Where's the One?

Congotronics International

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Where's the One? Review

by Paul Simpson

Congotronics International was formed in conjunction with the release of the 2010 compilation Tradi-Mods vs Rockers, which featured dozens of indie rock and electronic artists remixing or interpreting selections from the Congotronics album series. Crammed Discs, the Belgian label that released the albums, assembled a supergroup uniting several members of the Congolese groups Konono No. 1 and Kasai Allstars as well as experimental rock artists Deerhoof, Wildbirds & Peacedrums, Matt Mehlan (of Skeletons), and Juana Molina. The musicians remotely worked on songs at their respective studios, sending demos to each other through the internet, then the whole group assembled in Brussels to finalize the material for a series of concerts throughout Europe and Japan, dubbed Congotronics vs Rockers. The musicians continued working on ideas during and after the tour, and a full album was finished in 2021, with the project now known as Congotronics International.

Where's the One? is a mixture of live and studio recordings, with songs from the participating acts' repertoires reworked along with material composed by the musicians specifically for the project. The sprawling album includes boisterous singalongs as well as fragmentary studio experiments, with various members taking the lead on specific tracks. Even when tracks are dominated by certain personalities, the entire assembly is united in its collective fascination for exploring unique sounds and angular rhythms. "Kule Kule Redux," an update of a highlight from Konono No. 1's scene-defining debut, is representative of the supergroup's chaotic energy, as the strong, celebratory beat encourages everyone to jam along. Molina's "Resila" starts out gentle and swaying, then gradually gets swept up in a spirited rush colored by distorted twanging (Kasai Allstars' signature) and a squall of guitar noise. "Super Duper Rescue Allstars," a remake of a Deerhoof tune, has walloping, Led Zeppelin-style superhuman drumming and a radio-friendly melody, with layers of African harmonies accompanying Satomi Matsuzaki's sentimental lead vocals. The brief, guitar-based instrumental "Beyond the 7th Bend" is one of the album's few mellow moments, as even more introspective songs like "Doubt/Hope" end up filled with crunchy distortion and jumpy energy. When the band goes all out, as on scorching numbers like "Banza Banza" or live tracks such as "Ambulayi Tshaniye," the joy is unmistakable. Such an ambitious, border-crossing project can't help seeming overwhelming and messy, but the participants' glee and love of expression comes through loud and clear, and the whole experience is a rewarding one.

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