Let's face it: downtempo isn't the most challenging of genres, its
entire modus operandi being to soothe the listener into a kind of
dulled-pulse, glazed-gaze state of suspended animation. The form's
reliance on dub effects and "blunted" imagery doesn't help: when it's
not being used in car commercials, the whole point of downtempo often
seems to be as a soundtrack for skinning up.
All of which makes it awfully hard to write about the stuff, seeing
as there's often very little to hold onto (and don't get me wrong
I'm a fan). But the truth is in the details, and a little
close listening is enough to separate the wheat from the chaff (or,
in this case, the seeds from the ganja).
Germany's Boozoo Bajoo, like their countrymen the Trüby Trio and
their Viennese neighbors Kruder and Dorfmeister (both of whom they've
remixed, in fact), are certainly fascinated with Jamaican dub and
South American rhythms, but they assemble their pastiche skillfully
enough to avoid cries of "plunderer!" Sure, they use elements:
slow-mo bossa nova rhythms, samples of Jamaican patois ("Satta" is
island dialect for "relax"), and enough delay to make Steve Austin's
sonic bionics sound utterly flat. But the duo's andante dub and
underwater blues never sound forced; indeed, in borrowing Tubby's
toolkit, they've also learned the crucial rule of dub: never clutter.
So space opens up around throbbing keys and plodding bass, and
rimshots ring out like whipcracks in a forest clearing. On "Divers,"
for instance, multiple layers of hand drums set out a sparse, wooden
foundation, from which emerge sci-fi stabs and bleats of harmonium
that seem to float like orchids in the eaves. To speed up the
proceedings, "Yoruba Road" delivers an Afrobeat-inflected take on
rhythm and blues, a jittery, syncopated game of call and response
between horns and Hammond.
Clearly, Boozoo Bajoo aren't concerned with modernist bugaboos like
authenticity, complexity or originality but then again, why
should they be? After all, even sober-minded critics can stand to
relax every now and then.