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Zun Zun Egui
Shackles' Gift Daniel Ross , February 3rd, 2015 14:17

Zun Zun Egui's first album, 2012's Katang, was definable by its lack of definition, a cocktail of jumbled languages, insatiable jitters and joyous guitar bumbles, all neatly coexisting. For their second, the Bristol-based but internationally-derived bunch have dialled down their splattered influences and, as such, we join them in a focused mood so punishing and sweaty it gives you pelvis-ache and uncomfortable pants just thinking about it. The focus is not merely musical, it pervades all aspects of the record from the outset.

The first thing we hear is a fragment of speech from a woman who, in her native Mauritian Creole, explains that she works on a plantation, and it's a clear indication that frontman Kushal Gaya's heritage and identity has been chief source of inspiration. Furthermore, the band's journey to Mauritius has been well documented, and it's clear to see that this heritage and identity is writ inedible across Shackles' Gift. But, but - that doesn't matter. Admirable depth is there if you look for it, but you'll be equally rewarded for luxuriating with a band irremovably fastened to itself. The jitters of their first album are largely (and sadly) gone, but what's left is a bolted-together machine equally capable of muso histrionics, frenetic dancing and cock-rock.

In fact, Gaya's cock-rock influences have resulted in glorious twists on what is, essentially, riff-worship: rushing drumrolls and octave-pinging guitars on 'African Tree' sit somewhere between Billy Corgan, Adam Ant and Kanda Bongo Man (if such a place exists). Album-closer 'City Thunder' has an alarmingly bluesy, grinding, sinuous initial riff that, when mirrored by some gorgeous vibraphone, takes on the gravity of Grails at their most reflective. 'Soul Scratch' even has a yelping, Robert Plant-esque vocal to accompany the dub-derived tension of its crawl into sublime volume. Lurking underneath the entirety of this album is a refusal to compromise the humble riff, and it's a whole lot more successful as a result. 

As a whole, Shackles' Gift is more obviously tuneful and considered than its predecessor and, as established, thematically watertight. The most interesting thing about it, though, is that it works outside of this context (fortuitously, it’s produced by Fuck Buttons’ Andrew Hung, who turns out to be a fine marshal and steward of the ZZE sound). It's possible, arguably more fun, to completely ignore the intricacies of the multilingual words and simply sing along with the sounds. (I still do this in my head with much of their first LP, from the very first "Eeee-namana!" of its opening track.) And yes, you can cut a rug to it like a fleet-footed, tight t-shirted motherfucker. Ethnochoreologically speaking, you might attribute the success of gutturally satisfying grooves like 'I Want You To Know' and 'Tickle The Line' to calculated inventiveness and their varied anthropological inspirations. It's more likely, though, that these stylistic vagabonds are just plain incapable of writing a song that doesn't make you gurn with joy as your hulking body writhes to its rhythm.