[16 March 2010]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Formerly known as the Poets Of Rhythm, Whitefield Brothers is a German collective that started putting tunes to wax back in 1991. Under this moniker, Jan and Max Weissenfeldt and their comrades return with a sophomore release of late ‘60s-inspired funk digressions, Earthology. This time they venture into a fusion of Afrobeat and exotica. Working alongside a roster of guest artists including, Edan, MED, Percee P, and Mr. Lif, Whitefield Brothers continue to pursue the African rhythms of their debut, In The Raw, while folding in Arabic and Asian influences. Taking the tradition of funk beyond its conventional scope, they add a new depth to their instrumentation. They burrow through long jams, recorded on analog equipment, presenting the listener with mutated sonic canvasses.
The highlight of these songs is “Safari Strut”, a loose number that ends with the tinkle of rapid xylophone playing. This is followed by “Reverse”, where a hushed rap builds to a techno groove. It unfolds into “Taisho”, a track that begins with the sound of a fretted lute, before it is overtaken by giddy bass and the pulsing of drums.
The band fiddles with a diversity of instruments throughout. A potent horn section can be heard in “Sad Nile”, percussion on “Ntu”. The airy woodwind echo of flutes resounds on “Pamukkale” and “Alin”. This gives the record a global feel that stretches it beyond the confines of retro American funk, to encompass the exotic facets of world music. Listening to these numbers, one can easily find that they are slipping into a lurid fantasy that takes them from the bazaars of Marrakesh to the bustling port of Lagos in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, the dichotomy of having these luscious instrumental fabrications interspersed with tracks by contemporary guest artists makes the album seem a little disjointed. Perhaps a little too aspirational, the band’s second album struggles under the burden of trying to remain current, while also refusing to let go of its producers’ experimental whimsy. Despite being unsure whether or not to cater to the academic impulse of hardcore funk enthusiasts, Earthology is still a unique release that unabashedly flaunts its contradictory influences.