July 4, 2013

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Mark Ernestus Presents Jeri-Jeri

800% Ndagga


One of the most entrancing and enticingly hypnotic albums that this writer has heard recently is 800% Ndagga by the Sengalese band Jeri-Jeri, presented by the German techno producer Mark Ernestus, known as half of the Berlin-based production team Basic Channel. This is far from being a techno album, mind you, offering a healthy helping of the dance genre called mbalax played in West Africa, which blends popular music elements with traditional hand-struck drumbeats of Senegal. 

While the album features a variety of singers, the center of attention is the complex web of drumbeats, making up an unrelenting sound stream. Singers know that several voices blended together create a chorus effect that results in a fuller, rounded sound, and there is a similar effect demonstrated here with the ensemble of multiple drums; the rhythms are still swift and tight, but the beats have a sonic thickness that dominates. Sometimes a drum kit—heavy on the high-hat taps—joins the river of beats, but mostly the other instruments—light guitar strums that float, anchored downbeat bass notes—are just the icing. 

800% Ndagga is a cleanly recorded album, with minimal studio wizardry that likely draws from Basic Channel’s love of Jamaican dub and reggae, at times letting notes linger on with dub echoes and reverb, like on “Mbeuguel Dafa Nekh.” These effects are perhaps unnecessary but, fortunately, they are applied sparingly and gingerly, without being annoying or too awfully distracting. This sets the album apart from, say, a straight-up field recording, but this writer supposes Ernestus wants to leave his mark, which is fine—this genre-infusion is tasteful and pretty harmless.

Never letting up, the album provides variations on its slithering groove over its eight tracks, extracting just the right amount of energy from each vamp and serving up its irresistible kinetic rhythms in 4-to-9 minute slices of aural calisthenics.

Future Bible Heroes

Memories of Love, Eternal Youth and Partygoing.


The new four-CD set from Future Bible Heroes includes nearly its entire discography and features Magnetic Fields lyricist/composer/singer Stephin Merritt, synth master Chris Ewen and vocalist Claudia Gonson. With this band, Merritt’s wit, sly naughtiness, and brilliant songwriting are in full force, and Ewen’s clean, pointedly artificial yet welcoming arrangements draw from both his experience in the ’80s band Figures on a Beach and electronic-based artists such as Kraftwerk, Ryuichi Sakamoto and The Human League.

The solid 1997 debut Memories of Love could almost be mistaken for a Magnetic Fields album, particularly with Merritt’s over-the-top deliciously depressing songs, like “Hopeless,” which features the catchy chorus of “There’s no use even trying because it’s hopeless / All of our dreams are dying of overdoses.” Perhaps the most poignant track is “Real Summer,” about lost love and youth, ending with bratty resignation with the line, “Summer, my ass.”

Featuring Gonson on all lead vocals, 2002’s Eternal Youth is a drop in quality—some of the lyrics aren’t up to Merritt’s usual high standards, and the album’s flow is choppy with Ewen’s instrumental interludes. Despite this, it has two great standouts: the unrepentantly campy “I’m a Vampire” with a rap (!) breakdown and the clever and playful tribute to radical feminist Mary Daly entitled “Kiss Me Only with Your Eyes.”

The excellent new album Partygoing is a tongue-in-cheek glorification of irresponsibility; it brings Merritt back as a singer and smartly keeps the proceedings short and sweet, like running a pub gauntlet of exotic shots lined up on a bar counter. In addition to promoting alcohol abuse (example title: “Drink Nothing But Champagne,”) the album dabbles in Satanism (“Satan, Your Way Is a Hard One”) and, most outrageously, mocks parental anxieties and today’s coddled youth with the track “Keep Your Children in a Coma.”

Finally, there’s the impeccably sequenced odds-and-ends collection, featuring the band’s three EPs—wisely excluding a few unnecessary remixes—and various compilation tracks. Highlights include the manic techno exotica of “My Blue Hawaii,” “Mr. Punch” about the Neil Gaiman-penned character and the devastating “O! What a Dream It Was,” and the set is a no-brainer for fans of synth-pop, The Magnetic Fields, and/or cheeky electro decadence.


July 4, 2013

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