Afro Celt Sound System - Capture

by Clare Stemp Rating:5 Release Date:2010-09-06

Afro Celt Sound System. Not a name that would make too many jump up in excitement and bounce off to purchase their latest album. Unless they are devout WOMAD goers - so greying hippies with ponytails, read on. It describes the kind of fusion that should cause the final schism, the aural equivalent of 50 violent drunks mugging a nun. But it's not quite as bad as all that.

ACSS have been around a long time, and with this double album, they've picked some of the more successful stuff to showcase, being written between 1995 and the present. One CD is named Verse, featuring songs (with actual words) and some guest appearances such as Sinead O'Connor and Peter Gabriel (Real World's founder). The other, Chorus, is a series of instrumentals, with occasional grunting and humming. Neither really stands out as superior to the other. Both contain some interesting tracks with chunky basslines, lively African or Bhangra-style rhythms and pretty Celtic ditties melded to good effect ('Shadowman', 'Lagan', 'Lovers of Light'); both also contain some frustratingly cheesy Irish whistles and tinny Casio keyboard 'ethnic' effects ('Urban Aire/Big Cat', 'Eireann'). Annoyingly, these are spread out in alternating measure - just when it all seems a bit too much like indigenous plastic, something danceable or beautiful happens.

'Shadowman' is the standout track on Chorus, with an amalgamation of rhythms and spirited, African style rapping. It doesn't sound as technologically aged as most, and the use of screeching metal and dub beats makes it feel that little more dangerous. In fact, this is one of the main downfalls of ACCS - surely a 'sound system' collective should be satisfied with more than a 'Mike Oldfield versus Pure Moods' ethos? It's too safe, it's family friendly gone mad. There's a layer of predictability, a lack of the promised African and/or Irish 'mystery'. It frequently feels like music for white people who dearly want to enjoy something more worldly, but can't quite handle genuine tradition, only watered down Western interpretation. Which is a shame, because on the occasions ACSS get it right, they really do. Any track concentrating on infectious beats and bass has an impact; those which do not can feel tacky, even forced - a shame as this is something the group claim their writing is definitely not. The guest vocals and writing on Verse - notably O'Connor's on 'Release' - help to raise the credibility a notch however, and they feed well from the outside influence.

Capture is likely to shine live, and this would be the ideal time to reach for this kind of music. When you're outside, hopefully pissed, probably in the sun, certainly over 40. On record, digital re-mastering and over-processing has robbed the raw instrumentation that inspired the original sounds. With this in mind, it's difficult to actively dislike this release. Essentially, if you like to 'chill out' ("yeah, really chillax") to Enigma, Jean Michel Jarre, The Orb and various other forms of 'world music', you'll enjoy this. If not, soak up the bigger beats and moments of absorbing electronica, and leave the rest to the hippies, man.

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