With the song you’re about to hear, we’re taking a few steps off our more usual beaten paths. The song doesn’t fracture skulls or lacerate flesh, but it definitely has an irresistible effect on the body and the mind — and one that grows ever stronger as it unfolds. The name of the song is “Onyx” and it appears on Kala, which is the fifth album by Queen Elephantine, due for release on October 21 in a variety of formats by a consortium of different labels.
To be honest, I wasn’t familiar with the band before delving into this album, but you can now count me among those intrigued and fascinated by the music. For others who may also be discovering Queen Elephantine for the first time, the group was originally formed in Hong Kong in 2006, moved to New York the next year, and are now based in Providence, Rhode Island. The line-up hasn’t remained fixed over time — and no fewer than 10 people are credited with contributions to the music on Kala.
Trying to capture the music on the new album in a sentence or two is an insurmountable challenge. You’ll see labels like “drone”, “doom”, “psychedelia”, and “jazz” if you do your research, but although such labels are useful up to a point, that point still falls short of a successful description. I’m not foolish enough to take on the challenge myself — but I will give you a preview of “Onyx”.
The backbone of the song is a syncopated rhythm that sounds like hand drums (along with other percussive instruments), coupled with a bubbling, pulsing bass line. You can fall completely under the spell of that repeating rhythmic pulse as it insinuates itself into your head over the course of the song, like a powerful narcotic, or maybe a voodoo spell. Shimmering ambient tones and scratchy, distorted chords make an entrance at the beginning, and then what comes after has an almost improvisational quality.
Using that addictive percussive loop as a framework, the guitarists spin out a variety of twisting, turning variations (I had flashbacks to early Santana). Sometimes the notes come and go unpredictably; sometimes they find a compulsive rhythm of their own; and there’s a solo that breaks out which is fuzzy and psychedelic, further heightening the disorienting qualities of the song. The vocals also have a lot to do with the song’s disorienting effects. Whispers turn to wails, which become harsh cries that are abruptly snuffed out.
It’s a heady trip… and one I encourage you to take for yourself.
Kala was produced by I. Shome (Queen Elephantine) and mastered by the esteemed Billy Anderson. The fantastic cover art was created by Adrian Dexter (Elder). The album will be released digitally as well as on vinyl by Cimmerian Shade Recordings, on CD by Argonauta Records, and on tape by Tartarus Records. For more info, check the links below.
We’re also including a stream of a previously released track (“Quartz”) right after our premiere of “Onyx”.
Queen Elephantine on Facebook:
Queen Elephantine Bandcamp:
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