The Land of Kush makes music that I would describe as challenging to Western ears. Sam Shalibi has always played middle eastern music (he’s a master of the oud) and he has usually incorporates it with varying degrees of poppiness into a western style. The LoKELO is one of the most overt blendings of the two styles.
Land of Kush pretty much throws all rules into the wind. My first listen to this record I thought it was just too all over the place to be any good. But after really digging in to it…man, is it solidly cool.
The first track “The 1st and the Last” has a robotic voice reciting a modified lyric of “Helter Skelter” which seems to be called Helter Smegma (“When I get to ass I go back to top….you may be a dancer but you ain’t no porno.”) The more you listen to the voice, the more you realize the lyrics are just really vulgar and obscene. This creepy computer voice is layered over the top of a middle eastern keening female voice. (I’m sure there’s a name for this kind of singing, but I don’t know what it is). There’s beautiful middle eastern music in the background, but the combination is very unsettling. Then there’s 2 minutes of simple oud instrumental.
The song morphs into the 17 minute “Scars.” “Scars” opens with a hypnotizing middle eastern melody and sultry vocals from Elizabeth Anka Vajagic. After about 7 minutes, the computerized voice comes back. At the 11 minute mark, the music stops and Vajagic comes back with some solo vocals–she has a very beautiful voice. The song ends with a somber string section (which I assume is not a violin).
Track 3, “Boo” is listed as an improvisation of clarinet and contrebasse based on “Scars.” I don’t really see the connection and although I like imrov, I actually prefer the written out pieces on the disc.
Track 4 is the 9 minute “Tunnel Vision.” It opens slowly with Katie Moore’s delicate voice singing over acoustic music and bird sounds. At about 7 minutes, a wild saxophone solo kicks in. It’s low and bassy and very different from the rest of the song, as is the tempo, provided by some wild drums.
“Fisherman” brings back the computer voice (“How I love to fuck a dyke…” this is the easiest to understand and probably the dirtiest. It really seems like lyrics from another song, but I can’t find it online–although listening closely there is some spin on “Magic Bus” going on (“stick in the test tube to impregnate you–too much magic bus…I’m so nervous because all the while–too much magic bus–you don’t know you’re going to pop out a child”)). After about 3:15, the song proper starts. This is my favorite song of the bunch. Ariel Engle’s vocals are transcendent. I’m still not even sure what she’s singing about but her voice is amazing. There’s an intermission of computer voice which rewrites the lyrics to “Total Eclipse of the Heart”–think x-Rated Weird Al than anything else. And then at the 9 and a half-minute mark, Engle returns with an amazing vocal line over a great baritone sax riff. And when Engle starts wailing, it is amazing. I could listen to that section for ten minutes easily–shame it’s only two. But there’s another beautiful middle eastern string solo at the end of this song too. Must be the oud.
“Monogamy” opens with a slow and steady drumbeat while Molly Sweeney sings a fascinating alphabet (B is for Beelzebub…F is for the fucking that you did, outside). There’s a cool chorus to this recitation, it’s another real highlight of the disc. The middle section sounds a bit like Pink Floyd’s “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict”
The final track is “Like the Thread of a Spider.” It is a slow acoustic song with vocals by the people of the Syrian Arab Republic. It’s a beautiful somber ending to an exciting disc.
This is not for everyone; it’s not even for most people. But if you’re looking for something adventurous, try this out. It’s challenging and rewarding.
[READ: December 14, 2011] “Stone Mattress”
I haven’t read a Margaret Atwood piece in a while and this one was totally worth the wait.
It’s a very simple story and it opens with a wonderful grabber: “At the outset Verna had not intended to kill anyone. What she had in mind was a vacation, pure and simple.”
Verna decided to go on a trip to the Arctic. We learn through the course of the story that Verna chose the Arctic because although she is older, she’s still quite fit–not bathing suit in the Caribbean fit, but certainly arctic wear fit. And since she’s just lost her 4th husband, she’s sort of on the prowl again.
As the story progresses we learn a bit about Verna’s history. She’s been married four times, and in each case her husband has died–never under suspicious circumstances, although, maybe, Verna’s medical knowledge could have assisted in saving (or dispatching) them. But that’s all the past. She’s a wealthy older woman now.
She sizes up an available guy, Bob, and decides to flirt with him. He quickly takes the bait and proposes that they have a drink together. But once he says his last name, Verna realizes that she knows him. And he made her teenage years a living hell.
Cue that opening paragraph again.
Verna sets out for the possibility of revenge. But what kind of revenge can she take on him when the ship is so well monitored?
It’s surprisingly exciting, what with watching Verna hatch her plans and wondering how she’ll be able to confront this man. Atwood writes a story that you know is wrong from the get go, and yet you root for Verna, no questions asked. The story is very cathartic.