Debo Band – [Album]

Saturday, 18 August 2012

The catch which most every scenester-ific band is ham-strung by at some point (usually early on) is that they'll start trying to work outside of every box they see in the name of “doing something different.” Eventually such a practice goes too far and the band who does it will discover that they've alienated every audience they may have been able to court. In the end, they may be happy with the music they've made but, because it's so deeply set in the fringe, generating any kind of success is near impossible.That's the problem Debo Band's sophomore album (first for Sub Pop and Next Ambiance) suffers from; initially, those with a will to think outside the box will be taken in by the Ethiopian jazz-fueled noodling and high speed hijinx that the band is playing with but, before long, they'll start to feel their patience being tested because the music is only accessible to a point. When listeners discover that music falls off the map, they'll also find it very easy to give up on.

So what's missing from Debo Band that makes it so easy to abandon? From top to bottom and back to front, the group has a great set of instrumental chops at their disposal and they're able to jam out fine passages of poppy, Ethiopian jazz, but there is nothing about it which would be accessible to a pop listener which, when you're signed to a label like Sub Pop (who's bread and butter is music based on the pop structure paradigm) is most definitely a problem. As an example of how well it can work when a band is willing to play by the rules, look at a group like Gogol Bordello; the Eastern European folk strains which weave through that band's music are fascinating and beautiful, but they're really just the color which separates them from the rest of the pop-punk pack. Such principles don't govern Debo Band because there is simply no recognizable western pop structure in them at all; singer Bruck Tesfaye, guitarist Brendon Wood, violinist Jonah Rapino and the other nine players which comprise this combo are very accomplished players and their musicianship is awesome – but there is no way to break into the music because everything about it is of foreign origin; no lyrics are in English and none of the structures come anywhere close to something recognizable in any western musical idiom. In effect, what listeners are hit with is a very well-organized wall of sound, but it bears no impact because there is no frame of reference; songs like “Asha Gedawo,” “Ney Ney Welaba” and (ironically enough) “Not Just A Song” all sound good initially, but quickly become static because there is no familiarity about any of them whatsoever, and that's what loses listeners.

So what could be improved about Debo Band? As soon as the group is willing to dumb their idea down a bit for western audiences, they might have a shot at breaking through to a college rock crowd as well as a scenester jazz crowd, but nothing's going to happen for them on this continent if they keep it up. That's the whole problem and to solution is easy enough to see – but there's no way of knowing if this band will be brave enough to make the changes it needs to in order to meet a larger crowd. We can only wait and see.



Debo Band
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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