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Friday
Dec182009

Mapstation - The Africa Chamber

MAPSTATION - THE AFRICA CHAMBER (Scape)

Mapstation is Stefan Schneider, best known for his work with post/krautrock outfit To Rococo Rot.  When donning this particular alias though, he turns his gaze towards the nexus of world music, post-rock and electronica.  On ‘the Africa Chamber,’ Schneider abandons the abstract and globetrotting thrust of 2006’s excellent ‘Distance Told Me Things To Be Said’ for a more accessible and geographically focused sound.  Needless to say, ‘the Africa Chamber’ is very much an album about the continet, and brings to mind what Autechre might sound like, had they grown up on Afrobeat. The result is an inspired—and inspiring—collection of songs that manage to straddle the thin line between nostalgia and originality.

 Throughout the album, Schneider vacillates between Afrobeat-inspired electronica and something quite close to the genuine article.  “Bells and Lions” is thinly disguised Afrobeat: it centers on a groove King Sunny Ade would be proud of, progressing towards on a magnificently understated set of trumpets.  For the most part, though, Schneider uses it as more as a creative means than an end in and of itself.  “Darkheart’s” djembe drums provide the backdrop to an almost Nintendo-esque vibraphone melody.  “Carmel’s” mbira-like synths act as counterpoint to bittersweet trumpet melodies, and  “After all this Freedom” pairs djembe rhythms with analog synth abstraction in a manner that, of all things, calls to mind krautrock legends Can.    

Some of the album’s best moments, though, come when Schneider expresses these stylings more abstractly. “Unitel” refracts djembe and clave rhythms through the patient repetition common to krautrock and minimal techno. “The Protector” is a very pretty piece of djembe-accented, Tortoise-esque post-rock, while “Return of the Hunters” manages to evoke the physicality of the African night in purely electronic terms.   Unfortunately, album opener “Holland Wax” veers dangerously towards hippie-drum-circle territory.  But it isn’t bad either.  Nor are the various filler tracks that end before you’ve had a chance to get too bothered by them. 

This points to “The Africa Chamber’s ultimate strength: its excellent pacing, and the album seems as if it was designed more for headphones than PA systems.   There are no 12” edits here; most songs last only as long as it takes to for their rhythms and leitmotifs to develop.  Schneider then moves on to the next selection, before the listener has a chance to get bored.  As a result, Schneider has crafted an album that sounds both internally consistent and fresh to the last drum snap, and which succeeds where many other electronic albums fail.

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