For your earholes

Pub date May 20, 2009
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features


Afro-Surreal is a crackling transmission from the tightest tunnels and recesses of inner space, and the furthest, darkest outposts of outer space. Afro-Surreal is androgynous — butch and femme on a whim. Afro-Surreal is a sonic realm that can morph any millisecond. It is a single body with many voices. Afro-Surreal might sound like gospel, but it ain’t, or if it is, it’s Goth gospel. Afro-Surreal is a Puya-like bloom from the root of a manifesto named "Black Sabrina." Afro-Surreal is a flawed masterstroke from the most unjustly under-known "popular music" recording artist of the 21st century. Afro-Surreal is the sound of Chelonis R. Jones.

Right now, the sound of Chelonis R. Jones is Chatterton (Systematic), his second solo album after the equally deep and fantastic Dislocated Genius (Get Physical, 2005). It’s named after a poet, and it’s a place where Giorgio Moroder-meets-Donna Summer to soundtrack an eight-minute minimalist epic sung from the perspective of the ungrateful sole survivor of a plane crash. It’s a place where rehab is a "recreant blur," and Fleetwood Mac’s "Dreams" are buried beneath threatening street wisdom from an ex-.

"’WELL SHUT MY MOUTH WIDE OPEN!’is an old surrealist term of expression that Afro-Americans created when they were emancipated, due to the fact that emancipation wasn’t a reality, but a much dreamed of condition that they hoped would become a reality." So writes Ted Joans — as tedjoans — in the liner notes for the recently-reissued 1974 album King of Kings (Pyramid/Ikef) by the Pyramids, Bay Area artist and musician Idris Ackamoor’s revelatory group. Joans was referring to the free jazz sounds of the time, but he could just as well have been referring to Death’s definition of rock ‘n’ roll, as demonstrated on …For All the World to See (Drag City), a previously unreleased true treasure of black Detroit rock that also dates from 1974. Brothers David and Bobby Hackney don’t just invent punk — "Freakin Out" is like the Buzzcocks if they were muscular — they create agit-punk on the epic "Politicians in My Eyes."

The arrival of Death couldn’t be better timed to match the black rock signs of life within the surreal electronic solar system of Jones’ Chatterton. Jones’ braiding of word and sound is subliminal, like when Pornography (as in a song that sounds like that particular era of the Cure) arrives in the wake of a track called "Tornogrpahy." In the audio "Che-ography" he has created with dozens of studio collaborators (charted on his MySpace), a cat-lady character from a 12" single (2007’s "Helen Cornell") can cameo in a song by another recording endeavor about a girl who suffers when "the pimps and crack dealers hit her…where the good lord split her."

All the lonely people, framed by "Pompadour," Chatterton‘s penultimate track that pays homage to an idol by stampeding to finality like "Speedway" on Morrissey’s Vauxhall and I (Sire, 1994). "’Twas said, ’twas said: Black singers are … well, so very very … uh … cliché," Jones, well, sings — and sings from a bottomless well. "And still, and still you know you’ll screw for them … you’ll screw in private anyway!"


Afro-Surreal-List and writing by Chelonis R. Jones