[21 October 2010]
If Apache Beat thought they could ride on the coattails of Dirty Projectors, Yeasayer, and Vampire Weekend, then it’s a presumption well deserved. Insofar as the indie planet is divided into minimalist and maximalist spheres, Apache Beat are firmly camped in the latter. This quintet (and yes, they are from Brooklyn too) is fronted by Australian hipster par excellence Ilirjana Alushaj and are unapologetic magpies, pillaging everything from folk psychedelia and afrobeats to new wave and shoegaze. What’s more, they swill it all down with a hyperactive percussion section. Yet their long-awaited debut Last Chants has neither the arcane trappings of mongrel albums like Odd Blood or the universal glory of Contra. In other words, it’s accessible but you can still imagine its makers very happily performing it in sweaty cavernous bars. Which they no longer really do, of course, given the hype that has transported them to a life performing alongside the likes of the Gossip and School of Seven Bells.
Last Chants gives us what we so crave of indie bands: the melodiousness of pop sophisticates that is bent but not blown to bits by prevailing experimental winds. “Another Day”, the whopping 7 minute-plus single, begins with a flurry of bongos (or are they congas?) and a jangling Oriental guitar leitmotif that gradually builds up to a breezy Pulp-like guitar instrumental. This then melds into a shouting chorus (and Apache Beat are masters of these) that is headed for a three-minute dissonant joyride, the latter no doubt an open invitation for listeners to pick apart all that is strange and wonderful lurking beneath the static. The folks at The Guardian website have one suggestion: a Swedish nose flute. You might also want to try detecting the cameos made on the rest of the album by the band’s influential friends: the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, Lightspeed Champion, and the Rapture.
Like “Another Day”, Last Chants is far-flung and often cacophonous, yet so admirably welded together. As its title indicates, the entire album makes you feel like you’re headlong in a mass pagan ritual, swaying with flower children at the behest of the enigmatic yet charismatic Alushaj, who appears to be Chrissie Hynde, Grace Slick, and Grace Jones rolled into one. Consider “Let It Go”, which has the brilliant backbone of the band, Neil Westgate, working overtime on percussion, propelling an aptly chant-like sing-along that sounds distorted by the haze created by too much bonfire smoke. In case that isn’t wild enough for you, the interjection of shrill cries kills any last trace of tame. Yet “Let It Go” is a controlled explosion of energy, like so many other songs on Last Chants. “Tropics”, for instance, features the animalistic force of Alushaj’s vocals confronting her torn heart amid a guitar whirlwind and thunderous percussion. Just when you think things are going fatally wayward, Alushaj’s magnetism reels it all back in and keeps you suitably entranced.
But it’s not all primeval pyrotechnics, lest it all become a bit overbearing. During the calmer moments, the band show that they are perfectly capable of writing straight ahead but engaging pop tunes. On “Nightwaters”, a surprisingly arresting song about love lost and longing, the band’s penchant for instrumental hustle and bustle is pared back to allow Alushaj to really shine through. Other lovely moments include “It Will Be”, Apache Beat’s answer to ‘chillwave’, considering it sounds like it was recorded underwater with a bunch of chorus boys, and “Fear of Falling”, a powerful, pathos-inducing number that melds ‘60s folk rock, post-punk, and ‘90s alt-rock.
If you’re looking for any more reasons to love Apache Beat, just buy their album.