You know how I keep trying to describe some of my favorite undescribable bands? Well, here’s another one. 75 Dollar Bill is the musical duo of guitarist Che Chen and percussionist Rick Brown. who plays a custom plywood crate. This core is often orbited by other musicians but Chen and Brown are the constants.
The band’s Bandcamp page begins to introduce them by saying:
“Rick Brown was born in San Francisco, CA and is a clerical worker at a law school in NYC. Che Chen was born in New Haven, CT and works for a cancer diagnostics company in Stonybrook, NY. They met via myspace and started playing together as 75 Dollar Bill approximately eight years later. Brown plays percussion and homemade horns and Chen plays electric guitar.”
But this doesn’t begin to do the group’s unique perspective any justice. One of their records comes with a sticker describing them as “Trance-inducing desert blues.” Pitchfork describes them as “blurring genres and record-store categories” and, while that’s correct, it still doesn’t help pinpoint the sound. The Guardian says the music is: “placeless, gripping grooves” and that’s also true but unhelpful. Many will point to Chen’s time in Mauritania as being pivotal for the band, but as Johny Lamb writes for Quietus:
I have noticed that there’s stuff online concerning the influence of Moorish modal music with 75 Dollar Bill, but as far as I can tell, Chen spent only a short time in Mauritania and he acknowledges the impact as inevitably “superficial”. Besides, I think I hear as much John Cale here as I do North West Africa.
Sometimes it is the artists who confound description that best capture the human element of what makes us connect so deeply with music in the first place. It is guttural. Moving. Enticing. Entrancing. It makes us meditate and move and groove. All at once. Swirling guitar meditations float above urgent and insistent percussion. This is what it means to be alive.
Best just to listen for yourselves.
Here’s "WZN#3" live at WFMU in 2016:
Here’s a half-hour live set featuring Steve Maing on guitar and Sue Garner on bass and percussion. This set was wad live at Reverb in Baltimore, 09.04.16.