You might have laid eyes the bewildering art featured on the front of El Michels Affair’s newest record Yeti Season before, especially if you’ve ever found yourself gawking at the exquisitely garish Monster Brains blog. An artfully curated selection of macabre and lurid illustrations of otherworldly creatures, the image, painted on two giant flour sacks, is originally Ghanaian in descent and advertised a 1991 Indian thriller about the offbeat friendship between a young girl and the mythical furball. Delightfully amateurish in its execution, it harks back to the cover for the musician’s 2017 album of psych heavy Wu- Tang covers Return To The 37th Chamber.
Leon Michels, the nostalgia fixated multi-instrumentalist answerable for El Michels Affair, is becoming somewhat of a mythical legend in his own right. Having previously contributed a degree of technical nuance to works by such as Dr John, Sharon Jones, Lady Gaga, Lee Fields & The Expressions, Charles Bradley and Lana Del Rey, be it as touring or session musician or even producer, it’s his solo work with EMA where he gets to be a little more raucous and tongue in cheek. A heartfelt affection for grindhouse and exploitation cinema once again informs the recording, and so where last year’s feted Adult Themes paid homage to the grubby soundtracks of François De Roubaix, so Yeti Season is inspired by his fondness for the vibrant idiosyncrasies of classic Bollywood, and takes musical cues from the now in vogue Turkish psych and soul scene of the 1970s.
Contributing to these earthy funk configurations are the spirited and expressive vocals of Piya Malik from 79.5 and Shannon Wise of The Shacks (both groups whose work can be found on the hip Brooklyn label Big Crown that’s co-run by, who else, Leon Michels). Singing in her native Hindi, Malik’s impassioned vibrations on Unathi, the fuzzy compressions of Murkit Gem and the insistent ballad Zaharilia extol the virtue of hard work and societal growth. It was her input that ultimately steered Michels to plunder a new geographical sound. Meanwhile Wise’s breathy tenor is put to use on the throbbing, repetitively erotic bricolage of Sha Na Na, which possibly would have been better placed on Adult Themes.
If they had somehow made a Bond knock off in a flimsy Bombay flophouse, surrounded by pastel coloured pampas grass and papier mache snakes, with some campy Roger Moore clone battling pimps and punks (and let’s be honest they probably made thousands of those) then it would have had its soundtrack tandoor oven ready in the engaging horn led instrumental Fazed Out. Similarly the Isaac Hayes indebted thrusts of Ala Vida conjure up thoughts of a Mumbai based Shaft score. Finally on the mysterious and laidback Lesson Learned, you hear the winds gusting across the Himalayas and the chants and murmurs of the titular beast start to lure you in from some dark crevice. Not permitting yourself the thrill of succumbing to these truly emotive cinematic vistas of analogue soul would be abominable.