The Messthetics and James Brandon Lewis

The formula at the heart of Messthetics was already pretty damn near perfect — take the notoriously tight Fugazi rhythm section and pair them with the outre guitar explorations of Anthony Pirog. The combination has resulted in two searing records over the past few years, an extension of Lally and Canty’s power as a rhythmic engine and a play at attaining perfection in power trio territory. Where most would see a sign not to mess with said perfection, Messthetics only see an opportunity to expand on that ideal. Following a one-off collaboration on his 2023 album, Eye Of I, the band embarked on live gigs alongside James Brandon Lewis. The saxophonist has become an indispensable force in jazz over the last decade, often exploring the boundaries of the form with players like Max Jaffe and Chad Taylor. Keen ears also might have caught him at the center of Mendoza Hoff Revels last year, a record that bears quite a few similarities to the heart of this new collaboration.

In Ava Mendoza, Lewis found a formidable foil for his exploratory form. Pirog proves to be an amiable reflection of that dynamic, sparring with James as handily as Ava. The record moves away from the punk and post-rock roots that had tugged Messthetics away from embracing more than a few smoke curls of jazz on their last two records. The urge to bend into full jazz-rock was bubbling, but here they embrace it with extraordinary results. Both Lewis and Pirog move from fat, hammering riffs to ecstatic light beams with ease, pushing this one towards the edges of jazz-psych without tumbling over. Fuzagi’s not-so-secret weapon was always Joe Lally, and the knotted, tensile playing that anchored them to the dirt rears its head on this collab with Lewis. Beneath the fray, Canty holds the rudder, pushing the band from storms to sinews with a capable hand. Messthetics were masters in their own right, but with the addition of Lewis, it’s easy to see that there was a hole in their sound that needed to be filled and Lewis has elevated the idea to its fullest form.

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