There’s a moment in the closing scenes of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where Raoul Duke and his trusted lawyer Gonzo are snorting cocaine under the table as a passionate, but clueless speaker pontificates ad nauseum about marijuana addicts. One gets a similar feeling about this LP. The murky reverb (heavily applied) and muffled vocals give a sense of somnambulant calm, but there still remains a somewhat urgent sense of unease and unrest, owing to the restless percussion and domineering bass lines. There is synth-pop, mixed with punk, mixed with psychedelic metal. Highly reminiscent of Brian Jonestown Massacre, Trans Upper Egypt seem to straddle the line between synthesiser addled punk, and hypnotic, stoner trance.
Based in Rome, the foursome have a particular fascination with Egypt. Their Facebook page is full of pictures of Sphinxes and pyramids, while the lads themselves look like either sober members of MGMT, or Gogol Bordello rejects. In terms of vocal style, the singer lurches between Richard Ashcroft, Sid Vicious and Alex Turner. The defining characteristic of this LP, however, is the powerful and thundering bass lines. ‘Fantasia’ in particular boasts a peculiarly Brechtian bass line in the opening bars before launching into something that Queens of the Stone Age would be proud of.
Trans Upper Egypt specialise in what they describe as Trance/Afrobeat. Originating in Northern Africa, Afrobeat is a genre characterised by vocal repetition and intricate, interweaving rhythms – both of which are abundantly apparent on the record. It has also been a huge influence on some very clever artists, namely Brian Eno and David Byrne. Indeed, there are elements of Talking Heads on this album, especially in those rumbling bass lines. The genesis of Afrobeat however, is politically charged. Widely credited as the pioneer of Afrobeat (he at least coined the term) is Fela Kuti, a Nigerian artist who used music to react against European Imperialism in his native land. While it is unclear whether Trans Upper Egypt is using this particular genre for aesthetic or political purposes, it adds an interesting background dimension to the album. Given the use of an urgent military snare in ‘CCTT’ and ‘Fantasia’, and the clear fascination the Rome based group has with Egypt, one cannot help but wonder if it has anything to do with the recent political climate in Egypt; the contrast between the unyielding passion of the protesters and the over-zealousness of the governmental response. In any case, the African influence, particularly in the drums and bass, is clearly heard, and gives the record a sort of psychedelic punk element, which contrasts beautifully with the hypnotic trance feel of the synthesisers and vocals.
It takes a few listens to fully absorb this LP. At first blush, there are only one or two tracks that stand out. However, you will grow fonder of it with each listen. Any song here would be a wonderful addition to a driving playlist. Standout tracks on the LP include: ‘CCTT’, ‘Fantasia’, and ‘African Ice Cream’.