Yoko Ono - Plastic Ono Band LP
This long-overdue vinyl reissue of Yoko Ono's seminal, but massively under-appreciated Plastic Ono Band has all the makings of a classic rock nostalgia trip: Ono, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman and free-jazz legend Ornette Coleman. All the pieces are here to stir up a dangerous amount of nostalgia. But once the needle drops, the record achieves something exactly perpendicular to nostalgia.
Released in 1970, the album not only influenced the approach of other musicians for decades, it also sounds absolutely modern 44 years out, eternally fresh despite the forward march of time. Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band not only predicted the intersection of the avant-garde and rock that would take place in the second half of that decade, the album would sound right at home at where that intersection is happening today.
Its closest contemporaries, White Light/White Heat and Bitches Brew, while innovative, today sound rooted in the time in which they were recorded. Maybe only Kraftwerk's output from the same era also belongs in this all-too rare category of timelessness. Released as the mirror twin album to John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Ono's record continues to inform and inspire in equal measure to its companion album.
As Yoko's voice responds to and then overpowers the white-hot dissonant guitar squalls, the reaction will be nearly immediate — maybe not immediately smitten but always, always intrigued. "What is this music?" might as well be "When is this music?" Then, smugly inform these fledglings that this searing guitar is being played by John Lennon; probably smiling ear-to-ear, free and in love and performing this powerful forward music with the love of his life.
It's a record dense with ideas and sonics; the personal and the political. But for such a monolithic, touchstone record, it's also important to remember this music is supposed to be fun. It's intended to make you feel endless possibility, to question the very walls around you. And if your Western ears have some trouble with the vocal phrasing, it's okay to smile as you process. Smile the whole way through if you need to. It's a bit simplistic to deem Ono's mythic, pre-language vocal exercises as merely feral and free. The improvisations are a lesson in directness and control. Vocal chords don't just compete with searing electric guitars and summon free jazz horns. It is a concentrated feat, indebted to traditional Japanese singing and Ono's early operatic training.
Over a decade before the release of Plastic Ono Band, Ono created New York City's downtown loft scene. That is to say her loft was the downtown loft scene at its inception. She played Carnegie Recital Hall twice in the 60s, performing experimental pieces long before her name was ever spoken in the same breath as The Beatles. When she crossed the pond to begin the work that would become Plastic Ono Band, it garnered just as many concerns from her contemporaries in the loft scene and Fluxus movement as it did fans of The Beatles.