Saturday, May 18, 2013
Bombino's second full-lengther, Nomad, recently released on the Nonesuch label, is one of the finer things I've heard this year. I procured a copy from a representative of the Time-Warner corporation just the other day (take a wild guess: rhymes w/ "David Lang"), and I've had it on repeat the past 24 hours, hitting pause during sleeping hours. Omara "Bombino" Moctar is a 30-something guitarist from Niger in West Africa who partly plays in the tradition of the likes of Ali Farka Toure - rhythmic and repetitive "desert blues" - but whose music also pays a nod to the Western sounds of Hendrix and Jimmy Page. Well, his influences are as such, although you're unlikely to mistake his music from Physical Graffiti anytime soon. It does, however, emit an intricate, semi-psychedelic tone which is more varied than his desert peers, bringing to mind everything from Moby Grape and Quicksilver to the 'Dead-like noodling of Television. Surely that can't be a bad thing, and to answer my own question, it's not.
Prior to Nomad, Bombino released an excellent CD on the Cumbancha label by the name of Agadez (where he hails from) in 2011. Have I written about it before? Possibly not, although it was one of my favourite releases of that year. It was also pretty raw, less textured than Nomad, though the lo-fi quality of the recording added to its mystique. Here was a guy who'd been hounded by militants from his place of birth (members of his band were apparently murdered), and his music reflected this relentless persistance: epic and evolving guitar/bass/drums jams which wouldn't quit. Regarding Nomad, here's the catch: it's produced by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, this year's Jack White/Mike Patton/etc., a middle-brow taste-maker who's sold a zillion records, plays in a fairly ordinary rock band and has the world's major music critics at his feet. Not that I have anything against Auerbach. I never thought anything of the Black Keys even in their early days, so it's not like I'm resenting their newfound popularity as a long-time, embittered fan who held them dear when no one gave a shit about them. The Black Keys are simply this year's White Stripes: the band your uncool cousin at the family BBQ asks you about once he hears you're into "alternative music". There are worse things in this life to worry about. At the very least, Auerbach (second cousin of the great Robert Quine, by the way) has put his fame & industry pull to good use, having produced Dr. John's return-to-form Locked Down from last year, and his own solo LP from 2009, Keep It Hid, from what I heard, was actually a pretty interesting mix of white-boy blues-rock, studio experimentation and some sort of moderne swamp-pop. I didn't hate it.
And of course there's Nomad by Bombino. Auerbach has slickened up the proceedings a tad, but not detrimentally so: there's simply more definition between instruments and Dan has roped in some honkies to broaden the musical pallette, including keyboards and lapsteel guitar. The results are certainly nothing to mourn, the overall ambience being note-perfect. I hope Bombino doesn't get progressively "Westernised" in his musical output as his fame rises, although the right balance is achieved this time around. There's 11 tracks in 40 minutes, songs tend to blend into one, although I can certainly say that the rockin' guitar twang on "Azamane Tiliade" stands out, and the drone and added lapsteel on the finisher, "Tamiditine", caught my ear.
Simply discussing context, famous producers, etc. probably doesn't do Nomad any justice, although it's an interesting part of the story. It's a contemporary recording on a major label, produced by some famous guy, and it is what it is what it is: a great collection of psychedelic desert-rock. Dig it.