It’s taken a good couple of years for the debut album from the brothers Kongos to reach these shores, its initial success in their native South Africa took a while to leak out to the US and then the UK, but now it’s here we should all pay attention.
The opening track, ‘I’m Only Joking’ lurches in like a slightly sinister drunk growling on about the evils of the modern world; the tribal, sea shanty-tinged ritual music tells the human species exactly where they’ve ballsed things up. It’s an impressive opener, a forceful punch of cloud-splitting chants and soul-churning tub thumping that demands the listener stamps along like they’re angry with the people living downstairs.
The foot-stomping continues, with an additional measure of ale-swigging revelry, with the second song, and latest single, ‘Come With Me Now’ – this concoction of big drums, hollering vocals and accordion riffing keeps the blood running hot and gives the impression you’re listening to something genuinely unstoppable. Then, it drops down a gear or two.
The feel of the whole thing changes, trading in the fire and brimstone, rhythmic thunder for a more anthemic, dusty wistfulness – it’s a bit of a palette-cleanser while you prepare yourself for the remaining nine courses of gourmet audio.
All the way through, the level of variation is kept at impressive heights, the influences of reggae, funk, blues and “folk de mer” seeping out of every pore – the gap between each song becoming filled with anticipation of where they’ll take it with the next track. By the time you get six songs in you may feel a tad drunk on the relief that music can still be made that surprises you like this.
It’s not entirely revolutionary, these are still songs produced using the usual formula – it’s just that some of the standard values of the formula have been replaced with one or two things that are just off-kilter enough to make the end result significantly more pleasing than most.
The vocals go a long way towards setting KONGOS apart from the rest of the bands currently available in the mainstream today – and I mean all of them. Anyone who was sensible enough to follow Gomez in their pomp will tell you how effective it is to have a smooth voice playing off against a rougher one – the textural equivalent of having an angel and a devil occupying your shoulders. It maintains your attention and allows the band to venture into a wider range of styles and tones incredibly easily.
All of this gives the album, and the band, a voice of their own – a voice that has developed a raw edge whilst being used to preach of the self-destructive nature of society; yet another interesting aspect of this release.
The curtain closer, ‘This Time I Won’t Forget’ slowly rises into view; an entire movie soundtrack rolled into just under six minutes, the relentless, marching drums and drifting slide guitar paint a thousand-mile horizon right in front of your eyes while the swelling vocal line hints at lives shows awash with dimly lit flag waving, lighters out and mass sing-a-longs for years to come. It is destined to become a fans’ favourite album track and rounds off what is an intelligent and thoughtful collection of songs with the grand finale they deserve.
If this is the sort of thing we can expect from KONGOS I can only hope ‘Lunatic’ is well received and we get treated to more of the same in the near future.