Purity and Danger - The Sway Machinery
3rd Generation Recordings
The Sway Machinery is thought-provoking no matter how you slice it. Take a moment to dwell on the album title, ‘Purity and Danger’. Surely, purity is a virtue to strive for isn’t it? Or, is it really? Pure alcohol will blind you, pure heroin will kill you; so will pure oxygen for that matter. Pure uranium can kill millions more, and pure race? That’s so dark, you don’t want to go there. Humankind thrives on a blend of chemicals, ideologies and music. So to, The Sway Machinery eschews toxic purity in the name of a blended harmony of cultural components, some ancient and some yet to come. Now, contemplate the album art. It's not an asteroid. It's inert but strangely organic, like Star Trek’s mother Horta, It reads intelligent, possibly from some distant past or alternate future. It turns out all of the above aptly illustrate The Sway Machinery. Sloughing off layers of Antibalas-style Afrobeat, post-punk, and centuries-old Ashkenazi Jewish melodies, there's really no other life form like 'em. ‘Purity and Danger’s’ title track opens the record; an instrumental of Eastern modes over an Afrobeat skank. Rachmana D’Onay follows with a strong clue about where this music is coming from. The cantor-style sung Jewish melody points directly to band leader, Jeremiah Lockwood’s vision for The Sway Machinery. It stems from a deep-set childhood memory. “When I was a boy my grandfather and I used to sit in his study listening to records of the great Cantors,” explains Lockwood. “In the dimly lit room, fragrant with pipe smoke and lined with huge volumes of the Talmud, their names resonated with a rich feeling of mythology and ancientness. On the wall was hung a framed print of a 16th century French map. In each corner of the map stood an image of one of the four races of the world, as was understood by the cartographers of the time. The images fortified the feeling that in that room the past and present and all of human kind were united in the study of some ancient wisdom. It felt to me as a child that there, in the dusky back room of my grandparents’ apartment in Queens, a passageway was opened into the heart of the world.” Thought-provoking indeed; and as much as his vocal delivery conjures the ancient, Lockwood’s electric guitar work grounds the compositions very much in the here and now. Check out the celebration and ferocity of ‘Longa’, an intense wedding dance driven by manic surf guitar, equally at home in a hora or a mosh pit. Speaking of weddings, the first of only two English lyric songs stands out in scope and intrigue. ‘My Dead Lovers Wedding’ also hints at the desert blues that shift and swell through ‘Purity and Danger’. It’s prog rock as much as anything else, powering through time changes, off-beat accents and dark moods. As with all of the album’s 10 tracks, it provides the listener with so much food for thought without being overwrought, always wrapping up neatly in 4 minutes or less. Purity and Danger is as good as it gets.