A swamp-ape from panhandle Florida, Michael Johnson arrived in Philadelphia to teach music technology at a downtown arts university. There he made a discovery with which he would create the Ape School. Hidden away in a corner of the school was the fourth Moog Modular synthesizer that Robert Moog ever made, forty years earlier in 1965. Michael dusted it off, fixed it up, then set about recording songs which would go far beyond his prior tenures in Kurt Heasley’s Lilys and SubPop’s Holopaw. Michael used the Modular to weave lush motorik dreamsounds over dynamic instrumentation, topping the results with his distinct croon.
This second one-man-does-all album by Michael Johnson – the first to use his primate moniker – marries primitive songs with incorporeal sound: glamatic pop explorations navigated by studio light, coalesced over time, wine, fallouts, and Rundgren-style self-control. From the start of “Wail to God,” the tonal breadth and sonic fluidity of Ape School is clear. A song like “Did What I Did” flirts with pop sensibility, but delves into subtle feedback before it reaches repetition. Elsewhere, as on “My Intention” and “Deathstomp”, Michael goes for full mechanical shredding, focused romps of analog rock glory, awash in system buzz. Other more spacious moments like “That’s OK”, “It’s Over” and “The Underground” reveal the songs’ instrumental basis, and showcase more clearly the clever, eloquent lyrics of his elastic tenor.
Mixed in Jamaican Brooklyn with Michael Pecchio in a bath of reverb, delay, tape echo, smoke, mirrors, orange juice and cayenne pepper, Ape School has finally come together. An album initially intended for release by co-conspirator Alfred “Daedelus” Darlington has found a home at Ninja Tune’s Counter Records, upon graduation from Primate U.
With a band of student musicians rescued from the confines of musical education, Ape School has opened its doors to limited faculty enrollment. Composed of previous cohorts in Lilys, Holopaw, Human Television, and beyond, the live Ape School incarnation takes one monkey’s creations on summer vacation to civilization. Evidently basted nightly.