"Caterwauling" -- that's the word that comes to mind while listening to the vocals in a Mi Ami song. The trio's musical bedrock features dub-like bass and some extremely groovy drum fills; there are even moments where they sound pretty. But then that voice pops up, making your hair stand on end. In "Latin Lover," it's easy to imagine a tough dame yelling down the street at anyone who looks at her the wrong way. But that's no young lady shrieking like a cat in heat -- it's guitarist Daniel Martin-McCormick.
The cover of Mi Ami's third album, Steal Your Face, which arrives this month, says a good deal about the band, even though it looks like a stolen image of Bob Marley. The multiple cut-and-pasted exposures give the late Rastaman an extra set of eyes and some vampire teeth that peek out of his mouth. But rather than being a tribute to, or a mockery of. Marley, the artwork acknowledges his influence (along with that of several others) on the band, while still asserting the band's desire to make it look, or sound, like something else.
If that all sounds like indie-rock double-speak, the album's release notes suggest the band has no time for musical elitism: "As the new decade dawns, does [...] anyone need to know which obscure, lost track or 'correct' influence you have up your sleeve, paradoxically paraded as a mark of your own impeccable taste while at the same time held close like a secret recipe? The answer, of course, is a resounding, 'No.'" In other words, let's dispense with debating the esoteric scope of modern underground music, and just think about how it sounds.
And Mi Ami is a challenging listen. Along with Martin-McCormick's voice, his guitar bends and scrapes, drawing on the abrasive qualities of No Wave. But the rhythm section keeps you from running away, and perhaps even inspires a move to the dance floor on "Slow." In "Dreamers," the vocals get buried in echo and become part of the dreamy texture for an oddly soothing eight minutes. Stuff like this always takes on a greater dimension when experienced in person: Catch Mi Ami live at Gooski's with locals Gangwish on Sun., April 11.
Mi Ami with Gangwish. 9 p.m. Sun., April 11. Gooski's, 3117 Brereton St., Polish Hill. $6. 412-681-1658