Sound Bites: Intoxicating mix in a melting pot

Albums of the week:



Young Fathers (Anticon/Big Dada)

Rating: 4/5

Irish Folk/Modern Classical


The Gloaming (Real World Productions)

Rating: 4/5

When Canadian literary critic Marshall McLuhan coined the term "global village" in the 1960s, he probably didn't expect a rapid sharing of ideas and values across national borders could also mean a homogenisation, a sad blanding-out of local cultures.

From Jakarta to Johannesburg, expedited by Internet and telecommunications, hip-hop, for instance, becomes a unifying beacon of disenfranchised youth (and many who are not), togged out in B-boy gear and dishing out homie handshakes and pound hugs.

Musically, this could either be boon or bane. Done well, such mixology opens up possibilities.

Such is the case when Paul Simon wove African influences, isicathamiya (from the Zulus) and mbaqanga (combining tribal drumming and jazz), into his 1986 album Graceland; or more recently, when rapper MIA burst onto the scene in 2005 with Arular, an exciting canister of rap, Brazilian funk carioca, electroclash and Indian pop.

This week's two feted releases shows how this sonic multiculturalism could play out in different genres.

Dead is the debut studio album by the Edinburgh-based trio Young Fathers, who are signed to the Los Angeles label Anticon, home of rap experimentalists.

It draws from their backgrounds: Alloysious Massaquoi is from Liberia; Kayus Bankole's parents are from Nigeria; and Graham Hastings is from Scotland.

This is the new frontier of hip-hop: An accordion prefaces No Way, before slam-dunk beats, tribal mewling and drills screw in magnificently. Mutated bagpipes shore up the chant delivered in an African accent: "AK-47 take my brethren straight to heaven."

War, similarly, has martial menace, but it's also darned catchy, a nimble finger on the pulse of pop. This strangely intoxicating mix of club and creep is deadly in the dance-till-you-drop single Get Up. Its innocent chorus "Get up and have a party!" is juxtaposed with the scary promise that "I heard you got guns well I got fun" as the helter-skelter drum machine plays footsie with drones and an electronic wheeze.

When they go full-on apocalyptic, as in the twisted, slo-mo Mmmh Mmmh, they remind one of Tricky circa 1995's Maxinquaye era. The lyrics delve into Biblical imagery, alluding to a "suffering Isaac", while the beats and vocals are gloriously gnarled.

Equally eyebrow- raising but more nuanced in approach are the Irish-American supergroup The Gloaming, whose debut exists at a confluence of avant-garde, classicism and traditional folk.

Three Irishmen, legendary fiddler Martin Hayes, hardanger fiddle player Caoimhin O Raghallaigh and vocalist Iarla O Lionaird, team up with two Americans, Chicago guitarist Dennis Cahill and pianist Thomas Bartlett (aka Doveman, who has worked with the likes of The National, David Byrne and Antony And The Johnsons).

Hayes runs rings around you, his agile phrasing like a snake charmer's, while O Raghallaigh plays the Norwegian hardanger fiddle with subtle portent. In Song 44, the strings - plucked or bowed - insinuate, while the piano is plonked and caressed.

Throughout, O Lionaird, frontman of the worldbeat group Afro Celt Sound System, sings like an angel cast from the heavens, but still looking heavenward. You don't understand Gaelic? It doesn't matter.

The guys are in unison: Bartlett's decidedly modern piano work shadows the vocals and the rest of the instruments like a panther. You hold your breath, and wait for that wonderful release.