Land of Kush

The Big Mango

There’s nothing wrong with your stereo. Your iPod isn’t about to burn up, suddenly shrouded in a black, polluted cloud, with the unhealthy, sour smell of electricity and burning plastic invading the sense of smell and a million dying transistors squirming on the desk in front of you. It might cause you to panic at first, but there is no fault to worry about; Land of Kush have dropped in.

Shipwrecked, you arrive on the tropical paradise of ‘Faint Praise’, but the natives are restless. The crackling of the flame licks against the ear like natural music, but the rising smoke also gives the locals an indication that an unwanted settlement has cropped up and invaded their land. Any prospect of peace amongst the slack of the palm-trees quickly extinguishes itself with the close, exotic grunts of a wild animal, drawn by the scent of barbequed food, come to check out the party for itself. The bright green streaks of face-paint are covered like that of a soldier in the middle of a war-zone, accompanying the feminine scream in what is an unsettling call to her native tribe.

The piano lines conjure up a fearful feeling – we really shouldn’t be here – and from ‘Second Skin’ onwards the tone has been set. What was a bright, blue day on the island of paradise turns into an unexpected, exciting cluster-fuck of experimental noise. It started with the calling, and the first assault on the innocence of silence, acted out by some kind of ancient pipe, ominous in its throaty texture, dirtied by gravel.

Peaceful openings are suddenly wrenched aside by the brutal force of a power-hungry military force. In reality, the tropical island is geographically distant, but its troubles are shared the world over; many a real-world location suffers from the plague of consistent violence. It may come as no surprise, then, to note that The Big Mango is inspired by and dedicated to the city of Cairo, itself plagued by recent violence and unprecedented civil unrest.

The deep, passionate cry for her new found liberty in her democratic infancy has now turned sour, instead becoming a cry of anguish and of lost hope, when all looked promising. The revolution also kick-started, and perhaps subconsciously promoted, a power vacuum, and paved the way for opportunistic groups looking to fuel the fire. The paradise isle shares Cairo’s smoke screen of justice and democracy with its own illusion of peace. Locked in the struggle for control are the multiple instruments, with vocalists singing authentic songs that feature a traditional verse and a fiery chorus.

The plethora of instrumentation de-stabilizes the rhythmic region, creating some beautiful carnage. The chaos could be a mirrored reflection of past scars that continue to haunt much of the Middle East as a whole. The region is, and always has been, a hotbed for religious and cultural reasons. Thousands of years later, nothing much has changed. The simmering instruments rebound off each other in a chaotic, yet structured order; the collective manage to coalesce every instrument into a well-rounded whole. More than twenty Montreal musicians play on The Big Mango; in some places, it sounds as if all twenty are playing at once, but the wheels never tumble off. One of the least used – and often neglected – musical elements comes to the fore here – fun! Yes, it’s that easy.

It may be the sudden key change and chord progression that sounds out the end of ‘The Pit, Part 1’, or the twinkling, semi-tone rap on the piano keys that conjures up a fearful mood, as if the listener were checking out a haunted refrigerator in a swanky New York apartment (think Ghostbusters). The Big Mango could be a replacement for The Big Apple.

Land of Kush drape the western song format over Middle Eastern harmonies. The strict, rhythmic chord progression of an electric guitar fits in nicely, succinctly and sweetly. The western flavour is down to the line-up of female vocalists, summoned from the indie rock scene of Montreal. The ghosts are heavy loaded guitars, running across a phantom stage.

Loaded with action-packed pieces, the music doesn’t waste any time getting down, knives at the ready – the record’s immediacy is impressive. The finale, ‘The Big Mango’ has turned full circle, 360 degrees. Fire-fuelled electric guitars smash through power chords like tanks of gasoline, but there are a couple of tasty arpeggiated sections to steer the listener through. There’s even some kind of solo, one that’s been banished from indie rock for its insane tendencies. The ending then tunes itself into an ancient, Middle Eastern drone, with only the feminine vocal able to make the jump to safety, spears as arrows on the shore.

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