It took me a few listens to warm up to Banco de Gaia’s first full release in seven years, Apollo. I initially wasn’t crazy about Zhenia Mahdi-Nau’s call-to-prayer vocals on “Lamentations”–until I took a dose of it in the headphones and felt the effect rather than just hearing it. When I grasped it as the invitation into Toby Marks’ blend of world music–with an emphasis on Middle Eastern sounds–and dub influences, I found my way into it. Truth be told, they almost lost me again with the whirling dervish sax attack from Matthew Jenkins in the otherwise downright infectious “Wimble Toot,” but I came to embrace that as well with its rapid-fire serpentine runs and avant-jazz squeals. One last hurdle confronted me. “Eternal Sunshine” shows up next, wearing its openly nostalgic rave outfit and proceeds to quickly wear out its welcome with thudding minimalism and ceaseless repetition. From there, however, it’s easy to go all in with Marks. “For Such A Time” opens quietly, but blossoms into a piece rich with musical drama, a strong hook of a beat, and a great sense of atmosphere. Silky vocals stir the soul. “Apollon” brings pure bliss, thick with delicious bass, more soaring vocals, and a chugging world-beat rhythm. It’s a super-potent cocktail of joy and adrenaline, and it charges straight into the equally feverish “Hu!” for the best unbroken stretch of the disc. “All Sleeping” brings smooth guitar from Marks and flute from Tim Wheater as they lay out what is my favorite track. It sounds familiar and comforting, and the warmth it gives off is wonderful. (Though I could do without the howling and the overdone vocal drop at the start.) “Oreia” wakes you back up with hefty drumming and rich world vibes before “Acquiescence” brings Madhi-Nau’s voice back in to close the circle.
Outside of the relative mis-step of “Eternal Sunshine,” which, it must be said, does have its own charm but feels weak compared to the rest of the release, Apollo is a beautifully produced, deep and catchy bit of work. The Middle Eastern tones bring a sensual touch and a little air of mysticism to the proceedings. Definitely one to play at volume. Dancing is encouraged, and probably unavoidable.
Available at Bandcamp.