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Group Inerane

Guitars from Agadez Vol. 3

(Sublime Frequencies; US: 25 Oct 2011; UK: 14 Nov 2011)

Good Tunes, Awful Sound

Group Inerane is a new addition to the burgeoning “desert blues” or Tuareg rock scene coming out of North Africa, the same scene that produced Tinariwen, Terakaft, Etran Finatawa and, more recently, the likes of Bombino. Group Inerane is made up of three relative youngsters on guitar, bass and drums, with the addition of seasoned vet Absoulahi Maman on lead guitar. Not exactly a supergroup, the band nonetheless shows great promise.


What a shame, then, that this album is fatally hampered by crummy production. The songs sound as if they were recorded live in the studio, or possibly during live performance (given the occasional background chatter that can be heard). This is fine, but the sound quality is frankly awful. Vocals are tinny, and the bottom end is watery and vague rather than propulsive. Listening to this record is very much like standing outside a club while a great band jams inside. To say that the murkiness is frustrating is an understatement.


The band also suffers from the inevitable comparisons to those who have blazed the trail before them. Tinariwen et al are true pioneers, and Group Inerane rely on many of their same stylistic signatures, including open tunings, repetitive, trancelike rhythms, and a lack of multi-chord progressions within songs. The twangy guitar accents, gravelly vocals and ululating female voices in the background are awfully familiar, too.


All that said, however, there are pleasures to be found here. Group Inerane do strive to bring a sound of their own to the table. If anything, their approach is more purely electric than many of their predecessors, with angular guitar lines and relentless drum-kit pounding that lends a distinctly rock ‘n’ roll feel to the proceedings. This is magnified by the fact that the vocals are so muddied that their non-Englishness is obscured.


Songs like “Alemin” and “Itrara” just bash along, and a listener could be forgiven for thinking s/he had stumbled across some long-lost garage rock nugget. Such a mistake could never happen with, say, Tinariwen or Etran Finatawa. It must be admitted, though, that not all songs overflow with energy; some, like “Tchigen” and the unfortunately chosen album opener “Telalit”, seem to merely stagger along. Songs don’t end so much as just stop.


Despite the promising groove of such tracks as the five-minute-plus “Ikabkaban” and “Medan,” both of which have potential as space-out-while-staring-at-the-sky material, the listener is continually brought up short by the absolutely rubbish production. It’s a shame, because these musicians have talent, but the technology has let them down.


A few years ago, a release like this would have generated much more excitement, with the technical flaws being seen, perhaps, as a barometer of the band’s “authenticity,” and the enthusiasm of the tunes carrying the listener along. Those days are gone. The initial rush of novelty for Tuareg rock has passed, and listeners have grown accustomed to better sound in these offerings. Bombino’s 2011 release Agadez, for example, makes a decent case for being the best world music album of the year. This record can’t compare.

Rating:

DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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