Swahili Blonde at the Echoplex – Photo: Matt Fisher
There is a LOT going on here.
I mean there is a hell of a lot going on here.
Swahili Blonde’s newest release Psycho Tropical Ballet Pink mixes elements of krautrock, Afro-beat, psyche, dub, skronk, no wave and I don’t think I’ve even covered all the bases. Lead Swahili-er (and former WEAVE! member), Nicole Turley has created a sound that is both dense, sometimes confusing, and a real challenge to listen to. Turley has also involved some high-level guests and sometimes members like Duran Duran’s John Taylor and her boyfriend and former Chili Pepper John Frusciante (true Grimy Goods fans might remember GG getting in the middle of a Swahili-centered controversy, if not, read here) and former members of the Like. Think that sounds like it has potentiality for messiness? Well, I haven’t even started.
Here is a list-o-things that Turley has mixed in her stew:
- Melodies that are seemingly out of key with the accompaniment
- six-and-a-half minute songs
- Noisy horns
- Screechy strings
- Clashing back up vocals
- Walls of reverb
- Soweto Jive guitars
What would you say if I said it was actually pretty fucking interesting? I know, I know — it’s not for everybody but Swahili Blonde is taking a LOT of chances here. It might make it easier if you know she comes form a dance/performance background: she is painting a picture to MOVE her audience — NOT placate it. Performance as instigation not as comfort food. Turley’s drums and vocals are the center of the project and rhythm is king. Like all great Afro-beat, a driving repetitive and complex rhythm is the center of each of these songs. The next thing that interested me about Swahili’s music was that every single instrument finds a home in each song but not the places that the average indie rock listener is accustomed to. I highly recommend multiple intense listens (and isn’t that what you want in music?). I think the rough edges wear off after multiple listens.
Okay, down to the nitty gritty of Psycho Tropical Ballet Pink. The easiest song to jump into is the single (and super trippy video) “Purple Ink.” Comersh Swahili Blonde reminds me of former lablemates, Bat For Lashes. Turley’s voice is fairly deadpan, the strings are arranged to grate for effect and the tension really adds a lot to the wild, trippy feeling of the track. Frusciante’s Juju-influenced guitar repeats over-and-over until the upbeat line becomes almost trance-inducing. It’s pretty complex and heady stuff. Lead off track, “Etoile De Mer” has Turley singing in her upper register, which gives her voice a more playful, girlish quality. The free-playing and discordant melodies sometimes make SB come across as a teenage Captain Beefheart singing lullabies or Sun Ra’s little sister trying to sing you your horoscope. And that is a compliment! Swahili Blonde is going for it and if you’re ready, it’s a ride.
I’m not saying put this record on at a company party or at your Mom’s house when you go home for Thanksgiving but for listeners who want their boundaries pushed, this is great, get-high-in-the-dark-and-freak-yourself-out record. So go get high and freak your self out.
Words: Stephe Sykes