Map of Africa’s debut album was released on a minutely small Brooklyn record label called Whatever We Want, who have also released singles by Quiet Village Project, Bobbie Marie, Godsy, and Otterman Empire. I would not be surprised nor proud if you had never heard of any of them, or only knew Map of Africa via their affiliations (Thomas Bullock of hairy disco DJs Rub ’N Tug; DJ Harvey). I bring it up because Map of Africa sounds—or at least aspires to sound—like Foghat with a less pronounced cock.
And Thin Lizzy and some Pink Floyd and Steppenwolf and a mellower Grand Funk; and “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” reminds me of a little song by forgotten heroes Ram Jam called “Black Betty”, which you would probably never hear on the five o’ clock free ride or any other variety of “rock block,” probably because it’s too interesting.
The moral battle here doesn’t pit retro against contemporary. Some of the best “retro” artists do history the justice of introducing people to obscured catalogs: the Ghost Box label to library music; Lindstrom to e-z disco-psych oddities; Wu house producer RZA to shadowed late-60s and ’70s soul. Map of Africa—really, my fingers keep reaching to write Ram Jam, it’s that frustrating—are only interested in a history we’re already intimately familiar with and probably bored of, complete with yawning blues-rock solos and casually racist pillow talk (“We’re gonna make a map of Africa… and speak the native tongue”; I don’t shoot fish in barrels).
Sometimes they get somewhere interesting (“Ely Cathedral” or the haunting weirdness of “Plastic Surgery”), but they always sound a little disingenuous, a turn-off compounded by their commitment to stupidity. (Not even with a severely debased sense of irony could I accept the chorus “I love your freaky ways” from a white guy with a guitar; not even if he was singing it for charity, not even if he was singing it to a spouse who perished in a fire.)
Am I supposed to appreciate this sound being reclaimed by the youth? Is this meta-ironic sabotage? I have no idea. I’m also not interested! Even if you toss out the entire possibility that they’re posturing, Map of Africa is not a great record. It is, however, an oddly compelling one, historically speaking: 2007, the year our filters failed, the year that rescuing the past felt so damn cool and easy that we stopped wondering why it’d gone under in the first place.
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