The good and the baffling of 1970s Belgium come together for a unique ride through a tiny nation.
There's no question that funk is one of the quintessential American-born music styles, but in the 1970s, it was everywhere. In some places, especially across Latin America and much of sub-Saharan Africa, this spread is well documented. In Belgium, though, that's never been the case -- until now.
Funky Chimes: Belgian Grooves from the ‘70s thoroughly documents the nation's little-known funk scene of the 1970s, and it makes for a wild ride. A double album, it consists of a massive 27 tracks -- some good, some baffling, and all very, very smooth.
It's rare to hear straight funk here; most of the music tends to be a little cooler and less nasty than standard funk. Everywhere you go, there are psychedelic overtones or simmering hits of slinky jazz. Opening track "Scratch My Back" definitely has some funky grooves, but they aren't the main theme. They're the background music, slowed down and a little repetitive -- an afternoon stroll instead of a high-powered strut. The compilation continues, steady and sweet, with piano embellishments adding a lighter touch to "Funky Chimes", and "Faded Lady Instrumental" sounding like a watered-down Isaac Hayes joint.
This isn't to say that it's all rip-offs of the Shaft theme; some genuinely creative gems stand out, usually the ones that try to emulate the spirit of funk rather than the technical aspects. With "Travelling on Rhythms", Bud Hunga picks up some real rhythm with fast and fiery keys and brass. Kandahar's "The Fancy Model" is pure, quick-moving jazz with tight orchestration. R. Dero's "Soul Melody" is a complex, winding tune with moments of refreshing syncopation.
Some of the strongest songs are the long psychedelic jams. The Flying Guitar's "Barabajagal" serves as a wordless band name origin story, and the Free Pop Electronic Concept's "Chewing Gum Delirium" spirals up, down, and sideways in chaotic elation. At nearly 15 half minutes long, Electronic System III's "Skylab" is by far the longest track on the album (and at times the slowest, and sparsest), but also one of the most intense. You can't really dance to it, but to drift through its layers of synths is an atmospheric delight.
Some tracks miss the mark entirely. The Sumos' "My Chinese Girl Likes Kung Fu Fighting" has a sleazy tone to it, and the vocals are pretty garbled under reverb, which is probably for the best since they mostly just exoticize a Chinese girl. André Brasseur's "X" has some of the same garbled vocals, but in this case, they're clearly meant to be orgasmic moans, the sound quality and speed of which take this track from emulating Donna Summer to sounding like a low-budget horror movie victim. "We Love The Policeman" is a cheesy, campy mess. Its melody is trite, its lyrics confusing, and the vocals strained.
The album ends on a high note with Lieven's "Akkerwinde", a slow-building rock song with occasional jazz grooves and a killer electric guitar solo that takes up the last three minutes. It's the least typical funk song on the album, but some percussion and brass are buried in there before the track heads in a prog direction.
If nothing else, Funky Chimes tells a fascinating story of Belgium and the music that came out of it in one particularly musical decade, and it spares no detail. This is not an album for your ironic disco party, nor is it really made to be listened to for any one genre. There's a harvest here to reap, and even though some of the fruits may be a little rotten, it's well worth checking out if you want to feel a little more in tune with some classic Benelux beats.