Michael League’s jazz fusion collective Snarky Puppy released Immigrance via GroundUP Music on the 15th of March. The album is a full studio project following in the footsteps of 2016’s Grammy award-winning Culcha Vulcha.
Immigrance is the epitome of a “grower, not a show-er”. Upon first listen, the album feels like each song is just one musical idea repeated for at least 5 minutes apiece; but upon further listens you realise that’s the point. Each song builds and grows and experiments with a single musical motif, you come to appreciate the little intricacies and layers that build. Bandleader Michael League stated,
The idea here is that everything is fluid, that everything is always moving and that we’re all in a constant state of immigration.
The album feels like a soundtrack, and that’s exactly what it is. Moodily, darkly walking around unfamiliar streets of cultural and self-discovery. This a headphones-on album that comes alive when treating it as a soundtrack to your own movement and feeling, walking around in the dark.
Album opener Chonks (Named for fat cats on the internet), is immediately striking for it’s odd, almost flubbed riff. League, taking the helm as producer, made a point to leave in “all the tiny flubs and unvarnished textures that accompany great organic performances.”
Song highlights include Bigly Strictness, angry and bitter, with jovial interludes that sound like excerpts from the Metal Slug 3 soundtrack; And the eerily underplayed, suspenseful Coven. The album is intensely focused around the suspense that it builds throughout each song, always beginning with that one idea and growing and moving along with it.
First single Xavi jumps directly off the sound of Culcha Vulcha, translating that lounge energy directly into the darker, more refined sound of Immigrance. An almost ten-minute jam piece that builds on a single half-riff and stretches into an audial journey through a diverse spectrum of instrumentation and percussion.
Second single Bad Kids to the Back – accompanied by an absolutely fantastic animated video by Michaël Alcaras and Stella K – is a fast-paced gem as the penultimate piece of an admittedly slow album.
One of the features Immigrance boasts is the three drummers, Jason “JT” Thomas, Larnell Lewis, and Jamison Ross. Never playing at the same time, they trade sections of songs, giving a constant immigrating feel to where the rhythm and energy of each song lies. The drums are purposefully restrained and held back throughout the album, which leads to the climax of the playful syncopated drum solos on Bad Kids to the Back having even more impact. They are where this creative choice truly shines, as the masterful drummers take turns flitting around the backbeat of the song, messing and flirting with each other through rhythm.
The closer, Even Us, contains some of the most strikingly diverse instrumentation on the whole album, and truly feels like where the album’s themes of movement, cultural perspectives and diversity come together. This is a dark and pacing, almost angry anthem that feels almost like a marching song of war against the current state of xenophobia and hatred in the world.
If you go into this project knowing that it is self-described as “more raw and moodier than its predecessors” and focusing of the delivery of a “simpler, streamlined impact”, then you’ll be given exactly that. If you go in expecting tight song-crafting, with hooks you can sing, and the raw Snarky Puppy energy, then I recommend you put on 2014’s We Like it Here instead. Snarky Puppy’s full studio efforts have never been able to capture the raucous energy of their live albums – but that isn’t what they’re trying to do here. League has announced that the band’s next project will be recorded live, and I couldn’t be more excited for the slow, groovy, and dark vibes of Culcha Vulcha and Immigrance to be translated into a setting with more energy that truly allows it to shine.
Snarky Puppy is kicking off their Immigrance tour right here in New Zealand at Auckland’s Powerstation on Monday the 15th of April, with a show at Wellington’s Opera House the following day.
Tickets are available from Ticketmaster.
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Released: 15 Mar 2019