Tonetta, where do I begin?
In my small office, Tonetta has developed a massive fan base. All it took was a few seconds of any one of his videos to convince my co-workers this was something amazing and worth looking into, or away from in horror. Now the mere mention of his name turns another boring day at the cubicles into another screening of half naked, S&M masked, tutu performances from a true genius. A simple recitation of song titles from Volume II is enough to send people scattering to the exits. Tonetta is polarizing, it's not that you can claim you don't 'get it', what he creates makes perfect sense to everyone and you either hate his confrontational, primitive direction, or you don't.
The Tonetta story starts like any great idiosyncratic completely original artist: by recording at home with whatever devices are on hand and then handing out cassettes to anyone who'll listen. Don't get me wrong the video work is essential to truly understand the levels of performance included in the recorded tracks. I kind of wish I hadn't first seen the videos myself because now it's impossible to listen to his work without imagining what visual scenario Tonetta would dream up to accompany his mechanical pop.
But strip away the star wiped videos of a leather speedo wearing NSFW lip syncing 50 year old and what are you really left with?
'Get it going' kicks off the A-Side with a weirdo layered beat, even for Tonetta, this one has whispering booms and way more vocal percussion then I've noticed before. He's delivering the verse in a primitive naive rap style informed by the first five years of hip-hop.
You can't help but read into the 'Get it going' part of the lyric and conclude that this is a buildup to getting intimate although Tonetta would never use those words. He is a completely unhinged male libido that's made the later in life journey into the far reaches of his buried and repressed libido and said, 'Fuck it, who do I have to impress? This is me, take it or leave it.' There's no compromise with Tonetta and it's immediately liberating for the listener while being somewhat shocking to hear the sort of intimate bedroom details of a 4-track retired Lou Barlow with one thing on his mind.
In the same way this recent business with Charlie Sheen is so fascinating to watch. Here is a persona, raw and completely exposed, making no apologies. It's not that the viewer wishes they could do that , but the idea of having 'tiger blood' or singing about a 'hot little fuck' comes from that primitive fight place in the mind that is more and more repressed thanks to our cushy, technology and bulk food filled lives. It's also a reminder that any good apocolypse movie is true, we're about 3 days, maybe a week away from total anarchy and chaos if you take away plumbing and refrigeration. Tonetta is a reminder of the evil, the subversive...the perversions that exist. You don't have to like it, but it's undeniably a part of humanity.
I hear a lot of Ariel Pink in these two tracks, at this point he's been perfecting his own necessity by invention lo-fi style that's unique by default. They've both arrived at the same place, they have the same will to create, Ariel as a reflection of a combination of decades of music genres and Tonetta as therapy, but the determination to write music is the same.
'MMM Mama' the B-Side has the typical frantic pop Tonetta copyright backbeat, all shakers and tambourine... a hell of a lot of tambourines, always. No fills. It has a sideshow, vaudeville sensibility, and he's taking the chorus to a primal place. On this track he focuses on the over-modulated, distorted vocals of 'Mmm Mama oh Mama' which essentially becomes a vocal bassline over lyric. There's always an incredible amount of sex in any given Tonetta song complete with not so subtle innuendo every other verse in case you're completely deaf. It's the stereotyped expression that sex is on the mind every 30 seconds manifested into song.
It's also the first time I've heard a higher pitch shifted backing vocal.
Combine this raw, self expression with the fact that he's not going to be playing anywhere, ever and it makes me appreciate that this single even exists let alone the two full lengths that BT has put out on vinyl. His genius is immediately evident and unrepeatable. And here's my measure of genius, when I try to imagine an artist of the future that could possibly cover this or even bring anything worthwhile to the table...it's impossible. Tonetta is timeless, in his own demented world and I want to spend time there for more than just novelty...sometimes maybe it's because I can leave.
Black Tent Press had the good sense to take the packaging over the top as well, a 3 color serigraph print and fleshy colored vinyl makes the physical record as special as Tonetta himself.
The fact that Black Tent Press is taking chances (well, really how could you not press this) like this, to recognize the genius makes me want to immediately be up for buying everything they put out in the future.
For further reading, see Grandma knows best, Tonetta under review. It's like 7Inches, if I talked about Tonetta everyday.
In fact if you've gotten this far, and want to hear the man for yourself, Black Tent has graciously supplied me with a copy to give away. Email me (jdean99 at gmail) singing the praises of Tonetta and I will pick a winner by March 16th.
Full length review coming of Vol II, to follow in the forum section shortly.