Anima Sound System :: Aquanistan
review from derek
Hungarian identity has long been an ambiguous, hazy concept. The land - centered in the Danube Basin - is a crossroads between East and West, occupied by one or another superpower (short list: Goths, Gepides, Avars, the Huns, Slavonic and German forces) for centuries. Their alliance with Germany in WWII furthered the schizophrenic rift, and has since been rebuilding a sense of culture of their own device.
Yet so little is known of Hungary, most likely because it's national language, Magyar, is utterly incomprehensible to foreign ears. It is not Germanic-based, and a long running joke has it aliens created the dialect, given the unique tongue (in both grammar and meaning). After the repartitioning following WWI, all the villages were renamed (hence my grandfather, born in a town called (phonetically) Besh-may-ga, has no idea what or where it is today). Budapest, the capital city (divided by the Danube into two cities: Buda and Pest), is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, the greatest since its 20th century turn. The recent opening of the renovated Artemovskzk 38 (aka A38), a communist-era-cargo-ship-turned-floating-music-venue, is but the tip of the country's sonic iceberg.
The foundation of that berg, from an international music perspective, has been Anima Sound System, an eclectic six-piece electronica outfit led by vocalist Judit Németh and producers Zsolt Prieger and Gergely Németh. An intriguing name - anima being, in Jungian psychology, the unconscious or true inner self of an individual, as opposed to their outer personality - the sound system denotes turning the inner outer-and loud. After the huge success of their Gipsy Sound Clash (Hungaratoon), follow-up Aquanistan turns the dial a few degrees hotter.
To contact one's anima, a strong sense of confidence and courage is needed, a category this outfit certainly isn't lacking. They'll chop hip-hop beats, splice d 'n b, add tablas, Eastern European jazz and pot smoking references and make hodgepodge sound exquisite. Their experiments don't always work, but there's something endearing enough about the effort making all their records worthwhile. Aquanistan works unlike any previous; it's mature, global feel shows an older, wiser Sound System bent on constant futurism.
While the beats range from bangin' to quirky to smooth to suave to smokin', credit Ms. Németh for maintaining the center. Her voice is a comforting blend of sensual and soft tinged with an old-soul feeling, not of Motown but of Budatown. She's the Ella Fitzgerald of modern Hungary, at times Beth Gibbons (Portishead), others almost Björk-ish. "Vigyél el," (which a friend calls "one of the sexiest songs written in the past few years," understandably) uses a common Anima trick: airy syths, mellow backbeat, Németh's poetics (see GSC's "Jiddis" for reference). A country-guitar-sitar (for real) uplifted by trotting violins on "Sentimental," the funked-out sax riffs melding into beatbox R&B rhythms on "L.O.V.E.," baby cries and serious bass grooves on "Dinosaur jr." (J. Mascis has nothing on this), the utterly inescapable hooks of "Legyen így," all comprise an album as forward-thinking as it is of the moment.
So it goes in a land without name, whose internal borders shift as quickly as their political leaders (Anima, by the way, has plenty to say on that topic, often criticized by social pundits for their outspoken nature). In a country whose social and individual identity is in cyclical flux (Hungary is said to have the highest suicide rate in the world) some create theirs from inner voices. Aquanistan proves Anima Sound System may very well have the loudest.