Amai Kuda et Les Bois
It’s not terribly common to come upon an album which sound simultaneously easy to qualify and quantify as well as in addition to coming off completely fresh and original, but that’s exactly what EmUrgency! does. As soon as stylus touches down, needle catches groove and “Which Way” opens the album [Editor’s note: In fact, the album opens with a prayer entitled “”Sewing Seeds” – but the language and tone of the prayer only seek to inform the music] listeners will find that they’re overcome by a multitude of different sounds – lush world music tones which align well with the sort that Baaba Maal produces, uptown urban folk or the sort that Ani DiFranco has been known to explore and deeply emotional timbres reminiscent of Sarah McLachlan in her prime – which all sound familiar but have never been combined in this way – and so are perfectly captivating as a result.
From the moment “Which Way” guides listeners in, they’ll be completely surrounded by the sound that Amai Kuda et les Bois create; once inside, listeners will be exposed to a host of earthly delights (stand-up bass, smooth and sultry beats and beautiful but understated guitar) – but the thing that’s impossible to ignore is Kuda’s sultry, beautiful voice, which presents as both lush and emotionally wracked. That combination will have listeners hanging on every word, but she doesn’t leave them hanging long though, as she applies a tremendous amount of reverb to her voice which makes her moan in “Listen Child” sound as though it might have been captured in an empty dancehall, and the amount of open space in the mix leaves plenty of room to let listeners’ knees get weak. Listeners will remain enthralled by that heartbreaking, lonely sound as it endures through the minor chords of “Ecouche” and the more tropically infused beat that drives “Mother’s Home” (which also features Top 40 production which sounds like it was lifted out of a record released in the Nineties) and then closing out in much the same way as the side opened: with another field recording of a prayer. Some critics may claim that ending the side with another prayer could have smoothly offered closure to the recording and left it as a solid but surprising EP- but those who are listening will know their hunger hasn’t been satiated yet, and so will be on their feet and on their way to flip the record over and renew its play as soon as the proverbial needle lifts.
On the B-side of the album, some listeners may be surprised when “Eshu” opens the side with a far more jubilant tone about it. There, the combination of really measured and mechanical drumming, steel drums which sound like they were manufactured in a software production suite and a vocal which was doubled and neatly harmonized makes the music sound like something that one might expect to hear in a sushi restaurant and, because that is so dramatically different from everything listeners have heard on the album to that point, it stands out pretty obviously. Some might assume tat such a significant difference in form or style may detract from the album’s movement but, really, “Eshu” just adds another level of diversity to EmUrgency!‘s running and proves to be frustratingly overshadowed by “Love Song” and its fantastic Fifties accoutrements which immediately follow “Eshu”.
…And “Love Song” does completely overshadow “Eshu” – as well as many of EmUrgency!‘s other stylistic turns elsewhere on the record, for that matter. There, with the kind of doo wop rhythm that one generation of listeners will remember from Fifties AM radio hits and another generation will recognize from episodes of Riverdale, Kuda et Les Bois earnestly attempt to look away from irony and choose instead to try and find a way to reassess an old pop form without simply re-enacting that old form in a new context. Yes, there are obvious accessories like a genuinely gorgeous vocal melody and performance of it in the song as well as some vintage keyboard samples which fade in and out of the mix throughout the song’s running, but nothing about them stands out as garish – nor are they awkward in any way; in fact, the song plays like the kind of single that any twenty, thirty or forty-something would hope to happen upon when scanning a radio dial in 2023.
After the fantastic precedent represented by “Love Song” has been set, “Oshun” falls just short of the same quality with a greater focus applied to more Caribbean rhythms, after which “Better Day” simmers right down into an obvious state of resignation and “Granny Gets the Last Word” closes the album’s running in much the same way it opened: with another prayer offered for tranquility before the needle lifts. That end is just about as smooth as anyone could hope to get.
Standing back from the album and taking it as a whole, no one who plays EmUrgency! from front to back will be able to deny that it is satisfying – but it’s likely that they’ll also be at a loss for how Amai Kuda et Les Bois could improve upon it when the band embarks on the process to create a follow-up to it. EmUrgency! is great, but it’s also incredibly insular; te album leads listeners in to experience it and then sets them free in the end, and those who run front-to-back with it will feel filled up in the end – but because the music is so far from what most potential listeners would normally look for in an LP, they won’t know what they want for when it comes time to start creating a second course for those won by this album. All they’ll be able to hope for is that the band has another good idea of what to prepare for another chef’s special, when the time comes, and that it fits their palette once again. [Bill Adams]
EmUrgency! is out now. Buy it here, from the artist’s website. http://www.ynamai.com/store/p5/EmUrgency%21.html