Security – Antibalas
Two-and-a-half years ago Antibalas was hitting their stride. American free trade policies and a seemingly endless war in Iraq had taken their toll on the globe. Bush was in danger of losing his re-election bid, but a viable third-party candidate had yet to emerge. A vast undercurrent of rage was flowing throughout America, and Antibalas used this anger as fuel for their brilliant album, Who is This America?
But where are we now? Free trade policies are prevalent across the globe. The war in Iraq still has no end in sight and looks more dire now than ever. Bush is a lame-duck president slogging through his second term, and once again, the Democrats are fielding a group of middle-of-the-road, milquetoast, uninspiring candidates to replace him. Oh, I almost forgotthe whole world hates us, and Iran is on the cusp of building a nuclear weapon. This is not a happy time to be an American, and somebody should tell Antibalas because it doesn't seem as though they've read a newspaper lately.
While their last album fed off the world's anger, Antibalas' latest effort, Security, seems to want to zone out and forget about the very serious issues we’re facing. Producer John McEntire of Tortoise encouraged Antibalas to explore a different side of their music and the result is less Afrobeat, more trance-like jazz. The vocals, which have gradually taken a diminished role, are significantly less present now than ever before. In the rare moments with singing, the lyrics seem half-hearted and lack punch. Out of all the issues facing our times, it seems strange that Antibalas chooses to focus on parliamentary procedure in "Filibuster X." In the song, they also make a few borderline childish ruminations on the meaning of G.O.P. (ex. Greedy Old People). "Sanctuary" has some subtly interesting statements about finding refuge in the mind, but the conflict is more internal than global. "War Hero" does deliver a slightly stronger jab at the notion that Bush should be viewed as a hero for spreading democracy. Of course, such a topic would be red meat for the old Antibalas, but instead of gnashing their teeth into the concept, Antibalas now takes small bites and is sure to chew their food well.
Don’t get me wrong. Security does feature some catchy beats and grooves, and a track like “Beaten Metal” successfully employs a haunting retro keyboard sound overlayed on a hypnotic percussive back beat with chords of horns thrusting in from the sides. There are musical highlights on this album, but the compositions aren’t what you might expect from Antibalas. While their music has gotten darker, the rougher edges have been smoothed a bit, and the raw power has dissipated in favor of what may be a more accessible sound. A band that would once respond to current events with rage now seems to content to have a jazzy breakdown. Perhaps carrying the mantle of political bellwether became an exhausting experience, and the band sought to change course. Maybe age has caused a shift in the way this ensemble responds to global tragedy. Or perchance Antibalas is taking a cue from the endangered species known as American liberals, people who have suffered so many political setbacks and have become incredibly disenchanted in the face of the dreadful situation that exists on our planet. Regardless, Antibalas’ sound has changed and their thematic focus seems to have slightly shifted away from the political. Depending on your prerogative, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just different.