Nuclear Evolution: The Age of Love

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While Black Fuzz, recorded for Kanye West's Sony-distributed boutique label, remains unreleased, Sa-Ra return to Ubiquity, the independent that released the trio's first 12" single, for their first "proper" album. Although it is only a little more focused and unified than 2007's The Hollywood Recordings -- none of which was recorded for the purpose of a standard album -- Nuclear Evolution: The Age of Love benefits from its sprawl, and that's because Sa-Ra don't really do tight, straightforward, and concise. They're polyglot space cadets, filtering their love for synth funk, ambient soul, and Afrocentric avant-garde jazz through left-field hip-hop, from contortions of low-booming G-funk to dazed drum loops as doped-out as anything on Stones Throw. Joined by a shifting, female-dominated array of vocalists (including Erykah Badu, who returns the favor for Sa-Ra's contributions to New Amerykah, Pt. 1), they offer their advanced, off-center R&B with oblique hooks and sonic tricks that burrow at varying rates of speed. Little of it produces an instant rush, but the surfaces are entrancing enough to practically demand fevered sifting and gradual absorption. At the onset, much of Nuclear Evolution, like Sa-Ra's scattered past work, sounds like inscrutable otherness, almost as out-there as extreme psychedelic music. After several listens, all the squeaking synthesizers, skittering percussion, high-pitch group choruses, and seemingly slapdash layers of electronic and acoustic elements come into relative focus. Lyrically, their range has not expanded: spiritual consciousness, graphic depictions of drug-dependent prostitutes and the men who take advantage of them, a little old-fashioned heartache, getting high and screwing. Line to line, they can switch from comic candor to cosmic weirdness -- "Girl as long as I been knowin' you/I been trying to bone you/Tell me what we gone do/Pump you up with gas...and up and away," for instance. Opened with frisky bossa nova and closed with mellow interstellar jazz (featuring Gary Bartz's gorgeously singing alto sax), the album provides 70 minutes of 2009's most challenging, sonically adventurous music. [Initial copies of the album came with a second disc containing tracks from the group's 2004 12" for Ubiquity, as well as their cover of Sly & the Family Stone's "Just Like a Baby," reprised from the label's Rewind! 4 compilation. "Double Dutch (Co Co Pops)" comes from the most demented blacktop scene imaginable, while the ecstatic "Death of a Star (Supernova)," featuring J*Davey, does the spirit of Zapp/ Roger Troutman proud.]

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