huge thanks to Josh Klein, Scott Plagenhoef, and the entire Pitchfork staff!
Beware, all you rockers looking beyond your country's borders for inspiration. At best you'll be branded a novelty, a curiosity, maybe even, reluctantly, a pioneer; at worst, a dilettante, an interloper, even a neo-colonialist. Yet the threat of breaking this potential taboo, of committing this kind of cultural transgression, only seems to weigh over acts in the West-- no doubt because it's the West that writes the rules and determines when they could or should be broken. Indeed, no small amount of hand-wringing accompanied breakthrough albums by the likes of Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads and other acts, despite the good they did in opening ears to new sounds. Bringing us a bit more up to date, when a Brooklyn band incorporates Afropop, red flags go up-- ones unlikely to greet, say, a Senegalese band that sounded like the Strokes.
Takka Takka's subtle if not seamless global-rock is less academic than that of the Dirty Projectors, less unctuous than Vampire Weekend, a little less prog-rock cold than Yeasayer, just to name three of the Brooklyn band's loosely likeminded peers. The group's also not defensive about the one-world direction taken by the aptly named Migration, a disc that doesn't differentiate that much between the indie-din of the New York boroughs and, say, the Gamelan music of Bali. Migration, Takka Takka's second album, was produced by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah drummer Sean Greenhalgh, and also features that band's guitarist Lee Sargent, which perhaps explains the still lingering links to straight indie-rock, but those connections are tenuous. This music aims for something new, something occasionally otherworldly.
The unabashedly portentous pan-national approach pays off immediately with the Peter Gabriel-esque mood-setter "Monkey Forest Road", whose sequenced ostinatos lead into a web of interlocking guitars and pounding percussion (courtesy of the great Conrad Doucette, with an assist from the National's always on-point Bryan Devendorf). The alternately tribal and chugging "Silence", with its cool synth flourishes and awesomely precise polyrhythms, recalls Gabriel circa Security or Talk Talk. "The Takers" is breezier and a lot less alien, but "Everybody Say" proudly pilfers its percussion and guitars from a hodge-podge of vaguely African sources.
The instrumental electro-acoustic "(The Optimists Were Right)", as well as its more menacing companion "(The Optimists Were Wrong)", are merely fragments that could have been better developed. But the former does set the stage for "Homebreaker", a dreamy meditation until an indomitably funky backbeat and guitar break the reverie to good effect. Similarly, waiting while the guitars coyly sniff around one another on "Fall Down Where You Stand" is worthwhile for the more aggressively interlocking end result. In fact, it would have been nice to hear the group stretch these grooves out a little further, as respectable as Takka Takka's restraint may be.
It's no coincidence, given the context, that the relatively standard-issue "Lion in the Waves" with its conspicuous acoustic strum is the most mundane moment on the disc. Minus the interplay of exotic imported embellishments, "One Foot in a Well" might have been just another spooky indie-folk excursion, or "You and Universe" would have fallen short of satori. "Change, No Change" wouldn't be out of place amongst the slow-burn anthems of the National were it not for Gabe Levine's sweet, soft-spoken singing voice. But at least the band is honest about where it comes from. Trying to capture the spirit of rootlessness does not mean ignoring your own (indie rock) roots, and Takka Takka (testing out the latest in constantly shifting lineups, no less) does a commendable job bridging the familiar with the more mysterious. If the results are a little too conservative to be revolutionary, a little too carefully composed, understated, and clean to be radical, the group has nonetheless opened the door to new possibilities to be explored at a future date.