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WaqWaq Kingdom
Shinsekai Ben Cardew , March 28th, 2017 11:42

Seasoned King Midas Sound watchers will know that vocalist Kiki Hitomi is frequently the best thing about the gnarled trio. Her bell-clear vocals and knack for a hook cutting through the waves of dubbed-out filth on a song like ‘Aroo’ to create something that hangs around the garden of left-field pop, without ever quite making up its mind whether to come in or not.

On the face of it, there are similarities between WaqWaq Kingdom - Hitomi’s new project - and her King Midas day job, with both bands skirting around the edges of reggae. But whereas King Midas Sound delight in the filthier edge of the dub spectrum, all crooked dance hall beats and dubstepped sheets of bass, WaqWaq Kingdom create something that is simultaneously lighter, more psychedelic and downright weirder than anything cooked up by King Midas producer Kevin Martin (aka The Bug). Perhaps this is to be expected from a trio that features DJ Scotch Egg, an artist who mines the unexpectedly fertile cross over between gabber and chiptune, alongside a Nils Frahm collaborator (Andrea Belfi) who plays the trimba, a kind of triangular shaped drum pioneered by Moondog.

Not that Shinsekai is unapproachable in any way: the trimba may have been invented by Viking-obsessed street musician but it sounds like someone drumming frantically on a wooden box (albeit with a great deal of skill), while Scotch Egg has evidently been told to leave his gabber obsession at home. At times - as on the brilliant ‘Oh It’s Good’, where wandering bass lines meet chicken scratch guitar - the result is music that comes close to reggae as your parents might know it, albeit a kind of reggae submerged under sheets of bird-song synths with a vocal that is closer to the Cocteau Twins than Peter Tosh. ‘Koko Says’, meanwhile, shares a good proportion of its DNA with the kind of digidub that WaqWaq’s label Jahtari is best know for.

Elsewhere, the influence is more ineffable: opening track ‘I Would Like To Let You Go’ uses the weighty simplicity of a dub bass line to pin down Belfi’s exhilarating trimba rattle, the cosmic chirping of synths and Hitomi’s simple pop hook. It is at times like this - or on album closer ‘Bird’ - that WaqWaq Kingdom soar, their hugely different musical approaches producing something that is far more than the sum of its parts, wringing a genuinely new synth-soaked psychedelia out of the base elements of reggae.

The influence of Tricky - another artist closely influenced by reggae - also hangs over Shinsekai. ‘WaqWaq Dream’ starts off airy and menacing, a mixture of Twin Peaks synth and cymbal washes, before oozing into sludgy hip hop beats that you could imagine forming the basis for a Maxinquaye B side. ‘Step Into A World’ (featuring Kathy Alberici), meanwhile, transforms KRS One’s classic 1997 track (which itself lifted the melody from Blondie’s Rapture) into a 21st Century death march, all booming drum steps and eerie chords, in a way that suggests Tricky’s own reinterpretation of Public Enemy’s ‘Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos’.

Of course, bringing such disparate elements together isn’t easy and there are moment on Shinsekai where the music doesn’t quite hang together. At these times it feels like the trio are still sounding each other out, unsure of where things might end up, like an early jam session between three very different, if hugely, talented musicians. ‘Blow It Up’, for example, resembles two different songs stuck together with Sellotape, its slightly awkward machine rhythm only coalescing into an articulate whole some three minutes in with the introduction of a massive humming bass line; while ‘Love Game’ feels like the nucleus of a song, rather than the finished product, its excellent polyrhythms crying out for more in the way of melody (despite a giddily brilliant synth drop 90 seconds in). Even here, though, WaqWaq Kingdom are never less than fascinating.

Besides, such minor missteps are easily forgiven on an album of quite unearthly delights. Shinsekai is the work of three fevered and inventive minds, who have cooked up, perfected and put a lid on their own genre of trimba psych reggae in a 35-minute explosion of dayglo invention that sings with the freedom of creativity.

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