Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Remote Regions and the Releases of the Week.

As an avid and reasonably open-minded music collector, it would be irresponsible of me to be to provincial or Amero/Euro-centric in my listening habits. I am proud to have multiple artists from each of six of the seven continents represented in my collection. As soon as that great Antarctic shoe-gazing garage punk band rears up its greasy head, I assure you I will be all over it. That said, the two great new releases on this weeks slate come from two of the more remote regions of the planet. One from the desert trails of Saharan Africa, the other from Perth, on the distant West coast of Australia.

The first of my releases of the week is the latest offering from nomadic desert blues icons Tinariwen, entitled Tassili ("the campfire album").  If you are unaware of Tinariwen, I highly recommend you become acquainted with their work. They are a (now somewhat legendary) band of musicians of the nomadic Kel Tamashek people (otherwise known as Tuareg, though this name is not preferred, as it has negative connotations) of Saharan Africa, based around the Mali-Algeria border. Their sound is generally referred to as desert blues, and is a delicious and hypnotic melange of traditional North African and Kel Tamashek folk music and the pentatonic West African and Delta blues, and features magnificent, mesmerizing, wriggly guitar lines that suggest the rhythmic pulsing of the desert dunes themselves.

Whereas Tinariwen's previous outing Imidiwan : Companions had an expansive sound evoking a large communal gathering (in fact, it was almost recorded as such), filled with a backing chorus and layers of electric guitars; Tassili is, as its campfire subtext suggests, a much more intimate affair. The guitars are almost exclusively acoustic, and the atmosphere more that of a group of Kel Tamashek musicians enjoying tea and song at the end of the day. Nothing of the quality of guitar work is lost however, in fact, it may be even more present in an "unplugged" setting. Magnificently recorded and performed, with guest appearances by Kyp Malone and Tunde Adabimpe of TV on the Radio (two gentlemen I hold in the highest possible esteem) adding guitar and vocals to several tracks, Tassili is a work of atmospheric beauty and, as always, Tinariwen has a way of making me feel like I'm hearing the guitar for the first time all over again.

For the second big rekkid of the week we travel around the globe to Perth; Australia's most remote major city, tucked away on the continent's Southwest coast. Innerspeaker, the much-anticipated debut full-length from Tame Impala, is my kind of psychedelic rock. With apologies to the Dead/Phish-head set, I've always preferred the Anglo-Euro version of psychedelic rock: Less Americana-gone-jam-band thing and more spacey-trippy in song structure and production; more musical logic and direction in the trippy improvisations, less a  countrified rock song diverge into an endless jam. Tame Impala satisfies my psychedelic needs in a way that no other current band other than their Swedish brethren in space, Dungen, can.

Actually, when I first heard Innerspeaker, my immediate impression was that Tame Impala were essentially the Australian Dungen, or Dungen with lyrics in English. While the comparisons are very obviously there to be made (in certain instrumental passages, one would be hard pressed to distinguish the two), there are important differences. Whereas Dungen's sound is almost purely informed by the psych/kraut/prog sounds of 1967-1974 (which is no bad thing, as they have largely perfected that sound), Tame Impala welcome smatterings of the future, or at least the present into their sound, incorporating welcome traces (sometimes more than traces) of synth, shoe-gaze textures, and the occasional particle of chill-wave into their sound. The result is a spacey psychedelic epic of a rekkid. Which might just be My New Fav'rit Rekkid.

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