Examining inner space at Mi Ami's studio

The recent release show for Mi Ami's "Echononecho" single at Bottom of the Hill went off with a couple of hitches. The guitarist suffered three broken strings, and the drummer's shoes kept coming untied. Maybe it was the tall stage — Mi Ami's taut, tribal meanderings seem better suited for a smaller venue. Something about its space rock is distinctly unspacious, a dub- and polyrhythm-infused No Wave assault brimming with claustrophobic unease.

Guitarist and vocalist Daniel Martin-McCormick and drummer Damon Palermo started Mi Ami in San Francisco in 2006, chasing something deeply rhythm-based, with nods to African disco, looped electronic music, and their own punk heritage. Bassist Jacob Long joined the following year — he and Martin-McCormick both played in DC's notorious free-punk outfit Black Eyes.

Watersports, due February 17 on Chicago's Quarterstick label, is Mi Ami's first full-length after a handful of singles. Recorded with Phil Manley (Champs, Trans Am), it keeps up the echoes of '80s No Wave in Martin-McCormick's atonal guitar work and yelping vocal histrionics; the Pop Group's politico punk-funk in Long's filtered bass patterns; and the sub-Saharan shake of Palermo's repetitive beats. But the band dives deeper into dub this time, from production tricks to the plodding basslines churning beneath.

Mi Ami: Blood and bulbs.
Jonathan Snyder
Mi Ami: Blood and bulbs.
"Suck Really Loud" graffiti
"Suck Really Loud" graffiti
Red light bulb
J. Pace
Red light bulb
"Black Eyes" cymbal
J. Pace
"Black Eyes" cymbal
Bloody keyboard
J. Pace
Bloody keyboard
Goat hoof shaker
J. Pace
Goat hoof shaker

"Pressure" and "Man in Your House" are slow burners, quietly clicking along on the quarter notes, with Long laying down soft echo-melody before the trio explodes into a noisy climax. "New Guitar" mirrors the more volatile lineups of the Fall, with scratchy chord-bashing over a wiry rhythm section. "Echononecho" is a strolling disco-farian workout. All feature Martin-McCormick's defiantly effete shrieks, which are the maker or breaker for many listeners. One review likened the group's work to "kicking a puppy dog and following it around in the studio with the Liars jamming."

With this allegation of canine abuse in mind, SF Weekly thought it best to investigate the Mi Ami studio/puppy mill. It's fitting that four's a crowd in the tiny room at RHL Rehearsal off Sixth Street. The band fills the space almost entirely, and it was difficult to avoid tripping over gear while gathering evidence on the Mi Ami sound.

"Suck Really Loud" graffiti
Daniel Martin-McCormick: I was practicing by myself and somebody spray-painted "SUCK REALLY LOUD" on the door. The people who run the studio painted over it in maroon, but you can still see it.

Red light bulb
DM: We've started practicing in the dark more. Maybe it's a nice ritual, or it helps us not think too much about what [the other person] is doing. Look less, listen more.

Jacob Long: If there's too much light, it's just not the right vibe. It's like playing a record store in the middle of the day.

DM: You should be going to a special place together. A ceremonial space.

"Black Eyes" cymbal
JL: That was given to us by some kid at a show. People brought their broken cymbals or whatever and gave them to us, just 'cause we always had a bunch of crap with us.

DM: [The fan] put tape on it and left it in the sun.

Bloody keyboard
DM: It's from playing keys. I was playing keyboards so hard. [Laughter follows — he actually cut himself on his guitar, and the blood traveled.]

Goat hoof shaker
Damon Palermo: My friend brought it back from Cuba when she was traveling there. We used it on the last song on the LP.

DM: To me it's a better version of the tambourine.

DP: It's got a nice tone, too — weird and watery.

 
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