Joe and the Sonic Dirt From Madagascar's "A to E are Ex, Why, and Z"
I was a fan of Hickey's earlier bands, the Rio Grande Babies and the Fellow Americans. I wasn't alone. Hell, back in 2008, even nationally renowned rock scribe Chuck Eddy of Village Voice/Stairway To Hell fame weighed in with a favorable mention of their Search For Numb EP -- albeit one written under the misconception that the T-shirt Hickey wore in that disc's cover pic was inspahrd by Pere Ubu (um, it wasn't, but don't tell Chuck). Unfortunately, no sooner had the virtual ink dried on the virtual page than pretty-boy frontman Jeff Prince deserted the FAmericans, leaving Hickey to handle vocal chores on their recorded swan song, Debut No. 3.
You could tell just by watching him that Hickey wasn't comfortable fronting a rock band, and he still probably isn't the world's biggest fan of performing live. I was surprised, though, when he expressed an interest in PFFFFT!, the now-defunct, rock-based improv outfit I was playing with the year that the wheels came off his band, and even more so when he sat in with us on synth. Apparently his musical interests were broader than I'd imagined. (He's an Anglophile to the core, and fairly '80s-centric, although he demonstrates an awareness of earlier musics.) He's really flowered in HIO, as have all of the core members, in different ways. Maybe Terry Horn wasn't completely bullshitting when he wrote that "hentai means metamorphosis, transformation" (just don't try to Google it).
I remember in particular one night when I called Hickey when I got off work to remind him not to forget to bring his synth to a gig. (These days, he mostly plays electric gopichand, a homemade variant of a classical Indian instrument.) When he replied that he was eating dinner at the IHOP on University Drive and didn't think he'd have time to make it back to his home in Weatherford, I shrugged it off, but he went to CVS and bought a toddler's mini-keyboard and a singing Easter card, which wound up being his instruments for the night. We like to give him shit about having to go home to "slop the hogs," but the rhythm of his life revolves around caring for the animals that he and his wife (who's a veterinary technician that writes novels about wolves and unicorns) keep. A little out of the ordinary, in the same way my life or Terry's life is. Maybe that's why we've all gotten on so well as a drinking and athletic club/improvising orchestra.
As I said earlier, A to E Are Ex, Why, and Z is the third release under the JATSDFM rubric. The first one, Romance of the Artifact I, released in a limited edition of one, consisted of a quarter of an LP record, glued to a turntable. I wrote that the second, Match of the Day, sounded like "the noise a cassette makes while it’s getting mangled by an unruly tape player." I'm not lying, then, when I say that nothing in my experience prepared me for this aurally engaging slab of ambient wonderment.
Hickey's long been a fan of the cutup and the remix. In fact, my favorite thing HIO has recorded was his first remix of our session with trombonist Patrick Crossland, possibly because he kloodged all of my guitar wankage into a multi-layered, backward Are You Experienced?-style freakout. Match of the Day was a 45-minute, Metal Machine Music-like endurance contest that consisted of overlaid, unrelated musical snippets. (He's been working with other bands in his home studio, too, recording One Fingered Fist's terminal set of tracks and mastering Great American Novel's debut.)
On A to E Are Ex, Why, and Z, he seems to have gained enough confidence in himself to risk making something beautiful. The sound of the tracks is spacious and texturally varied, unlike the droning atonal monotony of its predecessor. There's an air of melancholy and even spirituality about these tracks, particularly the last three -- "XO Oxo," which Hickey created for the soundtrack of Terry's short film Bird Revolution; "Ypres," which isn't a Zombies "Butcher's Tale" like I was half-expecting from its World War I history buff author, although somber and evocative of a doomed man's thoughts; and the closing "Zombie City," which reinforces my belief that this is the best groove record to come out of Fort Worth since Marcus Lawyer's Top Secret...Shhh. It's downloadable for free from the link above. Do yourself a favor and check it out. I've been listening to it since Hickey put it in my hand, and I will be for some time to come.