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Land of Kush's Egyptian Light Orchestra, "Monogamy"

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cover imageWhile it would be unfair to say that Monogamy is not as good as Land of Kush’s previous album, Against the Day, it is fair to say that this present album is not as forgiving as the last one. Sam Shalabi’s combination of Arabic traditional motifs and instruments with jazz, free improvisation and electronics has moved further out to truly stretch any notion of genre to breaking point. Add to that a sense of toilet humor and a deeper conceptual edge and this is an album that makes for an album that will no doubt surprise me every time I listen to it.


Land of Kush's Egyptian Light Orchestra - Monogamy

Thanks to the employment of what can only be described as a nymphomaniac model of Stephen Hawking's voice synthesiser, "Scars" is at first a difficult piece to get to grips with. As the machine recites line after line of obscenities (ranging from the plain dirty to the outright bizarre), the music bobs and slashes as The Egyptian Light Orchestra (credited as 23 musicians on this recording alone) follow Shalabi's directions into uncharted territories. Contrasting the insensitive, mechanical sexual stream of consciousness is a powerful, emotive and human performance by Elizabeth Anka Vajagic; her vocals capturing all the drama, both real and imagined, of a relationship whereas the synthetic voice just encapsulates that automatic depravity that the information age has opened the gates to.

On "Tunnel Visions," Katie Moore's vocals are hung on the beautiful scaffolding of ELO's delicate playing. However, a Zappa-esque turnaround brings the piece into a far jazzier territory as an untamed sax skronks over the solid drum groove. The piece dissolves into the next and unfortunately that sickly synthesised voice returns on "Fisherman." While the music underneath is fantastic, I find it hard to get past that computerised vocalist. When Ariel Engle's vocals take over, the piece leaps out of the stereo with far more vigour. The stabbing rhythm allows her voice, the sax and the electronics to soar.

The centrepiece of Monogamy is the title track which recalls the best parts of Against the Day but improves on them (raising an already high bar). Squelching electronics bluster through the music like a strong Sirocco wind. The vocals (by yet another vocalist, Molly Sweeney) dance over the dry, hot and captivating music; strong rhythms and textures creating vivid mental images of north African towns in the dead of night; lovers coming together and breaking apart in endless cycles.

Land of Kush has rapidly become Shalabi's best project, I have always enjoyed his music but found him to be somewhat inconsistent. With this new group and approach to songwriting, he has developed a stronger creative vision. Yet there are still small discrepancies that mar Monogamy. Without that voice synthesiser, this would be undoubtedly stronger than Against the Day but conceptually it works within the album’s themes of sexuality and relationships. At the moment, it is doing my head in but that is liable to change with time. However, everything else here is sublime: the playing, the singing and the overall presentation of the music is spot on. Along with Against the Day, this is certainly one of the most unique albums of recent years.



Last Updated on Sunday, 13 June 2010 22:09  


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