If freedom were a genre, what would it sound like? Ripping guitars? Loud saxophones? Spoken word poetry? For black people, the sound of freedom has always eluded genre names like punk or jazz or trip hop. Tricky has built entire career over making music without putting labels on it. Bands such as Young Fathers and Algiers have openly experimented with mixing genres in their diaspora to create and/or communicate a feeling or an idea. The latest name that explores freedom in their music is the Cleveland Tapes collective.
Composer/producer Ra Washington and LaToya Kent are two artists that are a part of the collective. They’ve collaborated on music that has eschewed genre with Kent as a singer and Washington as a producer under different names, such as LeRoi da Moor and Crave. Even as a part of Mourning [A] BLK.str, they described the band as genre-agnostic. (Those who really want a bone could possibly call it “progressive soul” if they want to, but if you have a rigid idea of what genres sound like individually, even THAT will not help you any.) Me:You, the project featuring Washington and Kent (with occasional help from labelmates Jah Nada and Laura B), continues building a world where freedom in music is equal to the total freedom of living life.
Elements of soul, noise, punk, jazz, and more are sprinkled throughout but in a way that sounds like you are sitting in on a live freestyle session. The band, however, describes it like listening to field recordings, hence the title: Field Tapes in Der Trash. The album begins with Kent crooning almost seductively over rumbling beats from Washington that sounds like a lost transmission from a planet we aren’t too familiar with. “Burns” is only the beginning. “Sun Tzu” ups the pulse of the drums to an overwhelming scene, with only Kent to offer comfort in the madness.
What makes Kent a compelling voice is her ability to both inspire a meditative calm and burst into a fiery voice whenever she needs to. Whether the music is calm like “Sugamilk” or claustrophobic like “Burns,” wafting in the breeze are Kent’s (and occasionally Washington’s) vocals. But she’ll let it rip when she needs to. “Dirt” is a prime example of blending the raw and dirty vibes of punk and the directness of soul. Imagine if Chaka Khan was the lead singer of The Bellrays and you will be well in the ballpark. From start to finish, Kent demonstrates why voices are instruments just like guitars, pianos and anything else, as she bends and expands it to whatever will she chooses in order to communicate whatever she pleases. Sometimes it’s her reminiscing of a time before slavery, other times it’s educating an ally on her honoring of her blackness. Even in “Crawl on yer belly,” the story of life and death is delivered in ways similar to a kid’s jump rope rhyme.
Field Tapes opens up room for feeling tranquility, pain to be explored and wildness and anger to explode where they want it to. If the spirit of punk is what they go for, they have no doubt achieved it throughout this album. But make no mistake about the multiple genres named. The mixtures are nothing like treating the album like a Spotify playlist. This is pure worldbuilding shit.
But enough about labels. Field Tapes in Der Trash is for Me:You. Those not willing to share and take part need not enter. If you shall feel the need to involve yourself, feel free to explore their Cleveland Tapes output.