Nkisi: 7 Directions (LP, UIQ, January 2019)

I have to admit that I underestimated this record on my first casual listen through. Take the first track, called simply I: the thing that leapt out at me was the floaty synth line and the distorted vocal sample that scream Artificial Intelligence era IDM; which lazy pigeon-holing misses the vital fact that something very different is going on with the drum programming, which brings together two rival heartbeat-like pulses, a skittering Geiger-counter click, a bassy throb, a couple of sci-fi laser-type noises, and a bunch of other things, all built into a polyrhythmic structure that is complex without being showy. (I’m not quite sure how I missed this first time around, since it’s the drums that dominate the track for its first 90 seconds until the main melody kicks in. I guess I just wasn’t pay close enough attention.)

The rest of the album is along similar lines. Elements of II remind me of Autechre, III of perhaps Polygon Window-era Aphex, and so on. The synth on V is pure …I Care Because You Do. And yet these obvious early-to-mid-nineties Warp influences are paired with these crazily fresh drumlines.

And so to the bio. I’m often ambivalent about the abstract concepts said to inspire dance music records, but this really seems to make sense to me. Nkisi, aka Melika Ngombe Kolongo, is Congolese by birth and Belgian by upbringing. Her moniker refers to a spirit in the Kongo religion (or, perhaps significantly, an object inhabited by a spirit). And the album is dedicated to Kimbwandende Kia Fu-Kiau Bunseki, a scholar of Bantu culture and cosmology and someone who has written about Africa’s relationship with western values and structures and the role the continent has in shaping the future of civilization. (To its credit, there are no theses in the liner notes, only the dedication. Following that lead is strictly an optional extra, but I found it kind of fascinating.)

It is a truism, of course, that modern dance music is a layer cake sandwiching together many strata of European and African heritage. What this album does is make that concept come thrillingly alive. It’s got the familiar notes that draw me in and then something fresh and utterly compelling that keep me coming back. And if this is the sound of the future then I say “yes, please!”

I bought this from Juno. They call it Experimental / Electronic.

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