FAO#25: Dirtmusic & Fredrik

Although the impact of globalisation has for many been measured negatively in socio-economic and ecological terms, when it comes to cultural exchanges the picture seems a lot rosier.  Intensified by the internet and easier communications in general, the innumerable musical genres of our shared planet have become more broadly disseminated and diversified through cross-continental collaborations and the manifold distribution of recordings.  Consequently, music industries across the globe are being forced to positively open themselves beyond their own backyards and Anglo-American hegemony.

These two new releases below illustrate two intriguing strands from our now wider world of audio possibilities…

DirtmusicBKO (Glitterhouse, CD+DVD/vinyl+DVD/download)

Dirtmusic - BKO

Already an internationalist supergroup of sorts – featuring Americans Chris Brokaw (Come, Codeine, Pullman etc.) and Chris Eckman (The Walkabouts) in alliance with Australian Hugo Race (The Bad Seeds, The True Spirit) and previously recording in the Czech Republic for Germany’s Glitterhouse label – the Dirtmusic trio take things geographically and stylistically further with this second studio set.  Taped in Mali with Touareg band Tamikrest and other local musicians, BKO follows an earthier route into the current craze for African music.  Whereas the likes of Vampire Weekend, The Very Best, High Places and Extra Golden have directly or indirectly enrolled and redeployed their African influences with a mostly urbane slant, Brokaw, Eckman and Race have instead sought to add some desert sand and tropical heat to Dirtmusic’s atmospheric dustbowl Americana.

The regularly DOA-endorsed Brokaw flexes his already strong and flexible muscles into compelling combinations with the aide and encouragement of his bandmates new and old.  Besides reawakening his dormant drumming chops with some Malian rhythms on Eckman’s “Black Gravity,” Brokaw’s own vocal/guitar-led “Collisions” glows with husky mystery and his cover of “All Tomorrow’s Parties” – that repays its debt to African idioms – is masterfully imaginative.  Eckman – somewhat of a chalk/cheese character for those of us that preferred Carla Torgerson’s tones in The Walkabouts – pulls enough weight to overcome his occasional past reliance on forced gravitas.  His aforementioned “Black Gravity” is certainly a chugging highlight, as is the twanging “Lives We Did Not Live” and the serenely spacious ballad “Bring It Home.”  Whilst Race’s songs are a little underwhelmed by his less distinguishing pipes, he does at least give the playing guests the most room to make themselves at home; as most notably evidenced on the sublime “Desert Wind” featuring Fadimata Walet Oumar’s eerily wonderful guest singing.  Interestingly, when the three songwriters put their individuality aside, the American-Australian-African synergy reaches its highest peak, as revealed through the gorgeous instrumental “Niger Sundown.”

Although at times BKO displays the unevenness inherent with any band with no outright leader or dictatorial voice, its intrepid intermingling of pan-continental community spirit and characterful craftsmanship gives more and more with every airing.

Fredrik Trilogi (The Kora Records, CD/download)

Fredrik - Trilogi

Besides Africa, another corner of the globe has also asserted itself artistically in recent years.  Through artists such as Sigur Rós, Amiina, Múm, Taken By Trees, Kings Of Convenience, Röyksopp and Peter, Björn and John, the Nordic nations have been put on the musical map with less novelty and more with outreaching credibility.  The Malmö, Sweden-based duo of Fredrik also fit respectably into this new wave of alluring Northern European sonic movers. Available in typically lovely packaging on Washington DC’s The Kora Records, this second Fredrik LP finds the twosome honouring the antique folk traditions of their homeland, saluting their likeminded peer group and reaching out to connect with the relatively recent experimentalist heritage of British and mainland Europe.

Split into three ‘movements’ that reflect the 13 tracks’ earlier appearance across a trio of EPs, Trilogi is the most redemptive and picturesque road trip you’re likely to experience in 2010.  Through a painstaking fusion of electro-acoustic playing and programming, this a collection that distills a wide-range of inspirations without drifting into disjointed dilettantism.  Whilst Fredrik Hultin’s wistful larynx leads the way on a handful of lyrical tracks, the true enchantment of Trilogi comes in its intricate instrumental expanses and multi-tracked wordless harmonies.

The most obvious touchstones for the group are most certainly Four Tet’s Pause and Rounds long-players. But whereas Kieren Hebden became embarrassed by the trappings of so-called ‘folktronica,’ the two members of Fredrik seem content to pick up his baton, as evidenced most strongly on the likes of “Holm,” “Vanmyren” and “Ava,” wherein rippling acoustic instruments merge edgily with brittle but beatific processed percussion.   The amorphous filmic magic of Phelan Sheppard’s overlooked Harps Old Master and the homemade lo-fi vistas of The Wisdom Of Harry’s Stars Of Super 8 (both projects featuring London-polymath David Sheppard) are additional and strong points of cross-reference, particularly on the lonesome-but-layered plucking of “Milo” and the more widescreen “Omberg.”  Elsewhere, there are nods to the esoteric electronic-dabblings of Reading’s Isan (“Under Vattenverket”) and even Air’s post-easy landmark Moon Safari (“Flax”).

Ultimately though, for all the magpie-like pickings from both home and abroad that lead to over-furtive music critique comparisons, Trilogi is still a dreamily distinctive album in own right.  Where it comes from and from where it borrows, does not and should not detract from its innate enigmatic elegance.