The first word that comes to mind immediately upon hearing this record is “warmth”. Not hot, as something that will burn out, but the sumptuous sustenance of Warmth. And of course, Groove. The name Rocket Juice & The Moon is perfectly suited as the disc, enormously rich in tone, is full of Afro-funk grooves so light that Space seems the only acceptable dancefloor. Master drummer Tony Allen provides the rocket’s motor with spectacularly Right-On rhythms, both engaging and intriguing. Flea has never sounded better, locked in tight with Allen, his basswork often impressively busy, but, as always, playing what the song calls for, holding back when necessary and perpetually in the pocket. On top of this are Damon Albarn’s full-bodied and ear-enticing synth tones. This trio got together on a flight to Lagos in 2008 and recorded basics for what would become their debut album at Albarn’s West London studio a year later. They are joined over the course of the record by “queen of contemporary soul” Erykah Badu, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Ghanian rapper M.anifest, Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara, and Cheick Tidiane Seck.
The songs flow into one another seamlessly and this magically seems to be the case picking tracks at random as if the record is one organic eternal whole, interconnected through its very core. Opener 1-2-3-4-5-6 is both stately and primal at once; a dignified yet throbbing pulse laid down by the rhythm section that you can instantly tell is a powerful force. Over the top Damon Albarn floats fuzzy blips and sprinkles spacey textures. Hey, Shooter is the first song proper, slinky and pulsing. Erykah Badu sounds like a foxy Space Priestess blessing the ship on its celestial journey, her vocals impossibly smooth. Forward Sweep gives a delicious taste of traveling at such great speed whilst simultaneously luxuriously floating in space.
The highlight of the record is the gorgeous ballad Poison. Flea’s bassline is wonderfully melodic, exquisitely crowned with a held note and infinitely sleek slide. Damon takes the lead vocal, delivering a melancholic meditation on love. A beautiful pop song. A few songs later, There seems to tie in to their name with a sense of playful adventure and good times having arrived at one’s destination. Blips and lush synth lines, melodically cosmic, over a twilight groove. Benko features a floating synth and staccato bass figure building into a scene of late summer sun, Diawara and Albarn sharing the vocal. DAM(N) is another highlight. A superb melody, full of breath and magnificently understated, with Flea’s bass complementing and reflecting it perfectly. When joined by the vocals, one senses that it is indeed Eternal. On such an interesting bed, one is drawn in to pay closer attention to M.anifest’s spoken words. The last two tracks give the impression of preparing to depart. Fatherless is instantly Joyous, everyone locked in tight to the rhythm but with an overall feeling of looseness pervading and you can’t help but move to its celebratory dance. Leave-Taking is huge and momentous, the bass and drums are fired up and ready to go, steadily revving their motor, while weightless synths shift in to the majestic sense of occasion heralded by the horns. A lovely abrupt end as they blast off again.
Best album of the year so far.