Echoes, space, bass and rhythms beaten to within inches, Fujako make dark dubs and unlooped hiphop cavernous in scope.
And they do it well. Most recent offering from the Portuguese/Belgian duo is Exobell, packed with malevolent sonic threat and unsettling off-beats, their current duties opening for Godflesh will see artisan-bearded post-metal fans either readying their bottles of piss projectiles… or having mong-eyed road-to-Damascus moments as the ruinous timestretched kickbeats realign synaptic pathways into the realisation that, sometimes, the heaviest vibes don’t come via DiMarzio humbuckers or downtuned seven-strings.
‘Warrior Drum’ opens the album with a flavour of what is to typify Exobell‘s musical and sonic approach. It is a stripped almost-bare manifesto of grimy post-dubstep power, booming with shotgun charges of bass and a vocal stright out of an emotionally-charged Black Panthers meeting somewhere in oil crisis era Brooklyn. Sparse though it is, the track confirms the truisim that it’s the slow, simple ones that are hardest to get right.
Every nuance is exposed, from the decay of a kickdrum to the pent-up force of air bursting from the vocalist’s mouth. You can hear the smack of lips and the roiling off-key discord of the keyboard lines, high-hat sybilance grating on the ear just so. The pattern continues throughout the album, relying on minimal elements to create an atmosphere (mostly one of urban industrial alienation) into which are weaved predominantly mathematical/scientific themed hip-hop similes and observations.
Track four, ‘Magog Trash’ hinges sonically around one side of a recorded conversation in which the speaker, all pimp-vox, recalls (stoned and slurred) an encounter with some red-necked Other. It’s ill-expressed rambling stuff, heavy with the entitled generation’s burden, but is a precise portrait of those implacable strutting exchanges which occur when people of differing values clash on online comment boards – the speaker’s abiding confidence that his viewpoint is shared and endorsed by all who encounter it being the precise indicator of the phenomenon.
‘It’s another world’, he repeats on the outro, ‘another world’.
The slightly off-key gamelan clangs, swarming keyboards and pitch-slowed kickdrums hammer that recurring distopian atmosphere home before the track segues into ‘Nightlife’ – which places a wobbly keening mid-Eastern vocal and a pitch-dropped repeated vocal sample of ‘The walls of Babylon’ atop the now-expected offbeat kickdrum hits to keep the listener unsteady.
The lyrics draw upon many more subjects than the more commonplace rap staples and ‘Cristal, Maybach, Diamonds on your timepiece, Jetplanes, Islands, Tigers on a gold leash’ hiphop consumer porn (with thanks to Lorde for such a succinct sum-up – only lacking the ubiquitous ‘bitches’ to be comprehensive).
One such vocal hook gives the idea: ‘Logic is seasoning for correct reasoning on simple math equations’, opening the track ‘Equations’ before drifting off into a pummelling discourse on the death penalty, global warfare, ineluctable destiny and terrifying sound engineers. It’s a cracker of a track, as is album closer ‘Kosmic Excentricity’, which draws upon astrophysics for inspiration and enforces the album’s efforts towards spiritual proselytising with assured couplets celebrating: ‘Cosmic eccentricities, that send shockwaves down the spinal column like electricity – big bangs, pulsars, black holes and supernovas’. This sits upon a backdrop of cascading keys, portentious chord swells, the ever-present HUGE bass bombs and the quantised ghost of a brass section. Powerful stuff, bending sonic space with the superdense traction of the aforementioned mass singularities.
Currently available on Bandcamp on a pay-what-you-want basis, a notable feature of the release is that there is the option of downloading 24-bit Flac files. For the growing numbers of enlightened 24-bit listeners, that’s a refreshing bargain, allowing the listener to wallow in the full glory of those offbeat bass whomps and wriggling upper-mid details.
Perceived sound depth, sonic staging, detail and clarity of 24-bit soundfiles make for a vast improvement in the listening experience for all but the most cloth-eared, but it’s an improvement that usually comes with a hefty pricetag. Given that the leading outlet for high-definition formats (HDTracks) charges around twenty quid an album, most audiophiles will opt for vinyl. Add to that the feeling of being ripped off – it takes less processing to release a 24-bit album than an mp3 (given that the latter needs to be compressed) so paying more for the privilege does sting a little – and the appeal of the format really does pale a little. Exobell neatly dismisses that concern by, very fairly, offering the high-res version at the same price.