Album Reviews

Red Snapper – Hyena

(Lo) UK release date: 15 September 2014

Red Snapper - Hyena Red Snapper’s seventh album, and the second since their reformation in 2007 after a five year hiatus, is a soundtrack of sorts. Its 12 tracks are developed from the soundtrack the band wrote for Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambéty’s 1973 road movie Touki Bouki. The record sleeve is taken from the film as well: it shows the hero riding his motorcycle with bull-horns mounted on the handlebars. The film’s title is Wolof for ‘The Journey of the Hyena,’ hence the album’s title, and in the song Walking Man the wild dog is referenced in some of the lyrics – “Walking tall […] with bootless feet” – while others – “Fingers scratch on broken glass” – present the travails of a human journey.

The occasional vocals of Ali Friend punctuate a primarily instrumental record, but his bass drives and leads it. It’s the defining sound that opens the album: first track Card Trick is dominated by a bassline that lopes along, unsure whether it’s speeding or stoned. Herder Can Ride is all about the interplay between bass and David Ayers’ guitar; while in Lassoo the opening guitar figure that might herald a soft ballad gives way to a booming bassline.

Given the origins of Hyena, it’s unsurprising that Red Snapper have looked to African music as inspiration. It’s there most noticeably in the percussion and the rhythms. Wonky Bikes is the most percussive track here, with clanking woodblocks and a jittering drumbeat, and interjections of whistle-like electronics. You might well see 1970s Dakar in this album: the African influences are present to about the same degree as in Damon Albarn’s recent music, but there’s plenty more to get wrapped up in.

The other main influence seems to be the kind of soulful electronica that’s purveyed by the likes of James Blake and Kwes. Walking Man is a minimal production that calls to mind South London dubstep more than it does the landscape of Africa. The guitar-led songs sometimes call to mind latter-day Radiohead, particularly Mambety, where Friend sings about a ‘fool’s paradise’ over hollow beats and ponderous guitar.

Despite the musical strands that weave through Hyena, Red Snapper occasionally throw a curveball. Village Tap is perhaps the most distinct song here. Its disco sound initially sounds like it might be a trick, about to morph into something completely different, but when the guitar licks really start to roll along, you know they’ll be driving the track all the way. Still, it doesn’t feel out of place. The weaker songs, the ones that most disrupt the flow, are Dock Running and Traffic, where saxophone overpowers everything else, and there’s a sense that the album’s essence has been accidentally swallowed by jazz.

As the album comes to an end its full scope becomes clear and its many textures draw together. Penultimate track Archout is propelled partly by insistent bass and kick-drum in another African rhythm, but at the times the percussion becomes much more subtle, meshing with skittering synth effects as a mellow guitar line floats across the top of it. Finally, No Exit starts out sounding like a song by The xx, with the guitar given breathing space around droned strings and synths, and the track develops into something pleasingly stately. The saxophone is more interesting than in its earlier jazz forays, its fanfare breaking out midway through. Then the song rises into a groove as the sax keens its way towards the album’s close. The journey’s end has been reached.

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Red Snapper – Hyena