Django Django’s self-titled debut begins ominously, with a two-minute introductory track full of brooding synth that sounds like it was taken from a futuristic, dystopian ‘80s movie. An undergrowth of naturalistic jungle effects bubbles up out of nowhere, and heavy toms roll in later in case there wasn’t enough drama building already. The tension flows seamlessly into the album’s first proper track, “Hail Bop,” eventually leveling out with chiming guitar, springy bass and airy, in-the-clouds vocal harmonies that make you forget it all grew organically out of the album’s sinister first couple of minutes.
If it sounds like there are a lot of forces at work here, it’s because there are. The quartet of musicians who met at art school in Edinburgh, Scotland have crafted an absolutely stunning, otherworldly debut album out of influences and styles, moods and inflections that range from space-age psychedelia to galloping down-tempo folk to perverted surf rock to traditional African music. On top of it all lies a sweeping sense that the entire album is taking place as part of some caravan across the Sahara or ancient Egypt that may or may not be occurring in an alternate dimension.
Following “Hail Bop” is “Default,” which has already been released as a single. Its sputtering opening vocals sound like they’ve been distorted by some psychedelic glitch or presence, and once the similarly stilted guitar chord hammering comes in, the song becomes a perfect soundtrack for, say, hurtling across a barren desert in a dune buggy. The chanting chorus of voices, which deliver lines in the same kind of lilting monotone throughout the album, come in shortly thereafter, defiantly singing, “We just lit the first, now you want to put it out.”
The middle portion of the album offers a down-tempo respite from its initial freneticism. On “Zumm Zumm,” the African influences come into full effect, as buoyant rising and falling effects are accentuated by a plethora of rattles, creaks, springs, bubbles and plops. The group then begins to chant “Got to get to know” repeatedly, recalling Ladysmith Black Mambazo or, maybe more accurately, some tribe of anonymous villagers.
“Hand of Man” is a delicate, acoustic and relatively sparse folk song that is lent a sense of expansiveness by a chorus of “ahh”s in the background. Following that is “Love’s Dart,” featuring horse clops, snake rattles and spot on vocal harmonies that bring to mind Meat Puppets as they dejectedly sing “Love’s dart, no longer sharp / The end is inside but your aim takes you wide of the mark.” Put simply, Django Django covers a lot of ground and can be just as soothing and meditative as it is incendiary.
Toward the end of the album are lively, more “traditional” single-caliber tracks like “Storm” and “Life’s a Beach,” the former of which even brings to mind early Spoon. Preceding these is “WOR,” which begins with seething, rapid-fire bass. A siren ushers in a more driving, surf-inspired bass line to go with sporadic yelps before abruptly cutting off to make room for the group’s proclamatory vocals. This abrupt starting and stopping is common throughout the album. Django Django pulls you every which way, usually without warning. The listener is entirely at the mercy of the album’s hard-to-pin-down energy, making for an exhilarating and unpredictable journey of a listening experience. If you’re so inclined, and even if you aren’t, the record is quite the trip.
Django Django is an ambitious album, to say the least, and it’s not surprising that it took the quartet two years to record it. But for all of the disparate influences Django Django incorporates, none of it seems contrived. Just as the uplifting “Hail Bop” emerges out of nowhere from the instrumental introductory track, the rest of the album’s songs blend together with little to no stitching apparent. The effects exist within the songs similarlly. Everything is in its right place, and for all that’s going on, the album’s songs rarely feels cluttered. Instead, everything combines to enrich, enliven and add texture to the band’s wild aesthetic, which is unlike anything else you’re going to experience this year.