12 June, 2012 in Music Reviews
Here we delve into some sinister Anglo-Balkan carnival vibes and are pleasantly surprised to find this sounds very pleasant indeed!
In the last few years Balkan rhythms have become near-ubiquitous: providing the backdrop for middle class dinner parties, soundtracking the dance moves of students, and illuminating grimy festivals. Suffice to say, ubiquity doesn’t translate automatically into quality. Many of those who take Balkan rhythms as their inspiration are so yawn-inducing that their music threatens to snap your jaw; nay you wish it would, to take the pain away. Gentle Mystics are one of those glistening exceptions, who remind you that once the genre was fresh, vital, creative and exciting.
This is the self-titled debut release from Gentle Mystics, who are ‘mostly’ Londoners, though they could just as well have been created in a test tube on Mars. They mix together the more obvious aspects of Balkan music – hysterical bass and disjointed rhythms – with hip-hop, dubstep, chiptune and exquisite vocal harmonies. They also inject their music with a sinister carnival vibe, leaving you feeling as though the members aren’t real people but rather macabre puppets, bouncing from guitar strings in staccato motion. The image conjured is much like the characters who decorate the cover of their album.
The sheer quality of this album is overwhelming and, as such, it feels almost unfair to pinpoint any tracks. But there are three songs whose excellence must not go unremarked.
Hark is the album’s centrepiece, with a brilliant 16-bit, chiptune riff taking the Balkan into the realm of Super Mario. It’s a microcosm of the genres found on the album, with touches of hip-hop and dubstep and a fantastic horn section. This is what makes Gentle Mystics such an interesting proposition: there’s nothing staid about them, they have the courage to try different things and it works.
Mushroom 30,000 is sinister, grave, danceable and utterly beautiful, while Awaken has wonderful vocal harmonies. Lyrically it’s about ‘awakening’ from a dream and this topic is married perfectly to the music. It evokes images of the caterpillar scene in Alice in Wonderland, as if you could lean back and be carried by silken clouds into a dreamy nether world.
Gentle Mystics imbue the zombified cadaver of Balkan music with enough life to get it ready to obliterate itself in wanton hedonism. For this reviewer, Balkan-inflected music had become a stagnant scene, so a measure of the quality of this album is that it’s probably my favourite release of 2012 to date.
Verdict: Utterly fantastic.
Out now on Emerging Species.