Rocket Juice & the Moon

Rocket Juice & the Moon

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Given the high profile of Rocket Juice & the Moon's core members -- Damon Albarn, Flea, and Tony Allen -- the project is technically a supergroup, but there's a humility on their self-titled debut that makes it the work of a true collective. Dub, Afro-pop, and rap were growing fixations in Albarn's post-Blur years, and he brings all of these fascinations together with the help of Allen, with whom he collaborated on the considerably less vibrant the Good, the Bad & the Queen, and with Flea, who might seem to be the odd man out on paper, but blends in expertly with the rest of the players here. Indeed, the trio seems more than willing to let its guest vocalists come to the fore on Rocket Juice & the Moon. Erykah Badu and rapper Thundercat score an early highlight with the slinky, smoky "Hey, Shooter"; Fatou Diawara and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble get a funky, summery showcase in "Lolo"; and "Chop Up," with a playful call and response between M3NSA and M.anifest, is another standout. Albarn doesn't step up to the mike until almost halfway through the album on "Poison," a more intimate and knowing take on the kind of star-crossed love songs he's been writing since "To the End" and "Yuko and Hiro." His vocals are almost tossed off, reflecting the appealingly loose, live feel of the entire album. Aside from the aforementioned "Hey, Shooter" and "Poison" (as well as the M.anifest showcase "The Unfadable"), most of these songs are charming, bite-size snippets and sketches like "Night Watch," a dubby exercise in double-jointed rhythms and bass and brass interplay; the serpentine keyboard interlude "Worries"; and the irresistible groove of "Fatherless." Because its tracks are so short, Rocket Juice & the Moon's undeniably jammy feel never becomes indulgent; while some tracks could have been cut to tighten it up, the album is more about the overall experience than moments of individual perfection. As it stands, this loose, adventurous collection of songs is more vital than many of the other overcooked projects that Rocket Juice's main players have been involved in during the 2000s and 2010s.

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