AHEAD OF ITS TIME, NOT FOR ME
Everything about Rocket Juice & the Moon seems odd to me. They are a super group spearheaded by Damon Albarn, most notably from the game changing Gorillaz, a Nigerian drummer and, who else, Flea as their bassist. They announced their formation in the fall of 2008 (without a name no less), did absolutely nothing for three years and now have finally released their debut studio album. The oddities don’t stop there. The name was selected a designer in Lagos who drafted the sleeve design and simply wrote that name down until the band actually came up with one. The album itself is nearly an hour long, featuring eighteen tracks- some instrumental some not, and features guest appearances by American neo-soul singer Erykah Badu, the Chicago-based brass collective Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and Ghanian rapper, M.anifest. If you are troubling to make sense of this thing, then join the club.
I stumbled upon their release simply believing it to be one of Flea’s appearances, such as Atoms for Peace or The Mars Volta. Nothing I could have expected could ever have prepared me for this album. I think the members should take pride in creating something so original and massive as this. However, I have never been a big proponent of the Radiohead “different = good” belief. The album itself is incredibly difficult to understand, anticipate and, at times, even listen to. With such a long list of songs and various genres (it is listed as Funk and Afrofunk, but I think it pulls in about ten different styles over eighteen tracks), getting totally immersed and completely lost in it seems unavoidable.
I am afraid to write a negative review or pass this off as something unworthy of your eager ears simply because I worry that I am listening to an album that is many years ahead of its time. I really feel like this might an album that we could look back on in a few years and realize that it was making the music of the future in a time that couldn’t quite grasp it. I’m either not as bold nor as intelligent as the music gods over at Pitchfork (who gave the album a solid thumbs up) to even rate this thing. Everything about it shatters the rules. It operates in a totally post-genre method of operation that I wish the best of luck to whomevers job it is to file this thing at Best Buy. The opening track “1-2-3-4-5-6” sounds like Kraftwerk-esque experimentalism, but not three minutes later are we listening to a large jazz brass piece with Erykah Badu on vocals. That little dip and dive maneuver plays out the rest of the way. While it maintains a bass and irregular-drumbeat-driven tempo from start to finish, there are times when it is overtly rap, classical African folk, funky groove tracks, or, in the case of “Poison” (sung by Albarn himself), basically pop. I can’t say for sure how many languages are actually featured on here, but there are definitely some tracks when I can’t understand a thing anyone is saying.
I am probably the wrong judge of this sort of thing. I’m not necessarily the most traditional person in the world, but let’s just say, I don’t even have a Facebook. I don’t feel ready for an album like this. The constant shifts in genre, style, language and form were just a tad too dizzying for me. In a few years or decades, when all the languages and musical cultures of the world have gelled together to the point that the self-titled Rocket Juice & The Moon album is considered the cornerstone of modern music, I will happily eat my words. In the mean time, though, I just can’t bear to listen to this any longer.