Bombino’s Latest Joins The Guitar Funk World

Bombino is a guitar wizard. His licks have all the pluck of Jil Jilala (though Algeria separates the two band’s home countries) and all the hook of The Dirty Projectors. This aesthetic similarity makes sense becauze Dave Lonstreth of The Dirty Projectors coproduced Azel with Bombino. The result is an album that is full of aural glitter, world music shine, and eminently sing along-able melodies.

Whether or not you speak Tamasheq, Bombino’s vocals carry a lot of weight throughout the album. Sticking to a Middle Eastern mellisma (think the early work of The Weeknd), Bombino’s words flow with a energy that transcends language. From the first track, “Akher Zaman,” the Niger guitarist establishes that Azel will not only explode with rad, psychedelic guitar work but also sparkle with vocal rhythms. The one-two punch makes for a perfect intro song. “Akhar Zaman” definitely stays within the same guitar tone as The Dirty Projectors’ early album, Bitte Orca, which is not necessarily a knock on the sound. The tinny noodling perfectly blends Near East and Western aesthetics into psychedelic romp.

From this initial track, Bombino strikes gold again and again. The first half of the album stays taut and upbeat as Bombino’s fingers traipse through their tapping and plucking and his voice backflips through his melodies. Somehow, the artist makes rhythmically complex songs sound hyper-accessible.

If it could be said Bombino was exploring one thing in Azel, it would be polyrhythm. Tonally, the album stays in relatively the same. That said, each song looks at rhythm in a fresh way. Blending standard and non-standard percussion with jittering guitar notes, Bombino layers several rhythms over each other to create a intricate tapestry of sound. A good example of this would be “Tamiditine Tarhanam.” The song layers ululations, percussion, lyrics, and guitar licks to make a song that, although static, shocks with its rhythmic depth.

The second half of the album shifts into a more tonal based mood. Not as rhythmically complex (or, perhaps, the listener has become acquainted to Azel‘s style), the album burns more traditionally bluesy riffs. A marked distinction between the two is that the first is quick and the second is slower. The juxtaposition between these two makes for an album as taut as the songs that constitute it.

The album ends with “Naqqim Dagh Timshar.” The song melds the rhythmically complex first half with the smoother, slower second half and shows a musician who can live in and mix a variety of styles. Even not knowing the lyrical content of ”Naqqim Dagh Timshar,” one can hear a slightly elegaic tone to Bombino’s voice. The song is reflective even if you have no idea what’s being reflected upon.

Whether you’re a fan of Bombino’s previous work or this is your first taste of the Niger-born guitarist, Azel spells out something special. Between its rhythmic layering, chorused vocals, and mind-bending guitar work, Bombino’s latest album promises a psychedelic ride around the world.

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