erasing clouds

Mahjongg, RaYDONcoNG 2005

reviewed by dave heaton

Lately I've been listening to a massive homemade compilation of music from the year 1981, made by an obsessive music fan. I'm stuck on one disc of the set, and my brain keeps getting stuck on how many of the musicians - some still well-known (the Talking Heads, for example) and some whose names have vanished from popular consciousness - are building grooves that use as their foundation music from the '70s, especially afrobeat (Fela Kuti) and German avant-rock (Can). These are sonically rich, deep dance grooves - funk and roll, built off a free, experimental feeling, an organic, collaborative approach, and a really tight, lean, almost mechanical mode of being.

Mahjongg are jumping off from this same place, trying to tap into some kind of universal groove. "Jumping off" are the key words, though, when he comes to their first full-length RaYDONcoNG 2005. Where their debut self-titled EP could be summarized through some kind of funk + outer space + afrobeat equation, this new album is seriously eclectic. Yoko Ono, David Bowie, Sun Ra, New Order, robot music, the Rolling Stones played on a music box: it's all here in some transmogrified form. The cover art of RaYDONcoNG 2005 is a mad collage of pictures and colors, and so is the music.

The opening track, "BBG-9288", serves as a transition into Mahjongg's world, giving a taste for their love for spooky electronics and their Africa obsession, in the form of overlapping phone conversations and a funk groove which gets things rolling. The next track, "The Rabbitt" picks up the pace and broadens the scope - it starts with overtly African rhythms but smothers them with layers of funk, plus singing that's filled with a strange sense of longing. And the album continues in that vein, building off music of the past but pushing it in new directions both mysterious and joyous.

Most listeners will be drawn into Mahjongg's sound by the choppy guitar-funk, the propulsive rhythms, and the huge sound, the sort of sound that pulls you in and doesn't let go. But there's also a strange atmosphere to it, one heightened by the vocals and lyrics, free-wheeling poems which are more engaging than they need to be, referencing everything from the AIDS crisis in Africa to cotton's grasp on the world.

Mahjongg's RaYDONcoNG 2005 is a rapturous experience, offering 10 tracks of body-shaking funk that's both neanderthal-ancient and space-age-futuristic. They're inventing their own world from the mud up, and then creating its music.

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