Here Lies Man by Here Lies ManRelease date: April 7, 2017
Label: Riding Easy Records
What is it with New York funk torch bearers Daptone Records and Black Sabbath? First Daptone luminaries The Budos Band set out to answer the question no one asked, “what if Sabbath were a funk band?” on 2014’s Burnt Offering (with surprisingly excellent results), then soul legend Charles Bradley had a late career hit with his cover of Sabbath’s ‘Changes’. And now Marcos Garcia of agitprop afrobeat collective Antibalas has gone rogue and put together Here Lies Man with a mission to answer another unasked question – “what if Black Sabbath played afrobeat?”. The Brummie legends have had a huge impact on music in their long career, but I doubt anyone expected them to be an influence on funk music in 2017. Or in any other year for that matter.
But hey, why not? It’s been almost 40 years since Funkadelic asked the world, ‘Who Says a Funk Band Can’t Play Rock?’ and answered it themselves with some of the most far-reaching rock music of the 70s. It’s perhaps more strange that bringing funk or afrobeat rhythms to rock music never really caught on as much as it perhaps ought to have. Several decades on and it’s still very much music meant for the mosh pit rather than the dance floor. The closest we have to a rock band playing these sorts rhythms now is Goat, but thankfully Here Lies Man have taken up the mantle to remind us all how potent the combination of big dumb guitars and non-traditional (in Western terms) rhythms can be. By comparison Goat sound like a fairly straight psych band playing dress up.
Their debut record has got enough groove to have been a Daptone record, but it’s such a fuzzed up gem stoner/psych imprint Riding Easy Records snapped them up instead. The Sabbath comparison doesn’t quite wash though: on the barnstorming opener ‘When I Come To’ Garcia repeats simple little fuzzed out guitar grooves that are closer to the kind of stoner rock played by the like likes of desert rats Fu Manchu, unfussy and built to complement the much busier rhythm section. It has a retro production that makes it sound like a crate diggers wet dream on some forgotten African psych rock compilation. And as you’d expect the drumming from Geoff Mann and additional percussion from Rich Panta would fit neatly into Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti’s band.
Call it Fela Manchu, if you will.
It’s rock with rhythms aimed at the hips and feet more than the fist and neck. Without Mann’s ever shifting whirlwind of infectious rhythms the guitar grooves and woozy organ would make for an interesting enough rock record on its own – when the rhythm section keeps it simple on ‘So Far Away’ there’s still enough going on to captivate. But when he’s cut loose, like on percussive blizzard ‘Letting Go’, it’s taken to an entire new level. The combination of genres on display may be under explored, but aren’t exactly new – yet when Here Lies Man click into gear it sounds entirely revelatory. For as long as it lasts you might never want to hear another plodding 4/4 rock beat again.
The weakest link are the largely perfunctory vocals, which are mainly made up generic distorted and reverb saturated psych fare repeating the same simple phrases. At their best the buzzsaw treatment fades neatly into to the texture of a piece like ‘Eyes of the Law’. For the rest of the time they’re just sort of there. And there’s not a great deal of variation on display – both psych and afrobeat rely heavily on repetition of course, but across the 8 tracks it becomes apparent that Here Lies Man don’t really have more than the one trick (besides perhaps the title track where the organ sound is so warped it sounds like a messed up steel drum, giving it a weird almost psych calypso vibe). But then their main trick is a damn good and one they perform damn well. If this becomes a going concern and not just a fine little one-off they might need to broaden their palate a little, but for now this sounds like little else out there; a frenetic, infectious little surprise that ought to be in any riff and/or groove lovers summer playlists. It might be too odd a proposition for some psych rock fans, but those it entrances will be posting it high in their end of year lists come December without a doubt.