In the 21st century, the market for movie soundtrack recordings is surprisingly strong. People who would never sit through the abstract instrumentals of a Beethoven symphony or a Mozart string quartet will rush to the record store to snag copies of the movie music that accompanies swashbuckling pirates or mischievous hobbits. This tendency bodes well for the music of the trio known as Thunderball. On their latest album, the aptly titled Cinescope, the group delivers 12 tracks which contrast much of today’s abstract, overly cerebral electronica and could serve as a soundtrack for an imagined movie.
Thunderball is the name for the Washington, D.C.-based production group consisting of Sid Barcelona, Steve Raskin, and Rob Myers. On its two previous full-length albums, Ambassadors of Style and Scorpio Rising, the group established a dance style that drew upon elements of downtempo, funk, and film music. All these elements surface on the group’s latest album, Cinescope. This latest release proves that Thunderball’s lack of mainstream success is a matter of exposure, not style. If more people could hear the group’s work, the Thunderball fanbase would surely increase exponentially.
Cinescope kicks off with “The Road to Benares”, which turns out to be the start of a musical journey of sorts. The album opens with the shimmer of an exotic glissando and soon proceeds to a steady beat augmented by Indian stringed instruments and hand percussion. Throughout the track, lush orchestral strings give the track an epic feel and enhance the cinematic quality of the music. This sprawling, exotic atmosphere spills over into the next track, “Electric Shaka”.
Starting with the third track, Cinescope really gets funky. With its understated wah-wah guitar and prominent horn stabs, “Return of the Panther” sounds like a theme song for a hip secret agent from the ‘70s. The next track, “Get Up with the Get Down”, sounds like a groovier sequel to “Land of a Thousand Dances” despite the female vocals. “Thunder in the Jungle” completes the funk trio in the middle of the album.
After the bouncy rhythms, scratchy guitar, and wild horns of the middle songs, Cinescope begins to slow down. “Strictly Rude Boy” displays a Jamaican influence that surfaces again in “To Sir with Dub”. The styles in the last half of the album are even more varied than the first, and they include jazz, (“The Mysterious Mr. Sandobar” and “Elevated States”) and Latin music (“ChicaChiquita”). The only real constants on the final half of Cinescope are the familiar orchestral strings and a more reserved tempo than that on the first few tracks.
Overall, Thunderball is much more accessible than other electronic artists. For many DJs, technical virtuosity is a goal in and of itself. The production on Cinescope is certainly skillful, but Thunderball’s mixes never interrupt the party. One should also note that the group never sacrifices artistry to achieve their grooviness. All told, Cinescope, is a satisfying piece of music. It opens slowly and develops quickly. Once it reaches its energetic peak, it broadens into new stylistic territory before it ends on a reserved, meditative note.
With some modification, a famous cliché applies to this album. In the case of music, you are what you love. On many electronic albums, the DJs demonstrate a love for electronics, and the music that results appeals to those with a similar fascination with technology. On Cinescope, Thunderball demonstrates a love for movies, seventies funk, and exotic sounds. As a result, their music should appeal to people who aren’t usually dance music fans. Cinescope is broad in scope and flawless in execution. Anyone looking for a good time or a good record should check it out.
// Notes from the Road
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