- Various Artists
- Tradi-Mods Vs Rockers
Several passes of an album should be enough to not only develop an opinion of its worth as well as a degree of understanding as to why. Of course, that doesn’t happen when listening to a release becomes an obsession such as this two-disc set Tradi-Mods Vs Rockers, which is dubbed as “Alternative Takes on Congotronics.” I’ll admit being new to the range of Congotronic sounds. Sending me towards further investigation of its practitioners is another positive by product of this production.
For anyone else new to the form, Congrotronics refers to the series that highlighted electrified traditional music from the African Congo. The approach meshes in a way that the sound uses its conflicting and overlapping melodies and rhythms to develop into a hypnotic blend. Credited as an influence on a bevy of alt-rockers, Crammed Discs, the original label for Congotronics, came up with the idea of encouraging acts including Animal Collective, Deerhoof, Andrew Bird, Glenn Kotche, Oneida, Skeletons and more – 26 participants overall – to take the source material from Kasai Allstars, Konono No1 and Sobanza Mimanisa, and create brand new works. Yes, purists could decry a westernization of the original content but music has always drifted from one shore to another, influencing musicians ad infinitum.
On disc one the fascination is immediate, inhabiting the mind and body. Deerhoof Basing “Travel Broadens the Mind” on Kasai Allstars, Deerhoof presents an enticing opening to the proceedings. Followed by Animal Collective and Andrew Bird, the mixture of electronics, western structures and African traditions ebb and flow. Jherek Bischoff’s orchestral “Kule Kule” has the grandeur of an outtake from “The Last Emperor” soundtrack Overtaking the better-known artists, Tussle’s “Soft Crush” offers nearly six minutes of joyous match of machine and mankind. It sounds like the jamming of a drum circle combined with a seasoned improvisational troupe. Seriously, I’ve put it on repeat more than times than I should admit, and feel the same about Woom’s “Enter the Chief,” Mark Enestus’ “Masikulu Dub” and Skeletons “Kiwembo.”
Disc two goes heavier into the electronic possibilities derived from the Congrotonics world and in the case of “Two Labors” by AU embraces the repetition and chaos. Sometimes it can be bumpy ride, especially after the tantalizing vibes of the previous disc. Still, it does provide its own pleasures. Optimo’s “Wumbanzanga,” based on Konono No1, begins as an update of the Talking Heads’ “Remain In Light” technique with a slithery bassline holding focus as the bright guitar lines define themselves through a loop of activity. It transforms itself into a microchip being before returning to its human pulse. And when done, there’s nothing left to do but start “Tradi-Mods” from the beginning and bask in the international cross-pollination river of rhythm.