This Week's Album Releases

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The Independent Culture
SALAKO Musicality Jeepster

THIS SECOND album from Hull's Salako sounds like a textbook exercise in bedroom indie-pop - but while the sleevenotes admit that "the majority of the album was recorded in a bedroom", they go on to add that "some parts were recorded on a beach, in a supermarket, in a newsagents and in a church".

Some of the photos show them playing in a greenhouse, too - a highly appropriate location for a band that throws as few stones as Salako.

There isn't a single harsh thought anywhere on Musicality, whose gentle, acoustic settings and hippy sentiments inevitably recall the likes of Syd Barrett and, more recently, labelmates Belle and Sebastian.

Instead, there is a kind of acquiescent languor to tracks like "Maybe We Will Find the Divine Cult", which finds bandleader James Waudby singing about how "My life is happy and I am fulfilled". He's a hard man to bring down, I'd imagine - in Waudby's world, there's a parable lurking behind every observation: street-markings telling pedestrians to "look left and right" are taken less literally than intended in "Look Right"; while even a dull subject like "DIY" inspires him to reflect on personal growth, and how some things require assistance while others are best attempted solo.

It's an interesting approach, albeit risky, and for every magical moment like the winsome opener "The Bird And The Bag" - in which a bird searches for paradise but settles for less - there's a corresponding clinker like "Look Left", a kind of new-age hymnal whose happy-clappy invocations to "follow the light of the Lord" are compounded by being sung by an entire church congregation.

There's a similarly dubious evangelical tone to "Come! Follow Me", a twee, flute-folk number reminiscent of Nick Drake or early John Martyn, whose tendentious pied-piper attitude and rather plodding execution are redeemed only by its lilting melody.

Many of these songs are short, lo-fi pop sketches, offhand musings rendered with demo fidelity (the closest Salako gets to sophisticated production techniques is "The Cloning of Fudadeg Ulag", whose receding layers of echo are intended as symbolic of the cloning process). Several tracks, like "The Cult of Winter", consist of little more than a phrase or two repeated against gentle acoustic strumming. But production isn't just a technical matter, and it remains to be seen whether Salako can retain the essential simplicity of their conception while developing their song-sketches into more finished pieces. For the moment, though, there's bags of promise in Musicality.

INNERZONE ORCHESTRA

Programmed Talkin Loud

TO READ the press release for Carl Craig's latest project, with Sun Ra, Fela Kuti and John Coltrane namechecked in the first paragraph, you'd think it was one of the defining works of our time, rather than an insipid jazz-rock exercise. Then again, it does claim to feature an alleged Sun Ra sideman, whose name appears nowhere on the 100-plus Ra albums in my collection. Tracks like "Eruption", "Architecture" and "Basic Math" are as vapidly pompous as their titles suggest, with plenty of techno-jazz keyboard noodling and fussy drum programmes. Craig may namecheck Sun Ra, but this space-jazz manque has none of Ra's energy or invention. More indicative of the album's complacent attitude is the cover of The Stylistics' "People Make The World Go Round", which is as challenging as its title. Those interested in real space-jazz are directed instead to Sun Ra's dazzling Disco 3000 and Herbie Hancock's questing Sextant. Beside those landmarks, this is just a return to Return to Forever.

ALEC EMPIRE

Miss Black America Digital Hardcore

DIGITAL HARDCORE supremo Alec Empire's solo releases are even more hardcore than his Atari Teenage Riot records, if that's possible. Freed from even the vaguest pretence of teen- appeal listenability, Empire attacks his instruments with the vigour of a monkey at a typewriter, and the results are suitably Shockespoorean. The closest these 10 tracks come to discernible song structures is the opener, "DFo2", which finds him sneering about how "your flames don't hurt me any more" over a distorted rock-riff reminiscent of late-1970s techno-industrialists Chrome. Elsewhere, he maximises the bloody-racket quotient on tracks like "Black Sabbath" (no relation) and "The Robot Put a Voodoo Spell On Me", oppressively-filtered cacophonies mangled in Empire's digital cogs. Any dynamic present music is entirely relative: like banging your head against a wall, it's a relief to hear the comparatively restrained "It Should Be You Not Me!". Not that that makes it a preferable alternative to the "off" switch.

TAJ MAHAL & TOUMANI DIABATE

Kulanjan Hannibal

IF, AS seems the case, the blues originated in Africa, it's most likely to have come from Mali, judging by the formal similarities between that country's music and its American equivalent. This collaboration between Taj Mahal and kora master Toumani Diabate is a spiritual successor of sorts to the Ry Cooder/Ali Farka Toure album of a few years back, but with a wider musical palette, Taj's National steel guitar joined by an indigenous Malian band featuring lutes, harps, kora and balofon. There's an instinctive link between the two cultures in tracks such as "Ol' Georgie Buck", where funky, rippling arpeggios of kora dance nimbly over the basic blues figures, and "Fanta", a piano and balafon duet in cakewalk style on which Taj and Diabate's ululating vocalist Kassemady take turns to praise the bandleader's wife. Most pieces feature the bluesman vamping behind Diabate's extemporisations; the two are in perfect collusion on "Catfish Blues", their instruments interlocked in a languid yearning that transcends cultural divides. Sublime stuff.

QUANNUM PROJECTS

Quannum Spectrum Mo' Wax

GOOD RAP albums are as rare as hens' teeth, but this compilation from California's Quannum collective offers hope for hip-hop, with a welcome paucity of gangsta threats and hackneyed old-soul grooves. The five-piece Quannum crew consists of producer/turntablist DJ Shadow and the duos Latyrx (Lateef The Truth Speaker and Lyrics Born) and Blackalicious (Chief Xcel and The Gift Of Gab), appearing here in various combinations with guests such as Divine Styler, the Jurassic 5 and Company Flow's El-P - in other words, virtually the only remaining rappers who acknowledge the craft of their art, with deliveries which retain an intimate connection to the ebb and flow of the backing tracks. Quannum Spectrum strikes a balance between the simple and the sophisticated: there's a definite old-skool vibe to the Quannum MCs/Jurassic 5 pass-the-mic collaboration "Concentration", with the rappers' sequence of short verses hanging from its loping bassline, while Latyrx's "Storm Warning" continues the impressive style of their two previous albums.

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