Band of the Day

2012.08.21

Hazmat Modine

An eclectic blues band draws influence from klezmer to bluegrass
Who gave me that 'Hi', baby? Who's that cat, got me jealous of you?
lyrics from Who Walks IN When I Walk Out?

Hazmat Modine is a blues/world fusion band from New York. Their name is a combination of the portmanteau "hazmat" (from “hazardous material”) and the word "modine," a term that used to refer to commercial heaters. Like the diverse elements that form their name, Hazmat Modine features a rich medley of sound from jazz and folk to blues. The band uses rare instruments, such as the cimbalom, the sarrusaphone and the dulcimer and is fronted by two harmonica players, a rare claim in this age. The band also has an informal collaboration with the throat-singers Huun-Huur-Tu from the Mongolian-influenced area of Russia. Huun-Huur-Tu were featured on Hazmat Modine’s first album, Bahamut, which appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered. Their second album, Cicada, was released in 2011 by Barbès Records.

It would be easiest to call New York ensemble Hazmat Modine a blues/jazz band, but that would leave out the African influences, and the 1920s jug band touches, and the classic R&B, folk, Klezmer, Appalachian… the list goes on. Led by multi-instrumentalist Wade Schuman, Hazmat Modine defines the word "eclectic," packing in a musical Noah's Ark of influences into an excitingly moody sound. Because of their incredible musicianship and range, it's tough to make too many comparisons to Hazmat Modine, but Tom Waits may be the best touchstone. Wade borrows some of Wait's cantankerous growl and sinister undertones as he sets out to make blues like you've never heard it, much like Waits has done throughout his career.

“Child of a Blind Man” is a sleek combination of styles that manages to mesh effortlessly, one of Hazmat Modine's strongest skills. Anchored by a breathy, warbling vocal refrain that would sound perfectly at home on a Devendra Banhart record, Hazmat Modine lays down a subtle groove out of softly bubbling tuba, acoustic rhythm guitar and a lively brass section. Halfway through, they add African chants and subtle African percussion and it all melds into a mysterious swirl of sounds. “I've Been Lonely For So Long” is 60s or 70s style R&B with Wade crooning over sprightly electric guitar and rumbling tuba. It's slinky, kind of quirky, but ultimately a pretty great recreation of that classic sound, and one of the more straightforward moments on the record. “The Tide” sees Hazmat Modine combining dark electrified blues guitar in the vein of John Lee Hooker or 50s Chicago blues with big bluegrass vocal harmonies. In a clever touch, the band adds in lively acoustic guitar with a bluegrass twang, but with a sensibility for bluesy riffs. Then, you blink, and they've jumped continents. The rhythms shift towards Africa, and saxophones blast in, jazzy and spirited.

However you want to define them, Hazmat Modine are a breath of fresh air. The group puts their technical proficiency to good use, exploring music from across decades and continents and stitch it back together in a way that doesn't sound quite like anything else.