Emefe distinguish themselves in many ways, one of them being that they are one of the few drummer-led bands around. Miles Arntzen – son of individualistically brilliant trumpeter/composer/singer Leif Arntzen – propels this Afrobeat-inspired dancefloor groove crew from behind the kit. Tenor saxophonist Jas Walton’s site describes the group’s mission as being “to fight the inner authorities that we put on ourselves” – as George Clinton said, free your ass and your mind will follow. Their forthcoming second album – which isn’t out yet, although there are a couple of tracks up at Bandcamp – updates mid-80s, funky Talking Heads for the 21st century. It’s a lot more terse, focused and less jam-oriented than their previous material, although that probably won’t have much to do with how much this group likes to cut loose onstage. They’re playing Rough Trade on April 2 at 11 PM; general admission is $12.
The new album kicks off with a flourish of a flute intro and then Jake Pinto’s surreal blend of watery synth tones joins the guitars as Doug Berns anchors it with his terse, biting, kinetic bass: the mantra is “don’t fall for it.” It’s part funk, part oldschool disco and it’s awfully catchy.
One of the guitarists – Deen Anbar and Michael Harlen – takes over in the tonebending department on Come Back to Me, which adds a little hip-hop touch to Talking Heads funk. Likewise, Same Thing takes a Burning Down the House drive and adds a little anthemic Celtic flavor. Sun Spat takes a circular indie classical horn riff – Walton in tandem with trumpter Michael Fatum, trombonist Raymond Mason and baritone saxophonist Zach Mayer – and then brings the band in to meet them in a blaze of intricately orchestrated harmonies that they very artfully shift in a funkier direction before an unexpected detour into dub.
Summer is as close to oldschool 70s funk as the band gets on the album, Walton’s sax sailing over dirty guitars and a tight dancefloor strut until Fatum blasts in and blows up the spot. And then the band follows with a long, anthemically explosive outro. After that, a jazzily determined vocal-and-percussion interlude leads into more beefed-up Talking Heads funk with Free to Scream: “You could scream any time of day/Be prepared for anything in your way” is its cautionary message. It’s the album’s most angst-driven and best song.
40 Watt, a dynamically shapeshifting instrumental with more pyrotechnic Fatum trumpet, builds to a joyous shout-out to the soul-funk classic The Horse as it winds out. The final cut, Dream Your Life Away brings to mind MTV-era Peter Gabriel. What use is this music? It’s like espresso in a can. It’ll revitalize you on the way home from work or school, and if you have enough space in your place for people to dance, throw this puppy on the next time you have a party and crank it.