Probably an overused adjective when it comes deconstructing the sound of the bands critics love, it nonetheless fits when the topic du’ jour is The Afrorockers.
It’s Twin Cities soul, drenched in notes of post-punk-era New Wave and just enough African polyrhythms to fill in the space between angular synth lines. The Parisian Afrobeat outfit’s sound may be made of familiar ingredients, but the end result is a fresh take on a few dishes we didn’t think could be improved upon.
Out of the gate of their debut eponymous release (Buda Musique, Jan., 2015), they plant a flag on the richness of the influences in their oeuvre. “I Go U Go” vamps African for just a couple of bars before dropping a fat synth ostinato over a groovy afrobeat. It’s a bombast of a jam, one you know they’ll stretch like crazy on a live show because it’s so damned heavy, the dancers will bemoan the final coda.
Morris Day, Prince and Fela Kuti lurk in the margins of The Afrorockerz’ staff sheets, but the vocals and production are all Oingo Boingo, Talking Heads and maybe a little Mothers of Invention — witness track 2, “Looking for Change.” The cut launches with eight bars of a stinging synth-driven shout chorus before settling into the familiar steady afrobeat that anchors much of the album.
It settles down a little on the next track, “Time for me.” Still built on the afrobeat-synth pedestal, this one sprinkles in a little more R&B, thanks to the vocal afrobatics of Second City ex-pat Allonymous, sharing mic time with Emma Lamadji, who lends a rich female tenor to his slightly grittier baritone.
But make no mistake, the band is built around the id and the ego of guitarist Julien Raulet, with Bassist Sylvain Daniel, drummer Maxime Zampieri and David Monet on synth rounding out the group. It’s impressive, the job they do of making this groups sound a lot bigger than just the sum of its parts. Paying as much homage as they do to ’80s icons, you’d expect a horn section would fill the bill. And not that there isn’t room for one. Still, Monet’s synth work adds crucial clay to the structure of the band’s sound — both in terms of steady, revolving lines and atmospheric accents like on the 8-and-a-half-minute-long marathon “You Need Me.”
Indeed, that’s not the band’s only stretch. There isn’t a single 3-minute pop song on this album, because: Jam. Almost everything on here clocks in at more than 5 minutes, so if form means more to you than function, you may find your mind wandering in places along with some of the textures The Afrockerz appear set on developing.
That said, they still appreciate the value of a set-up and a transition. And they know when to drop the beat, and they know when to smack you in the face with it — something they demonstrate with aplomb on the final cut, “My Prayer,” which ebbs and flows with soft interludes punctuated by explosive breaks.
If nothing else, after listening to this band, you’re going to find yourself digging out your old Morris Day and the Time LPs and spending a solid few hours wallowing in mid-’80s glory. And there’s nothing wrong with that.