Sunday, February 19, 2017
DRUNKEN SUFIS “Pala Pala” (Bad Friend Records)
I get it. It’s a joke! Drunken Sufis, that is, the band’s name. I needed to double check the definition of “Sufi,” and the fabulous Google search engine (which you guys should all be using for all your web-related needs) returned “a Muslim ascetic and mystic,” which, if you know anything about anything, is an oxymoronic concept when paired with the idea of being drunk. Sufis don’t get drunk. Or drink, for that matter. It’s a chuckle, for sure, and when it’s at the expense of everybody who doesn’t get it, it’s even better. I get it, because, hey, I looked it up.
In Finnish, “pala pala” means “a piece of a piece of,” and that’s the exact sort of linguistic calisthenics a band such as Drunken Sufis should be practicing. (“Pala” means other things in other languages too, mainly “shovel” or “spade,” but I like the openendedness that the Finns have ascribed to the term, so I’m going with that.) It implies a nimbleness, a worldview in which the answers are much less interesting than the questions, and as musicians, Drunken Sufis are all about exploration: of their sound, of their skill, of their own minds. The five-piece begins in rock territory, make that “math rock” territory for those of you who need a little extra prodding and think “rock” is too elusive or boring a term, and expand their repertoire from there, fiddling with funky time signatures à la the old Southern Records roster, the fun ones like Dianogah, 90 Day Men, or Geoff Farina. From there they mix their lithe compositions with electronics, resulting in a Tortoise/Tangents mash-up that, for cynical old ears like mine, positively beams with joyous refreshment. Take opener “Datura Love Diet,” for example, which manages to cram in everything Drunken Sufis do best into four too-short minutes: nerd guitar/drums for a bit, fakeout record skip in the middle, tie in fakeout record skip to lurching new pattern, devolve into electronic ambient texture, close with face-blistering reintroduction of original theme, this time less nerdy. It reminds me why I was an indie rock kid for so many years in the first place.
And that’s just the first track. There are also warm delights like “Echo Lake” and “Saturnalia,” freeform passages like “Neon Kills Everything,” and bursts of, yeah, Drive Like Jehu-esque atonal guitar crunch like “Pronoia.” In fact, let’s bring Drive Like Jehu back into the conversation – let’s pretend that those San Diego shred monkeys decided to incorporate Radiohead-like experimentation into their music, and you’ve got another comparison to hang Drunken Sufis to. How many is that now? Who knows. It’s just pretty clear that the DNA embedded in the Sufis’ music is as important as the way the band twists it and evolves because of it. And yeah, this is one of the most satisfying and enjoyable tapes I’ve heard this year. I didn’t do a year-end list for 2016, and I’ll be damned if I do one for 2017, but Pala Pala would be on it. And it’s only January (when you’ll read this…)! That’s no joke. At all. (Heh, “Drunken Sufis,” heh heh.)