Funk music has always been about the groove but rarely about the message. Still, even the most cursory pass of the genre shows a consciousness burbling on top of the beat — everyone from James Brown to Gil Scott-Heron brought politics into the mix. Teddy Presberg crams a lot of musical styles under his umbrella; funk is a part of the equation, alongside jazz-guitar licks, trip-hoppy samples and clacky drum-machine beats. On his new seven-song EP, Apocalypse Yesterday, he modulates his approach from largely guitar-fueled instrumental jams to more message-driven songs. It's a bold move for someone who has risen toward the top of this city's amorphous jazz-and-jam scene, and the layering of rhetoric on top of robotic beats and soulful keys is not exactly seamless. The music, a mix of hip-hop drum patterns and various ambient electric piano mood pieces and synth-scapes, never disappoints. But songs like "Cowboy Dreams" and its brief, unfinished knock on George W. Bush's post-9/11 policies feel about ten years too late.
According to the EP's press release, these songs began as long-form jams after Presberg decamped to a remote cabin with some old keyboards, dusty drum machines and a few musician friends. Slicing the music into discrete tracks didn't allow for a traditional verse-chorus-verse structure, and as such many of these pieces ride on a steady groove or merely feel like an in medias res drop-in. The title track glides on a squelchy synth bass line and some ambient jazz organ with sampled and mutated vocals offering the only lyrics. "Nuclear Weapon" gets closest to marrying Presberg's talents: The Auto-Tuned vocals glide over a thin, sharp beat, as his heavily chorused guitar provides its own narrative. Presberg's politics are largely boilerplate and undeveloped in the context of these songs; his ideas aren't going to radicalize anyone one way or the other. But for a performer who is used to letting his guitar do the talking, Apocalypse Yesterday shows the first steps — some stumbles, some big strides — of an artist finding his voice.
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