Bang a gong, get it on. Six years ago, Joshua McKay went to Indonesia searching out the gong orchestras his mother used to play for him as a child; he brought with him a tape recorder and ears big enough to consume and absorb the entire world. The result is a band that carves its rock and roll from exotic timber, instruments whose names sound like anime superheros or dinner entrees -- guiro, santoor, shawm, gong, hammered dulcimer, zither. It's enough to confound the stranger who wanders into this territory without a map and a compass; the interloper might well find himself or herself lost amidst the rambling, rumbling weavings of sense and sound that fill every bit of digital space. Last year's self-titled debut, which came complete with a disc of 20 folkways songs Joshua captured during his trip overseas, was marvelously beguiling: pop songs buried deep beneath ultra weirdness, trance music and dance music whirling in search of "The Buddha Nature." Macha -- featuring Joshua and brother Mischo, ex-New Bohemian guitarist Wes Martin, and Kai Riedl -- is the very definition of otherworldly. Quite simply, you've never heard anything like this: West meets East over drinks in Athens, Georgia.
The McKays began their rock-and-roll adventure during childhoods spent in Texas; indeed, in 1984, they recorded in Dallas under the name Josho Mischo, even releasing the Banarchy EP that remains a collectors' favorite 15 years later. Listening to it all these years later, it's not too hard to see from whence Macha came: For kids in their teens, the McKays (especially Josh, who wrote the songs) were wise beyond their years and their ears, writing and performing songs so catchy and complex they were "new wave" only because what the hell else do you call this genius shit? It was, as Joshua told the Dallas Observer in January, "youthful energy venting itself at 100 miles an hour." The McKays would later go on to perform in bands with old friends Bubba and Matt Kadane of Bedhead; one of their endeavors even featured future Dixie Chick Martie Erwin, who surely regrets giving up the boho artist's life for platform shoes and neon lipstick and a few Grammys.
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Macha is just an outgrowth of Josho Mischo, the next inevitable step made by one man who has since been around the world and back and a brother who still can't decide if it's the painter's or musician's life for him. And the band grows more complicated every day: Where the debut was almost giddy at times, sounding in spots like the soundtrack to Saturday-morning TV (OK...in China), the forthcoming follow-up See it Another Way (due in stores August 3) is eerie, insinuating, haunting in spots; it still rocks ("Salty," the aptly titled "Until Your Temples Are Pounding," "The Nipplegong"), but there's a chaotic beauty to this record its predecessor didn't have (think the best spots of Peter Gabriel's Passion, his soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ). It's about atmosphere and texture, rhythm and melody, dream and reality -- you recognize there's a song there, only you don't know quite where it came from. Remarkable, from start to finish. Pass the hash pipe, and pull up a chair.