I gather that many people felt Living Colour was groundbreaking simply by virtue of having African-Americans fronting a metal band. All I remember about them is that Corey Glover wore nub-clinging biker shorts in his video and, even at the time, I knew there would come a day when that would be a sorely regretted fashion choice. Thankfully, musical thievery has passed from the confessional to the commonplace. If Damon Albarn, lead singer of Blur, can make a record of Mali music without flak, we’re safely beyond the days when self-appointed genre Puritans talked about ethnic groups “owning” certain music like a private beach. Here in Austin, I think of the hyper-globalization of music culture whenever I eat in a cheap restaurant and hear the latest hits of today redone as rousing Tejano anthems. Avril Lavigne sounds so much better with a spot of accordion thrown in. The ethic of free-range category-crashing permeates the Yohimbe Brother’s Front End Lifter, an album equal parts party and perspiration.
You may think that I mentioned Corey Glover’s lycra-licked cock-box simply because I’m vying for a slot next to Joan River’s on the next celebrity-studded red carpet. That’s only a partial truth, since the Yohimbe Brothers are a collaboration between Vernon Reid, also of Living Colour, and DJ Logic. As founding members of the Black Rock Coalition, this isn’t their first time playing nice. Several years in the making and after each having their own stints in rock bands, the two have finally pulled Front End Lifter out of the frying pan for good eatin’.
“Tenemental”, although technically the second track, sets the tone for much of the record. DJ Logic’s beats sound sooty, sexy, like clogged funk played on slightly malfunctioning equipment. A humpy thud of a bass line drops in and out of the track as drums, vocals and guitar drone make rhythmic walkthroughs. While the beat remains relatively stable, the rest of the song is a fully stocked lazy susan of funky periphery. “6996-club-yohimbe” amps up the wife-swapping party vibe with a Parliament-tinged hip-hop number that boasts pimp strolls from Prince Paul and everybody’s favorite cotton mouthed emcee, Slick Rick.
“Welcome to the Freq Show” spins the sounds of a flea circus around a hard jungled beat. It actually reminded me of this Mr. Bungle song I heard once, but unlike that song, this one didn’t make me shudder. “The Big Pill” is heavy on the Yohimbe, which I found out from the band bio, is an African plant thought to have aphrodisiac properties. Wunmi Olaiya swaggers like a carnival barker pulling back the tent flaps and ushering in the crowd. Between her hellcat purring about the Yohimbe Brothers, she manages a few howls over a thick, scattershot bass line. In a similar diva showcase, “Elisa Burchett” holds the reins on a straight-up house number sheared with roaring slices of guitar and DJ Logic’s raining layers of percussion, some of which sound like skittering little robots. One of the strangest tracks and yet still keeping in the up-spirited groove is “Bamalamb” a bluesy hickerbilly jam that’s sure to keep you stomping your feet on the front porch. All in all, Front End Lifter‘s predominate tempo is of the “raise your hands in the air” variety.
Eclectically skimming a few record crates worth of music leaves one open to the usual criticism of musical shallowness. For the most part, it’s bullshit, but there are a couple of songs on the record where their musical blender serves up a grating brew. “Prelude to a Diss” sounds like plumbing. It’s a beatless sound collage with jingle bells, vocal samples and guitar scrapes that will leave you scurrying for cochlear implants. “The Callipygiac Caldonians” also takes a shrill stab at what sounds like a methed-out rendition of “Hava Nagila”, though the deft scratching interludes prevent the track from being complete sonic swill.
As an album, the cohesion of Front End Lifter works the way a good friend’s mix tape would, through a seamless well-culled breadth. In fact, I couldn’t help thinking several times how good this would sound pumping beneath the chatter of several drunken friends. That’s not to imply that the music is mere backdrop; it clearly isn’t. But Front End Lifter does weave effortlessly into a general flow of reverie, as you might expect from a collaboration of two people obviously horny on each other’s skillz.