only a hip-hop band, but a band who were great in playing a wide range of music. The public perception seemed to be that they merely played to show that they were a hip-hop backing band, and maybe that comes from hip-hop’s not so much misunderstanding of real instrumentation, but almost a lack of interest in it unless you were able to prove yourself. That’s not to say that Crown City Rockers didn’t, but after awhile it seemed its members were finding more adventures outside of the group’s core. Oddly enough, the core of the group would still remain, but by twisting things in a different way, one was able to find its own skin shedding, which revealed the different interests much stronger in this context. Headnodic’s previous album had a hip-hop focus but for The Iguana, hip-hop is put on the shelf and he allows himself to play the kind of music that made him want to become a musician in the first place.
To put it simply, this is the kind of album you would expect to find in the back of your favorite uncle’s or auntie’s closet, the one marked with the date 1977, along with handwritten call letters for one of the three radio stations that dared to play this music. The music is a mixture of not only soul and funk, but there are elements of jazz, Afro-beat, some Latin and Brazilian influences, and a track with a distinct Pink Floyd flavor that shows how he can move towards a progressive rock slant. As is my ritual, I like to listen to the music before I read anyone’s press release, I want my view of the music to be my own, I don’t like to be persuaded to feel one way just because that’s what they want me to feel. The influences I hear in this are very much what Headnodic wanted to achieve, and it’s nice to hear it done in this way, as if he’s saying “this is the kind of music I have loved, and this is not just me being a sample reference. There’s great music, and I’d like for all of you to hear what I can do with it.”
He does so with fellow friends Kat Ouano and Max McVeety, who are able to bring their own influences into the fold as they have with one another for over ten years, to show why these three click so well in the first place. McVeety gets to play hard if he wants, funky when ready. Ouano can be as soothing as she’d like to be but dig deep into the grooves, but you may catch a few classical references here in there, as she has always hinted throughout her career. Add to this mix the guitar work of Persephone’s Bees’ Tom Ayers and Agua Libre percussionst Valentino Peeps, and this comes off like some incredible and trippy album released between 1972 to 1978, maybe one that was released on a major label but only through the Japanese or German counterparts, obscure as hell but still sounds very familiar. It’s that kind of album Madlib would have fun recreating under one of his countless monikers, but what makes this work is the interaction between Headnodic and other musicians in the room, jamming with one another until they get something. It doesn’t have to be right or accurate, but if it feels good, they just let it go. It sounds great at 7am as it does at 12:15am, as it would at 2 or 3am. In fact, call it that 3am album where your mind is in that zone and you want to find the meaning of life and validate your existence. Or if anything, The Iguana compliments your existence and acknowledges what you like because they like it too.
I should also explain something. Most of the time when I put albums onto my iPod, if it is not indexed or numbered, I will do that myself, as it’s something I actually enjoyed doing. Realizing that the album I received was not numbered, it indexed the album alphabetically, which means I listened to it this way:
Blue In Green
Enter The Dragon
I am someone who holds to “the integrity of the album”, which means the way the artist presents it, I want to show respect to the sequence as the artist and producer programmed it from start to finish. Without indexed tracks, it started with “Ambus”, which came off like a bum-rush into the ears, as if Headnodic was saying “let’s do this funky like a hip-hop track, to let everyone know that I, and we, are back.” It goes through the motions and then the prog rock vibe happens with “Dissolver” before leading towards the end with “Zaya”, which has the vibe of Africa running through as if to say “this is where all music originated, we thank you for this.” The proper order of the album actually begins with “Dissolver”, so immediately it shows that Headnodic is immediately distancing this collection of music farther from what he may be known for. When I heard “Blue In Green”, its jazzy groove was the album’s second track but its proper placement is the closing track, which shifts the dynamic of the album a bit, as if to tell the listener that this how I’m musically rooted, but the tree continues to grow, see what I have become. In fact, play the album first as is, and enjoy it. Then re-sequence the tracks alphabetically by title. It’s the same set of 14 songs, but unintentionally it comes off like two completely different albums, as it provides two distinct listening experiences. I may program it alphabetically, but backwards, just to see if I have a third.
As for the album cover, while its elements started to reveal itself, it reminded me of an updated version of some of Roger Dean’s classic album covers, in fact it distinctly looks like a more futuristic version of what appeared on the back of Osibisa’s second album, Wכyaya, drawn by Dean.
Not sure if there’s a connection or it’s just an odd coincidence, but if there is a link, maybe in this case the iguana (and what it may represent) will now be the one to take flight and go in for the attack. Where is he going? Headnodic’s knows where he is going, he knows within.
(The Iguana will be released on October 23rd.)