Al Lover zones out, Maurice Louca throws a studio party
(Crash Symbols/Psych Army)
San Francisco producer and past rapper Al Lover expands on his former all-sample-based method to one that introduces live instrumentation, heard on his latest album Sacred Drugs. As stated in an interview with The Quietus, his intention was to make a zone-out album—and indeed, one can be hypnotized by his repetition and frequent use of loops.
However, Sacred Drugs is much more than that, being a thick, dark mass of psychedelia, going beyond mere gray soundscapes to make a captivating and ominous concoction that sounds huge.
On “A Shaman’s Hand is Infinite,” the first thing that grabs the listener is its absolutely sick (in the best way, mind you), distorted keyboard line, eventually thickened by a mirroring bass line and enhanced by deep hip-hop/funk beats.
In this writer’s mind, “Jupiter Birth” imagines a genre—the sci-fi western epic—with a forceful, oppressive mood and feeling of impending doom; the keyboards are run through a violent tremolo effect, and spacey, whistling synth melodies tilt the proceedings off-balance.
“Sun from the Jungle” uses what sounds like it could be a sample from perhaps some lost ’60s Krzysztof Komeda soundtrack; it takes a nice loop then just keeps building and building, like a dirty snowball rolling downhill to form a gigantic snowman.
“Breath as Metaphor” uses a dusky and meaty electric guitar riff loop, contrasted with whirling melodies that flutter in a whimsical way, and “Super Strength (Power Plants)” with vocalist Morgan Delt offers a murky groove and momentum that resembles the ’70s band Suicide.
Sacred Drugs reveals an obsession with atmospheric details like amp hum and vinyl surface noise, like that heard on “Nature’s Tuning,” which has the tension of a score for a psychological horror film and manages to make a tambourine sound menacing.
It’s a simple formula on Sacred Drugs—take a loop and build it up—but Al Lover takes it far, with dense assemblages that evoke fascinating monstrosities.
Benhayyi Al-Baghbaghan (Salute the Parrot)
The second album from Cairo, Egypt-based musician Maurice Louca, Benhayyi Al-Baghbaghan (translated as “Salute the Parrot”), is a complicated stew with what sounds like the results of a studio party with 13 guest musicians and singers; its attitude seems to be to throw it all against the wall and see what sticks, and no element is too odd or disparate to find a home in the mix.
The album is a blend of electronic music, with sampling and synths, and traditional instruments, including the rababa (a bowed string instrument) and buzuq (a lute). Acoustic drums—in the form of drum kits and hand-struck percussion—sit alongside beatbox patterns with relative comfort, providing a muddled genre backbone, at times resembling hip-hop, dance-oriented forms or more nebulous rhythm-worlds.
The opener “The Golden Age” uses a slow, heavy beat (think “When the Levee Breaks”) with startling synth hits and flying, manic melodic lines on the keyboard, bringing to mind the work of Syrian Omar Souleyman.
The album’s title track features electro shaabi MC Alaa 50 Cent with a distorted voice among the electronic bloops and drum machine beats, and “Idiot” reveals its complex strata through subtraction—during its breakdown, the listener can focus on a compelling small ensemble of hand percussion and violin improv.
“Rupture” is a weird amalgam and offers a little space with a more moderate tempo, with a dub-esque mood with echoing vocals and accordion parts; “Salt Pans” is a maelstrom of polyrhythms and electronic squeals, and “It Will Set” even features some free jazz sax squawking from Alan Bishop (formerly of Sun City Girls).
One way, heard often here, to try to find new musical territory is to smash together unexpected ingredients; however, the one notable disadvantage of Louca’s method of presenting vocalists with somewhat cheesy contemporary sound-effect treatments is that they are firmly placed in the present era—the consequence of which is that tomorrow, they will already sound dated.
Still, it’s refreshing to hear Louca’s inclusive sonic attitude with rich ingredients, leaving fresh footprints on his explorations.