nomad soundsystem :: oriental electronics
Attempting to cover a host of genres under a single umbrella can be a daunting task-one often inclined towards disaster in the global fusion realm. Yet the very name of this Berlin-based outfit hints at globetrotting, and the nomadic reference is refreshingly fitting. While, from what I've been told, this is a band to be experienced live, they prove themselves to be excellent producers as well, honing and crafting an impressive variety of, as the album title suggests, "oriental" sounds within the context of electronica-inflected backdrops.
Their story, paraphrased: Moroccan-inspired guitarist connects his rock roots with Japanese loop wizard, who offers his laptop and precision; two Tunisians, one on lead vocals and another throwing in occasional percussion, join an Algerian percussionist (and accordionist to boot), along with a bass-heavy beat master who refers to himself-in accordance with all this worldly alchemy-as Shazam, who, if I remember correctly, gave Billy the ability to transform into Captain Marvel.
While they throw around big and rather ambiguous terms (the latest: Advanced Ethnotronica) in reference to their sound, the most prominent features are North African. These soundbytes do not dominate, though. What the band most relies on, and what serves as the epoxy granting the project linearity, is their excellent selection of beats. David Beck is diverse enough on guitar to ensure a wide range of atmospheres are created, and Tomoki Ikeda is brave enough to offer a fine variety of rhythms which to choose from. Sparse percussion fills the play between deep and airy.
Most appealing is Karim Sfaxi on vocals. His voice intones a natural poetry, and the subtle inflections of the North African song shine through beautifully. The midtempo groove of "Menich Aalik," colored by an ambient and lovely guitar line, is further decorated by his hopeful, inspiring melody. When the riddim gets harder, as on "Meni Lebess," the dancehall roll is punctuated effortlessly by his lyrical dancing. The most impressive quality of this and other songs is that no part controls another. When the percussion stabs the beat, the oud-sounding strings are perfectly placed in the backdrop; effective, yet never overpowering.
The band does tread dangerous water near the end of the album. While "Zmen Aalech" has a very thoughtful melody, when English comes in it sounds like Sting going for another Cheb Mami smash. And the hip-hop "Atarashi," while exhibiting a rather intriguing banda-esque bassline, lyrically sounds muddled and generic. Better it is when they go even further outside the box, like the tango of "Mima," where the accordion and swag dance beat are a spectacular match. It seems the further these nomads go from center, the closer they move towards true innovation.