jaimie branch Issues Joyous Rallying Cry on Final Fly or Die Album

Last August, jaimie “Breezy” branch’s death was met with an outpouring of love. The 39-year-old composer and performer’s work ranged from albums with her ensembles Fly Or Die and Anteloper, to guest performances on a wide array of projects, including recordings with the Medicine Singers and the extremely underappreciated punk band Tusker.

On Aug. 25, International Anthem will release branch’s final album, Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war)), recorded in April 2022 at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in Omaha, Nebraska. The album’s lead single, “take over the world,” sets the tone; branch’s rallying cry is both joyously collaborative and justified in its rage: “We’re gonna take over the world and give it back to the land.”

Among branch’s many strengths as a composer and bandleader was the intentional blurring of lines between composed and improvised music. The sound of Fly Or Die is the result of a collaborative group interpreting ideas brought to the table by branch. The interplay between the core quartet of branch, Lester St. Louis, Jason Ajemian, and Chad Taylor isn’t something that can be manufactured with a detailed score; there’s an understanding and a spirit between them that practically spills out of the album.

The sparse and brooding solos from timpani, organ, and drums in the album’s opener, “aurora rising,” blur into “borealis dancing,” each recorded immediately after two rehearsal takes, with organ drones adding punctuation to the up-tempo groove. The tracks feel like companion pieces, both embodying the joy of playing music in a room with people you love.

jaimie branch with Lester St. Louis and Jason Ajemian -- Photo by Ben Semisch, Courtesy of the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts

jaimie branch (right) with Lester St. Louis and Jason Ajemian — Photo by Ben Semisch, Courtesy of the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts

The Latin jazz-adjacent “burning grey” features branch using her voice as a rhythmic engine, propelling the music forward. Each verse ends with a wolf-like howl, immediately answered by the cello. Instead of letting the high-tempo drum-and-bass ostinato continually build into a musical explosion, the quartet slowly fades out, getting quieter and quieter, leading into the opening bass strains of “the mountain.” This cover of “Comin’ Down” by The Meat Puppets establishes a clear midway point on the album with a sparse texture; apart from a brief trumpet solo, the track is only for bass and voice. The country rock stylings of the original song acted as a foil to The Meat Puppets’ hardcore predilections, and “the mountain” serves the same function here in reaffirming Fly Or Die’s ability to seamlessly genre-hop.

“baba louie” introduces Nick Broste on trombone, Rob Frye on bass clarinet, and Daniel Villarreal on percussion, and resumes the joyous energy of the first half of the album. That energy eventually transitions into a spooky, slow shuffle featuring Akenya Seymour and Kuma Dog on vocals. Adding to the texture is a near constant flurry of flute, cello, and keyboard effects, heavy with reverb. The final drum rhythms of “baba louie” transition directly into the catchy, repeated melodic bass figure in “bolinko bass.” The infectious track grooves with musical ideas in constant motion: solos start by doubling other melodic ideas, then turn into independent lines, which are later doubled by a new soloist.

jaimie branch -- Photo by Ben Semisch, Courtesy of the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts

jaimie branch — Photo by Ben Semisch, Courtesy of the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts

“And kuma walks” credits the entire ensemble as composers, and effectively links “bolinko bass” to “take over the world,” the most energetic piece on the album. The hectic energy makes the piece feel like it’s always on the edge of falling apart – and it almost does when the track suddenly slows down. But these drastic tempo changes make the return to the original material that much more exciting. The final track, “world war ((reprise)),” echoes the organ drones and improvised solos from the opening of the album, but this time, the texture stays fairly static while branch sings of false flags and world wars.

Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war)) is jaimie branch’s last musical statement. It’s tempting to reanalyze a musical work’s meaning and intention in the context of a death, but there is no ambiguity here. This is a piece of music explicitly about the core ideals that branch lived her life by: building a community in the face of turmoil. The album’s liner notes, written by branch’s bandmates, describe the music-making experience best: “It was an occasion of love in the highest form.”


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