Naiveté can be a beautiful thing. Plenty of stellar albums have been made by would-be musicians with little knowledge of the equipment at their disposal, just a wide-eyed desire to produce something magical. From Sam Phillips’ early experiments in echo-laden rockabilly to The Ramones’ incendiary proto-punk, artists from all genres have overcome their limitations to create music of stunning depth and originality. Holed up in a tiny studio with a bunch of instruments she’d never played before, former WEAVE! drummer/vocalist Nicole Turley has come close to doing just that on this debut Swahili Blonde LP. Channelling the twin spirits of Beefheart and Zappa, Man Meat is a percussion-heavy slice of funk-infused psych-jazz with roots in dub, no wave, and Krautrock.
Opener “Elixor Fixor” is a brooding near-instrumental, all haunting aahhhs and crash cymbals railing against bass-heavy riffs, while album highlight “La Mampatee” cold filters Studio 54’s sleaze-disco through layers of lysergic garage. Fusing Haight-Ashbury psychedelia with the good-time funk of The Fatback Band’s Street Dance, Man Meat is a free-form blur of styles and genres. Jumping from bruising indie-dance lifted straight off New Order’s hard drive (“Red Money”), to late 1960s blues-rock packed with Cream-era Clapton riffs (“Dr Teeth”), to a bad trip through The Lion King soundtrack (“Tiny Shaman”), it’s a startling album indeed.
A classically trained dancer, Turley made the transition to music when she was invited by a close friend to join a new band in the making. Told that her lack of experience wouldn’t be a problem, Turley’s natural affinity for rhythms, patterns, and beats made her the ideal choice for drummer with Seventh Sea. When the band folded, Turley did spells behind the kit with Blood Everywhere, Licorice Piglet, Black Umbrella, and WEAVE! before embarking on work as Swahili Blonde.
Initially conceived as a DIY project in which Turley would write, play, record, and mix everything herself, Swahili Blonde soon evolved into a collaborative effort featuring a stunning array of musicians. Guest appearances from Turley’s partner and former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, violinist Laena Myers-Ionita (The Like), bass player John Taylor (Duran Duran), and multi-instrumentalists Stella Mozgawa (Warpaint) and Michael Quinn (Corridor) add some much needed structure to Man Meat‘s off-kilter avant-rock.
It’s not perfect by any means; at times Turley’s ideas feel underdeveloped. Through sheer imagination, though, she has crafted a playfully inventive album with far more highs than lows. Juxtaposing the unconventional and the commonplace, Swahili Blonde’s debut is a vibrant exploration of percussion-heavy jazz-pop interwoven with child-like experimentation.Visit: Swahili Blonde | Manimal Vinyl
Purchase: Insound | eMusic