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(Anti- 87250 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 11/6/2013)
For all the thousands of rock bands there are, most have rather similar instrumentation. In fact, the general practice when forming bands is round up a couple of guitar players, somebody to play bass and a drummer. It seems intrinsic to the process. But there are quite a few bands that bring in some different instrumentation like sax or violin. And there have been bands stake their sound on some distinctive sound like banjo or cello. Sometimes it can be bit of a gimmick -- there was a group who hauled around a huge set of carillon bells that would normally reside in a church belfry. But occasionally a group will come along for whom the unconventional instrumentation comes across as a natural part of the sound and their music that they create around it.
This week we have a really interesting and appealing album by a young band with a distinctive sound that draws on South American folk, some African influence and some of the quirky bands of the past. They call themselves The Melodic, and their new CD bears the title Effra Parade.
The Melodic are from the Brixton area of London and they are all in their early 20s. It's not clear where they got their mix of influences, whether by accident or design, but it involves some South American folk instruments like the Charango, a small guitar, and the pipes that often go with it, which recalls Paul Simon's work with a South American folk group Urubamba on the song El Condor Pasa. Along with that The Melodic includes the West African harp guitar the kora, ukulele and perhaps one possible source for the band's name a Melodica, the keyboard harmonica which has sometimes been used in reggae. There is a smattering of bass, percussion and occasionally brass instruments, plus more conventional acoustic guitars. The band has the quirky not always-perfectly-intonated vocals that can imply a somewhat rustic sound that sometimes reminds me of The Incredible String Band from the 1960s. They also throw in some hints of English folk influence. It is an instantly distinctive sound that quickly catches your ear.
The Melodic apparently have been working on their sound for a few years now, despite their young age. They also demonstrated their independence by making this very much a do-it-yourself album, recording much of it in a converted bedroom in a noisy apartment. There are some instances in which they just let the traffic sounds and the voices of people down the hall permeate in to the recording on a couple of the short interludes. Though their publicity photos show only four people, there are six main contributors listed in the credits, and three of them have the melodica listed as one of the instruments they play. But there are also two folks who play the charango.
The approach of the music is also rather unexpected with the mix of influences that come together, and also the sonic approach that can sound rustic one minute and atmospheric the next.
The CD begins with one of three short interludes that are scattered throughout the 14-song CD, The Last Thing You Said. It's a solo melodica piece. <<>>
That leads into On My Way a song which was the title piece for an EP that they released previously. The South American sound is embodied with the charango but adding to the texture is the African kora. That's a bit of a contrast with the slightly quavery harmony vocals. <<>>
A piece called Imperfect Time shows some of the band's African influence with its 6-beat rhythm and the more prominent kora. But there's also the somewhat incongruous, but creative use of brass instruments. It's a good example of what makes this band so interesting. <<>>
Another track that exemplifies the curious blend of sound that the Melodic brings to bear, is one called Roots. This is one of the pieces on which The Melodic's vocals remind me of the quirky singing of Robin WIlliamson and the Incredible String Band from back in the day. <<>>
To show that the Melodic's interest in South American folk was not just a lark but involved some research on their part, the group does an original song called Ode to Victor Jara who was a South American activist and folk singer who was tortured and was celebrated by Pete Seeger back in the 1960s. The band adds their South Americana which is just right for this good composition, probably the best on the CD lyrically. <<>>
The Anglo folk side of the group comes out on a song called Lost to You. With its one-guitar accompaniment, it is one of the more intimate on the album. <<>>
For me, one of the most appealing tunes on this idiosyncratic recording is Watch the World Turn Blue. There's a kind of hybrid of reggae with the African-influenced sounds. <<>>
Though the band's lyrics can be a little hazy at times, a song called Runaway is about what its title says, and it's another appealing mix with the band's distinctive sound. <<>>
Piece Me Back Together is another quite appealing tune. It's a love song for a change, but the musical influences are still an interesting pastiche. <<>>
Effra Parade, by the distinctive British band The Melodic, is an enjoyable album by a group that sounds like no other with its curious mix of South American folk, Anglo folk, African and quirky vocal harmonies. It's interesting for the band being as young as they are, to be coming up with this unusual stylistic mix. What they do is not particularly authentic or true to the original styles, there is not a lot of virtuosity on their collection of instruments and the vocals are not entirely polished. But the fact that they just went ahead and did what they did without a lot of baggage from tradition gives this album a very true and organic sound.
Our grade for audio quality is close to an "A." For an album that is primarily acoustic, there are some clever sonic tricks that work well, and the acoustic instruments and vocals are captured well and cleanly. But the compression in the mastering process reduced dynamic range more than necessary.
It's not often that one can say "here's a new band with a really different sound." But The Melodic, as captured on their new CD, truly is one.
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