Most touring bands that make the larger part of their living on the road seem to struggle with capturing their live sound in the studio. For New Orleans funk/jazz-fusion sextet Galactic, however, this was never a problem: their thick grooves and virtuosic solos seemed to retain their natural stage energy.
On their new release, the band tries something different. “Ruckus” is a “real” studio album, for better and for worse. Galactic has tightened up their arrangements (every song is less than four minutes, and one is under three) and written songs that are more traditional than their more jazz-based predecessors. The result is a sound that is much more accessible to mainstream audiences. Unfortunately, some of the spark that made the band so fun to listen to disappears in the process.
The X-factor here is producer Dan “The Automator” Nakamura, best known with his work with Gorillaz and experimental rappers like Kool Keith. He molds Galactic’s music, usually an open mix of five different instruments, into a wall of sound where the parts lose themselves in the whole. What the group ends up with is something that sounds like a funked-out version of a hip-hop backing track.
But while you miss elements like Ben Ellman’s saxophone work, the biggest loser in this new sound (other than us) is drummer Stanton Moore. Usually the not-so-secret weapon of the band, Moore’s spontaneous bursts of energy are replaced by drum programming, the opposite of spontaneity.
But that being said, Galactic is a very talented band that has shown that they can make any number of different musical styles sound really good. So “Ruckus” definitely has its high points. Try the dark, funk-metal of “The Moil” or the dirty jazz feel of “Never Call You Crazy,” one of the tunes where the band’s new hip-hop flavor actually works well. In tunes like the latter, you are reminded why the bands occasional vocalist Theryl “The Houseman” de’ Clouet can really kick some ass when given a chance.
The album’s best moment is a relaxed, funky cover of General Public’s classic ’80s tune “Tenderness” that somehow turns ska into the best slow jam than I have heard in a while. It takes a minute, but you’ll know the song when you hear it.
It’s unclear how much of the material on “Ruckus” will seep its way into Galactic’s live show. The album has a number of moments where the songs could potentially jump off but never quite do, so there is plenty of room for expansion. But even before then, “Ruckus” is an interesting listen, especially for fans of groups like the Roots that mix hip-hop with live instrumentation.
Until next time–