PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Galactic: Ya-Ka-May

Bouncing, buzzing electro-funk-hip-hop with swagger and sway? This definitely ain't your daddy's New Orleans record. But is it yo momma's Galactic?



Label: Anti-
US Release date: 2010-02-09
Artist website

In the world of jam bands, Galactic has always proven itself to be a bit of an anomaly. Where other groups seemed content to recycle the same tired blues riffs and neo-psychedelic meanderings, Galactic has always shown a willingness to experiment, to incorporate humor and new musical styles into its cornbread-and-whipped-butter brand of jazzyfunkypop. Where other groups increasingly featured musicians with bloated egos engaging in self-indulgent solo theatrics, the members of Galactic have always proven themselves to be slaves to the groove, never putting individual expression above the integrity of the tune. And where other groups resigned themselves to being mainstays on the frat party circuit, Galactic always seemed to be a band of the people, regularly collaborating with gospel divas and street musicians and playing small blues clubs.

It's not much of a surprise, then, given Galactic's freewheeling reputation, to find the band separating itself even further from its jam band peers, altering its sound and style yet again, on its latest release, the enjoyable Ya-Ka-May. As the album title, a reference to an Afro-Orleanian soup-like culinary delicacy, suggests, this release is the most playful and carefree collection of tunes in Galactic's impressive oeuvre. For the most part, it finds the band building on its previous release, the hip-hop-heavy From the Corner to the Block, with a set of party songs strongly influenced by the bounce rap sound of the band's New Orleans home.

The Galactic of the band's first two albums, with its live instrumentation and free-form improv jams chock full of Dixieland funk and jazzy rock, is all but gone. Also absent is the smooth groove band, with its soul crooning and R&B posturing, evident on the album Ruckus. In its place we've got a lean, mean beat machine, playing a buzzy, swaggering brand of electro-ghetto-funk and Southern hip-hop -- with horns and programmed samples. Immediate musical landmarks include the Roots, Black Milk, Major Lazer, and Dam-Funk. Jam band purists may find this change too much to handle. Those with a sense of adventure and an appreciation for hip-hop break beats will discover much to love in Ya-Ka-May. You'll still find many of the elements that made Galactic jam band legends: Stanton Moore's polyrhythmic stick work, Ben Ellman's Motown horn accompaniments, and Jeff Raines' sizzling electric guitar lines. It's just that these elements are atmospheric and secondary to the Beat.

"Friends of Science", the absurd, minute-long opening track on Ya-Ka-May, sets a playful, party tone for the album. As the professorial voice claims: "You're going to see me tonight as you have never seen me before / What we have here is just like something you may have at home / This can take from a section of brain that gives talent / And can actually take that talent and put it into the brain of another person." In Ya-Ka-May's case, the musicians of Galactic borrow heavily from the hip-hop world and from their fellow New Orleans collaborators -- Rebirth Brass Band, Irma Thomas, Big Chief Bo Dollis, and Allen Toussaint -- to concoct a soul stew of sounds that's entirely their own.

"Boe Money", the first proper song on the album, is an uptempo dancehall jam, anchored by pounding bass drum and the bleating horns of the Rebirth Brass Band. Its only vocals are the classic hip-hop chants of "Go! Go!" between beats. "Double It" is more of the same, an energetic dancehall groove with the high-pitched off-the-beat tinks and booming bass characteristic of bounce and the rapping of NOLA bounce star Big Freedia. On "Heart of Steel", Galactic offers a new take on the R&B present in the band's previous albums. This time around Louisiana soul legend Irma Thomas leads the way with a bluesy brand of vocal crooning that borders on rap over harp and hand claps.

Even though Galactic obviously dived head first into its new hip-hop aesthetic, it's clear that the band is doing so with a big ole smirk. "Katey vs. Nobby", with its trashcan drums, distorted bass groove, and bratty rapping, would sound at home on the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill. "Bacchus", which marries Allen Toussaint's bluesy piano fills with fuzzy braggadocio-heavy rapping and Moore's schizophrenic percussive rolls, is the crazy love child of Gil Scott Heron and Prince. "Do It Again", featuring a "Hey muthafucker! Hey muthafucker! Hey!" intro, is Galactic, classy jam band progenitor, at its most ironic. Despite proving able technicians of bounce, Galactic is still at its best when it lets its jazz spirit loose. On "Cineramascope" and "You Don't Know", the band shows off its instrumental improv chops with wailing Dixieland-esque fills and solos.

In all of the promotional materials for Ya-Ka-May, as with Galactic's other releases, it mentions that this album is a quintessential New Orleans record. And while Ya-Ka-May is certainly the result of collaboration between a number of important Crescent City artists from various genres and generations, it is by no means your daddy's New Orleans record. Perhaps what makes Ya-Ka-May a record of and about the Big Easy is Galactic's continual willingness to forge new musical terrain, beyond the usual jam band fare, and have a blast in the process.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.