I doubt anyone is better at integrating dynamic rhythmic elements, played on a wide assortment of hand percussion, with modern day electronica than the duo Green Isac (Morten Lund and Andreas Eriksen). Etnotronica is serious fusion music, melding African rhythms and Asian textures with contemporary ambient and electronic music to yield what I'd describe as ‘cerebral funk.’ While their first release on Spotted Peccary, Groundrush, was exceedingly well done, Etnotronica literally jumps out of the speakers with a lively and unrestrained sense of kinetic energy and sultry melodic sensibility.
Highlighting the instrumentation on the album would fill half this review! Of note, though, is the contribution of guest vocalist Anneli Decker (the woman singer in the group Bel Canto) who graces the opening ‘Siamese Drum’ with her lovely talents woven among the assorted hand drums and flowing melodies. The midtempo beats are sensual in nature, as is the marriage of cello with Decker's haunting vocals. The next song actually sounds like it's from a Bel Canto album, containing some of the same characteristics of that group's music, e.g. the title track to their album Shimmering Warm and Bright. Tremolo-guitar, African flute, shaker, tambourine, and a few more instruments combine fluidly in an energetic yet moody number. Distorted ‘reversed’ radio broadcast streams lend a surreal air later on in the track.
Scattered here and there on the CD are short ‘interlude’ tracks of no more than 49 seconds, which serve to inject a moment of contrast, such as ‘Black Hands, White Skin’ which is a quiet and disquieting mixture of muted echoed piano and distant synth tones. Most of Etnotronica, though, is concerned with getting your feet moving in time with the impossible-to-ignore rhythms, such as the joyful framedrum on ‘Dr. Talk's Bagpipe’ a track that also features some tasty licks on slide guitar! It's also another song which echoes Bel Canto as well, namely their CD Magic Box.
Things can get somewhat subdued on the CD, even with the presence of heavy rhythms, such as on ‘Ambino’ which bounces a tribal djembe-rhythm against a somber and melancholy melody on cello and reversed-guitar. This song has a tangible sorrowful tint to it. ‘New Shoes’ also finds a way to incorporate darker ambient electronic shadows with shuffling beats but with the addition of well-layered deeply reverbed guitar so that this song has a ‘late-at-night wandering the back alleys of a city’ feel to it. ‘Tubesontoo’ closes out the recording in eerie fashion, opening with a stretch of soft grey ambiance and eventually folding in other musical elements and textures (such as e-bow and guitars), building toward a cinematic-like soundscape that, in contrast to most of the rest of the album, lacks overt rhythms until the immersion of contemporary glitch/trip-hop beats which ping-pong against whirly-gigging synths and pumping bass.
If you think the marriage of ethnic percussion to contemporary electronics has become passé, do yourself a huge favor and grab a hold of Etnotronica. Not only will your faith in brilliant and exciting music be restored, but you're bound to have a whopping great time as well. You can thank me later. This album rates an unqualified ‘highest recommendation’ from me!
- Bill Binkelman, Wind and Wire