The Long Shadow of the Paper Tiger

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The Long Shadow of the Paper Tiger is Mahjongg’s first album without founding guitarist Jeff Carillo, and rather than try to replace him, the band goes even further in a dance-oriented direction, emphasizing the “tronic” part of the sound it calls “Chicagotronics.” While the group’s fusion of 8-bit, industrial, Afro-beat, and anything else that suits its fancy is always intelligent, Mahjongg sounds a lot less cerebral here than they did on 2008’s relatively restrained Kontpab; the band has gotten out of its collective head and straight onto the dancefloor. The Long Shadow feels like a party, and everyone’s invited -- literally, since every track features guest vocalists ranging from the 1900s’ Jeanine O’Toole to the Unauthorized Terrance Duke, who helps make “Devry” into a sludgy, and witty, funk monster. Chicago fixture Bobby Conn helps get the album off to an audacious start with “Gooble,” and his subversive stylings are a perfect fit for the track’s appealingly low-rent, lo-fi rave-up. Remaining bandmembers Mikale De Graff and Josh Johannpeter also play in Lazer Crystal, and while that group and Mahjongg’s work aren’t interchangeable, some of Lazer Crystal’s dystopian but danceable robo-rock has rubbed off here. “Miami Knights” is wild and data-panicking, while “Grooverider Free,” a reworking of the 2008 single “Free Grooverider” (written while drum-n-bass DJ Grooverider was incarcerated in Dubai for marijuana possession) shows just how much more kinetic the band is here than they were before. Over the course of nine minutes, the song bridges Mahjongg’s previous Afro-beat influences with this album’s more mechanical vibe, its rhythm getting faster and faster until it’s at a pace only a machine could love -- then it segues into a Middle Eastern melody for its frantic coda. By the time “LA Beat” brings the album to a flashy close, The Long Shadow of the Paper Tiger has been all over the musical map and all over the dancefloor. Even if it’s not as cohesive as Mahjongg’s earlier work, it’s easily some of the band’s boldest, most confident music.

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