Celadon Macaw (Sockets) Electronic space-cadet jams that stay grounded

Trip Service: Macaw’s electronic space-cadet jams know when to stay grounded.

If you name your first solo album Celadon, you’re probably trying to say a thing or two about craft and permanence. Or maybe you’re just an art nerd and you like the sound of the word. Or maybe it was just really hot where you recorded everything? Celadon is a type of glaze for ceramics, and you can’t get a glaze without a furnace.

For D.C.’s Macaw, aka Wilson Kemp, all of that stuff is probably true: He drums for Hume, a band that has expended countless hours teetering on the line between art punk and noodly, information-age jams. In college he studied printmaking, an elemental but process-aware discipline. As a visual artist, Kemp’s had at least one solo show in town, and he teaches art at a Montessori school. And the story is that Celadon was recorded mostly in a D.C. attic with help from Hays Holladay of local electro-poppers Bluebrain, using a lot of vintage gear—i.e., no computers. All those synths, delays, sequencers, and beat machines get pretty hot, no doubt.

So what came out of the oven? A labor of love, for sure. Celadon feels round, whole, and studied, as if Kemp wasn’t going to release it until it was ready.

Things could have been far less solid, though. Anybody who has heard the dreamy, evocative track “Five Minutes at the Rainforest Cafe”—which has been kicking around for a couple of years—could be forgiven for thinking Macaw songs have the potential to float off into stardust. But the rest of Celadon proves Kemp knows when to ground himself.

Opener “In Search of Space Tunnel” is subtly clever: Synth drones swell for about two minutes, then are joined by primitive electronic beats. More rhythms—and some abstract vocal tones from Kemp—are layered on top, and the eight-minute song eventually finds a groove that shifts and undulates, with elements that resolve and dissolve but always push forward collectively. Some of that momentum comes from conga sounds in the mix, like a go-go beat drifting up from the street, gathering some Doppler effect along the way.

That conga sound, this time dialed down a few BPMs, also surfaces during the six-minute “Caxixi,” which doesn’t seem to contain any of the Brazilian shaker instrument of the same name. The structure is loud first, quiet second—as if a polite but still bumpin’ mothership orbited close by and then drifted around the bend. Ditto “Seas of Bees,” except the funk is more ’80s and the orbit is a little more far out.

Kemp does some interesting (if slightly familiar) things when the beatboxes are sidelined, too: “What Circle” sets up “Rainforest Cafe” with gamelan-style tones and bird noises without becoming New Agey; “A Zone of Our Own” goes farther down the chant hole to a place that perhaps only Panda Bear has gone before. And “Prismatic Spring,” which sounds like it should be part of an art installation, has a pleasantly weird and elastic synth motif.

It’s all purposeful, but none of it seems overworked. The songs may be born of heat—the analog kind, the sweaty-forehead kind—but they retain only as much warmth as they need.


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Download: "What Circle"

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The Macaw LP is available at this link:
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