One of the best rock bands in town right now, Muhammad Ali (also spelled variously “MUHAMMADALi” or “Muhammadali”) are at first glance just this raw, noisy, messy force of nature, howling and hammering away at their instruments to create a furious squall of fuzzed-out, dirty-edged sound. Beneath the surface, however, the band — and frontman/guitarist Johnny Zombrano, in particular — is far, far sneakier than that. If you can dig beneath the noise, what you’ll unearth are these tightly-wound, sneakily smart tunes that are, well, pretty much nicely-crafted little pop songs.
Buried under that thick layer of fuzz and Zombrano’s awesomely desperate, halfway out-of-control howl are some ridiculously addictive hooks; Muhammad Ali wields ’em like a sociopathic kid with a knife, sticking you right where it hits hardest. More than anything else, the band reminds of early proto-grunge bands like Treepeople or early Built to Spill, albeit updated with a heavy dose of ’00s paranoia and glee. Songs like “I Believe” and “Someday” are these gloriously crunchy, fists-raised blasts of pure, unabashed fuzz-rock that’ll have you singing along days after the song’s stopped ringing out of your headphones.
Live, the band’s all over the place — the first time I saw ’em, all three band members seemed drunk off their asses, so much that they could barely keep it together, but the falling-down performance was pretty damn entertaining, nonetheless. I think they’ve toned things down a bit in recent months, but that’s mostly based on seeing ’em during the daylight hours; at night with some beers in ’em may be a different story. I’m told nakedness has been involved in several past shows…
Unfortunately, if you go looking to find anything the band’s done — and I do mean anything — you’re probably going to be out of luck. The first of the two releases I’ve seen from Muhammad Ali was a split cassette with loud-ass post-hardcore dudes Black Congress, and that’s how i forgot about the bomb, and it sounded like all the copies of that were gone before they even hit the damn SoundEx counter. Thankfully, somebody re-released it in CD-R form, complete with a painted, hand-glued/-stapled cover, but I’m pretty sure that’s long, long out-of-print by now, too.
The only other thing I’ve seen was a second CD-R, seemingly entitled Smilin, with a zombie unicorn on one side and a crazy wizard-y thing shooting beams of light(?) out of its eye and mouth — I ran across a copy of that at Summerfest 2010 and promptly snatched it up, and I have never, ever seen or heard about it since (although, admittedly, I don’t get out to record stores as much as I used to).
Guys: make an honest-to-God CD/LP/whatever, one people (“people” meaning “me”) can find in stores. Please?
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- Yr. Weekend, Pt. 2: Main St. Block Party + Something Fierce + CounterCrawl + Indian Jewelry + More
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