Review Summary: An energetic, thoughtful, inspired and funky 35 minutes. A great debut, and a great EP.3 of 3 thought this review was well written
Blue King Brown are hard to define. That's clear the moment you hear them, or better still, see them. There can be nine or ten members on stage at any one time, all adding to the big, full, funky sound of this up-and-coming band from Melbourne. But the core of the band is Natalie Pa'apa'a and Carlo Satone. The infectious energy and passion from lead singer, guitarist and part-time percussionist Pa'apa'a is the driving musical force. Her politically- and socially-motivated lyrics are provocative and impassioned and central to the band's message of peace, equality and respect, with particular attention given to Australia's Indigenous population. Bassist and part-time acoustic guitarist Santone is also the band's manager. This debut EP serves up six tracks full of feeling, big percussion solos, heart-felt vocals and potential, potential, potential. It's worth mentioning that these six tracks are more than thirty-five minutes of music - a lot of music for an EP, and more than a lot of bands can muster for a "full-length".
The opening track, Water
, is simply a great song. It's catchy, funky and powerful. The Ray Manzarek-like keyboards open the album and lead into a blistering percussion intro that really gets the toes tapping. The jumpy bass part coalesces attractively with the keys during the verses, with Pa'apa'a's vocals leading the line of attack throughout. "Water, Water, Water, We'll be the water for their fire
" will be in your head for days. And then out of nowhere comes another percussion bonanza. The percussion work really sounds amazing. I can't really describe it because I know nothing about percussion but it is a feature of Blue King Brown and on no track more so than Water
. It provides the foundation for the track and Salvadore Persico integrates the percussion into the drum beat superbly. This is probably the best song on here, and it was a reasonably successful single on Triple J radio in Australia.
After the toe-tapping, hip-moving opener, You And I
slows the tempo with a tempered seven minute objection to war and more specifically sending troops to fight. This track sounds Australian. That probably means nothing, but when is slows right down leading in to the opening verse, I can hear John Farnham and that "Great Southern Land" song coming through the speakers. Not really sure why, these guys are nothing like Farnsie, but they certainly are Aussie. You And I
is a chilled tune, much in the style of The Beautiful Girls
, a song you can imagine being played in the backyard on a Sunday arvo with the sun shining, just lazing around. (Sorry to those of you reading in countries where you don't have backyards, or get to see the sun very much.) But the relaxed, cruisey music can't disguise the serious, forceful lyrics and message of this song. I guess the lyrics come out of the shadow of the music when Natalie says, "Now let's get curious. It makes me fucking furious
". The eff word, in this of all songs! The most relaxed, slowest song on the record. But it just highlights the passion the band has towards what they write about and what they believe in. And that is something you can't substitute, genuine passion, and BKB have it in bundles. Reasons Why
brings in the horns for the first time in this ska/reggae Bob Marley-esque number. The up-beat guitar is incessant while the stuttering bass supports the Ska-feel. The backing vocals are perfectly placed and the drumming is more prominent on this track. The ska/reggae feel is built upon in the break as the pace is lifted and the keyboards come back in to the mix recapturing the big-band feel momentarily. The keys give an almost psychedelic feeling towards the end, while as the track fades away the horns round out a full and varied four minutes.
The momentary changes of pace in Reasons Why
are built upon in the funky, bluesy Better Spent
. Natalie's vocals are somewhat different in this track, somewhere between spoken-word and singing, and shifting between both. The slide guitar is used to great effect, reminiscent of The John Butler Trio
, and the violin in the break caps off this diverse and vibrant track. At this stage of the album, only four tracks in to their career, you get the tangible feeling that BKB aren't doing things in halves. There's no hurry, as BKB explore each avenue in every track. Each instrument is given time to shine and there is no filler. The formula is generally either fast, up-beat, percussion-driven funky tunes or mellow, pensive, semi-acoustic tracks. (Is there such a thing as semi-acoustic?) But the formula seems to be working.
In The Middle
gives a taste of what a BKB live show is like. I was lucky enough to be at the St Kilda Festival this year and saw BKB, a band I'd never heard of before. They were amazing. The improv and crowd-interaction was sensational. So I went and bought both of their releases this week. And the extensive break in In The Middle
is taking me right back to that sunny day in February. The drums are blaring, the horns come in and out magnificently, and of course the percussion is blistering away out front. The instrumental part lasts for about three minutes, ranging from funk to blues to roots to jazz. It's easy to get lost in the beat. It's exactly as it would be at a live show. This is good stuff.
The closer Reality
comes in at just under eight minutes and acts as a pseudo-summary of the album, flowing between tender, slow verses and rocky, instrumental breaks and choruses. The keyboards again draw similarities with The Doors
and although the percussion takes some time to come in, it is again superb in its impact. The vocals of Natalie also cover all styles seen in the previous five tracks. But it is here where possibly the most obvious weakness of the album comes to the fore. Natalie's spoken word certainly doesn't flow as nicely as her singing. But it's the accent that could be a sticking point for non-Australian audiences. Her Aussie accent, while not overly thick or harsh, just doesn't go well with the semi-spoken-word stuff. (Aussies don't have accents though, the rest of you do.)
So that's it, a dashing 35 minutes of inspired, thoughtful and funky music. For a debut EP it's superb, but I'm going to give this a four. I haven't discussed many (if any) negatives of the album, and honestly there aren't many. But objectively it's not a 4.5, like their LP is, but there's enough talent and enough here to like for this to get 4 out of 5. If you're not in Australia you will struggle to get your hands on this, and in Australia you might even have trouble. But it was the best $13 I've spent in a while. Check it out, and if you're in Australia you'll probably be hearing a lot more of these guys over the next couple of years.