On their long-awaited full-length debut, Remember, local ensemble Barika finally capture their uniquely thrilling brand of Afro-funk-psych-indie-whatever-rock on record. The album is, in no uncertain terms, a dynamic tour de force. The brilliantly conceived and expertly executed brainchild of n’goni master Craig Myers is among the finest local albums you’ll hear in this, or any other, year. Really.
Remember begins with a shimmering, n’goni line that imparts an ethereal calm. Beware: It’s a setup. At the precise moment when Myers’ nimble plucking renders the listener into a blissful lull, the title track explodes in a maelstrom of steamy funk. Exultant horns take flight over Caleb Bronz’s insistent drums and JP Candelier’s undulating bass. Andric Severance’s twisting key swirls create an iridescent bed of shifting, opaque sound. Then, just at the height of tension, the band relents, leaving only Myers and his rippling, crystalline tones.
That sense of contrast, the ability to expand and contract, is central to Myers’ compositional philosophy. Unpredictability is a running theme throughout Remember. “Baga” sets distinctly Americanized funk horn melodies in opposition to Myers’ curious West African modal shifts before descending into a spacious, psychedelic bridge that ultimately unites the two. “Blues for Segu” roils along murkily until the band fractures its heady groove with an expansive, polyrhythmic break and a fearsome solo from guest guitarist Bob Wagner. “Good Morning” breaks like dawn with a yawning midrange progression from Myers. Eventually it yields to a phalanx of disorienting noise that jolts the listener to reluctant wakefulness.
As star studded an ensemble as Barika is, the guests on Remember are equally impressive. Keyboardist Tom Cleary makes a typically potent and sonically arresting appearance on “River Niger.” Saxophonist Brian McCarthy is also a welcome addition on that track, the following number and album closer “Grace.” That last cut is the only one on the record with vocals, courtesy of Rubblebucket’s Annakalmia Clark Traver, who also wrote the lyrics. As she so often does with her own band, Traver’s distinctive delivery lends a singular depth and character. It’s sparkling and adventuresomely close to a truly remarkable record.
This week, Barika play two local shows in support of Remember: Friday, December 2, at Red Square in Burlington and Saturday, December 3, at the Rusty Nail in Stowe.