Ryukyu Underground :: Shimadelica
Nowadays, any indie rock-dance band worth its salt probably takes a lot of cues from Primal Scream's Screamadelica. Producer Andrew Weatherall took the psychedelic sound of the Scream and added the acid-house flourishes of the then booming Madchester scene to create one of the most pivotal crossover records of not only the 90s, but in fact of all time. Without it, there probably would be no The Rapture, Kasabian, Franz Ferdinand or Bloc Party. Think of it as 1991's equivalent of Radiohead's seminal Kid A, the nerdy electronic record that rock kids were not embarrassed to like.
While Ryukyu Underground's Keith Gordon and Jon Taylor may not have set out to recreate the lofty success of Screamdelica, the title of their latest endeavor is an obvious reference to it. What the two albums do share is 60s and 70s style psychedelic grooves, mixed in with RU's generous helpings of live Okinawan and Asian instrumentation and vocals propelled by electronic club and dance rhythms. This time around though, the spotlight is more on the manmade sounds as opposed to the machine ones. The result - their best and most cohesive album to date.
Opener "Suminashi" sends its message of unrequited love over the melancholia of Sanshin (a banjo-like Okinawan instrument) strings and a propulsive dance beat ending the last 1:30 minutes with heavy fx. Programmed 70s style sitars and Indian vocals make up most of "Shimadelic Sound System"; the legacy of Ananda Shankar, no doubt.
"Kogane no Hana" or letter to a loved one who has emigrated in search of a better life, is Japanese dub while "Udui" takes its cues from the trip hop realm. Both tracks are demonstrative of how RU is adept at making even the most synthesized loops and rhythms sound organic. An accomplishment indeed. "Sesoko" and "Thirteenth Moon" are pure dancefloor fodder, both with 4/4 drum programming and Okinawan vocals. "Ashimi Bushi" has a distinctively Brazilian flair as bass and acoustic guitars drive its medium tempo, sunny, shuffling groove. "Uprising" visits the Orient via samples and album closer is all out rock psychedelica.
While not restricting itself to the rich, DJ friendly, treasure trove that is Okinawan music (see Talvin Singh's 1998 opus OK), Ryukyu Underground has taken global electronica and given it a well deserved, long overdue organic makeover. Now, if only they can stay clear of the coffee table compilations that will undoubtedly approach them for track licensing, underground they shall remain, just the way we like our music.