Trans-Global Underground - Impossible Broadcasting
Tue 14th Dec, 2004 Music Reviewsin
UK-based global music fusionists Trans-Global Underground first emerged back in 1994 with their debut album on Epic Records ‘International Times’, which spawned the breakthrough single ‘Temple Head’, a track that managed to combine breakbeats with dub and ethnic musical influences, all the while adeptly dodging the cumbersome ‘world music’ tag the outfit was initially lumbered with by some lazy journalists. Centered around the studio production core of Hamid Man Tu and Tim Whelan as well as bellydancing vocalist Natacha Atlas, TGU shifted from their beginnings as a DJ soundsystem over the course of subsequent albums throughout the nineties (such as 1997’s ‘Psychic Karaoke’ and 1998’s ‘Rejoice, Rejoice’) into more of a band-oriented structure that went on to tour the globe a number of times (albeit with an ever-changing lineup).
Following the departure of Atlas from the group in 1998, TGU released an expansive two-disc retrospective collection ( 2000’s ‘Backpacking On The Graves Of Our Ancestors’), while their most recent album (2002’s excellent ‘Yes Boss Food Corner’) suffered an undeservedly ignominious fate, with the associated collapse of the ARK21 imprint resulting in its non-release in many countries. Following this debacle (and with even the members of TGU unsure as to whether the record had been released in their native UK), TGU have chosen to release the understandably-titled ‘Impossible Broadcasting’ (their sixth album to date) through their own Mule Satellite label, and deal with a range of different distributors in different territories. Taking the DIY approach followed by the group for this album release even further, much of this latest record was apparently produced using the group’s own laptop studio setup, eschewing a more conventional approach whilst also taking in collaborations with female Bulgarian vocal group Trio Bulgarka and Somalian hiphop outfit Tatapound.
Following a short opening segue track that blends a sample collage of constantly shifting global radio transmissions with deep swaggering dub bass and dubbed-out piano notes, ‘The Khaleegi Stomp’ locks straight down into tumbling tabla-infused dnb in the vein of Badmarsh & Shri, soul-preacher samples spinning in between an Asian Dub Foundation-esque mass of duelling dubbed-out sitar and yelled “woo-hah” vocals. ‘The Sikhman And The Rasta’ features the yardie growl of guest toaster Tuup over creeping dub bass and massed Indian percussion in a global soundclash that carries hints of Massive Attack’s epic and sinister Inertia Creeps, disembodied dubbed-out bleeps echoing alongside slow-motion beats and eerie Middle Eastern stringed instruments, before ‘Drinking In Gomorrah’ takes things towards gliding breakbeats, with Tim Whelan spinning a tale of constantly travelling between cities and global homogenisation that comes across as somewhere between Stereo MCs’ Rob Birch and Earl Zinger, funk bass riding closely alongside shimmering electro chords and sampled city sounds.
‘Isis K’ calls to mind Dead Can Dance given a furious injection of drum and bass, with the Trio Bulgarka’s ethereal Eastern European vocals testing the treble range of your sound system, whilst furious percussion and harpsichord trace a pathway beneath buzzing sampled guitar riffs, while ‘Yellow And Black Taxi Cab’ places Krupa Pattini’s lazy Kingston-tinged reggae-meets-hiphop ode to Indian taxis over a low-slung backing of dubbed-out hiphop beats, clattering bass drums and blaring Bollywood orchestra samples.
‘Cikan-Le Message’ places Somalian rappers Tatapound’s mellifluous French syllables (apparently centering around the topic of corruption within Africa) over a bleeping hiphop backdrop of sparse snares, sub-bass swells and icy synths that carries a hint of Gallic digi-hoppers TTC, before ‘Radio Unfree Europe’ offers one of this album’s most epic instrumental moments, with sinister cut-up samples placed over a backing of breakbeats, psychedelic sitars and swirling electronics that accelerates straight into the stratosphere.
‘Sentinel’ is definitely this album’s darkest moment, with swirling slowed-down Bollywood string samples and ominous synth bass adding a sinister edge to Tuup’s half-sneered Tricky-esque “You are…safe” rasped vocal as wartime-era samples ordering people “not to crowd together in large numbers, under any circumstances” swirl around menacingly, while ‘Stoyane / Male-Le’ reintroduces the Trio Bulgarka’s rich echoed vocals over a shifting downbeat backdrop that fuses Indian percussion with programmed hiphop rhythms, whilst sampled vocals and harmonium float over the beats. Finally, ‘Vanilka’ brings this album to a close, sitarist Sheema Mukherjee’s plucked notes ringing out across a rich backdrop of warm synths and clicking beats that gradually accelerate up to rattling drum and bass rhythms whilst fluid sitar licks flit around between the snares.
‘Impossible Broadcasting’ shows Trans-Global Underground sounding just as inspired on their sixth album as they have at any point so far in their career; no doubt the previous hassles surrounding ‘Yes Boss Food Corner’ and the setting up of their own label have contributed to the vigour with which they’ve captured their sound this time around. What’s also notable about ‘Impossible Broadcasting’ is the shifting hybrid of musical styles explore throughout its twelve tracks, touching on dub, hiphop, drum and bass and expansive soundtrack-esque instrumentals, with the absence of a ‘real’ frontperson further adding to the group’s constantly shifting allure. There’s still no danger of TGU falling into the easily-marked ‘world music’ pigeonhole any time soon, and fans of global-thinking fusionists such as Asian Dub Foundation and Badmarsh & Shri should definitely give ‘Impossible Broadcasting’ a listen. Recommended.
Check out http://www.t-g-u.com