ONO’s “Mercy” is dense. It’s a conversation where several people are speaking over one another but are all getting at the same feeling. There’s a drum machine beat that sounds like a series of salvos, but so many hyperactive layers pile on top that it’s easy to forget about the continuous fire underneath. According to the credits for the Kongo/Mercy EP, there are as many as nine people playing. travis, the most prominent vocalist, delivers proclamations like “wrath ensures prosperity without obligation” and “the god of my father is a vengeful god” but also gives room for other voices to cross in the maelstrom: ghostly and dissonant “ahh”s, shrieks, a rapped partial verse in the final half-minute. My favourite moment comes about two minutes in, when the noise recedes just enough for someone to throw in a casual “sup.”
That the musicians can all work up this level of agitation while letting each person be heard is a testament to the ethics embedded in the music. ONO’s opposition to America’s capitalist and racist structures is audible not just in travis’s words, or even in the group’s confrontational sound, but also in the way each band member looks out for the others. ONO wields great collective power, but no member is subordinate to the polyphony. No one is getting stepped over or left behind.
The Kongo/Mercy EP is available digitally and as a one-sided 12” from Whited Sepulchre.