The Very Best // MTMTMK // July 16 // Moshi Moshi
With the recent influence of afrobeat on western musicians you would think that the alternative crowds would be more welcoming to African acts. It’s been many years now since acts from the continent captured listeners’ imagination and controlled their feet movement. The closest thing to such tribal rhythms today happens to come from London. Esau Mwamwaya is originally from Malawi. He met his partners, swedish/french production duo Radioclit, while living in the capital of the UK. Mwamwaya is far away from his origins and on MTMTMK, their 2rd album it shows in the music.
The Very Best first hit the waves back in 2009 with the colourful Warm Heart Of Africa LP including the title track and one of the year’s highlights which featured another afro-pop obsessive Ezra Koenig. The music on that record felt positively tribal, the sort of stuff that creeps up on you with such an amount of positive energy that you are left dumbfounded when you realise that these people are actually from England. Since then they lost their french member, followed their explorations of the modern afrobeat with the amazingly titled Super Mom mixtape, but MTMTMK here is the real deal, the real follow up. The Very Best don’t sound that much like they did on the record, that is definitely the first thing you will realise. While Warm Heart Of Africa was quintessentially African record, MTMTMK feels like world music. Not that cultural expansion is bad but there are about five thousand other records that have fuzzy guitar solos and trance heaven synths in them. MTMTMK is african music seen through western eyes.
It really depends where your tastes lie before even trying to listen to this album. MTMTMK requires open mindedness to fully enjoy it. The Warm Heart Of Africa might have felt like a niche record but all these dance elements make MTMTMK more of a world record that is much easier to enjoy. Obviously it’s much less rewarding too. Tracks like Kondaine still have that warm heart of Africa but moments like Come Alive is something wouldn’t sound that much out of place in today’s clubs. Luckily a good part of the lyrics is not sung in English which adds that sense of getting lost in a foreign world that’s filled with fun. So when the dubstep wobbles drop in Mghetto, the language is both the thing that connects the most and one that takes you furthest away from such new found love of western nightclub themes. There’s moments of dub, a sprinkle of reggae, it’s quite surprising that this is a record that sounds so much like Africa, Jamaica and London and yet, it isn’t coming out on Diplo’s Mad Decent label. If the lyrics on MTMTMK were sung in english then this record wouldn’t get all the praise it is getting. Especially considering that Rumbae was co-written by Taio Cruz while We OK was created with the help of Bruno Mars. Even with pop abortions like those two behind a couple of tracks here and there, MTMTMK’s african rhythms meets western electronica packs more heart than your typical club land record.
You might just get the feeling the album is a bit too long, especially considering that track 13 is the remix of the track 11. It’s a penultimate track that brings you back to reality with its english intro that speaks of popping bottles and other vain but familiar western themes. The Very Best still possess the warm hearts that they are known for. It’s just that this time they emigrated to a big city and started to forget their origins in the turmoil of the dancefloor.
Rocket Juice & The Moon // Rocket Juice & The Moon // March 26 // Honest Jon’s
Now I’m definitely not the one to enjoy mainstream rock, but even I know that one of the most divisive slash fun-in-a-live-setting slash offensive-by-doing-nothing bands going around is Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Sure, they haven’t released anything decent in over ten years but that doesn’t stop them from being widely celebrated in the festival arenas all around eastern Europe. Seeing as lately they have a policy of releasing an album every five year, the members have a lot of spare time to do whatever they want. Anthony Kiedis seems to be releasing books or something, and Frusciante decided to fuck off for the second time to concentrate on his weird solo stuff that is always better than his main band. But this time lets talk about Flea. Yeah we all know how he’s a great bassist and all that stuff but he seems to make people dislike him by just appearing on other people’s records. When he was announced as the bassist from Thom Yorke’s solo band everyone went crazy. Now that craze is repeated to a lesser extent as he teams up with Damon Albarn of, you know, Blur and Gorillaz fame to record an afrofunk album.
Not that this collaboration comes as a massive surprise to someone who knows the background of the two musicians. Flea loves afrobeat, Fela Kuti, all that stuff while Albarn has recorded albums in Africa and used their choirs for his projects. It’s only logical that they form the core of Rocket Juice & The Moon with the drummer, producer and somewhat of an afrobeat legend Tony Allen. Rocket Juice & The Moon is a name given to them by the person who illustrated the album cover and it sums up the free nature to the debut self-titled release from the trio. While it does play along with the most of established canons of the genre, Rocket Juice & The Moon has enough problems to keep it away from joining The Very Best as this millennium’s primary source of western afrofunk.
You don’t have to look far to see the first problem. All the best artists and albums that the genre delivered contained few very long tracks. It gave them the feeling of evolution and uprising as it was born from oppression in the troubled 70s Nigeria. In that regard Rocket Juice & The Moon feel incredibly stale with their short sketches featuring some truly baffling vocal work from Erykah Bady and Albarn himself, people who definitely should know much better. It’s the other, lesser known vocalists like M.anifest and Fatoumata Diawara who deliver during their few appearances on the album. Note the 5 minute long Lolo, a track that sums up what this album should’ve been and sadly, what this album isn’t for the most part. Afrobeat built its reputation on steady rhythm and Rocket Juice & The Moon feels just too all over the place and instrumentally stale. Allen is the only one here who brings certain moments to life with his undeniably infectious drumming style that manages to make the tracks adventurous, interesting and, in case of some moments here and there, great. Throughout the record it feels that the music here is performed by three different people, which is very true. That goes against afrobeat which was always about the unity of masses. At 18 tracks that span over 50 minutes the album works as a kaleidoscope of African influences that merely touches upon many different ideas without taking them further. Something that they should’ve done knowing how much these people achieved in the past.
Admittedly, Rocket Juice & The Moon is not a bad album but considering the caliber of the people involved in making it, it could’ve been so much better, it should’ve been. The LP works more as a jam session rather as a vision of three greats combining for something that would stick out. Sadly very few things here are memorable or groovy. There’s so much more than certain chord patterns and lyrics to the genre and while the trio has those nailed down for most of the part, there’s that slum-like charm to afrofunk that a bunch of western millionaires just couldn’t and never will able to find no matter how hard they try.