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The Narcotix — Mommy Issues
(Bandcamp no#, 2021, DL)

The Narcotix — Dying
(Bandcamp no#, 2024, LP / DL)

by Jon Davis, Published 2024-05-29

Mommy Issues Cover artDying Cover art

When I first encountered music from Africa back in the early 80s, one of the things that appealed to me was the way 12/8 rhythms were handled. In American pop and rock, 12/8 invariably meant essentially 4/4 with a triplet subdivision, but African artists had a way of maintaining an ambiguity between that and a 3/4 feel. Outside of very few examples, this kind of feel hasn’t made it into Western popular music. The Narcotix is a Brooklyn-based band featuring three members originally from Africa: Esther Quansah (vocals, guitar, bass, from Côte d’Ivoire), Becky Foinchas (vocals, keyboards, percussion, from Cameroon), and Adam Turay (guitar, from Sierra Leone), along with New York drummer Jonathan Joseph. Their stock in trade is applying West African rhythms to modern pop music, and the result is a fascinating and wholly enjoyable sound. Their debut was the Mommy Issues EP in 2021, and it presented their vision in a clean and catchy way with six songs of varying mood. Both of the women are compelling singers, and their voices weave around each other, taking cues from the way many singers overdub complementary parts, but also hinting at call-and-response forms. The guitar parts often feature the kind of arpeggiation heard in Afrobeat, soukous, highlife, and other styles, and sometimes a keyboard will take on the same role. Drums and bass mesh into a funky stew that draws on both R&B and Africa. And to prove they’re not a one-trick pony rhythmically, not all of the tracks are in 12/8. My favorite on the EP is actually “Esther,” which is in 5/4, and builds to a positively cathartic climax.

2024 sees the release of Dying, the group’s debut full-length album, with nine tracks of evidence that the EP was no fluke. They’ve taken all their strengths and notched up the production without losing their impact or identity. “The Mother” opens the album with a great example of how they play with rhythmic ambiguities to maintain interest. I find the interactions between the two singers completely magical, and when they both add in extra harmony parts it’s just exquisite. Check out “The Lamb” for a particularly fine example (and it slips into 5/4 for a bit as well). When I think about how rhythmically predictable most pop music is, not just these days but in past decades as well, The Narcotix is like a sweetly-drugged breath of air. Every track has its own charms and twists, and just when you’re getting into one, they’re on to the next — of the fifteen tracks on these two releases, only three are longer than four minutes, and many are under three. Certainly boredom is never an issue here. Most of the lyrics are in English, though you’ll hear French and Spanish at times, and maybe others. I tend to get caught up in the rhythms and melodies and only occasionally notice what they’re singing. Any fan of beautifully arranged vocals or rhythmic play should enjoy The Narcotix.

Filed under: New releases, 2021 releases, 2024 releases

Related artist(s): The Narcotix

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