Dirtmusic, Lion City

Chris Nickson

By Chris Nickson

on 03.28.14 in Reviews

A few lucky bands experience moments of true revelation. Dirtmusic’s came when the trio of Chris Eckman (the Walkabouts), Chris Brokaw (Come) and Hugo Race (ex-the Birthday Party) were invited to play at Festival in the Desert, the annual gathering held in the Sahara near Timbuktu. There, they met the Tuareg band Tamikrest; the two bands went on to release 2010′s BKO, a desert blues-influenced rock album, and last year’s acclaimed Troubles. For that, Eckman and Race (now a duo) decamped to a makeshift studio in Bamako, Mali, and brought in a host of local guests. The result was glorious, intercontinental rock ‘n’ roll — music that soared beyond borders in a way that was truly global.

Attempting a new, thrilling kind of fusion

The tracks on Lion City come from those same sessions, but this time, the sound is anything but rock. Instead, it’s all about studio trickery, with every cut full of textures and pulses, subtle shading and light. At first, it’s difficult to recognise as the work of the same crew who made Troubles. “Day the Grid Went Down,” for instance, is an exercise in paranoia, the sharp rhymes by Bamako hip-hop MC Jazz delivered over a swirling backdrop. “Clouds Are Cover,” meanwhile, uses quiet guitar to give colour to the soft, insistent rhythm that powers Race’s whispered, mesmerising vocal.

As soon as anything seems certain, a layer of the landscape slips away to reveal something new. The lulling opening to “Narha,” for example, changes dramatically and suddenly, with Aminata Wassidjé Traoré voice disappearing into echo and guitars crashing in like waves.

But, like Troubles, Lion City does attempt a new, thrilling kind of fusion, gathering everything from blues to dub, rock to electronica together, and confidently pulling it all forward. It’s an album of real vision. Step by step, Dirtmusic are building a new world sound.