There’s cruel irony in the title of Malian desert rockers Terakaft‘s new, fifth album, Alone (streaming at Spotify). For two decades, the group’s message has been one of resistance and solidarity. A sort of shadow project to iconic duskcore band Tinariwen, with whom they share several members, they’ve typically served as a harder-rocking version of that group. But the energy of their new album, unlike their previous two releases, is driven not by optimism but disillusion and sometimes crushing despair in the wake of the ongoing war in their native land. Nonetheless, their music is steady, resolute and indomitable, its mantra-like grooves and rhythms testament to their commitment to the struggle that’s taken untold lives in their conflict-stricken home country. They’re at Joe’s Pub on September 7 at 9:30 PM as part of their current North American tour. Cover is $22 and since this band so seldom plays here, advance tix are highly recommended.
Growling, lingering, distorted chords anchor the loping pulse of the opening track, Anabayou (Awkward), further beefed up by heavier percussion than one would typically hear if the group were playing around the fire at sundown in the Sahara. Credit their longtime producer Justin Adams with adding stadium rock muscle without subsuming the music’s otherworldly, hypnotic quality.
Tafouk Tele (The Sun Is There) shifts the shuffling groove to the offbeat, the call-and-response of the vocals – an ancient trait in the region’s folk music – mirrored by the deft exchange of guitar riffage. When the song suddenly falls apart at the end, the effect is viscerally chilling. The album’s most stark and intense track – possibly the band’s best song ever – is Karambani (Nastiness), a rather savage minor-key shuffle fueled by a menacing baritone guitar riff that speeds up to a horrified sprint.
Itilla Ehene Dagh Aitma (To My Brothers) sets a low-key verse and a singalong chorus to trickily rhythmic, undulating waves of ringing, keening guitars. Oulhin Asnin (My Heart Hurts) subtly shifts the rhythm into a more straightforward groove, creating a feeling of forward motion slowly breaking free of restraint. Track six, Kal Hoggar works a more straight-up triplet beat, carefully textured layers of guitars buildilng a serpentine interweave.
Amidinin Senta Neflas (My Trusted Friend) is the closest thing here to straight-up western rock, enhanced by a spare harmonica track, a touch that probably originated in the studio. With its surreal, deep-space lead guitar lines, Wahouche Natareh (Lions) is the album’s most psychedelic number. Its most spare and woundedly pensive tune is the concluding title cut. You may be wondering about the lyrical content here: as with the group’s previous output, themes of exile, longing, anguish and struggle, sung in the group’s native Tamashek, dominate these resonant, memorably lingering songs.