Joi :: Without Zero
Considering brothers Haroon and Farook Shamsher were cutting up quips by James Brown into tabla-laden breaks in the '80s, we could only expect their evolution to have been tremendous. And given the strength and diversity of their first two Real World efforts - One and One is One and Joi - people have been waiting for Without Zero for some time. Anticipation thick, but brother Farook has pushed on since the untimely death of Haroon. And without this new album, he pushes strongly, and beautifully: borders, boundaries and lush, textured soundscapes from his studio into your mind.
What has made Joi successful is their iconoclastic fusion of forms. They were part of an aggressive underground South Asian scene in the midst of post-industrial punk London, and trails and traces of this attitude can be heard two decades later. Farook has no problem throwing a searing guitar riff into the middle of a chaotic and electronic-heavy cut like "My Love," and rightfully so: it works. His real genius lies in the texturing and overture of these songs. They are rich and exude much depth; he allows a lot of room for complexity without forgetting that the simplest speaks loudest, which is what makes "The Blessing" such a brilliant song. With a punctuated, hard beat, he floats an acoustic guitar above, without being kitschy, or New Agey, in the least. The track has steam and propels for five-and-a-half minutes.
The only danger lies (and admittedly, it was more prevalent on previous works) in his slight diversion into the expectable. There's a bit of it in "Come Back To Me," featuring an otherwise beautiful melody by Apeksha Dandekar - her voice is nothing less than heartbreaking. What is somewhat bothersome is the production of Niladri Kumar's exceptional sitar playing - it sits too much in the front, too tinny and with gloss. Weaving the string instruments of India and the Middle East have been a longtime foe of the better electronica, for the sonic tension that needs to exist often does not. The result is a high and grating repetition that wears quickly. However, it is not overused here, and the criticism is minimal, albeit present.
In his continuous globetrotting efforts, he takes a great sample from Balkan Beat Box's "Cha Cha" on his, get this, "Cha Cha Cha." On top of this he completes what BBB often does not (although they've improved much on their second effort, Nu Med): he gives it juice via tweaked and full bass. Weaving the Balkan hotstep into a drum-driven track that sounds partly produced underwater, partly dependent on a stellar break - and, it might be added, with a much more successful inclusion of sitar - this is Joi in his prime. An entire panoply of cultures is represented in just over four minutes.
And such was his original intention. Since the days when the brothers called themselves League of Joi Bangla Youth Organization and would rock Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan behind Sugarhill Gang hip-hop, his goal has been to set out to make great music - not South Asian music, Middle Eastern music, nor any other adjective. (He even wraps a sliver of American R&B into tablas and flutes on the winsome "Show Me Love.") On his third Real World Release all the descriptive words fly out the window, and you're left with an album to dance to, to contemplate, and most of all, to thoroughly enjoy.