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It’s time to revisit the tropical heat induced fever dreams of Scubatiki.
No one makes you sweat the way these guys do. No one can transmit aural disease or infection this easily. Or this satisfyingly.
To put on a Scubatiki record is to peer through jungle vines; to press play is to set foot on burning sands and be swallowed in soupy humidity.
While early incarnations of the band shied away from traditional instruments in a mostly successful attempt at creating the previously unheard, as the band has matured (and especially whenever working with producer Soen Sough who always brings out the best in his charges) they’ve learned to incorporate all manner of sounds be they digital, acoustic or otherwise.
You can hear the insect buzz of “Rongorongo” before lead singer Pau Ferro even opens his mouth, drummer Howe Yaduen pounding out the tribal beats in lockstep with bassist Etch Fellis fresh off a tour with Crapple Pie. Founding member Juan Gahome on guitars and effects conjures vistas hot and cold, adding his affinity for melody no matter how hectic or distorted the setting. The band turns traditional arrangements on their head and subverts any influence or genre into something exotic.
On Morlap Juju, the band’s last effort, sun soaked desert plains were smothered in the liquid fire of “Fear Mongrel” and that album’s core of driving bass, searing leads and hypnotic percussion, while on “Twmpath,” from their 2016 debut, Is Believing Seeing?, time stretched worldfunk was the order of the day. It’s from these two places that Total… was born, a scratching hybrid dancebeast of punchy crunchy rhythms and slippery slidery grooves that uses horns and strings like electric guitars and drums and bass like a singer uses melodies. The same lineup returns to form the stellar backing group of Noam Sayen on trumpet, Chal Diran on conga and tabla, Sue Idge on violin, and Albert “Paco” Lipse on sax and cello. Everyone gets a workout in the uptempo stomper “Allow This Over” while strings and flute lend “Battle Of Halys” an ethereal edge, complementing the organ, acoustic bass and uncanny vocals from Ferro and keyboardist Dawn Slight.
If there’s one flaw with Total… it’s that Slight is, well, slighted. Her backing harmonies are literally spellbinding and she shines when given lead duties as on “Perhelion Dream.” When something as wonderful as her voice is underutilized, it makes you wonder if someone thought too much of a good thing isn’t good or if they were afraid she’d steal the show. I say let her. Since Calliope disbanded last year Slight has been a fixture in Scubatiki. It’s time to acknowledge her contributions and carve some space out for her on future recordings. She’s a marvelous counter and compliment to Ferro’s varied vocals.
The band shines on the instrumentals, too. The tricky drum loops of “7” and the fascinatingly impossible to quantify “Capricornus Hematoma” keep things from even approaching predictable, while the backward chanting in “Aegyptiaca” makes for a mesmerizing opener. Song after song defy your ears to conjure comparisons while your feet have no such concerns. They just tap.
Art rock made by music gear nerds that you can move to, masterfully produced and varied in content, Total Cow Frank is a joy, pleasantly evoking worlds both not so near and very far away. When a pitch shifted trumpet solo tearing through a wall of distorted cello and violin is as mundane as it gets, you know you’re in for a good time. And when expecting the unexpected still can’t prepare you for what’s in store you can bank on a great time.