Shall we dance?
Macha cha-chas out from the shadows
There are certain things in life that we adore because they are immutable. No matter how terrifying we find the fluctuations in the climate, the economy and the government, we can curl up safe in the proven reliability of a few simple truths. Among those: You don't put on a Macha record when you want to dance.
So it's a bit alarming to hear "Forget Tomorrow," the lead-off track on Macha's first record in four years. Where the band's back catalog is defined by measured, mysterious compositions that draw heavily on Middle Eastern arrangements and instruments, "Tomorrow" is a proud, peppy piece of post-Rapture pop.
During the course of a conversation that had to be stopped and re-started no fewer than five times, thanks to the merciless cell phone reception of Lawrence, Kansas, Macha frontman Josh McKay explained the group's sudden transmogrification.
"Up until a week before the sessions for the new record began, my songs were going right along the standard M.O.," he explains. "It sounded just like a new Macha record. But I was listening to it and found myself thinking, 'I do not want to pick up exactly where the last record left off five years ago.'"
So McKay began radical reconstruction. He drained out the thudding Krautrock rhythm and pumped in fizzy disco. What you get is saucy and sinister: around the world in 80 raves, or the soundtrack to a New York-style dance bar situated in southwest Sumatra. "I'd been dancing a lot more in Athens — people have just been throwing parties and celebrating in the way that Athens has always been famous for," he explains of his inspiration. "It's just about having a good time in the face of a really awful time in American history."
In truth, some of Macha's stylistic surgery was spurred by McKay's extracurricular activities that followed 2000's celebrated Macha Loved Bedhead.
After the departure of founding Macha member Wes Martin, Josh and his brother Mischo (Macha's other chief architect) experienced a temporary loss of enthusiasm for the project, and instead diverted their energies into something different.
"I had been building up a secret supply of songs I was writing in the hopes of getting them to Al Green to bring him back over to secular music," McKay laughs. "But because I couldn't get them to him, I ended up deciding to do my best to do the songs myself." The result was Tenderness, a straight-faced R&B outfit helmed by Josh and Mischo that was worlds removed from Macha's moody Bali-pop. But then he got a call from his record label, Jetset, begging for another Macha album. By that point, Mischo had left Athens for Ann Arbor, making much of Forget Tomorrow the product of Josh's vision.
While the new album might mark a stylistic rebirth, it isn't all "fuck art, let's dance." "Back in Baby's Arm" is a 90-second ambient tone poem, and there are a number of other cuts that hark back to the sedate, slightly ominous globo-pop of the first two albums. Still, McKay acknowledges that the stylistic disparity might alienate some fans. "A lot of the older stuff was kind of high-brow, and I can certainly be accused of being highbrow," McKay admits. "But I'm also really suspicious of that. The last thing I want is to be accused of being cerebral."
Though buoyed by the group's change in direction, McKay says that the future of Macha is somewhat hazy. He plans to move out of Athens by early 2005, and isn't sure where the future will take him, or how Macha will fit into those plans. "I never really had a particular ambition," he explains. "I still consider it a fluke that the first record got made. There are so many things I'm wanting to pull together, and if I feel like those projects should be called Macha, they'll be called Macha." It's a telling restlessness, and a mirror of McKay's abiding desire to allow himself to grow and sometimes give people exactly what they don't expect.