Macha with Mahjongg at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Monday (September 20), 10 pm. $10 advance. 416-532-1598, 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Now that the delirious cheers of delighted Macha fans that greeted the long-overdue release of their new Forget Tomorrow (Jetset) disc have subsided, it's time to find out why it took four years to appear and how these artsy gamelan groovers ever got so darn funky?
Certainly, the demand for Macha live appearances following their yawn-inducing collabo with Austin snore-core crew Bedhead on 2000's Macha Loved Bedhead EP (Jetset) couldn't have kept them busy for more than a few months.
And since Macha mainman Josh McKay immediately went to work finishing up his Seaworthy solo disc The Ride before hitting the road with Bedhead's Kadane brothers as the New Year, something dramatic must've happened in the past two years. It's time for McKay to come clean about his private obsession.
"For years I'd been secretly writing songs for Al Green in hopes of bringing him back to the world of secular music, and whaddya know, he did it without my help," laughs McKay over the phone from his Athens, Georgia, home. "So I decided to come out of the closet and started up a 70s-style R&B band with my brother Mischo called Tenderness."
After they finished touring the Bedhead record, bass player Wes Martin called it quits, so they decided to take some time off.
"Mischo and I wound up jumping off a cliff into the regenerative waters of soul music, and it felt amazing. We grew up listening to that stuff, so when we started locking into those grooves, we got hooked."
Apparently, the simple kick of getting loose and sweaty with some 70s soul jams proved the perfect antidote to years of Macha's highly structured zither and dulcimer diddling. The brothers McKay were having such a good time, they started up a second party band called Tiny Sticks to play ESG covers, which had people dancing like Macha never did. But eventually, the party came to a screeching halt when the phone rang.
"When Jetset called asking me for another Macha record, the stuff I'd been playing with Tenderness had already become like a fever. I thought if I didn't try to spend some time doing Macha again, I might never go back.
"I had some songs ready to record, but everything I'd written up until the week before going into the studio sounded exactly like Macha was supposed to sound.
"Somehow, picking up where I'd left off in 2000 just didn't seem right. We were in the midst of a war - this reality-TV-show invasion. It was a very difficult time to be an American. So I decided to do something different."
The startlingly uptempo dance-rock groove of Forget Tomorrow's title track, which opens the disc with an aggressive blast, is much more than "something different." It's a complete turnaround. But now, knowing how McKay spent the previous two years, Macha's new-found dance-floor alignment seems more like a natural progression than a cynical attempt to cash in on the post-punk trend.
In fact, Forget Tomorrow is actually an astute commentary on the whole 80s nostalgia phenomenon.
"Part of the album is about the American state of mind, where there's a war raging and what comes out of it is this strange retro consciousness with everyone looking backwards in time. It's become like a drug for people.
"Obviously, the opiate of nostalgia is very necessary at the moment, because people in America no longer know who they are now or even what 'now' means. From that perspective, tomorrow doesn't matter any more. There's no future - it's all about idealizing the past."