[10 September 2004]
It’s only skin deep, so they used sun tan lotion
Belgium, eh? A small country whose inhabitants are considered by most of Europe to have the exciting party potential of a glass of warm milk, which might explain why it ended up being our diplomatic centre. All that level-headed efficiency had to be put to use somehow, especially as Switzerland already had the UN, and no-one was going to be keen on encouraging Germany’s urges to control the rest of the continent. Alternatively, perhaps it was just a cunning scheme to annoy the French, who dislike the Belgians almost as much as everyone else hates them.
The upshot of my penetrating political analysis being that Belgians, despite not being very numerous or producing a huge amount of music (or indeed anything much at all, apart from the results of needless bureacracy-induced tree recycling), routinely come into contact with people from all sorts of places. Such as, in the case of duo Hendrik Willemyns and John Roan, a Brazilian Capoeira teacher and berimbau player by the name of Mario Vitalino Dos Santos, who contributes to both the singles taken from this album thus far (“Mr. Doorman” and “A Volta”, the latter having appeared on numerous compilations of a chill out/jazzy/Latin persuasion).
Other members of the cosmopolitan cast include Zeus and Zacharias of Congolese band Bayuda, a Mali native (on the elephant-sampling “Tigerwoods”, which sadly fails to evoke violent pachyderm/golfer mayhem), British singer Deeply Light, a lady from Portugal, and an MC from New York called Divine Elementary. The latter should drop his first name, as the MCing (shared with Brussels-ite 72 Soul) on “Mr Doorman” is truly terrible—the fact that the track got a Best Song nomination at this year’s Zamu Music Awards (the Belgian Grammys, apparently) says nothing good about the ceremony. The core duo themselves, meanwhile, put out their debut EP in ‘99 and have put on quite a few live shows, including at Innercity Amsterdam and the Rock Werchter festival, which the PR gubbins sheet describes as being “famous” and indeed “World’s Best”, although I’ve never heard of it. I’ve no clue what “Oyebo” means, either. And I certainly don’t know why they named themselves Arsenal, as everything here is laid back to the point of friendly pacifism, and they certainly can’t be that enamored of a football club whose manager and best player are French. Hmm.
Thankfully I do know who Ray Mang is, and quite frankly, so should you. He’s the secret production weapon behind much of Groove Armada’s most stunningly lovely tracks, as well as an entirely slept-on album of deeply gorgeous downtempo/house/soul as Block 16. He’s also got a knack for “discovering” unknown but sublime vocalists, such as the sadly MIA Jhelisa—as well as, I suspect, Deeply Light—and was at one time rumoured to be working on an entire album with Shara Nelson (she’s the one who sang Unfinished Sympathy, for those at the back). No sign as yet, but my fingers are very tightly crossed.
At any rate, Ray produces over half the album, although given that it’s only nine tracks long (with two ok but unnecessary remixes tagged on at the end), this means we’re provided with five compositions that caress the eardrum like cool silk on a hot summer’s afternoon. That said, the actual songs themselves are practically non-existent; if you imagine Groove Armada’s blander moments with more of a world music emphasis, you’re about right. Great for recovering from hangovers, then: nothing really memorable, just lush and calming. Also, these guys really need to check out Ramiro Musotto’s fantastically groovy “Sudaka” in order to learn how to make berimbau playing and electronics complement each other properly.
You’d be much better off hunting down that Block 16 album, or even the subsequent remix disc. Which I found in a Fnac’s bargain bin (for two Euros!) while in Avignon. Hah.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/arsenal-oyebosoul/