Monday, November 14, 2011
REVIEW: Bwani Junction - Fully Cocked
One can imagine a young band whose gig is invaded by an axe-wielding madman who commences chopping up the bar, tables and glassware to be a bit intimidated, and perhaps reconsider the wisdom of the venture (and perhaps wonder if all music critics are that bloody emotional). But Edinburgh's Bwani Junction are not that sort of young band. As I recall, they displayed the local paper's headlines of the incident on social media and named their label in honor of the incident. And today their Aksatak Records released the band's first album, Fully Cocked--a debut brimming with quality, confidence, personality, and some of the catchiest guitar pop songs of the year.
Bwani Junction are Fergus Robson (bass, keyboard and vocals), Jack Fotheringham (drums, vibraphone and vocals), Rory Fairweather (guitar and lead vocals) and Dan Muir (lead guitar and vocals), three 19 year-olds and one geezer of 20, all of whom were students at the private Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh. What originally drew me to the band was their sound, which has elements both familiar and exotic. The familiar is easily described--Bwani Junction is a Scottish indie rock band with the expected instruments (two guitars, bass and drums) and song structures. But a few aspects of their sound set them apart from their peers. First and foremost, Dan Muir's African-influenced lead guitar style. And don't assume that this is just a Vampire Weekend-inspired affectation. Dan learned the style directly from Rise Kagona, guitarist for Zimbabwe's Bhundu Boys, for whom his father had served as manager in the late '80s and '90s. Fergus' fat rubbery bass, typical in Afro-beat and reggae, heightens the world beat sheen. Rory's vocal delivery is understated and has the tone of a natural storyteller (embellished by an hint of Edwyn Collins warble). Jack's drums alternate between understated support and aggression.
Of course, all the that talent would still come short without good songs. Fortunately, Fully Cocked reveals the band to be quality songwriters, as well. Rather that reach for the grand scale -- and necessarily speak in platitudes necessary when teenagers aspire to The Grand Statement -- the band writes about what they know. Standout track "Two Bridges" begins "All the boys down Walker Drive / They don't seem so bad any more / Remember nights, little chilly nights / When they was knocking down our door? / Remember Lucy, she was all shook up / Make up running down her face / All she could do was stand and watch / You've got to be tough in this place". Even their foray into political commentary, the anti-war "Today's Crusades", focuses on their observation of troops in nearby barracks leaving for the middle east and returning with fewer members. While the songs often are based on a mid-tempo platform, they feature changes of pace, Dan's engaging lead guitar bridges, sing-a-long choruses joined by the entire band, and positive deliveries, resulting in music that both is varied and invites the listener into the band's world. These aren't songs you put on the pedestal and worship for their indie perfection; these are songs to which you dance, sing along and share with the band.
Bwani Junction hasn't released any videos for Fully Cocked as of this writing. Fortunately, the BBC did an admirable job filming the band's set at the T in the Park festival in Scotland this past summer. The clip features three excellent tracks from the album, "Roots Too Deep", "Today's Crusades", and "Two Bridges". The whole set spans fewer than 16 minutes and is worthwhile in its entirety, but if you only have time for a shorter taste, my recommendation would be to take in the last five minutes because, in my view, the third song -- "Two Bridges" -- is among the best five songs I've heard this year.
I also expect that you can listen to the tracks on Spotify, and snips of tracks on various sites. In addition to "Two Bridges", my favorite tracks include "My Body, My Mind", "Roots Too Deep", "Bianco's", "Today's Crusades", "Marlebone", and "Middle Meadow", roughly in that order.
Fully Cocked was produced by Paul Savage, truly Scotland's hottest producer, at Chem 19 Studios, and funded in part with a grant from the Creative Scotland and the remainder for the boys' pockets. It is released on Aksatak Records. At this point, physical copies are available retail only in the UK and continental Europe. However, Amazon has the MP3s available, and I expect iTunes does as well. You may be able to obtain a physical copy from Sterns Music, Avalanche Records or other sources.
For a final listen, here is "Bianco's", the album's opening track, live at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow--
One of Bwani Junction's peers on the Scottish music scene to told me that he wasn't surprised that a band this young could produce a debut LP, because in his estimation they probably have 30 quality songs already. And I am confident that a band that has this much going for them out of the gate will be on our radar for a long time. They have the songs, the charisma, the drive, and they are managed by a music industry veteran, Gordon Muir. Make no mistake, this Bwani Junction are Fully Cocked.
Twitter ( @BwaniJunction )