Saturday, August 28, 2010

Macha - (1998)

The first album on which Athens, GA band Macha meld some of the dynamics of rock music with not just traditional Indonesian instruments but traditional gamelan music as well, is an unequivocably successful genetic mutation unlike any previously attempted in the American rock lexicon. It is not customary for a first attempt at such an exotic hybrid to manifest itself in such an accomplished way, but Macha have not simply cross-hatched styles on their eponymous debut album, they have infiltrated and melded their melodies with a tight grasp on the spirit of gamelan and a first-hand proficiency on the Javanese, Sumatran, and Nepalese instruments that they utilize. That is because, rather than simply being inspired by gamelan from a safe distance, multi-instrumentalists Josh McKay and Kai Riedl traveled to Indonesia on a couple of occasions to absorb the actual music as played by Indonesian musicians on the streets and in the dives from Western Java to Northern Bali. (A bonus disc's worth of the recordings they made there was included with a limited number of the CDs.) In addition to bringing back a load of instruments, the two brought back a legitimate love and appreciation for the music and a unique vision on how to make use of it. At this early stage in the band's development, the hybridization of the two musics was not yet absolute. On some songs, the gamelan instruments do not quite sink fully into the texture of the musical soundscape and on others are only cursorily present. Occasionally the rock elements on Macha seem to win out in the head-to-head-battle of the musical ingredients — "Cat Wants to Be Dog" has a slinky Love & Rockets feel to the verses, and Macha goes vaguely Stereolab-ish on parts of "Capital City" — but that is not at all a point of criticism. No matter how smoothly gamelan is or is not absorbed into the music — and on songs such as "When They First Saw the Floating World," "The Buddha Nature," "Double Life," and "Sama Sama," the band have already hit upon the perfect confluence of styles — the songs themselves are fabulous, and instruments such as Sumatran gongs and Nepalese Shawm chime and weave around the seductive, alien-sounding melodies. Macha is not quite consistent but it is consistently driving, expressive, and spiritually stimulating, even if it is not explicitely spiritually directed. In other words, there is a real sense of reaching toward transcendence even if the band did not exactly have that purpose in mind for the music when they created it. (

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