[1 June 2012]
As their name implies, The Funk Ark are a group of musicians dedicated to getting the funk going and keeping the funk going as long as there is life on planet earth, and perhaps even later, when all the life has been gathered on huge oceangoing vessels or interstellar spaceships. Or something. Whatever—the point is, the young men in The Funk Ark rock, in their distinctly bouncy, bass-heavy, sax-honking, keyboard-jamming, uptempo way. This is upbeat music, made for booty-shaking and toe-tapping, and maybe also for driving really fast on the highway at night.
And that’s pretty much what you need to know about the band, and the album. High Noon is the second full-length from the Washington, DC-based collective, and while they don’t branch off into anything radically experimental, neither do they simply retread the same rhythms. Where last year’s From the Rooftops carried a cool lounge vibe through many of its tunes, this record brings the focus more sharply on straight-up funk frenzy, and is the better for it. “Road to Coba” brings a whip-smart horn section to bear on a recurring, tinkling keyboard line, all of it supported by—and at times nearly trampled beneath—a tight, jittery percussive rhythm. It’s all so vibrant, you don’t even notice it’s nearly seven minutes long.
That’s another way the band avoids repetition. Six of these ten jams are five-plus minutes, while the others are sharp three-minute jabs. This compares favorably to last year’s album, in which only a single tune topped five minutes. Too often, a band finds a groove and settle into it, not only within a song but from song to song, lending a uniformity to the album that grows stale fast. The Funk Ark has learned to avoid this by approaching every tune as if it’s an entirely new project.
“Hey Mamajo” is another long-burner which adds chanted vocals (mainly consisting of the song title) into the mix, lending both a party vibe and a vague sense of urgency. There’s a nifty little guitar solo too—for a band that plays mainly instrumentals, there is relatively little guitar wankery on display, so what does crop up stands out.
Speaking of which, “Rinconito” features a sweet keyboard solo courtesy of band leader Will Rast, which nicely elevates this from a pulsating groove delivery system to a standout track in its own right. The musicians are all on target, all the time, which is the main reason why this album full of (mostly) vocal-free tracks manages to hold one’s attention through repeated listenings.
Treasures abound here. “High Noon” is a midtempo shuffle that sounds like the theme song to the coolest 1970s movie you never saw, with its staccato rhythm, wah-wah guitar, and washes of organ; and the back half of the album is as strong as the first. “Funky Southern” is especially, well, funky, and benefits from well-chosen vocals from Mustafa Akbar, while album closer “Wayward Bill” winds down the proceedings with its careful blend of African-style polyrhythms and more than a little mellow keyboard.
Anybody needing a little extra (sonic) juice in his/her day would do well to give these guys a listen. Juice is what they do. It’s in their blood. A few spins of this and it’ll be in yours too.