Imagine a gold crested wave stuttering onto the shore, obscured by triple-outlined palm trees ringing in a post-spliff haze, sand shimmering in surreal pastels and the crowning wind loosening every joint, muscle, ache that you might have collected over the years of trauma and excess. Now imagine that distilled into an album. Sound vanguard Sun Araw (who’s outputs seem just as home on a mountain top in Hampi as they do in a dark cellar in Tokyo) and M. Geddes Gengras, team up with dub-reggae legends “The Congo’s“, to soak a little bit of Jamaica into the collaborative sponge. Taking ten days off their schedules (which would no doubt have been spent adding numerous tapes to their collections or touring the world with their carpet out-fits*) the pair headed to Jamaica for a recording session courtesy of the growing catalogue (this being number 9 in the FRKWYS’ collection) of über-cool label: RVNG– Just don’t ever call them cool to their faces.
The arrival of two Americans into the spiritual compound of The Congo’s did little to diminish what magic lay in store for late night jamming’s. Ten days were spent huddled in rooms playing their vibrations for each other, The Congo’s composing vocal harmonies, passing the healing herb liberally around, dancing in the courtyards and enveloping the compound in a new found friendship. A video entitled ICON EYE documenting the trip (pun intended) was part of the Cd/Vinyl packaging.
There were clear and present dangers of this becoming a couple of bong-load Americans heading to the land of Jamaica to sit around bare-foot, wearing hemp, with unkempt beards and squandered hair pretending to get lost in the moment and create some truly cringeworthy music. To just treat it as a journey of discovery and not really focus on the music would have probably tempted a fair few of people if they had been paired together. In this case, regardless of what extra curricular activities were adhered to, the results are coherent (dare I use that word?), intricate, and a demonstration that two completely opposing music worlds can come together and squeeze the best of each to make an even better whole. Huge kudos is showered on the visiting pair for not going there to try “teach” The Congo’s something new either, but rather to draw on their exceptional taste, experience, and allow the three opposing musical minds to melt into a chillum fest of Rishikesh proportions.
It’s a welcome detour, Sun Araw’s releases of late have slid. Too much emphasis on quantity vs quality and the inane thinking that people are still interested in hearing the same songs played over and over with minor changes between records. His talent is undeniable, but as is the case with so many of the “New Cassette Generation” they tend to release 300 albums a year and nobody has the breadth to facilitate such a task successfully. This collaboration probably opened a door to allow him more of a supportive role, where he is not directly responsible for all the sound-pictures. Much to the albums credit. Opposing opinions can sometimes stifle a record and squeeze out the very essence that made it work, but in this case, disagreements aside, what we are left with is truly exceptional.
The Congo’s vocals are in perfect nick, although soaked heavily in effects not normally reserved for them. Sun Araws music has been opened up to allow more of a warm edge to it. M. Geddes Gendras production work and musical pieces manage to capture what the atmosphere of the room must have felt like while recording in that challenging week. Something that rarely occurs. People speak often of timeless records. I think this is one of them. Or at least, a stark document of “a time”.
Opening the record with a proclamation of sorts, “New Binghi” glances towards an Ethiopian Zion while the smoke thins and the music begins its journey. With meticulously crafted vocal arrangements/harmonies (considering the time involved) “Happy Song” seems the soundtrack to a Jamaican after-party, that time in the morning where the sun is slowly rising, the sky is pink, and the sand is still cold from the night. I wonder what The Congo’s first thought when shown the tracks that had been recorded and asked to write lyrics and melodies. Judging from the manner in which they give themselves to every song, I can only imagine they saw through the differences in style and technique and delved into the heart of the music, allowing themselves to imprint it with their greatness.
The vocals on “Jungle” are a magical moment in music history. So haunting and shrill, falling in and out of the percussion and samples. They cement the disparate entities of the song into a cohesive, almost gospel-like track. Throughout the remainder of the songs, the overall vibe changes very slightly. However, the vocals distinguish songs aside, as well as the drops in pace and the subtle changes. This album is proof that sometimes creating under time constraints can squeeze the cream to the top. Artists with too much time on their hands generally end up thinning their best moments with an over-emphasis on perfecting each and every sound, and therefore losing the urgency or the “feel”. With only 10 days to write and record the whole album the creative juices were forced to flow, and over-thinking each track was virtually cast to the side.
What remains is an amazing testament to those days, and a likely benchmark for future FRKWYS releases.
* Carpet out-fits is a term used for bands such as Sunburned Hand Of The Man, etc. who sit on rugs during their concerts lost in drug-shapes and seemingly unaffected by the passing of time.