Album Reviews

Loka – Fire Shepherds

(Ninja Tune) UK release date: 27 March 2006

There aren’t too many things that keep me awake at night, but life’s questions have a habit of nagging away at 2 am. Apart from my fear of dentistry, one of the things that currently keeps me occupied is what might have happened to famous musicians had they not kicked the bucket when they did. One such legend is Miles Davis. Finally Loka have provided me an answer with their excellent debut. The ghost of Miles not only looms large, but makes himself at home demanding his tea and slippers.

This disc has had many other reviewers stumped. It’s an adjective-defying, difficult-to-describe brew of avant-garde-jazz-fusion chillout-type stuff. In truth, it’s next to impossible to describe this. Mixmag have rightly called this Liverpudlian duo’s LP as “What Radiohead would do if they had the balls.”. It’s true – if only Kid A had been this good. Unlike Mssrs Yorke and Co this never descends into incomprehensible knob twiddling and avant-garde gibberish. It all gels together wonderfully.

Karl Webb and Mark Kyriacou have been recording as Loka since 2000, but this is their first album, following a string of tantalising releases. It feels like great time and effort went into this and it’s a good job they didn’t rush things.

The opening couple of minutes lull you into a false, but pleasant, sense of security. Safe Self Tester immediately feels like something you’d normally encounter in a car advert or a Michael Mann film, but after you’ve spent a couple of minutes imagining a new BMW cruising through the cityscape it launches into a more experimental and improvisational slant. At which point the Miles Davis and Cinematic Orchestra comparisons set comfortably in for the duration.

The undisputed highlight is Freda Mae, which sounds so much like Bitches Brew that I thought my MP3 player was spasming.

This is a brave, intriguing release from Ninja Tunes which wallows in its difference to anything else. For a long time now good instrumental LPs have been consigned to ambience in coffee shops and trendy bars. Rather than let this fade into the background you should settle down and give this a proper listen – you’ll find that this is well worth checking out, if only to stop those irritating questions that keep you up all night.

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Loka – Fire Shepherds