(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Recording review - Föllakzoid, III (2015)

Sink into hypnotic rhythms and dark echoes


World music -- that vague catch-all label -- largely falls into two flavors, neither of which reflect too well on the Westerners who coined the term. The bulk of it is “delightfully exotic” or “strange but cool”, showcasing some culture’s musical heritage, but repackaged in easy to digest servings to appeal to the jaded palate. Worse than that are the half breed mutants that hover between appropriation and cargo-cult aspiration, sometimes with rock artists harnessing foreign musicians without understanding their cultural context, other times with those musicians trying with mild success to emulate Western pop. Even so, I’ll confess that I’ve enjoyed my share of all of these, sometimes with a frisson of guilt.

Föllakzoid’s sophomore album, III, neatly sidesteps this minefield by focusing on their creative vision and building rich, long-form trance excursions. The Chilean trio taps into a hypnotic flow that has served numerous traditions from Indian ragas and Sufi dervishes to Krautrock drives and dancehouse electronica. Their music may draw somewhat on South American rhythms, but those influences don’t stick out as much as the motorik percussion, Indian polyrhythms, trance psychedelia, and Goth rock moodiness. Why waste time pedantically analyzing the cultural referents or feeling hiply superior when you can surrender to the swirling syncopation and trippy echoes?

III is a full length album split into four tracks, but the songs seem to share thematic elements even as they change up their production. In particular, the first two tracks, “Electric” and “Earth” have a lot in common: each begins with syncopated beats built from echoed percussion, they build into trancy electronica, and they feature heavily reverbed vocals. But the two songs develop completely different moods. “Electric” latches on to a slinky bass groove that pushes into Ozric Tentacles territory. Electronic washes and a deep, pensive throb create a beautiful tension that complements the crystalline bite of guitar and gives a surreal edge to the faint vocals that sounds like distant PA announcements. The song wraps up with a sci-fi flavored interlude featuring robotic sound effects and shimmering static.

“Earth” rises from this sonic soundscape with a metallic percussion that develops into a deep tribal rhythm. The bass is strong here, too, but now it’s heavy and impassive, reminding me a bit of Joy Division. The effect is much darker than the first track, suggesting shadowy hallways where barely noticeable electronic grinding suggests alien threats lurking just out of sight. Despite that undercurrent of danger, there’s also a thoughtful element as the piece hypnotically wraps in on itself, occasionally running into dead ends and moving on while the echoes hang on a little bit.

The shortest piece, “Feuerzeug”, closes out the album with an intense nine minutes of pensive Krautrock that ambraces the Gothic sounds of Joy Division and Bauhaus. The main theme is thick with tension and has me expecting to hear Ian Curtis break in with the vocals for “Transmission”. Then some heavier flashes of guitar against the steady beat suggest Bauhaus’ “Terror Couple Kill Colonel”. At the same time, Föllakzoid aren’t aping those bands. They make their own statement by playing with the sonic palette to blend in harsher, low-fi tones that contrast against the softening echoes and electronic touches. They fill in a host of disjointed details that drift in and out before the song gradually deconstructs itself.

If III has a weakness, it’s one that many trance-oriented projects share: it’s too easy for a casual listener to dismiss the whole collection as repetitive and miss the nuances between the songs.“Feuerzeug” may stand as the best argument against that criticism, but I think that Föllakzoid could have varied the tempos a little more to create more differentiation. Ultimately, those are minor issues that won’t distract as you sink under the album’s spell. Best of all, it’s not “world music”; it’s just music, perfect for an early Spring bike ride or as a soul-refreshing barrier against workday monotony .

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