A couple years back, former MARS VOLTA drum flogger Thomas Pridgen and BLACKALICIOUS vocal maven Viveca Hawkins shook up the underground alongside funk shredder Nick Brewer with a monster side project called THE MEMORIALS. While I've found myself at odds with the unessential and lazy subgenre tag "afropunk" most music writers have coined to describe THE MEMORIALS, I'll just have to deal with it. I campaigned to have the term "post metal" forever shunned like the rap community successfully did with "def", but you still can't read a review about PELICAN or NEUROSIS without "post metal" affixed to it.
So be it, then. Fela Kuti propagated the afrobeat movement and is deservedly heralded for it. THE MEMORIALS, now through two albums, might as well be considered the agitated poster children for afropunk since the BAD BRAINS are quiet at the moment.
The issue I have with using the term "afropunk" is there are far more dimensions to THE MEMORIALS' music, even if grinding guitar riffs and manic drumming engineer the core drive of their music. Viveca Hawkins plays an expressive foil to the cagey rowdiness Pridgen and Brewer throw at her back. Her writhing and sexy vocals have found her in the collaborative company of Cee Lo Green, yet this noisome antechamber she finds herself in elevates her pipes and coaxes her inner id to just go nuts. If you haven't yet heard THE MEMORIALS, take the effort to shag down their self-titled debut prior to jumping into their latest offering, "Delirium". You should properly prime yourself to the explosive proficiencies of this funk-punk-metal-soul-prog hybrid so you can better appreciate what the group has been building.
"Delirium" is in many spaces, tighter than "The Memorials". The songwriting is more refined on the main groove of "Daiseys", for example, one of the more accessible and tuneful moments on the album. It doesn't hurt that Thomas Pridgen keeps a banging tempo for Viveca Hawkins to sway along like a dreamy teenager at the front, while Nick Brewer preludes and exudes the song with a gnarly VAN HALEN-esque riff set. At nearly seven minutes, "Daiseys" stands no shot at radio play, yet the giddy stab at harmony-driven rock is much appreciated. Trimmed down a bit, there stands a potential for bigger exposure, and herein lies the only real fault of "Delirium", its gross abundance. Thomas Pridgen has stated he's never felt any urge to replicate the ?ber-mathematical outpourings of THE MARS VOLTA, yet "Delirium" reveals otherwise.
"Delirium" starts off with "Dreams", a remix of one of the songs from THE MEMORIALS' inaugural album. "Dream" the first time around was an empowering tune that didn't really need to be revisited or reimagined. The forbearance to hike it a second time on "Delirium" is surely intended as a bridge from one body of work to the next, but it is mere surplus, given how "Delirium" has so much ear candy to absorb without it.
This album is much heavier than the band's first go-round it's sure to hook more than a few open-minded headbangers and punks who like to secretly cook in a soul kitchen. "Flourescent's Unforgiving" is a steamroller of a track, ditto for "Heavyweights". The lengths of the songs aren't unforgivable as they're filled with composite sections that elaborate instead of subjugate. Neither feels long and they're easy to headbang with, always a plus.
The hammering riffs of the title cut are as meaty as you'll find in any Euro-based power metal clan, but towards the end, Pridgen and Brewer explore a bit of Krautrock (another perpetually looney tag) spaceout maneuvers ala NEU and TANGERINE DREAM. Subsequently, "I'm So Anti Me" roars out the gate with a concentrated thrust like the BAD BRAINS at their fiercest before sending the track into a full skid. Suddenly you find yourself in the midst of an acoustic-filled R&B sequence and hey hey hey, it works like a charm. The bravado of Viveca Hawkins to push her listeners to the edge of an orgasm at the front end is tempered by her shift into smooth aural caresses before she jerks out a money shot once "I'm So Anti Me" erupts once again in a climactic rage.
The thing is, here is where the song might've done best to stop. Instead, it rolls on through a prolonged bass line and sprinkled coldwave, while Hawkins hums intermittently with consummation. Artsy, yes, but the song was already artsy without the indulgent final section. It is inherently as VOLTA-esque as anything Pridgen's former rolling mates can conjure up inside their twisted noodles.
All leading to the album's winding twelve-minute finale, "Mr. Entitled". For sure, the band had to have been hanging out with some KING CRIMSON, JETHRO TULL and GENTLE GIANT albums along with some PRINCE, early CHICAGO and GEORGE CLINTON. That's only getting to the surface of matters with "Mr. Entitled". Pridgen's explosive drum jam in the middle of the track is accented by layers of electronica and Viveca Hawkins' soothing calypso. Later, you get a saxophone solo exchanged for the earlier flutes and this loose cannon of a track proves to be music for music heads only. Metal freaks and punkers are far more progressive-minded these days, so the audile treasures are there to be reaped with some patience.
There was a bit more focus on the first MEMORIALS album that made it such a delight. Everything was sent to the edge but smartly roped in before it all became too much. This time, THE MEMORIALS let the dogs loose and that's both to their benefit and minor detriment. The components of this group are more than agreeable. Viveca Hawkins has emerged as one of this writer's favorite singers on the scene today, pick your genre. "Delirium" is her captivating rocker coming-out party and you can hear her having a ton of fun with it. Thomas Pridgen is a madman on the skins, while Nick Brewer steps up to the gates of cosmic and just peeks inside before getting too immersed by the grandeur of it all. Together with their supplemental craftsmen, THE MEMORIALS have the courage to perform true to their capabilities and to their tsunami-spun musical brains.
If THE MEMORIALS really want to impress on their next outing, they'll keep the aggression and the soul that makes their vibe emotive but re-learn to harness it all as the controlled yet ornamental tempests they can be. Forget trying to show the chops; they're more than evident within a few bars of every song they've recorded thus far. THE MEMORIALS might not become a LIVING COLOUR for this generation, but that's not needed. LIVING COLOUR still kicks ass when they come together and so does THE MEMORIALS. As is stands, THE MEMORIALS write fringe music more geared for hipsters instead of hip hoppers, but they could emerge as gentle giants in their own right of a crossbreed of style and passion.
This band is one step through the portals of the sublime.