Joy for its own sake: The Mountain Goats and Ibibio Sound Machine

Ibibio Sound Machine – Uyai

Led by London-born Nigerian singer Eno Williams and her seven mates plus more help on backing vocals, mbira, and flutes have created for their second album an intoxicating hybrid of mutant disco and makossa: a collection of flippy floppy drum tracks and Bernie Worrell-infatuated synth washes and video game effects, with an ear for echo. Two weeks ago I raved about “Give Me the Reason”; there is more to savor. Williams’ mum drops a prayer in “The Chant (Iquo Isang)” while shakers shake and keyboards jab. On “Lullaby” Alfred Kari Bannerman plucks a high life figure over programmed and acoustic percussion. Many sounds aren’t programmed – credit Anselmo Netto on the cuíca, responsible for squeals and shrieks that on tracks like “Sunray (Eyio)” augur unexpected and delightful hairpin turns. Although Ibibio dominates the singing, the clarity of these tracks made me seek translations.

The Mountain Goats – Goths

Applause for Matt Douglas, whose woodwind arrangements add color and an ironic elegance that’s never at the expense of the goth scene about which John Darnielle writes with precision and pathos. Musical detail adduces lyrical insights. Applause, too, for longtime producer Brandon Eggleston and the engineers: I can every one of Jon Wurster’s sticks hit his cymbals, every purr as Darnielle hits the Fender Rhodes that has replaced the guitars. The casual prose that Darnielle has expended over the years in praise of Steely Dan finds what it was looking for in the horn arrangement for “Paid in Cocaine.”

That last title is the giveaway. Instead of mythologizing Bauhaus or Siouxsie, Goths turns an affectionate eye to the second tier acts: the Sisters of Mercys and the Gene Loves Jezebels of the scene, condemned to a touring purgatory in which they’re further down the bill from Nine Inch Nails. “Robert Smith is secure in his villa in France/Any child knows how to do the spiderweb dance,” Darnielle points out in “Abandoned Flesh,” but Gene Loves Jezebel — when was their payday? To love them requires, in the words of one song, high unicorn tolerance. So does eking out a living in a cultural bracket commensurate with one’s income level, a pheonomenon with which “Shelved” is acquainted, down to the rippling Peter Hughes bass solo played high on the neck in homage to another musician; his initials are also PH and his first band was a considerable goth inspiration. Myths are necessary – required, as a necessity requires, to quote an American poet whom Darnielle no doubt admires. In Goths‘ shimmering evocation of a beloved subculture, myth maintenance takes work.

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