Tuesday, June 15, 2010

New Arrivals #347.5 : International Sounds

Whoops. This new "in-between list" list thing we're doing takes a little getting used to. Forgot to blog about Friday's installment. Well hopefully you got the email, visited the site, and have perused it already. If not, please check it out here.

It's an all-international roundup from recent lists, but we included one brand new review too, a very appropriate Record Of The Week:

KONONO NO.1 "Assume Crash Position" (Crammed Discs) cd $15.98
From the very first notes of Assume Crash Position, we're immediately transported right back to Kinshasa in the Congo, a bustling town square, people going about their business, cars zooming past, children playing and shouting, people sitting at tables on the sidewalk drinking, eating, catching up, birds perched in the trees, chirping, just a regular bustling African city, except maybe for a certain group of musicians, creating their own soundtrack to daily life, conjuring up a gorgeous, rhythmic, hypnotic and strangely psychedelic racket, equal parts classic African folk music, High Life, and junkyard percussion. The musicians are wielding a strange array of hand built instruments, there's lots of rusted metal, car batteries, old cracked loudspeakers, various drums, and most notably, some fantastic looking, and even more fantastic sounding amplified thumb pianos. By now, regular readers of the aQ list most likely know we're talking about the truly amazing Konono No.1, quite possibly one of our favorite African ensembles ever, past or present. When we first hear them a few years ago, we were blown away, the super distorted thumb pianos spitting out clouds of rapid fire chiming notes, tangled melodies, all locked into super hypnotic drum driven grooves, call and response vocals, simultaneously festive and danceable, dark and mysterious, raw and feral, primitive and DIY, lush and melodic and like nothing we had ever heard before.
When we first threw on Assume Crash Position, our first thought, was that very little had changed, and to a certain degree that's true, all of the above mentioned elements are still present, the wild thumb pianos, still the focal point, their sound curious but so warm and sweetly melodic, the call and response vocals, the tribal percussion, the groovy rhythms, but from the first track it IS in fact evident that some things have changed. That opening track, "Wumbanzanga", is far more melodic, far more pretty and almost more like some of the other traditional African music we've heard in the past, with great female vocals, the vibe super festive, but those thumb piano melodies definitely add a distinctly Konono vibe. Then the next track, "Thin Legs" explodes in a frenzy of whistles and tribal drumming and vocals, that's it, but it too manages to be super melodic and totally effusively celebratory.
It's not until "Mama Na Bana" which opens with that Konono style stop start THRUMP THRUMP THRUMP, where the whole group locks in, before launching into classic Konono, it's really hard to describe, but those fuzzy buzzing metallic melodies wrapped around the repetitive rhythms and the super emotional vocals, the whole rest of the record is classic, albeit a bit more polished and melodic, Konono junkyard Congotronics...
Some of the highlights this time around include "Makembe", with it's buzzing melodies, crooned vocals, and the sounds of kids playing and birds chirping, before there's a BIG crash, apparently the sound of a concrete wall collapsing, a wall the vocalist was moments earlier leaning against, and then the band launches into one of the best jams on the disc. Or the gorgeous closing lullaby of "Nakobala Lisusu Te", with muted thumb pianos, super tangled melodies, and a sweet soulful croon, so dreamy and blissful, the perfect way to unwind after a wild, sweaty, funky, groovy, Congotronic workout.
The packaging is cool to, with tons of photos of the local scrap yard / junkyard, where the band gather up most of the material they use to build their instruments, not to mention a shot of that collapsed wall that crumbled mid-song. As with past Konono's, utterly and absolutely wholeheartedly recommended!

No comments: