Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

AUGUST 24, 1998: 

Komeda, What Makes It Go? (Minty Fresh)

Let’s face it – we live in an increasingly synthetic age. Just about everything we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste has become refined or adulterated to the point that there’s little “natural” about what goes into our systems. The digital age only makes this brittleness more apparent, as today’s reality can be recolored with a few well-chosen computer keyboard strokes.

So when a synthesizer-based quartet named Komeda (from Umea, Sweden, just south of the Arctic Circle) unleashes its sound upon the world, it appears safe to assume that this configuration would also be devoid of organic life as well. But, thankfully, this is not the case with Komeda and their second English-language release here in the States, What Makes It Go? Much like the Wizard who hid behind the curtain in Oz, Komeda work their magic with an all-too-human touch.

From the opening left-channel electronic flatulence to the gradually fading processed vocals that close the record, Komeda and What Makes It Go? fairly bubble with life and musical vigor. Although it’s true that synthetic keyboards are the wave Komeda rides in on, the machines never completely take over. This technical platform is fully supported by killer bass and drums (about as funky as a Swede can get) and the mellifluous tones of their lead vocalist, enchantress Lena Karlsson.

In a perfect world, Lena would be the voice for all electronic recordings when humans are not available. There’s a precision and warmth present in her singing that is irresistible to the listener. Komeda hooks you from the first cut, “Binario,” where Lena calmly intones, “Good morning/My darling/I’m choking/I’m falling.” With their unusual blend of technology and elastic pop (with Lena above it all), Komeda emerges as a sound untethered to a particular time and place.

What Makes It Go? could very well be the Great Lost Blondie Album of the ’80s that was never recorded or released. It should come as no surprise that wonderkid Beck chose Komeda to open for him on his European Odelay tour, because Komeda also understands that different kinds of sounds, styles, and musical textures (along with a healthy dose of fun) add up to a new arrangement when pieced together by individuals with a sense of history and some measured passion.

Komeda also has a strong soundtrack background as well, taking their name from Krszytof Komeda, the late Polish film composer who scored several Roman Polanski epics (including Rosemary’s Baby). At least four of the eleven songs on What Makes It Go? have possible connections to film – “Cul de Sac,” “Our Hospitality,” “A Single Formality,” and most telling, “Curious.”

A ground-breaking Swedish film from 1967 titled I Am Curious (Yellow) helped to shatter censorship laws around the world in relation to the depiction of explicit sex (although the film seems quite tame today in comparison). The lead character in the film was named Lena, the lead singer in Komeda is named Lena, they both hail from Sweden, and on the album graphics, Lena is colored yellow! Get the picture…

An undercurrent of sexual tension keeps Komeda and What Makes It Go? on its frigid toes, and there’s enough rubbery rhythm happening to make even the stodgy Hal 9000 shake his cyberbooty. Dreamy when it needs to be without an ounce of extra fat, Komeda and What Makes It Go? are the sound of the future today. With a soundtrack like this, it may not be such a bad place after all. – David D. Duncan

Fiji Mariners featuring Col. Bruce Hampton, Live (Capricorn)

Do you ever find yourself yearning for the musically indulgent days of the ’60s, when a band could take a few good ideas and flesh them out over the course of, say, 15 to 20 minutes per song? Or the heady days of “fusion,” when the more skilled and technically proficient players wanted to thunder like rockers and have you saying “Yeah, all right!” as if you were listening to Led Zeppelin?

You can have both. “Nowhere is Now Here,” with its bastardized “Frankenstein” riff from the Fiji Mariners’ live debut release, clocks in at a whopping 17 minutes and 37 seconds and wastes not one moment, especially if you’re in the mood for a psychedelic funkfest. While the song is quite a workout, the players never get sloppy or blow past their chops. And their chops are quite prodigious. Überkeyboardist Dan Matrazzo (former sideman for Gatemouth Brown) is especially impressive, launching icy funk tones in a pitch-bending display of virtuosity. The rhythm section of Marcus Williams on drums and Neil Fountain on bass is a muscular and acrobatic foundation, even when playing it cool and urbane. What keeps the slickness quotient at bay, however, is the rakish presence of Col. Bruce Hampton, whose soulful vocals and buzzsaw guitar style throw a little grit into the works.

Other strong tunes like “Fiji,” “The Mariner,” “Spider,” and, in particular, the powerful message song “Earth” (don’t worry, it’s not preachy) feature a wide open jam-happy sound reminiscent, at least in spirit, of great live bands like the Meters or the Allman Brothers. Two covers (“Spoonful” and “Turn Your Love Light On”) aren’t quite as interesting, but in no way do they spoil the fun.

This album passes one of my personal acid tests, and I can recommend it on that basis alone – it’s great driving music. Put the top down, baby! – David Kendall

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