Amadou & Mariam

La Confusion

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On their first full-length studio album since 2012's excellent Folila, Malian power couple Amadou & Mariam deliver sleek retro-fusion with the disco-oriented La Confusion. Pairing desert blues and various Afro-pop traditions with Western production is nothing new for the duo, but the thickly layered '80s synths and the electro dance framework surrounding many of these 12 tracks initially come across as a bit jarring, though not entirely unwelcome. At its most dramatic, La Confusion is draped in vibrant swaths of funky synth bass, disco strings, vocoders, and tinny electronic drums, which are some of the hallmarks of Parisian producer and Bon Voyage Organisation mastermind Adrien Durand. While his approach teeters on the edge of heavy-handedness, it's hard not to succumb to the flashy charms of opener and lead single "Bofou Safou." An album written to reflect and repel the confusion of both contemporary West African and global affairs, La Confusion is ultimately an emboldened and spirited affair that works best when Durand backs off his influence somewhat and lets Amadou & Mariam do what they do best. The title track is a good example that benefits from a milder version of his '80s-centric approach and some strong guitar work from Amadou. Likewise, the Mariam-led "Fari Mandila" is a nice hybrid of the duo's earlier styles with light flourishes of sax, synth, and infectious percussive arrangements. For an act that has been operating creatively since the mid-'70s, Amadou & Mariam once again prove their art can thrive in just about any setting.

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