Galactic – [Album]

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Anyone familiar with the city of New Orleans knows it has a rich cultural and artistic history. Over the last fifty years (at least), volumes have been written about the city's contributions to ragtime, soul, jazz, rock and blues as well as the artists that developed their chops in the Big Easy but it's only the history that ever gets addressed; the artistic community of present day New Orleans has been passed over at every turn, no matter how “comprehensive” the tome claims to be. Such is the oversight that Galactic (who happen to be from NOLA) seek to dispel with the release of Yo-Ka-May – an album that drags a musically rich but forgotten city into the 21st century.

The secret to modernizing a culture that has seemed to stagnate in the eyes of those on the outside looking in is to make sure that elements of the past and the present are equally showcased and Galactic takes care of that straight away, but what makes Ya-Ka-May such an interesting endeavor is that the band doesn't try to meld or incorporate vintage forms into new ones, what they do is graft some old time ideas (like piano performances fit for Jelly Roll Morton in the case of “Bacchus”) onto the newest sounds creeping out of NOLA (Bounce and hip hop) so that they're forced to co-exist in single songs and work together to get over rather than having one take the lead over the other. It works surprisingly well too – particularly when emcee Allen Toussaint stands alongside (but not on top of) that Jelly Roll piano (in “Bacchus”), Katey Red and Sissy Nobby feed their R&B some island-cooked crank in the dark alleys of the Warehouse District on “Katey Vs. Nobby” and “Cineramascope” takes listeners out for the night to a club that's sleezy and sexy under an upscale veneer. It's an unusual trip for sure, but the impression that listeners get (particularly when Galactic steals Irma Thomas away for a dose of soul and does a little bump-n-grind with John Boutte on “Dark Water”) is that the underlying drive behind every note of music that has ever come out of New Orleans has carnal knowledge at its core and that practice continues even now; no matter what, that's certainly surfaces as Galactic and Cheeky Blakk bring these proceedings to their knees twice – once on “Do It Again” and again on “Do It Again (Again)” – just to make sure listeners remember who's in control.

At every turn, Galactic puts a slightly different face on the proceedings – perhaps to illustrate just how versatile the city on its artistic community can be – and so takes listeners to school on what the city of New Orleans does now; other than be a historical landmark. Ya-Ka-May successfully breaks the mould that has contained the public perception of New Orleans and throws the floodgates wide open for all new talent and musical approaches to mix and mutate the public perception of the community. Whether that was Galactic's intention from the start isn't really made plain here, but this album will certainly open a few minds to the possibility that there's more to New Orleans than they originally considered.


Galactic – “Dark Water” – Ya-Ka-May


comes out on February 9, 2009 on ANTI–. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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