Once upon a time there was a tiny Chicago record label called Choke, Inc. It was an uncommonly well-curated label, focused on a diverse array of truly superb bands from the Midwest—despite the Chicago address, its entire roster hailed from Michigan and Ohio. Between 1993 and 1995, they released sophisticated bands like the baroque math-metalists Craw and the sublime Ann Arbor art rockers Morsel, while at the same time sheltering scuzzy dirt merchants like The Hairy Patt Band and the depraved twin-bass siege of Cincinnati’s Milkmine.
All of the foregoing was highly worthy stuff, but then there was Jaks. Ho. Lee. Shit.
Jaks’ lone album, 1995’s excellent Hollywood Blood Capsules, had exactly the cultural impact of all of Choke’s releases—none. It’s been out of print since Choke choked, though the attempt by 31G records to resuscitate the band’s reputation, 2005’s Here Lies the Body of Jaks, remains available, and it has more music on it anyway. People who were fortunate enough to experience the band live were treated to the feral vocal stylings and unrestrainedly manic stage presence of Katrina Ford. Guitarist Sean Antanaitis’s trebly, turbulent, and often downright menacing guitar screamed behind it all, though he mostly remained stoically motionless—who could compete with a commotion like Ford, anyway? They had mastered the angular post-punk trip years before that became the trendiest possible move to cop—for real, had Jaks been a Brooklyn band in 2004 instead of a Michigan band in 1994, they’d have likely been a very fucking big deal.
Ford and Antanaitis, now married and living in Baltimore, kept making music after Jaks under the name Love Life, later forming the elementally atmospheric, groove-oriented Celebration in 2004. The band won the attention and patronage of TV on the Radio’s David Sitek, who produced their first two albums, Celebration and The Modern Tribe, for 4AD. Their live show is quite a sonically immersive experience, even without the violent tremors of a Jaks gig. Ford remains a commanding presence while guitarist/organist Antanaitis and drummer David Bergander create sumptuous soundscapes. Their music’s increasing sophistication is dazzling—while their relentlessly aggressive ‘90s work was captivating stuff, it was also one-dimensional. Ford’s singing in Celebration can variously recall the Cocteau Twins, PJ Harvey, Cat Power, and Etta James in one song, and Antanaitis’ versatility easily keeps up in a swirl of organic texture, lushly soulful psychedelia, and tribal pulse.
Celebration’s fifth album, Wounded Healer will be released in June. The song “Freedom Ring” was released for streaming about a month ago, and it’s Dangerous Minds’ pleasure today to debut the stream of a second track, “Spider.” The song would seem right at home in a Lynch film, feeling fully contemporary while availing itself heavily of comfortingly familiar ’50s tropes. Per the band:
“Spider” was inspired by the Mary Howitt poem “The Spider and the Fly,” a cautionary tale about the dangers of flattery. But this is from the Spider’s perspective. It’s the seduction between predator and prey. A juxtaposed romance caught in the circle of life and death. Seeing the beauty in interdependence and deepest connection because of survival.