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Extra Golden – Thank You Very Quickly (Thrill Jockey)

1 April 2009
It’s so damn difficult to mix African music with rock & roll. African pop has its own distinctive rhythm, which, contrary to the assertions of racially-motivated rock detractors of the last five decades, is different from the 4/4 thump of American blues-based music. Occasionally you get a good pastiche, such as mid-period TALKING HEADS or the PAUL SIMON opus Graceland, but those albums are about their creators’ quirks as much as cross-cultural artistic understanding. Mostly these kinds of experiments result in self-parodic novelties like DENGUE FEVER or ill-fated attempts to cram an iconic, already accessible act like YOUSSOU N’DOUR into a Western-friendly radio box.

EXTRA GOLDEN gets the blend right on its third album Thank You Very Quickly. A collaboration between musicians from Kenya and Washington, DC, the quartet wisely leans more toward the African side of its musical makeup, gliding easily through the slippery, bouncy rhythms of the continent. The melodies derive in the main from the Kenyan Benga style, with its circular, intertwined guitar riffs and rubbery basslines. The American side comes from the guitar sounds, which are jangling and jagged as often as slick and melodic, and the relative conciseness of the tracks – the songs are successfully condensed from African music’s usual freeflowing roll without sounding artificially truncated.

A musicologist could break it down in more detail, and this record likely deserves such scholarly treatment. But ultimately it boils down to this: cuts like “Anyango,” “Gimakiny Akia” and “Ukumwi” are a joy to listen to, with the musicians taking obvious delight in making these sounds. Thank You Very Quickly is just wonderful.