The Wonderful Craziness of Afrirampo

Part of my ongoing battle with finding new music I like is that too many of the popular artists today are… normal. Social media has narrowed the distance between listeners and artists, and it’s also exposed that many musicians aren’t mysterious, eccentric geniuses, but are actually fairly well-adjusted people who have a passion for music and a strong work ethic. This has been good for people who like music that speaks strongly to their real-life situation, but for me music has always been a means of escape from my sometimes painfully boring life. This might be why I tend to gravitate towards artists that are very different from myself — women, crazy sonic geniuses, aggressive punk rockers, etc.

My craving for this kind of weird escapist music eventually took me away from the US entirely, all the way to Japan, which for years now has been known for a thriving noise-rock scene. My favorite band from there so far is Afrirampo, a duo comprised of Oni on guitar/vocals and Pikachu on drums/vocals. They play a style of rock music that simply doesn’t exist in America, a combination of gleeful Slits-like punk, Sonic Youth noise, poppy intertwining vocal melodies, occasionally nonsense lyrics, and garage rock riffing. They also incorporated some African influences after the two went to Cameroon and lived with pygmy tribes in 2004. Frequently, all of their varied influences were present in a single song, some of which spread over several maniacal minutes.

Afrirampo appeals a lot to me because they’re just so out there compared to the kind of artists you’re likely to be exposed to in the United States, even if you’re a fairly adventurous listener. Nobody sounds like them, or could really even aspire to sound much like them. And while a lot of new music today strikes me as drab, Afrirampo’s music is incredibly exciting and fun. They play with such exuberance that it’s contagious, and it’s hard not to be in a good mood listening to them. A lot of people will surely find their roller-coaster style unlistenable, but nobody can ever call them boring (which I think is the worst thing music can be).

Afrirampo were initially known for their aggressive noise-making tendencies when playing live, but on their albums they display a wider range of sounds, with some quieter ethereal moments and psychedelic passages to go along with the bursts of noise and adrenaline. All of their varied styles coalesced on what I consider to be their magnum opus, the 2010 double album We Are Uchu No Ko, which was released just a month before the band chose to break up. In its 80 minutes, the album seems to have every element of rock music imaginable. It has three songs that stretch over the ten minute mark, and most of disc two is one long piece that is split into five different parts. It’s psychedelic, crazy, and fun, and a perfect introduction to Afrirampo’s unique style.

Most of Afrirampo’s music isn’t available on Spotify or other free sites, but it’s worth seeking out if you enjoy music that is a bit weird. I’ve linked one of my favorite songs by them below.

Lotus Plaza – “Spooky Action at a Distance”

Atlanta indie-rockers Deerhunter initially gained notoriety for frontman Bradford Cox’s flamboyant personality, wild stage antics, and experimental pop songwriting. But while Cox has always dominated the headlines for the band, their most recent album, 2010’s Halcyon Digest, showcased their secret weapon: guitarist Lockett Pundt, who stepped out of Cox’s shadow and produced the best song on the album with “Desire Lines,” a 7-minute spacey shoegaze centerpiece that managed to sound epic without really trying.

Spooky Action at a Distance is the second album Pundt has released under the Lotus Plaza moniker, and it’s about what you would expect from the guy who penned “Desire Lines”: non-stop guitar jams that make skillful use of repetition to turn tunes that seem like they should be ordinary into epic, surprisingly catchy rock songs. Deerhunter fans like me that prefer their anthemic guitar-rock side to their bedroom pop side are sure to love it, and it’s probably my most listened-to album of 2012 so far.

Pundt doesn’t have the big personality that Cox does, but he has a quiet confidence that suits his laid-back style, and his lyrics that are often about nostalgic yearning are also a nice match for his bright, summery guitar lines. Songs like “Monoliths” and “Remember Our Days” are about simple themes like friendship and childhood, but Pundt infuses them with just enough personality and hooks to make them into effortless anthems. Pundt never sounds like he’s trying too hard, even on a song like “Jet Out of the Tundra” that launches into a lengthy, repetitive instrumental similar to that of “Desire Lines.”

Nothing on Spooky Action at a Distance sounds that groundbreaking, particularly with this summery guitar-pop being trendy in recent years. The shoegaze style always will bring comparisons to My Bloody Valentine, but Pundt mixes it up a bit with some acoustic strumming on songs like “Black Buzz” and “Dusty Rhodes.” Some of the songs also have a driving rhythm reminiscent of Stereolab, which pushes the music forward and helps keep Pundt’s specifically defined style from overstaying its welcome. Mostly, Pundt separates himself from the competition by simply executing the songs better and with more consistency. There are no weak songs on the album, and they all seem to get better the more you listen to them. He has a style that is relaxing but also engaging, and I find it difficult to stop listening to the album when I only intended to play a single song off of it.

Overall, Spooky Action is a significant step forward for Pundt, who deserves to be more than just “that other guy in Deerhunter.” In fact, I prefer this album to any of the Deerhunter or Atlas Sound albums so far. It’s not trying so hard and doesn’t feel labored over, and it’s not caught up in trying to be “important.” Much like the man who made it, it seems to succeed and transcend effortlessly.

Listen to it on Spotify

Discovery: Antena

One of my dorky music-related hobbies is looking into the past to try to figure out where some of my favorite bands came from. I spend a lot of time browsing on and surfing Wikipedia or to try to piece the whole puzzle together. Every so often it pays dividends and I find something cool that I may not have ever heard otherwise.

In this case I stumbled across Antena, a band named for French singer/songwriter Isabel Antena. A couple of my favorite bands are Broadcast and Stereolab, who played sophisticated electronic pop with some experimental tendencies, and it’s easy to see Antena as an early influence on both of them. The most obvious comparison to Isabel Antena is Stereolab frontwoman Laetitia Sadier, who was also French and had an elegant way of singing, but she also reminds me of Broadcast’s Trish Keenan whose voice had similarly detached, airy qualities that hovered above the music.

Musically, Antena reminds me a lot of Young Marble Giants, whose album Colossal Youth was released around the same time the band formed. Their sound is similarly austere, with electronic synths and drum machine rhythms. What makes Antena sound different from all these other groups is that they infused samba rhythms into the music, giving them a more tropical, summery feel. It’s an interesting combination that I hadn’t really heard before and is part of what has gotten me instantly hooked on the band.

So far I’ve only listened to the band’s 1982 compilation Camino Del Sol, which comprises nearly all of their early music. It’s full of some really cool songs, but so far my favorite is the title track which shows off most of the band’s strengths. You can listen to that song below, or the full album on Spotify here. If you’re into this brand of sophisticated electro-pop, they’re definitely worth a listen.