Let’s cut to a very important chase, straight away. This Is The Third Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank Is Not This Is The Second Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank. The Second Album... was an event in Irish music. Not just a major release, or critically acclaimed, but a happening, a seismic shift in expectations for others to follow, and a step up for Irish independent music, so much so it attracted the attention of Sargent House and the world. It was important, a concentrated blast of everything that was right with the world. Opinion on teaser singles for the follow-up is divided, praising the expansion of sound and aesthetic palette, while lamenting the lack of immediate impact The Second Album had in spades. These opinions are justified: before we go any further, it’s not that either aspect of Adebisi Shank‘s sound are “better”, it’s that they are completely different beasts. With this in mind, let’s look at the record on its own merits, free of comparisons.
The one concern with any band or artist experimenting with “big” songs and pop structure is the danger of straying from that fine line between ridiculousness and self-parody. “Big” albums in and of themselves are thrilling when done right, such as Muse‘s The Resistance. However, when the balance is lost, and massive visions become smoke and mirrors for a lack of substance, we wind up with Muse’s The 2nd Law. Adebisi Shank is such a multi-faceted and imaginative beast that it would be folly to expect a second helping of lean and mean laser-pop, and teasers from studio sessions and fancams indeed pointed to a much “fuller” record, lively with ideas. Your writer is pleased to say that the balance is intact this time around: Adebisi are reaching for ever more expansive soundscapes, grabbing ever larger fistfuls of influence from everywhere, and busting them into their grinning gobs/masks, while veering away from complete grandiosity for most of it, save the purposely pedestal-dwelling hero-worship of ‘Big Unit’, and even that song’s more viscerally grand tendencies are tempered by pop-nonsense vocoder vocal flourishes.
The demented sugar rush of Adebisi’s pacier material is also intact: ‘World in Harmony’ comes together like a Gundam of riffage and synth/gang vocal barrages to wonderful effect – the album standout in fact – while ‘Turnaround”s tops-off hooley mashes up sampled trad staples with a gamely African rhythmic sensibility, before giving way to the customary big pop hook and a killer, yet atonal, fuzz guitar break, all in three minutes. ‘Voodoo Vision’ also gallops along a treat, hinging on a loud-quiet dynamic and laying itself even harder into some dirty robot vox. That’s another thing. Vocals (of a sort) are everywhere. It might upset the purists, but that’s the thing: this album is another step forward in the band’s forward trajectory, and makes for yet another particularly weighty layer to add to all the obfuscation, while the melodies of hyper-disco cut ‘Sensation’ are carried almost entirely on found-sound vocal chopping and screwing.
The real revelation in The Third Album…, though, is of slower-paced, sonically broader strokes hinted at in The Second Album…‘s rare pauses for breath. ‘Thundertruth’ hangs gently on an intricate melody, creating reflection while churning away busily with familiar genki-girl vocal shards, like a Pokémon Centre on a tension-laden Friday night. ‘Mazel Tov’, though, with its sleazy, clanging bass and ’80s home-video sax is fully indulgent, and though its excess is initially a little offputting, it makes for a sitcom-esque belly-laugh in quick order. ‘Chaos Emeralds” juddering vocal samples and gorgeous, 8-bitty lead melody make it the hidden gem (see what I did there?) of the whole affair. It’s wonderful, while ‘(trio always)’ leads out perfectly.
To reiterate: It’s not The Second Album…, and listening to this will require a jettison of those expectations. It is a tough act to follow, so they’ve simply chosen not to follow it, more to their credit. Once you unburden yourself, though, it’s a slower, more concentrated, more purposeful dive into the sonic depths of A Band Called Adebisi Shank. A departure for sure, but as ever, a worthwhile journey. Mike McGrath Bryan