75 dollar bill - i was real

75 Dollar Bill: I Was Real (2019)

Day 2 of the #mayvinylchallenge is Dynamic Duos, and looking over my options there was never really an option. Much love to Suicide and Big Business and Simon and Garfunkel and my own beloved Darkthrone, but there is something magical that happens whenever I put on I Was Real, the 2019 release from 75 Dollar Bill. It’s one of a handful of albums I get completely lost in, an album where I feel like I’m inside the physical space of the music being created.

To describe the music of 75 Dollar Bill is really to describe the telepathic relationship between its two primary members: Che Chen on guitar and Rick Brown on drums and percussion. Although the music on I Was Real is expanded with guest musicians, the core is always the way Chen’s winding, drone-like guitars play against the rhythms of Brown’s percussive journey through each song. Although based in New York, the music is global, thanks in part to Chen’s style of playing, whose microtonal attack spans the breadth of the globe, including Northern Africa, India, and Arabic styles. In Brown he finds the perfect complement: a sense of space and timing that is both precise and open, working in odd time signatures that never feel anything but natural.

It’s folly to pigeonhole I Was Real into a single genre. The gorgeous bell curve of the title track, the blues rock attack of “Tetuzi Akiyama,” the more folk shaded “WNZ #3 (verso)” – all reach back to different inspirations, yet are tired together by the way Chen and Brown weave them together. Recorded largely in Brooklyn (“There’s No Such Thing As a King Bee” was recorded in Knoxville, TN) the production is a marvel. Whether I listen through speakers or on my headphones, it feels like I’m in the room, listening to the musicians play and create, the sounds circling above, in front, and behind.

If that’s not transportive, I don’t know what is.

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