A Tribe Called Red - Electric Pow Wow
Everyone loves a good crossover don't they? Whether it's post-bop-hip-hop or psychedelic-drone-meets-70s-disco-meets-trace (etc.) there is nothing quite as exciting as hearing something very familiar being blended to create some mutant musical being. This is just what DJ crew A Tribe Called Red, (top marks for guessing where they got the inspiration for their name from), have been doing at their monthly club night in Ottawa named 'Electric Pow Wow'. Obviously these club nights have been success enough for Masalacism Records to get involved and help get their music into headphones all around the world. The crew, consisting of DJs NDN, Bear Witness and DJ Shrub, describe their sound as "Made up of a wide variety of musical styles ranging from Hip-Hop, Dance Hall, Electronic, and their own mash-up of club and Pow Wow music, known as Pow Wow Step that is quickly gaining respect from all kinds of communities from all around the world." I'll have to take their word for it on that last part as I can't say I have come into contact with these guys before or have heard anyone bigging them up but oh well. They got a Polaris music prize nomination on the long list so obviously someone was paying attention.
The album is a ferocious mix of aboriginal percussion, saturated synths and all manner of samples from tribal vocal music. Tracks like 'Look at This' or 'Native Puppy Love' would be indiscernible among the swathe of club tracks floating about on Soundcloud if it was not for the crew's intuitive use of these samples adding some considerable depth to what can sometimes be a shallow genre of music when it comes to texture. 'General Generations' whirling vocals of an old man are heady and euphoric to say the least. Like with many repeated samples in electronic music their effect is hypnotic to the ear. There is something about the use of old, aboriginal or eastern samples in electronic music that just works a trick. Just look at Gold Panda he managed to get on Rough Trade's album of the year top then just by looping the hell out of the odd sitar on his album Lucky Shiner. It doesn't at all matter that track 'Moombahwow' is one bar of instrumental looped over and over because the aboriginal chanting just envelopes you and that thick square synth attacks your eardrums. 'Woodcarver' sees A Tribe Called Red add some spoken word samples into the mix about John T. Williams, a man of Native American descent who was shot and killed by the police when he refused to put a knife down though the police did not realise he had difficulty understanding English and that he was deaf in one ear. It is a poignant story told effectively through interviews and news sound bites. If only the spoken word samples were that bit quieter so I could actually hear what was going on underneath this sombre story.
Not all songs come off as well on this album. The crew's dive into dubstep on their remix of Munchi's 'Shottas' is less than desirable with the song crossing that line from amiable 'high octane' to just plain obnoxious 'frantic'. There is even an annoying football whistle sample thrown in to make the thing as irritable as a Crazy Frog ringtone. 'Good to Go' sounds more like something out of an early 90s video game than something composed by competent musicians. The glaring lack of any aboriginal samples on that track just leaves a bare synth sound with some beats but it is not enough to satisfy my needs for some good tribal chanting that the other tracks on this album have got me hooked on now.
The opener 'Electric Pow Wow Drum' stands out for me as simply the most eccentric and weird thing on Electric Pow Wow. When the beat does finally kick in about one minute into the track it's a slow, head bumping groove with which the screaming vocals and swooping, fat-as-they-come synth line fit like a glove.
This album is an extremely interesting listen simply because it is something that you are unlikely to find anywhere else. For any of the connoisseurs of weird electronic music (as I mentioned earlier Gold Panda or of that ilk) this is a must have. A Tribe Called Red, though not always to my taste, cannot be faulted for the lack of a boring moment of this album with a great variety of styles. And all covered within just one 45 minute sitting.